Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Workshop: Working in a Series part 2

Yesterday I reported on the workshop I just led in Phoenix, AZ on working in a series.  Over three days the people in the class designed a series of 5 or 6 quilts and set to work making them!  here are some more images:


Judy’s “story board” shows both the original photograph and two of the many sketches she drew – and she did value sketches!  These are so invaluable.  Her series will all be based on one photograph of Tibetan windows with lots of different manipulations of the graphic pattern that they made.  The colours were gorgeous and subtle and I think there could be a series of 20 pieces!





Frances devised a series based on a simple graphic of a chair back in the room…but the images developed a life of their own with a very oriental feel..this is the first of 6 sketches translated into very appropriate beautifully chosen fabric.   Frances used a narrow applique stitch in a contrasting colour which really enhanced the image when seen in close up.



Here are Betty and a friend holding up a wonderful landscape piece made from my shibori fabric!  I’ve never seen it looking so good.  Betty worked from a painting she’d done of a photograph…by manipulating the values she came up with several different beautiful Arizona mountainscapes…She also plans to continue the series by varying not only value relationships but also the colour palette.

Several people focused on developing a series of sketches:  Joan took a mesa theme – first drawing out a simple abstract view of a mesa based on a photograph, then manipulating and layering the images, adding depth and shadows.  subtle and intriguing!   Miriam also spent much time planning how to organize intricate surface designed fabric  mixed with various strong political images into coherent harmonized compositions.  I think this is a very useful way to benefit from a workshop – lots of planning while the teacher is there to assist and discuss.  Sharon also spent her time drawing.  She planned a chronological series exploring the houses in which she’d lived in her life.  Lots of content in her very nicely drawn images – in fact so much detail that we felt that many of them could be divided into 2 or even 3 quilts.  Don’t think you need to work from the whole drawing!!

Barbara also worked in her sketch book planning surface design variations on her theme of grasses – we discussed the importance of having both meaning and tension in a piece to make it stand out from the crowd.  This is especially true if you’re working with a theme that has been done before.  It’s a lot harder to make a new fresh statement about a landscape than it is about shirts folded in a cupboard (I allude to some fine drawings I saw in the Whitney biennial a few years ago).

I don’t know why I don’t have any pictures of Nancy’s work, unfortunately – probably because she was a dynamo and the pieces were not still long enough to be photographed!!  She developed a series based on a simple patch…the dots of the stitching (when blown up in the sketch) were amazingly fresh and evocative.  Nancy had at least 4 pieces almost finished at the end of 3 days!


Brenda completed a gorgeous series of very sensitive drawings all based on one photograph – the possibilities from these drawings are endless and I could definitely see many more than 6 quilts!  Hand drawings have such a beautiful quality of line that is not difficult to translate into fiber whether you work by applique or piecing – I am so looking forward to seeing these quilts!



Sue made a number of refined and delicate studies based on changes and arrangements of just two elements.  There’s so much you can do with just a shape and a line if you allow yourself to play and create – which Sue did!

Overall it was a great workshop with a surprising variety of ways of creating a series being demonstrated.  You can work from simple or complex initial inspirations to come up with so many different possibilities!  I don’t know why everyone doesn’t do this!! It’s SO much more satisfying than trying one of this and one of that don’t you think?

Well, now it’s time for a cup of tea and then back into working on my own series…so, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Workshop: Working in a Series part 1

The Arizona Mavericks lived up to their name and produced an amazing variety of original ideas in a 3 day workshop last weekend in Phoenix.  I’m going to show half of them today and half tomorrow.  We talked about all the different kinds of series there were and they dreamed up even more possibilities.  They all committed to making at least 6 quilts in a series and promised they’d send me pictures…so I’m hoping!!  A series would be defined as a number of pieces that are linked in some way – but how they are linked can vary tremendously as you’ll see.  We also discussed the practicalities of working in a series, time management, motivation and why one should do it anyway.  But…now to the pictures:

Claire conceived of a narrative series about Peter and the Wolf: there will be five quilts telling the story, one of each of Peter’s adventures, and then a final one where all the elements come together.  This is  final piece in process: across the bottom will be the wolf, the duck, the bird and the cat…as Peter remembers what happened.  As a really nice touch Peter will be dressed in fabric printed with the beginning of the actual score…it’s good to have a little extra something like that – not immediately obvious but a great surprise and interest to the viewer as they suddenly realise it. 
Pam dreamed up two different series….the first one (not pictured) was about the desert cactus flowers…Pam has made documentary movies and her cactus flower series will mimic the movement of the camera as it begins with a wide shot and then zeroes in on the actual flowers.   A very neat idea for a series!
She also devised a series (of which the first 3 pieces are pictured above) based on doorways…the bold graphic images will be evident from a distance, but as the viewer gets closer, the quilting will reveal more detail.  A simple shape gradually becomes more complex.
diane detail

Diane drew out a wonderful series all based on a simple keystone block; these will be fairly large quilts.  Diane wants to work on the pieces in her series simultaneously as she  explores the possibilities of the block and its variations.  She will make 60 or more blocks in a rich colour scheme so they all harmonize and then arrange them into different configurations.  These will be very handsome pieces that have a very architectural feel to them.
margot2 margot 3
Margot came up with 3 stunning ideas mainly in black and white but with just a tiny touch of colour in each.  These are all based on a set of drawers that were in the workroom – plus one additional element; she also had a notebook of many other possibilities and I’m really looking forward to seeing them finished!
Linda actually derived her ideas from the same chest of drawers as Margot, however she has created something very different.  This was the first piece – simple and elegant.  It’s a lot harder than it looks to get such beautiful simplicity.  She has 5 more sketches in her notebook that become more complex and more dynamic – it’s going to be a great series.

Joyce had a wonderful sense of humour: she decided to make a series that are a little like a cartoon…there are small changes to each piece that tell a story of fish, bubbles and a ship riding high on the waves.
These were charming little vignettes and it’s a great idea to think of a series in this way.
jody 1
jody 2 Jody devised her series based on one complex painting….she took different elements from the painting, simplifying it into delicious graphic morsels!
marla 2
Marla worked up a series of at least 6 designs based entirely on 2 strips of torn masking tape and a label on the side of her sewing machine.  These made wonderful bold graphic elements.  In the series she hopes to combine these elements in different ways, and as you can see from the above, she is playing with the positive and negative shapes they produce.  Marla is a sewing fiend and had completed these two fair sized pieces by the end of the workshop!!  I wouldn’t be surprised if while I was flying home, she had two more done!
Do come back tomorrow  to see more!  Please respect these artists’ copyrights; I have their permission to put these images on my blog, of course.  I really enjoyed this workshop and this group was outstanding in their ability to take my suggestions and set to work and come up with so many different possibilities.
I’m teaching this same workshop in Fort Myers, Fl in October, by the way and also next year at a date and place not yet decided. 
If you have been, thanks for reading!  And start planning your series!  There are a lot of different ways to do it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dave Hickey on teaching art

I’ve never felt quite comfortable calling myself an “artist” – for who is to judge that? I know I like to make things…and have always considered myself to be a “maker”…but this label “artist”  - what enables you to say that? So I was very interested to hear Dave Hickey (critic, writer, curator)last night in a talk to the University of Georgia art school address this point.

He disliked people calling themselves artists .. “you make stuff and your peers will judge if it’s art..the same is true of architects and writers – they make things or write things that later are discovered to be architecture or great literature”. Instead: “You’re auditioning to make art…your job is to change the status quo to make things interesting/ appealing/ exciting/ scary/ something that’s not nothing.”

“Ever walk into a bad museum?… the one where you feel “oh there’s nothing here” where the experience is like listening to AM radio…just cold play…” (like cold pizza – flat and tasteless!). (Not that there aren’t people who like both cold pizza and Cold Play!).  Dave Hickey stated that bad art is that which gives you “Nothing to look at, or think about - that’s bad art, doesn’t wake you up, or piss you off or excite you…”. It’s just blah, just bland.

The main topic of his talk, however, was about teaching art. Most art teachers, he felt, aren’t actually teachers but “failed artists” and therefore he didn’t really recommend going off to graduate school unless the teacher was one who would leave you alone to make work. He did say, however, that when he was a professor (10 years at the University of Nevada, LV) he soon kicked out anyone who didn’t work. He felt his job was to see if the student was “on track or repeating old stuff”. He emphasized that there was no place for art to come from but from the past. “Art practice is an activity in which one adapts 3 or 4 things that happened in the past into a response to the present. The present is new. You might have to go back to the 18th or 19th century to solve the problems of the present.”  It was very important that the students be made totally aware of what was happening in the art world everywhere. You need to know if you’re just repeating something.

“Art doesn’t improve it reacts. What is fashionable is replaced by what is unfashionable. The art world runs from ennui, so don’t be boring - dammit!”

Hickey was very against art being used as a kind of therapy to work out one’s own problems, or to “find oneself”….the purpose of art was to affect the viewer. Art school should not be a “self awareness clinic”:

“you don’t matter, it is not about you, never, you don’t have anything to do with that work of art, it’s an orphan you put up for adoption”.

He stated that he never discouraged and was very active in changing practices so that students weren’t discouraged or humiliated. . So he had abandoned group critiques completely, except those with no teachers present. “All that happens is that the little suck ups to shoot off their mouths, and those artists with least talent get talked about the most. Anything good strikes you dumb, [all you can say is] that’s great do 10 more. [Whereas] the bad stuff…e.g. a piece of plywood with the word boogie printed on it small somewhere ..”

At which point he rhapsodized on all the things you could do or make with that plywood and that word! All of which we have seen in those “bad museums” – the tampon art.   He continued: “you sit there two freekin hours talking about it..”

I felt that I had definitely sat through such critiques myself!! In an organization to which I belong we have spent ages discussing how bad work might be changed or improved, or presented, and just been so in awe of the really good work that we’ve said nothing. And so “the bad artist wins” – at least in terms of the amount of attention they would receive in a critique situation. Interestingly, as a workshop leader, I’ve twice tried to omit the group critique from the end of the workshop and both times the students protested mightily!! I don’t know whether it’s because they feel like the need the “end of the workshop” closure, or they want just a few more words of ‘wisdom” (well, one hopes!) to take home with them..or what. But I have never felt I got anything from it either as teacher or student.

Another interesting point that Hickey raised was that 98% of the art he saw had been worked on too long.. “it’s supposed to be easy and quick…I don’t want to see the gospel of Luke printed neatly all across your canvas - that’s what methamphetamine does!” So much for “obsessive” art!  It was important to help students to see when a piece was finished. But the most important thing was kindness and he quoted Henry James: “Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. The third is to be kind.”

It’s not the opinion of the elders that matters, he felt but rather the opinion of one’s peers: “art is a sibling practice…make art that your peers say is totally excellent, that’s winning! And shun complete dorks!If any of the faculty are doing good shit steal it quick – they’ll be gone soon! They’ll be maggots and worms.” Like Picasso, he was all for stealing good ideas, for this led to experimentation and growth. “But you can’t teach what you do. If you teach students to do what you do that won’t help them, they need to improve on that. To really teach art let everybody alone!”

Food for thought! So now, I must prepare for my workshop in Arizona… and I’m looking for good s**t to steal! Back next week! So, if you have been, thanks for reading! Elizabeth

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ow di bodi?


As we get older (oops!) mature….the mind improves but the body doesn’t….I’m continually hearing and reading about artists who’ve had to give up this or that process because of physical difficulties; I myself am feeling it with significant arthritis in my hands, neck and back so I’m struggling to find answers too. Here are a few I’ve come up with, but if you have any more ideas, please comment!

When you’re machining, keep checking your shoulders – don’t let them ride up around your ears.
Every few minutes deliberately drop and relax them.
Slump to relax your lower back.

Slightly change your angle of attack at the machine so that all the pressure isn’t on the same parts of your neck.

Learn to rotary cut with both hands: dominant and nondominant….
this will equal out wear and tear! Like rotating your tyres!

Also, teach yourself to hand sew with either hand – maybe not so neatly…
but black on black on the back of the quilts? Who’s looking?

When hand sewing stop every 10 minutes or so and stretch your hands and fingers gently as far in, out and sideways as far as they will go…gently!

Also, work your wrists gently: up and down, side to side, and rotating.

Never stay in one position for so long that you get stiff!! You know how long it takes!

Keep changing activities.

Height of the machine: I’ve found that my “best” position is not the one usually recommended so I suggest you experiment with your own body: get a table and a chair that can both be adjusted to different heights and play about with them. Every body is different…what was good for my back was bad for my neck and my neck is worse than my back…so figure out the optimum, it may take a few days of up and down adjustments but just consider it all exercise and we know exercise is good for you!

If you do get all stiffened up, lie on the floor on your side and RELAX…
try to put your mind onto every tight sore place and RELAX it.
Relaxing works better than stretching.

And! Reward yourself for 15 minutes crouched in Machine Position with 5 minutes Lexolous slumped in front of the computer! Good for brain and body!  to say nothing of a nice cuppa tea..which is where I’m headed, so if you have been, thanks for reading!  And relax!   Elizabeth

Sunday, March 21, 2010


batching on computer

One of the many uses of a computer is that it puts out great heat for batching!

Dye season is almost here!

and now, to mix….


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Working in a Series

red shift I


I’m teaching a workshop next week on Working in a Series and I’m really looking forward to it!  New faces, new scenery, flying south into the sun..and all that!

There are so many reasons for working in series.
After the first stages of elation of actually discovering Art Quilts and attending workshops in every last technique, style and embellishment, I think the serious Art Quilter needs to sit down and focus!  That’s where the real personal development starts.  It’s very interesting to me to observe this process in myself: in quilts I’ve definitely now worked through several series and really benefited.  But in the other medium I’m currently exploring (watercolour painting) I’m nowhere near ready to settle down to develop my own style, or paint a series of pictures on one theme.  I think it takes some exploration of different possibilities before one has matured enough within a redshift2 300 medium to be ready to think about a series.  I might experiment on myself though (single subject experiment!) and see if forcing myself into a series (even though I’m so enjoying gadding about trying this and that) with the watercolours might not lead to significant improvement.  I’ll report back on that one!  Interestingly there’s a long interview on line between Nancy Crow and  Jean Robertson on this very point.  Nancy stated that she began to feel that working in a series might be important even when she was an undergraduate, but it was never mentioned by the professors.  Even as a graduate student, the possibility was barely hinted at.  

Redshift3,full Working in a Series helps you to develop your own style, your signature work.  It is also useful in many other ways.   For me, it meant that I no longer put every single idea I had about my theme into the one piece!  yes! I was one of those kitchen sink junkies!  Trying to cram into a single quilt about 4 different ideas, talk about unity being lost!!  And forget harmony!  I remember one teacher looking at a piece very puzzled and then he said “it doesn’t seem to pull together”….At the time I hadn’t a clue what he was talking about, but now I can see it clearly. 



redshift4nyc If you have 4 different ideas – say about daffodils.  Then, make 4 pieces about daffodils, each piece emphasizing a different idea.  There are obviously  other things you should do also of course: like trying to say and reveal things about daffodils that we’ve never seen before.  Which is another reason for a series.  Sticking with one idea pushes you beyond the obvious presentation of it.   Once you’ve got beyond the prettiness and cheerfulness of the daffodil, then maybe you can get to the daffodil as a dancer…or the daffodil as a herald (after all there is a trumpet!), and then the daffodil as translucent yellow layers with the low spring light behind them, then the crispness of the edge of the petals and the sharp crisp smell of them…and so on.

redshift5blue And you might have two or three equally good ideas for how  a particular feeling about daffodils might be presented.  If you are working in a series you can give yourself the luxury of trying out each different idea.

redshift6yellow Another reason for working in a series is that it enables you to get better at actually making something.  Sticking with the daffodils for the moment…these would be a technically difficult image to either piece or applique (I’m ignoring the glueing!!).  But as you worked with the idea over several pieces you would build up a great repertoir of daffodil making techniques.  You don’t get good at something if you only try it once (at least that doesn’t work for me!).

Also, the more you think about something, the more ideas you have…they build upon each other.  You’re not going to fully realise your involvement with daffodils in one minute!  it’s lovely to give yourself the treat of exploring some in depth, not just skating around on the surface with the “usual” ideas about something, but allowing yourself to become really truly engaged with it.

so, if you have been, thanks for reading!  go forth and become a serial quilter…  Elizabeth
PS I didn’t actually have a series about daffodils to use as illustrations!  so the above quilts are from my Red Shift Series.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Self improvement and the art of successive approximations

I had some interesting comments on my first Self Improvement post, which lead me to further cogitation!


Self improvement, of course, is based on learning…so it’s important to figure out the best way we can learn to make better work. While it’s logical to think that the development of a good piece is totally linear: deciding the theme, then designing the piece, then constructing then evaluating, research shows that this isn’t really what happens in the best learning environments. We don’t need to follow this sequence so strictly and will learn better if we don’t. It’s like the old work on grief – it was thought there were 5 stages of grief and you had to progress through them one at a time in an exact sequence; people got worried that they were going in the wrong order, or “hung up” because they would appear to revisit a previous emotion…now we know that it’s perfectly normally to experience all the emotions in any particular order, or not to experience some of them.

So in our art work, we don’t necessarily have to follow the “steps” in any particular sequence, and having visited a step, it’s fine to revisit later. We may start a piece with a particular idea, like for example the piece I’m working on right now began with a study of a detail of a detail (sic) of an industrial landscape. But as I neared the end of it, I realized that the quilt was more about the light at a certain time of day on such a landscape…the theme of time (as ever) had crept back in! And so I went back in and modified my design to show that aspect better.

Our creative work is ongoing…the whole meaning of a piece is unlikely to be 100% revealed right at the beginning. I think it’s important to have a beginning (I know not everyone does, that’s fine – we’re all different!), but I also know that the characters (i.e. the elements) that I set up at the outset may easily develop some life of their own and start skewing things a little. We may well not have the knowledge of all that we want to say about something right at the outset. Creative ideas don’t come out all at one go and then dry up..they keep coming as we work on the piece. That’s why I’m against drawing out a full life size cartoon of the design and using it as templates. Doing that blocks continuing creativity.  Would you believe I practically have to take away the car keys of people in my workshops to stop them from dashing off to the nearest copy shop?!!

Start with something…and then allow yourself to learn by the continual stepping back and assessing. This is actually the method that has been used to develop Artificial Intelligence – I know nothing about this by the way and they may have moved on since I last looked! But the theory, as I learned it, was that it’s impossible to design a perfect intelligence from the outset. It’s better to develop a machine that can learn as it goes.  Which of course is what we are if only we allow ourselves to do this!!

I think the ideal sequence would be to draw out a rough sketch, which as a composition largely works i.e. across the room works…then begin to block that out on the design wall….
gradually adding/assessing/improving/adjusting as you go. And thus by successive approximations get nearer and nearer to the goal.

I have some more improving thoughts (!) but will save them for later in the week..meanwhile, if you have been, thanks for reading! go forth and learn!   Elizabeth

Friday, March 12, 2010

Squares, Grids and Tiles

One of the reasons I was very attracted to quilts initially was the idea of tiling.  By making different designs (yes I started with the Sampler Quilt – and how horrible they were!) and putting them together into orderly rows of the same size you could create a coherent composition.  Like one of the old parterre gardens, or a herb garden, there’s something very soothing and predictable about a grid.  I also loved Jennifer Bartlett’s work where she painted images on metal panels about a foot square and then created large installations of them.



It is said that the square is more awkward a shape compositionally than a rectangle, but the beauty of a square is that you can arrange squares in a grid form, and rearrange them, far more readily than a rectangle.  It’s important to address the difficulties of the square format of course.  It is so stable a form that the main elements require a dynamic arrangement in order to counteract that solidity.


At first I used the grid within the piece as a whole (as above in Elkmont), but I have once or twice made separate grid  squares that could be displayed as a unit – below was a sequence of Hours.  I’m sad to say I didn’t get beyond 10 am, 1pm and 8pm!   but…maybe one day!

hours10am hours1pmhours8pm

Most of the shapes we use developed centuries ago and were probably related more to pragmatic things like the shape a canvas came in, or the shape of the wall the Roman or Egyptian well to do wanted painted than to any artistic or compositional ideas.    Now we can go beyond pragmatism – well at least medieval practicalities! – and choose our  own shapes.  

Whatever the shape,however,  it is still true that planning the compositional structure before you begin  leads to much stronger images, images  that are unified rather than haphazard as well as being more attention getting.  Leaving things to chance can work and it’s great when things happen spontaneously to fall naturally into place…nature is good at this!   But nature has volume on her side….she will produce hundreds, thousands of seeds which are scattered hoping that a good result will happen maybe 1% of the time.   I don’t know about you but I want a little more than a 1% success rate with my compositions!  There has been a tendency in the latter part of the twentieth century for artists to abjure preplanning but this is very recent.   Until this “post modern” era, artists carefully planned out  every aspect of their compositions. I suggest you judge for yourself as to which you prefer!

But…back to the square:  stable and solid and, therefore, I think able to support some shenanigans within!  It’s great to be able to play off large curves or swooping diagonals within that strong structure.   And, if you square the square (as it were) by making many repeats, you can have a lot of fun arranging them into a grid.  The New Image group in Washington DC did this with their Hive piece which is a wonderful roomsized quilt composed of hundreds of one square foot quilts.  Rarely shown, alas, because galleries don’t want to think about all those nail holes!

And so, you might ask, why am I wittering on about squares and grids?  Well because that’s what I’ve been working on these last few weeks…soon I hope I’ll have reached the point where I can begin to have fun arranging them, I have 3 that are complete and 3 more in various stages of construction.  It’s great to have a Big Plan, an overall compositional plan for the year!

if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth
all comments most gratefully received…..

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Self Improvement

D’you remember the “old days” when the self help books were on “self improvement” rather than “Embracing your Inner Guilt” or “Discovering your Weekly (or was it weakly?) Colour” or “How to Smell your own Armpits”?  I know self improvement is an old fashioned idea but that’s the point I’ve reached in my art journey.  I’ve got most (or at least enough!) of the techniques down, I know how to paint/dye/screen etc luscious fabric (I have cupboards full of the stuff to prove it!), I have a working method and (I’m told) a reasonably distinctive style…so how do I reach the Next Level.? For, I think, in a artistic journey  the paths we take should always lead higher. 

uk 09 230

Which, now I come to think about it,  is different from ordinary life where there is a point where enough is enough – once you’ve got those things at the bottom Maslow’s triangle: food, shelter, safety etc you don’t (I think -  though certain politicians might not agree!) actually  need more of them.  You don’t need more food than you can eat, or more shelter than will cover you in your activities, you can only drive one car at once (though I did once see a man steering 7 boats at once down a river!) (see left!)


so, how to get there from here…

Work: one thing upon which all agree is that a key feature is the amount of work you put in.  All the people whose work I really admire have been working day in and day out for years and years;  they don’t allow themselves to be easily distracted and are very focussed.  How much time is necessary?  well the evidence is that daily practice is much more effective than the same amount of time concentrated into a short period of time, with a noticeable gap before the next practice session.  This is clearly evident with the crazy long summer holiday that school children get – teachers say it takes them most of the fall term to get them back up to where they were before the summer break. So, some kind of creative work Every Day.  No excuses.

Guidance: you also need to have some guidance.  The musicians who achieved most in the psychological studies were those who put in the time but who also had excellent teaching or coaching.   Listening to people on the talent shows who have wonderful voices but have never had any training reveals the importance of training.   But the guidance needs to be very skilful,  enough to nudge the person away from pitfalls (like getting into the habit of using the same composition over and over, or the same colour scheme, or making work that really is too accessible and therefore has no lasting power).  Pitfalls like that I know I have had to overcome!  You don’t want the kind of guidance that tries to push you in the direction preferred by the guide – as I have noticed when talking to people in workshops.  I’ve asked “why are you doing it this way” - “oh, because that was what my last teacher liked, but……”.    Hmm!!

A goal: I think you also need to know where you want to go.  Where is the top of the mountain for me?  is it acceptance by a certain type of show or museum?  Is it to to sell work?  Is it to have hordes of people begging me to show them “how to do that”?  Or, is it to make work that I find satisfying, a year later.  Work that I can pull out of the cupboard Next year and say “Wow I made that?  It’s so fresh, so clear, but so intriguing…”.   It’s helpful, too, to look at the work you really admire and try to figure out the qualities it has that you would want in your own work.  Choose your own end goal;   none, in the great scheme of things, is any better or worse than any other (except owning 8 houses, now that I think is excessive!) but make a definite choice.

A plan to reach the goal: this is the hard part of course!  I’m prepared to put in the time, I’ve got a little guidance lined up (though sadly I feel many are reluctant or unable to provide this), I have a goal.  Now I need a plan.   Obviously a time plan and time management must be part of it, but I think the key might be a two part activity of experimentation and assessment.

  uk 09 036

Experiment: if you’re trying to get to a new place, you’re not going to do it following the old paths.  You have to strike out across untrammeled ground and may easily end up nowhere,  but you have to take that risk and try it.  And be prepared to take time on it, don’t just repeat the steps you know work, but see if there are other possibilities.    Everyone probably has a different tolerance for how much experimentation they can allow themselves, realise that and try to push just a little bit further.  Honestly it doesn’t matter if you make a mess!!

Assessment:     Having experimented for a while, then step back – and Look.  No excuses.  Is what you’ve made any nearer to the goal?  If not,  ruthlessly discard anything that’s not working.  It might take lots of experimentation to reach the next level, attempts at each face of the mountain…but better, I think, than just going round and round at the same elevation.

And now, to go and try it!  Self improvement!  but first, a cup of tea, while I cogitate upon it….
if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

PS  if you have discovered any more essential activities in Self Improvement, please comment!!  I’m (virtually) listening!

Friday, March 5, 2010

Online Quilt Class

cement works 300

A few months ago I was asked if I was interested in giving an online quilting class….I hesitated because I’d heard this was a lot of work!!  But I was also very taken with the idea that anyone could afford to take such a class..whether their budget of time or money (or both) was limited.  I’ve often felt it was such a shame that the workshops in lovely places  and art and craft schools like Penland (where I’m teaching in July) or Arrowmont (summer 2010) are not possible for so many folk. 

I’ve enjoyed writing the blog more than I expected; an online class is a good  step beyond the blog but not one where I’d have to commit all my creative energy for a year or more as is the case with writing a book.  I’ve especially loved the interaction with blog readers in the Comments section!  And with online classes there’s a possibility for much more conversation… I decided to try it.
Another reason for agreeing to do an online class  is that it helps to clarify your ideas if you teach them, even more so if you put them into writing.  I generally have a mind like a grasshopper – great leaps in any direction at the most unexpected moments, so trying to put thoughts into an orderly sequence has been a good exercise in logicality though, I must admit, trying at times!
here’s the link: Quilt University
If you scroll down you’ll see me listed in the April 9th grouping of classes.
My often incoherent ramblings have been beautifully edited by Carol Miller, the “dean” of Quilt University, but sadly she doesn’t like exclamation points as much as I do!!!  so if you read any of my words of description please mentally insert a lot of these little fellows: !!!!!!   
After any workshop I teach I love to get feedback and images of quilts made during or afterwards and these are guaranteed with an online class – so I think it will be fun and I’ll report back!! And now to turn to my preparations for my next workshop in Phoenix, AZ….but first..I think..a nice cup of tea!
If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth
PS I just heard the class is closed already but it will be running again in mid June. thank you!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Entering Art Shows: content, composition, craftsmanship and culture


cityofmistsrephoto Locally, we have several art shows and I always try to enter them and, if possible, attend the juror’s talk – I wish all jurors were required to justify their choices!!     Volunteering (with the proviso that you can still enter your work!)  definitely puts you closer to the juror and can be fascinating.  Though I will add that some jurors are quite fickle and it’s just as well their opinions are not known! I did have the chance  to talk at length to the juror of a respected regional show that gets entries from round the nation.  The juror was a curator from an established museum in another state.   She discussed both why she had included the work and why she had given prizes to particular pieces.  A great learning experience!

