Sunday, August 15, 2010

Travel Broadens the Arts as well as the Mind!

I’m travelling to England later today – Festival of Quilts in Birmingham: a two day workshop, a lecture on “Working in a Series” and showing about 14 quilts in a gallery/booth: Elusive Beauty, Elizabeth Barton and Dominie Nash.

Come see us!

cement works 300


Dominie and I both find inspiration in unexpected places: I like power plants, and strange sprawling  factories with eccentric pipes and gantries shooting out in all directions.  I’m also very concerned about the environment and the climate and want to draw attention to what is happening to it.



Dominie finds beauty in the juxtaposition of everyday objects – she plays with relationships of pattern and form. 

We’re hoping that after you’ve seen our show, you won’t look at a milk jug, or a decrepit industrial scene in quite the same way!

Travel to new places makes us look! 
You know how you can drive to work and not see a thing all the way because the route is so familiar?   I’m going to try to really see everything on my trip, I don’t want to slouch down and let it all slide by – let me be inspired by those unusual shapes, colours and relationships! 

I also want to seek out art in these new areas: what are the locals up to?  Of course I hope to stumble across work by Alice Kettle, Pauline Burbidge, Elizabeth Brimelow and Matthew Harris! Some of my heroes.   Well, perhaps not “stumble”!  But also I want to see what all the other quilters, textile artists, painters etc are showing.

The third broadening factor about travel is that it gives you a chance to experiment with small studies.  Whenever I start to pack for a trip, I don’t think about clothes and shampoo and so on, I first want to know what I’m going to take to “do”.  Unlike my friend Anne, who told me she would just “be” on one great trip (and she was, and it was good!)..I’m a doer.  Obviously I can’t haul around a great quilt with me, so I always pack a few little bits of fabric, some thread and the permission to just have fun and try out different things.

I’m also looking forward to being broadened by cream teas for which I have a great fondness!! 
See you at the Festival! 
I will be back blogging on my return early in September. 
And, as ever, thank you so much for reading!  Elizabeth

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean!

My friend hates diagonals, she loves rounded shapes...
I adore diagonals - the movement the excitement and the dynamism!  I'm probably not keen on very skinny prickly shapes...but you never know..hedgehogs are kinda sweet.
But unlike Jack and his poor wife, we should not stick to an exclusive diet!
Shapes are how we "speak" about things visually.  We can speak Shape, or Line or Colour, or Value or Texture or Direction etc....we can't use words - well we could of course but that, I think, would defeat the object of making a visual piece.  Though I do believe that words can play a part in a piece - if their visual language is considered.

So what do different shapes mean to us?  in our quilts we want to communicate our ideas or feelings etc visually.   So it's important for us to be able to speak our own language.

Think about a tree.  I want to tell you my feelings about this is home to birds, it provides a sheltered spot for reading (or other activity!)  (actually not here in the South USA too blinking hot), it flowers with soft and lovely blossoms in the spring.  My feelings about this tree suggest shelter, gradual organic growth, soft shade that can I convey this with just the shape of the tree?

Another tree:  a blasted heath (funny how heaths are so often blasted!), winter, cold, stormy, a tree that struggles to survive despite difficult circumstances - how would my shape vocabulary describe this tree?

And yet another:  living in a city, helping people to look up and think about air and sky and not just trudge along the pavements....what shape would that tree be?

A lively growing tree putting out shoots in all directions, full of vigour and energy...what shape should it be?

They're all trees, but by the shape alone we have conveyed all those extra meanings. We've conveyed more than
the treeness of the object.

And that's just using the shape language!   Now to our tree we can add the line language...the colour language and so on.  It's actually much richer than words because each object is portrayed in so many different dimensions (not literal, but figurative - as in the value dimension, the texture dimension etc).   Each visual image can be "read" simultaneously on at least 5 levels.

Think about a can you use visual language to convey the human emotions associated with what is in that box?  
I'd love your comments to be just shapes and colours....but alas! mere words will have to convey your thoughts.
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  I hope to post once more before leaving for Festival of Quilts in the UK plus a painting class plus visits to relatives and old friends including Damien Hirst's first art teacher! Only 2 degrees!  Not that I'm anticipating talking in cadaver anytime soon...Elizabeth

Monday, August 9, 2010


I’m  “resting” between quilt series and reflecting on what I’ve been doing.   Like many folk I’m sure, I’ve been working hard to make something worthy of being entered into the major quilt shows.  Well, the pieces are done, the photographs taken – the sleeves need doing of course but who feels like doing sleeves after months of solid work??  I know I don’t!  I hope in the excitement of acceptance, making sleeves will suddenly seem entrancing! And, if not accepted, well…tant pis!


