Monday, January 31, 2011

Kojo Moe: “factory love” (工場萌え, koujou-moe)

A friend recently sent me a cutting from the WSJ  (Jan 24, 2011) about a new pursuit for avid Japanese tourists:  they are flocking to industrial sites, like  steel mills:

hamilton bay full 
Rusty Answer  41”w, 24”h

There are charter bus tours all over Japan to view factories, power plants, oil refineries, smoke stacks, cement factories and all the other sites I’ve enjoyed making quilts about. I’m not alone! I’m a factory lover!!


Steel yard Frieze 35”h, 68”w
This quilt is going to be in the QSDS show at the Riffe Gallery in Columbus, OH


The buses stop at selected points for much camera clicking accompanied by “amazing!” and “factories can be beautiful places”.

Strange Beauty 40”h, 55”w

At least part of the reason for the phenomenon is the loss of such sites to other countries; as, in the USA and much of Europe, major manufacturing plants have been moved to India and China.  People are beginning to realise that these sites have a strange sad beauty of their own.  Even as they polluted our air and water, at the same time their oddly elegant shapes and configurations of dynamic diagonals so rarely seen in solid square domestic architecture have added to the richness of the landscape.


Heavy Metal  42”h, 41”w

Kojo Moe means “factory infatuation” and it’s growing rapidly. What were bleak industrial zones are now being penetrated by busloads of camera laden sight seers.   Reservations for night time tours (known as “factory night  view jungle cruises”) of brightly lit chemical factories against dark skies are booked up for months ahead.



what lovely smoke full
What Pretty Smoke! 43”h, 36”w


steel reflections 

Steel Reflections,
18”h, 24”w




cement works

The trend has become so popular there are specialized internet groups devoted to it, several books, and many old industrial towns are now encouraging tourists.  They are trying to change the laws so that old factories and plants can qualify as World Heritage sites!

As Ken Ohyama says: “factories are cool-looking”! 

Arn’t they just?!!


Cement Works 40”h, 42”w

Thanks for reading! and now to head out with my camera………..Elizabeth

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Improving yourself

 383214-R1-E030 1989battersea2010

One of the reasons I like to do things  (really anything if it comes to it) is because I think I might, with practice, be able to do that thing better.  A lot better!  I was one of those good all round people – except at sports where I was truly horrible! I remember shivering on York Knavesmire ( a muddy field for knaves to exercise!) trying to shelter beneath a hockey stick!     So I always wanted one day, to be really good at Something.

Over 100 years ago, John Ruskin said practicing drawing for an hour a day guaranteed you could draw in 6 months.    But I wonder if this idea of practice leading to improvement is actually true??  When I look back at quilts I made ten years ago, I think some of them are better than those I’m making now – yes!  some are definitely worse!! and I’ve learned a little about what NOT to make..but I begin to worry that the “good” ones are not getting any better. The same is true of the watercolors.  And,  I don’t think my cogitations are getting any better, either, but perhaps my Scrabble is improving!!

Does anyone else make things in the hope that by the making of them they will get better at making?  In a way one would not really expect just by repetition that one would improve.  Even though that’s what “they” always advise.

Doing a little research on this I came up with some interesting suggestions from the net – the ideas  were actually suggested for improvement in other things but I think they generalize.  The problem is,  are they right?

  • Everything you do regularly is improvable. How fast you improve is different for everyone. The thing that would speed the process up is to practice as much as possible and with different players. Work with someone who is much better than you.
    Sadly, different players not possible in art! though that would be a lot of fun and would definitely lead one to up one’s game I would think. I would love to work with someone better than me, but I find that most “good” artists really prefer to work alone.

  • Improvement in  something involving logic will happen for as long as you keep trying – even the best still will get better over time and with more practice, trying out different ideas as they go along.
    Hmm, there’s some logic in art, but not a lot!

  • There are many books, focusing on a different aspects of this activity….try reading a few, you will improve faster. 
    I have read the books, though there are few (if any) good ones particularly pertaining to art quilts, and definitely have a lot more actual knowledge, but does it improve the work?

