Monday, February 8, 2010


One of the things I like to do is to photocopy pieces I really really love and then look at them all lined up and think what it is about them that grasps my attention so intensely.  If I want my work to have that effect, then I want to know how others did it to me!  How’d they do that?

I realize I’m drawn to work with a strong clear message, this is just my personal taste but it would be nuts for me to want to make work that wasn’t My Personal Taste, right?  Clarity of message mean that there should be no doubt about what I’m trying to convey.

Every time I’ve made crap (and believe me this has definitely happened! How else would I know about “extreme doggie makeovers”!!) I’ve tried to analyse why the piece was such rubbish. And, nearly always,  its because I’ve had too much going on and I’ve just launched into something without thinking ahead of time what I wanted to say. Without knowing what I want to say, I won’t know what words (elements) to choose. Some people can speak in tongues but not I!

So, for me, I should always make Thinking my first step.  Whatever the inspiration, I should determine what I want to say and how I want to say it and that will help me choose my language. Actually deliberately putting my message into words always helps me to be clearer in my own mind. And if I’m not clear to myself, how could I hope to be to anyone else? (This is something I’ve started asking people to do in workshops too, by the way,  and they have told me it really helped them as well).  I should know myself what is so special and significant about the inspiration (photo, place, imagination, feeling, concept etc) if I want to share it. If I say too much, my piece could get scattered and confusing. If, looking at the inspiration, several things really interest me then I should plan on a series which each piece in the series addressing just ONE of those things.

Take a look at these pictures:


There are several interesting things here.  The first thing that strikes me is the pattern of shadows on the lattice, so if I wanted to make a piece from this photo, I’d blur down the plant and really emphasize shadows and lattice, I might even eliminate the plant and the shelf altogether.  However, if you saw the plant first, the beautiful contrast of the red against the several shade of green then that should be the focus of your piece.  
Or, perhaps one could convey the sense of a cool place on a hot day?  This was a small corner of a very hot garden on a very hot day in August…in which case a third possible Idea comes to mind.  Three different quilts!


In the picture on the right (Kendal)  are many different interesting things.  What inspired me to take the picture was the outline of the chimneys against the sky…if I made a quilt about that I would eliminate a LOT of the other detail, the street light, the houses nearest to me (you can just see a wall on either side), the people, the road, the cars, the windows and wall details, and probably the depth…because none of that would be about those chimneys.

On the other hand, I could look at this picture and see all those different levels of depth, from the bushes and people in the foreground, then the nearer houses, then the distant one, and then the distant hills of the Lake District.  A quilt about all these depths would be very different.

Or….I could make a piece about the angles and shapes of that conglomerate of houses – see how they are all joined together in a fascinating pattern?

Or, I could make a piece about the colours…I love the way the green sort of flows through the piece like a river, getting gradually bluer as it goes back into space…

Once I’ve got my Single clear message, then I should think about how I can portray that. And again, this is where a possible series might come in. For there are many ways to convey, say, “the greenness of it”! some more literal, some more abstract, some relying more on shape, others more on line, or on texture…and I can explore them all – but not in the same piece! (I hope!)

Simplicity improves.

And now for a clear clean simple cup of tea! And if you have been, thanks for reading…Elizabeth

PS do please comment! Then I know you’re out there!! In the great void!


Linda B. said...

This makes so much sense, it's almost a relief!
At the moment I'm not making the quilts I want to make because I can't put what I want into words. I think if it were a photo there'd be something to hang it on - but it's an idea, an abstraction that when I try to describe it, I end up using my hands.

Perhaps I need to write something down

Jane said...

Thank you, this is a wonderful precis of process. Very helpful to us wannabees.

Diane Perin said...

This DOES make a lot of sense. Some years ago, I did a one on one lesson with a local artist (a painter) who, as I presented an assortment of photos of a subject I wanted to translate into fabric, asked me, "What do you want to say about it?" She asked me to list the elements about the subject I liked, and the feelings it gave me, and then asked me again, "what do YOU want to say about it?