Discussing the “state of the art” yesterday with a good friend, we commented on the importance of intention in one’s work.
In “resting” mode, it’s good to reflect on the last few pieces and think about whether one achieved one’s basic intention.   I always want to have some meaning in my work (even though it might be rather obscure to others).  My Red Shift series about memory was very abstract but I knew what the colour RED meant to me – light travelling over time shifts toward the red end of the spectrum.  Memories travel over time and often get redder!

So, I’ve just made a short series of diptychs – I really love the format and of course making art in sections has a very long history.   My intention with these pieces was to show contrasts – particularly the contrast between a hard edged crisp business like approach to an industrial building and a softer, more “green” way of doing things.  While I’m not a rabid environmentalist, liking my air conditioning like anyone else -(though I do have it at 81 fahrenheit during the day, and 83 at night), I’m very concerned about the climate and the loss of trees and other natural environmental cleansing.  And, particularly, the short term thinking that puts short term personal profit above long term care of the environment and society. I think we could derive all the energy needed in ways that are less harmful to the environment and the folk living in it. (wheeze…).  We need to look at the contrast between the two approaches, and see what we really prefer.

I felt the diptych format was one where contrast could be shown.   I decided to make as many differences as I could between the two sides while keeping both form and content constant.   I used different cotton fabric in each side of the diptych.  A soft cotton sateen on the “natural” side, a hard high thread count mercerized cotton on the other.  Heavy machine stitching on the industry side, softer hand stitching on the contrast side.  I’ve kept the colour palette the same and the underlying structure.  But one  side is pieced, where the industrial side is machine appliqued – bolted down tightly and efficiently.  I did not, however, use glue!!  Even though that would have been very appropriate!

I also want the pieces to be beautiful – there really is enough ugliness out there!  And I think it is possible to convey a difficult, challenging content and still make the overall piece something one would like to look at and hang in one’s home.

I don’t have full pictures yet but here are a couple of details from the first pair of quilts which are about chimneys!  (well yes I’ve always loved chimneys and grew up surrounded by them: on the old Victorian houses, in the hospital grounds, and in the factories.  Strangely, my hometown had a lot of chocolate factories and psychiatric hospitals!  Don’t think there’s any connection though…hope not!

act react chimneys

act react chimneys2








Some of the pairs are stitched together, others hang side by side – I don’t know which is best, so I just wanted to play with that.

My intention was contrast..I hope I achieved it!  Let me know….and if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

Thursday, August 5, 2010

The Story Behind the Quilt

It’s fascinating to know where the idea for a quilt came I thought I’d write an occasional piece about the beginnings of one (or in this case two) of my quilts.

A few years ago I was lucky enough to have a glorious 2 week trip with a good stitching friend to Cornwall – I hadn’t been there since a “summer” in the early ‘70s when there was such torrential rain many roads were flooded out…took me 30 years to get back!  One of the lovely little towns we visited was St. Ives.  And of course we went upto the top floor of Tate St Ives to get a cup of tea.  Well the service was sooooooooo bad, we never got our cup of tea, but we did get some great photos from the windows.

st ives

That golden brown lichen grows everywhere!   I love views like this where you can explore all the shapes and strange little windows, and chimneys and rooflines out to the distant channel.  When I was a kid I spent ages peering out of the old skylights in the attics of our Victorian house just to look at roofscapes – but nothing as interesting as this.  I love that hint of distant water.

st ives vertical



So from this photo I made a big drawing including the values, and here are some crops from that drawing.

This one is a vertical section…but I wasn’t too keen on the dominance of that very large roof – it’s out of scale with the rest of the buildings I think – even though it did exist in real life!

st ives horiz


I much prefer this horizontal crop.

The top of the roof anchors it but there is a lot more space and light.


st ives crop

But the more I looked at it, the more I felt that the big roof blocked your way into the houses…you can’t go here!  so I eliminated it, and extended the houses downward slightly simplifying it even more.

edge of light k



And then made this piece Edge of Light based on the simplified sketch.  I liked it a lot…but I still was fascinated by the very first image and the soft warm golden browns….and the mystery of the overlapping shapes…so I decided to make another quilt about St Ives that wasn’t quite such a literal interpretation of my photograph.  I looked at the relationships between some of the rooflines, and some of the shapes of the houses, and the placement of windows, made a lot of beautiful discharge shibori fabric and then cut and layered it in collage fashion to make the quilt below.