  • Stay at it and  work carefully. Do not focus on irrelevant details, but instead on an overall plan.  Just stay at it and as you work more you’ll learn more strategies.
      I can see that it’s important to not worry about details in composition, but are there irrelevant details that will affect learning? That’s an interesting question.  I’m sure many a trainer would like to know what their trainee should NOT waste their time on.  Of course things like ironing and petting the fabric come immediately to mind!!  but, such a source of pleasure should not be eliminated!

  • It depends on how often you have a mentor check your work.  Get a coach and work with them.
    This does sound like a good idea and is a great reason to take a class or even spring for individual lessons.  I think if you just keep doing and doing and doing without any external input there’s a limit to how far you can get.

  • Average people start out terrible, they also don’t improve really fast (just like anything), but this doesn’t matter, these people can still go on to become really good if they love it and practice every day.  You need to practice every day which is good because it takes thousands of hours of study and practice.
    Daily practice, daily practice…it sounds good but I wonder. There’s a faintly religious tone to this suggestion.   Has anyone actually checked?  Like the exercises the physiotherapists give you; there’s always 3 sets of ten repeats.  Why?  why not two times 15?

  • Have fun with it and the improvement will follow.
    I cannot see how this can be true, except to encourage more practice!  Certainly I don’t know that anyone has tested the theory that having fun will improve one’s ability though it definitely would improve mood!

  • Improvement is a herky-jerky affair. You study and see no improvement for weeks or months, then suddenly you wake up one day and you’re "seeing" more clearly. Go through one or two of those vision plateaus and you’ll be good enough…good enough. .
    Ha! I’ve heard too much about this mythical plateaus; I see no reason why learning should not be linear if it’s done properly.

  • Positive thinking.
      Now I used to be in the  psychology trade for a while and positive thinking can certainly help you in some areas -  specifically in overcoming negative thinking!!  but I really don’t see how it could ever help you to learn something new.

  • The best way to improve is to work on the fundamentals.
    I like this idea, it definitely makes sense.  And this is something I definitely focus on in both my actual and virtual classes.  Sometimes you just have to take stock and go back to the beginning, asking yourself what is strong and what is weak in the work.

  • If you want to progress, you need to learn how to criticize yourself. It is easier to criticize other’s work than our own but the art of self criticism is essential to learning from mistakes and improving.
    While I’m sure this is true, I’ve always felt that criticism without guidance is totally meaningless.  “Don’t do that” is just useless – though how very often I’ve been told that in my life!! What works better is “don’t do that, do this”.  But rarely do people take the time, or have the knowledge, to do that.  I’ve found that even “famous” teachers will simply say “well this isn’t well resolved”.  Yes! and…..????

  • Self criticism means being honest with oneself. There is no benefit from rationalization.
    I have definitely found this to be true with a few people I meet in workshops; sometimes it’s rational to rationalize, other times it ain’t!

  • Invite suggestions from others.
    This one is helpful only if the others give useful advice!  but sometimes it can be gathered in unusual places.  You don’t have to be an art teacher/curator etc to have an “eye”.  A good engineer can often detect what is wrong with the structure.

    Okay, enough rambling, time to go out and Improve!  I’d love to hear what you’ve found helpful in trying to improve – or, alternatively, not helpful and simply a waste of time and money!! 
    And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

    P.S. Some people asked about classes: my online Working in Series on won’t be actually On Line for quite a while, though I will announce it when it is.  But, I am teaching the same subject at Hudson River Valley fiber art workshops this Spring (first week in May) and there are a few places left in the class.  It’s a lovely spot and easy to get to via shuttle from Albany, NY airport, or Amtrak, or by car, donkeys  and bicycles take a bit longer!

  • Sunday, January 23, 2011

    The Inspirations

    Several people have asked me to show the original inspiration photos for some of my quilts; I wish I had kept a nice neat file of them!! And of course I didn’t…but I would definitely advise you to do that.

    Regrets my posting has been a bit sparse lately; it’s because I’ve been working on a new course for Quilt University about Working in Series.  It’s still going through all the editing etc and it will be Spring or even later before it’s up online – I will definitely announce that on the sidebar.  It’s a different kind of course and involved quite a bit of writing, so I was totally writ out with no energy for the blog.

    So here are some of the quilts and inspiration photos I could find.  I always do a sketch from the photo and very often manipulate that sketch in many different ways before finally choosing one idea (or maybe more!) from which to make the quilt.  I never ever blow the sketch up to a giant cartoon.  I think this is a waste of paper!  and my energy and fuel in trekking all the way across town to the nearest copy shop.  But even more importantly, I think if you have a big plan like that then you tend to switch off your creative brain and just start following the pattern.  And, oh! you lose so much doing that!!  A small sketch with the values noted and a colour scheme is by far and away the best starting point.  The value sketch gives you the basic structure of the composition but dictates only the bold shapes and lines.  As you start to work, you can allow a mixture of serendipity and inspiration and sudden wild ideas to begin to ferment and that’s what brings the piece to life.  I have seen many quilts in shows that were made from one big cartoon and a lot of them (not all, there are definitely some amazing ones out there) but a lot of them look very stiff and lifeless.   They’re like those awful rigid commercial landscapes – everything is just right and there are 3 or 5 of this or that low maintenance bush planted exactly the same distance from everything else – and Nature has definitely been thrown out of the window (or should I say “wheelbarrow”?!). So please, don’t send your mind on vacation (even though Mose Allison suggests it!) or your creativity!  Make them keep working throughout the quilt making process.

    Eniow, enough of the rant. 

    Here are the pictures:

    black white bldg inspirseparateandtogether

    b&w 1 aedgingintoline72

    old slide shamblesshambles

    b&w 2 a  shadow5diamonds


     colliery free foto ofortuna72

    cement works 5cement works red abandon100

     old slide whitby alleytheredgatewestcliffsteps

    old slide whitby chimneyschimneytops  
    old slide whitby harbour  Red Morning300
    durham castlewherebongtreesgrow  OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
    old slide leeds terracepenley grove st   
    old slide bootham bar cathedral,fin
    farmhouse and barn   moorfarm

    As you can see frequently I’ll make more than one quilt from a single photo.  Also I might change things around considerably  - first of all sketching the piece very literally, but then shifting around for different angles, omitting things, moving things, inserting other things etc etc.

    any questions or comments??  I’d be most happy to receive them.  If you can guess where all the places are, I’ll send you a couple of my new postcards!!!

    And, as always, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

    Monday, January 17, 2011

    Loving the wrinkles…

    Am I stuck in a rut?  I ask myself,  as yet again I am inspired by an old building or industrial site.  Why is it that the marks of time or overuse or misuse are so appealing to me?  Perhaps it’s because as I age myself I’m trying to discover some beauty in the marks of time?!   I had a nice compliment the other day -  though I didn’t think so at first….        “I love your wrinkles”, the woman began (I’m thinking “bloody hell are they that obvious” and “how rude of her to mention them”.. almost as bad as “How entrancing that wart is on your nose!”) but she went on – “they’re all smile lines, you have no frown lines!”  I don’t know about my own personal lines and marks, but I do love those on buildings.  Steps worn away, rooflines sagging, strange patterns of broken windows in old mills, smoke on chimneys all of these strike a rich harmonious chord that no shiny clean unbroken bright plastic interior ever could. 

    And so I was thrilled by a picture of a burnt out building in our town – I’m sure the owner and the insurance company were not!  But the old theater building’s inside walls and ceilings and roof were completely burned and demolished leaving the outside walls with shadowy remnants of their old life,  criss-crossing beams and girders.   I’m old enough to remember bomb sites and burned and bombed buildings with the amazing voyeuristic feeling of suddenly seeing a building in its underwear – or less!  Stripped to the bare bones but with shreds and shards of history hanging on.  Layers of meaning.

    So, anyway,  that’s what I’ve been working on.  I decided to keep this to a fairly small piece so it’s only about 30 by 40 – at present – but sometimes these things grow!  One fascinating photograph in the local newspaper yields inspiration for months!

    Here are some of my “in progress” pictures….first a rough sketch, actually of only part of the building.  If I like the quilt at the end, I may go back and abstract other views.  Second, the value sketch and a rough indication of some of the key colours.  The whole piece is tilted off 90 degrees very slightly because I want the viewer to get the sense of looking up through the burnt memory walls to the sky. Oh yes! all very meaningful!!



     IMG_2709 IMG_2710  IMG_2711img 2711 retouched   img 2711 retouched again

    The sequence is like one of those children’s puzzles: what details differ in these  pictures?  Well, the way I work is to slowly build the piece on the design wall – these are all scraps of fabric just pinned on (hence the dots if you look closely).  I like to get the main lines down but then begin to adjust all the details.  One thing I think is really important and that is to work slowly.  Once your sketch is done and evaluated for all those nice, but very intellectual, compositional principles, then I think it’s a good idea to work in a more relaxed, less obsessive and conscious way.  I work out my colour scheme and have a pile of fabric from which I’m going to make the piece; I assess the pile pretty strictly.  Not too many colours?? ( like most people my natural instinct is to pull too many), good value range? good textural range and intensity range?.  However, once the sketch and the fabric pile are done, then I tell that old left brain to take a tea break.  Now I pull and cut and place fabric shapes at a saunter….until my first four lines (the outside edges) marked on the design wall are covered.  This may take days.  Usually does.  I’m not one of those who can whip out pieces, especially not in workshops – I do not know how people can ever do that!  Once the demarcated area  is covered …then cogitation begins again.

    So in the top three photos I’m assessing the weight of the right hand girder: what value should it be? do I need it anyway?

    In the bottom two I start getting rid of things – a key job!  I don’t need the T shape in yellow on the bottom right hand side, find it very distracting.  There are still several other problems to solve but I know what they are: the horizontal grey also on the bottom right is unnecessary and breaks the upward flow of the eye, but also I need to get all those angles going up just right..and then I’ve got to sew it together – which will definitely alter many of the relationships as various bits skinny down!  but that’s for tomorrow…

    If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth
    PS All comments very gratefully received (even about my wrinkles!).