I think about that very often now, because it is so easy to lose touch with that basic concept -- that the point of the art is to reflect what *I* want to say about something. And (going back to your earlier post about working intuitively) it always makes me wonder when someone says "I work intuitively" whether they have an idea in mind that they want to express, or whether it is much more vague than that.

It's so easy to get lost in techniques, or using elements that other people use with success... without stopping to think about what one wants to say.

And this reminds me of another experience, in a workshop where we were asked to abstract an image. The teacher got all excited about what I was doing and kept suggesting cropping, moving stuff around, etc -- which to me took it AWAY from the very elements I wanted to feature and the message I wanted to say. I finally was able to say "That's not what I want to say about this image" and she left me alone. It would have been so easy to come away with HEr vision for the project, instead of my own. Not that mine was grand or better or even competent -- but it was MINE.

So, I totally agree, and think it's an excellent thing to think about. But maybe this is especially true for those of us left brained quilt artists who approach things from thinking instead of seeing, anyway?

Jackie said...

I keep trying to articulate, and I'm improving, but it's tough to realize which feature I am attracted to. Your examples that could become more than one piece emphasizing different qualities were helpful; I think that's been a problem. I do pare the image down eventually but it would simplify things if I knew what I was doing! I agree too with Diane about my images being Mine. It's my personal point of view. Thank you.

Mimi said...

Elizabeth, your idea of starting with a single clear message seems so obvious, but it's one I've never considered. DUH! If I've had a pic of something I wanted to create in fabric, I've been trying to include focus there. And the idea of a series following from the clear message makes perfect sense now. I could never understand why an artist made the same thing (with some alteration) over and over. You have a way of getting to the heart of the matter! I wish you would write a book on the creative process.

Anonymous said...

I red every post, but don't often comment, partly because of time, partly because you usually say it all beautifully! I make traditional style quilts but still have learned so much from you. Thank you.
Judy B

Judy Ellsworth said...

You've said what I was just now thinking and said it brilliantly. I'm struggling with a challenge quilt and keep discarding all the elements except my core image. ???What to do? ;o)

Nina Marie said...

I'm here to testify that this method works wonders. As asked by Elizabeth, I did manage to write a paragraph on what I wanted to create next in series. As I went through the first piece, I noticed that every time I got stuck, it was because I had strayed from my initial paragraph. A big ADUH on me. Also - more than one person stop to read the paragraph which surprised me. Why would people care - but they do. They want to know where you thought your work is going and if it really is getting there (grin).

magsramsay said...

I know this to be true but why is it so difficult to apply !!
I can often see where I went wrong after the event ( and the problems of overcomplication usually arise because I sneek a peak back at photos rather than relying on my sketches)
Perahaps I should try this word thing.

marj k said...

You can go to a movie, and one time listen to the music carefully,
another time watch the acting, another time the sound and graphic
effects, etc. etc. etc. When you pay close attention to just one
part you really notice the many
nuances --- and sometimes there just are too many things going on there, too. And your brain can't seem to capture it all. So simplify makes the most sense.
You are always "right on"..... thank you for your many insights that help us all think in new ways.

Shelly said...

I'm a quilter who is just learning the art quilting process.
As always Elizabeth, it seems your blog appears at just the right moment. It goes hand in hand with whatever 'ah-ah' moment I'm thinking about.

I've read a lot about journal pages in a sketch book, and have tried to do them, but found it intimidating trying to fit everything on one page. So I tried to write in words the picture in my head, rather than draw it directly. It flowed so easily on to the page. Now I can just sketch directly from my paragraph. (think frogs on lily pads). I think some people just work more easily in words than pictures at first.

Thanks again for you insight. Now I know I'm on the right track.

Quiltdivajulie said...

I, too, am a lurker who rarely comments . . . partially because my words don't fit together as wonderfully as my thoughts!

Simplicity is essential ~ we are so overwhelmed that it takes effort to see clearly.

Thanks for the thoughtful reminder!!