    She stated that she feels that contemporary art should reflect society and it is important that content reflect the culture.  Relevance to time and place is something that draws you into a piece.   There should be content as well as composition.  And craftsmanship was very important.  A good juror should have a  wide knowledge of contemporary trends.  In the art world currently photography, video and installation are  major trends with pattern and decoration beginning to come back.  And there continues to be fascination with obsessive work.

As we looked at the pieces to which she had given prizes,  she continually emphasized overall composition and  important relevant content reflecting contemporary issues.   She also was attracted by a strong sense of colour.  She wanted a piece to draw her in, to make her inquire “what’s going on” and to be inventive and fresh and individual.   A piece did not have to be beautiful…ugliness could be fascinating if it was creative and personal.  

Time and again she emphasized the value of a strong composition.   Scale was also important…the scale should reflect the content.  Small works that reflected small obsessive childlike dreams and nightmares were appropriate; small photographs of large landscapes were not.

For the quilts in the show, she liked the individuality of the hand- dyed fabric and the obviously hand-made stitches and the texture.  She awarded the prize, however,  to the one with the stronger composition.

While I think it’s important at a beginning or intermediary level of skill to have one’s work judged by someone within the quilt world, at a more advanced level a more widely experienced juror should be employed. The judging of art shows seems less incestuous than the judging of quilt shows.  The art show juror looks at the work in the context of the culture as a whole and not just the culture of the particular medium.  I think we would learn more about the place of quilts in the art world if we had as jurors people who were not so personally related to the quilt world.  Are we afraid of this?  Do we really want to be included?

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  And…check out your local art shows! Elizabeth

Monday, March 1, 2010

Colour Wheels: Newton vs Munsell

meadowfarm Recently I was writing some lessons for Quilt University (Inspired to Design, not yet open for registration but I’ll let you know when it begins) and in one of the lessons I wrote about the importance of colour and value in designing quilts. While I eventually decided to go with the old traditional Newton colour wheel, I began to think about whether it does really reflect what we know about colour.  For example, we’re told that adding two complementary (i.e. on opposite sides of the wheel) colours makes a neutral grey. When I add red to green, I get brown!! I always thought this was my personal failure!! (back to that convent school upbringing again!).  However, it’s more likely that it’s because the traditional  colour wheel doesn’t actually place complements  directly opposite each other.

We all know the Newton colour wheel: 12 steps with 3 primaries (red, yellow, blue), 3 secondaries (purple, green, orange) and steps between each of those which have double barreled names with the adjacent primary colour being first and the secondary colour on the other side being second e.g. yellow-green, red-orange etc.

It always struck me too, that there seemed to be a lot more steps on the warm side than the cool.   From yellow green through to purple there are eight steps  but as I look at the world I don’t see 2/3 warm colours.  So why is it that way?   Apparently, mainly for historical reasons relating to the availability of certain pigments!  (Remember Kuhn’s Nature of Scientific Revolutions?  we only believe science when sociologically we’re ready to believe it – witness the current widespread disbelief of climate change).  There were  more colours in the warm ranges available to painters…so there were more  warm steps on the wheel.

Early in the 20th century Albert Munsell came up with a slightly different arrangement of colours around the wheel, now known as the Munsell system.  In this system, there are usually 10 different hues around the wheel.  There are a number of different versions of this on the internet and everyone’s monitors show slightly different colours anyway…so I’ll describe Munsell’s wheel in words rather than a picture:

yellow, chartreuse, green, turquoise, blue,violet, purple, fuchsia, red, orange.

Munsell’s system, which has much more evenly distributed chromatic steps around the wheel, has been adopted by many different scientific agencies because they found it more accurately reflected actuality. There are lots of internet sites that address this but I suggest beginning with Wikipedia, and then reading James Gurney’s excellently understandable  series on colour wheels.

  I’m going to try it out with watercolour this afternoon and with  dye when I start up the dye studio again this spring – out with the old! in with the new colour wheel.

Accept new ideas! and please…comment!

If you have been, thanks for reading…Elizabeth