    Thursday, January 13, 2011


    banners blowing
    A question that all of us come to sooner or later is Why?
    Why do people make art? Jane Dunnewold asked this is in a blog a few days ago and it set me off cogitating – again! 
    I think the answer is definitely part of a wider picture of  what it means to be a human being.  All kids love to play and “make” things but as they grow up some (alas many) get this drive beaten out of them by “education” and passive entertainment and reinforcement for being consumers rather than makers.  If you think about it most  external reinforcement is for consuming and not for making.  Even kids take part in that – many preferring “bought” cake to the home made variety…… but only, I think, because of all the advertising…though I must admit my Dad always preceded his strange homemade buns and cakes by “I made another mistake for your tea”!  (aside: “tea” when I grew up was a meal you ate at 4 o’clock every afternoon and it was lovely!  there were so many more meals back then but even so, obesity was less of a problem).   Thankfully,  some of his “mistakes” were quite successful!  Others were enjoyed by the dog who knew absolutely where to position herself when she heard the word “mistake”!.
    But back to Why.  I have not looked up loads of research on this so if someone knows of it – please comment!-  but I think making stuff is because we think a lot and, in our thinking, we ask questions about change.  What if I change this surface?  What if I add this to this?  Would they go together?  Inventiveness has to be linked to survival.  If conditions change, we need to invent a new way of finding food or shelter.  And that’s  just the practical side of things.   So, why do we go beyond that into more decorative?  And by “decorative” I mean merely things to look at rather than things with a particular practical function.  And I find that women more than men (though not of course exclusively)  are concerned about things look.  I don’t know why this is, but I presume it is linked to survival again…the man is primed to act, the woman to observe…the woman sees what needs to be done and the man has the extra strength to do it.   Jane asks why are woman over represented in textile arts, I would say that women and men with a strong feminine side to their way of thinking are over represented in all the arts.  Very masculine men are rarely making art, they’re out there doing or,  at least, watching others doing.  They like to see things moving not how they are.   
    We are born with the desire to play and make things.  And as to the medium we use, I think we make things with the tools we have available to us, or that we are encouraged to use – by parents, by society, by teachers.   In some societies it is the men that sew not the women, they were the ones given the needle and thread when they were little. 
    After childhood,  some people give up, and others continue, finding the need to create something ever stronger.  Why do they continue?  That’s the real question.   In simplistic terms I think it relates to what effect  either the made object and or the making of the object  has upon us.  What happens when we make it?  Is there a release of the “making desire”?  Is there reinforcement (whether it be internal or external) for the made object?  If you listen to responses to the question Why d’you make art? you will hear both of these things.  Some say “well I get irritable if I’m not making” (desire released), other say “it’s so fulfilling to see something I made hanging in a gallery” (external reinforcement), others reply “I feel good about myself when I’ve made something” (internal reinforcement).
    It’s also a matter of time.  In current society there is very little time for play or making things after childhood and it’s not encouraged at all.     When I was a highschooler and university student messing around with paints or thread was considered to be a distraction – “get back to your books!”.  However, as people retire, many of them begin to make things again. And that’s great…for now there is a reason to every day.  Some make for enjoyment, some make because they want to develop a skill – a skill that is so incredibly fulfilling that it will make you joyful for the dawn of every new day.
    so ….what d’you think?  why ARE we making these “quilts” that really have no practical use at all??!!
    And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth
    PS Or, is the real question, why isn't everyone making something?  As human beings I think our default mode originally (before tv, eating out,shopping, bringing work home from the office etc etc) was to be creative and make things.

    Monday, January 10, 2011

    A great day for surfing


    A rare snow bound day in Georgia…plus the incentive that freezing rain will probably bring down power and cable lines tonight – oh horrors! – gets me moving to surf and to blog!

    I rarely have the opportunity to go to quilt shows, and even less often to solo exhibits which are usually in out of the way places, and never anywhere near here – alas.   And so being able to view their work on the internet is very important to me and a real treat!  I do buy their monographs too, if they produce them.  But publishers, I think, don’t care for monographs of fiber art.  Except perhaps Telos and they are SO expensive.

    Some of my favorites have an excellent range of current and earlier work on their websites, people like: Michael James and Jan Myers-Newbury, Sondra Dorn and Barbara Lee Smith have websites well worth visiting. 

    But others are not so up to date and that’s very frustrating; you’re left wondering what happened in the last 2 or three years?  Did they leave the planet? This is the case with Rachel Brumer, another superb fiber artist, or Joan Schulze  or Elizabeth Busch, Dorothy Caldwell, or Pauline Burbidge.  I really love their work and want to feast my eyes!!

    Others are rather stingy in the number of images they upload: Nancy Crow, for example, has images of  only five pieces while telling us that she has made 300!   and Warning! before clicking on the link put dark glasses on!  Her first page is designed ( I swear!) to keep away the timid and easily intimidated!  Some really great artists are only represented on other sites with a single image: Elizabeth Brimelow, for example.

    Of course my quilts are nowhere near in the category of the above folk, but still I feel it’s important to let folk see what I’m doing.  The quilts are a communication between me and the viewers, without the viewers there’s no communication.  It’s that poor tree falling all by itself  - silently -  in the forest!

    I’d love to hear from you as to which are your favorite websites showing wonderful art quilts – the cream!  The Prime of the Art Quilter!

    If you have been, thanks for reading..and now for a nice cup of tea and I think it’s a good day to make mince pies to go with a lovely pot of Lapsang Suchong!