So to arrive at my final quilt, the one that really summed up my impressions of Cornwall and St Ives including those long ago memories of the torrential rains, I went a rather roundabout route!  But this quilt I feel does capture my feelings about the place.  It’s called St Ives.

Hope you enjoyed the story!  After not getting a cuppa tea but definitely getting some great photos we deployed to a nice pub and got halves of Guiness!



If you have been, thanks for reading!


Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Coming up with Ideas

 So how d’you get good ideas?
When you’re faced with an empty design wall and a neatly ironed and folded stash of fabric and you’ve feel like your last series of works has come to an end….

Don’t just stand and stare!  Approach the Hunt  For The Idea by exploring the following:
 the senses: Look  (art, nature, everyday surroundings,  books…), listen (music, nature, people), taste etc, the mind and heart:  (feelings, causes, ideas, situations, …), and activity (walking, drawing, doodling, dancing, sailing, shopping….).

And, it  also helps to set up  parameters.  This is why the “guild challenge” (the guild I was in decided on one some years ago with two words: round, metallic which lead both to a great show and a vow on everyone’s part never to work with metallic fabric again!) or a teacher’s challenge (as Nancy Crow set up a year or more ago which led to the wonderful quilt show in Germany) are both effective starting points.
 If you set up your own “rules”, of course, then you have more power to change them!

 Decide what you want to achieve – whether it is something you want to communicate or a certain visual effect.  Do I want to communicate something about what I’ve seen? Or about something I’ve thought about?  Or about something I’ve done. What size do I like to work with? What colours or kinds of fabric ?  Am I drawn to representational, impressionistic or abstract work? What about the content and the form of the piece? Content: the subject matter, what the artist wants to communicate, what is the piece about, the Main Idea.  Form: How the basic elements (shape,line,value,color, texture) are arranged in the 2d space of the design wall.

Most people start a piece  with either content or form uppermost.  You can begin with either one.and you certainly can decide to not consider the other at all.  Content presented without good form, however, is unlikely to hold the viewer’s attention for long.  It probably won’t look like art! Some pieces we see are so undecorative one can’t imagine anyone wanting to live with them on a daily basis!

Form without content works better, I think. You can opt for a visually pleasing/exciting form and not have any specific content: having a goal of making a piece that is purely decorative is fine.  However, I think this currently is less common in today’s art world; most artists want to communicate a mood or an idea etc. 
Content, of course, does not have to be conveyed in a representational way.  Different lines, shapes, colours etc can convey very different things.  In fact a rather indirect elucidation of content will be more interesting, making the viewer work to figure out what the piece is about.

 Can content be just about the fabric? Or the paint? Or the activity of painting or stitching?  This so-called post-modern approach to content has definitely been a part of the art world for a few years – we’ll have to see if such works hold up over time!  I suspect that what usually happens with this kind of work is that the viewer reads their own message into it..which could definitely lead to their enjoyment – although sometimes to the annoyance of the artist! However if a piece does not have specific content then I feel (and please contradict if you disagree!  This is merely opinion) attention definitely has to be paid to the form – or the design, (the planned arrangement) of the elements.  I don’t think you can expect the viewer to read their own meaning into a piece, and somehow mentally rearrange the elements into a pleasing/exciting/invigorating design!  So thinking has to go on.  As I’m realizing as I try to work more with surface design!

The above cogitations on where and how ideas are generated resulting from my reading a fascinating article in AinA (June/July ’10) about R.H.Quaytman and the sources of her ideas for her paintings.  She talked about observing people in a gallery walking past paintings and looking at them sideways as they walked.  So she made models of rooms with a painting hanging on one wall, and a mirror on another…and then photographed this: the painting in a room with a mirror and seen sideways.   She then made paintings based on her photographs.  Thus her paintings are about the viewer looking at paintings!  The painting shows the painting, the gallery, the viewer (as seen in the mirror); a neat step back in the gallery experience.  She began by doing something: going to a gallery, looking at something: how others look at paintings, and then thinking about how one could actually capture all of this.

Well now to make a cup of tea, appreciate it with my senses, and think about how I could put this content into an art work!  If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth