Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Making Life More (than) Bearable

I came across an interesting quotation from Kurt Vonnegut (A Man without a Country):

“If you want to really hurt your parents, and you don't have the nerve to be gay, the least you can do is go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possible can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

The quotation set me off cogitating – well it doesn’t take much as you’ve probably noticed (!) but it definitely posed an interesting question viz:

How many reasons are there to practice an art?

It makes you a more interesting person
For one thing, have you noticed how those people who practice no art at all are boring and lifeless?  And how engaging and fascinating those are who do practice some art form – no matter what. ( Educational background is not particularly relevant here, especially with today’s artless curricula.  Yes there are great art classes in the private schools, but that’s not where most of our children go…and of course I’m off topic..not difficult for me with my knight's move thinking....But just notice how those who sing, dance, play an instrument, write, draw, paint, quilt, mess about with bits of metal or stone or wood…etc are really fascinating people. Being creative makes you more alive.

It’s actually very good for the brain!
There’s a vogue right now for “brain puzzles” to improve your brain.  These are actually a complete scam based on the suggestion (never proven, several experimenters have tried to prove this and failed) that they will help your brain, or prevent dementia.  They’re sold by the same people who sell you expensive creams to turn your skin overnight from skin with the gentle honest patina of age, into dewy youth!! And the reason those puzzles don’t work its because in doing them you’re essentially practicing the same skills over and over.  Suduko not only gets boring once you’ve figured out the main steps towards solving it, but also does not make those little bits of grey matter any more active!
BUT – any Art involves the constant learning of new skills, the constant development of new ideas, the practicing of new steps, new compositions, new raw materials, creating new designs.

It is much more rewarding being actively engaged in life, rather than passively watching others do things.
I always feel so sad when tv “specials” show people having a good time – at a holiday, or a party, a special event and they suggest to you that by watching those people partying you will yourself feel as if you too had a good time.  Vicarious living.  Art engages you with real paint, real cloth, real words, real raw materials, real discussions – you don’t need to watch other people having a good time (or more likely pretending to be having a good time for the cameras!), you can do it yourself!!

The creative life is not only bearable, but good
Well Vonnegut wasn’t always the happiest of blokes, so if  he found creativity to make life bearable, I would think for most of us, it would take the quality of life up from bearable into Definitely Good – something worth getting up in the morning for!

Your comments!
So, why do you think that practicing an art is good for you?  Would you agree with Vonnegut, or disagree?  Have you noticed a difference since you became an art quilter?
  Please do comment – especially creatively!! Remember what it can do for you – and it’s free!!  And, thank you so much for reading – if you have been of course!!!   Elizabeth
  ps  note the importance of a nice cuppa tea when practicing.................................

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Women Rule, or If Only Gandalf was a Woman!

Isn’t it lovely to come across a new artist whose work you absolutely fall in love with?Look to The Women!
My Abstract Art for Quiltmakers class (both real and virtual!) is based on the work of 20th and 21st century female abstract artists.  I chose female artists because, since their work is often not well known, it has a freshness and a vibrancy to it that pulls you in to look further.  After all, who wants to see another blessed soup can??!!  We all love something novel.

 There are many reasons why female artists are little known.  In her book Women, Art and Society, Whitney Chadwick explores several centuries of feminine artists. Even though excellent women painters have always existed, academies, such as the Royal Academy in England, preferred to relegate them to the subjects of paintings, rather than the makers of paintings.  Art history books, museum collections, auction prices etc all are evidence of a complete and utter lack of respect for work by women.  Alas, the lack of recognition was widespread: not just in art, but politics, religion – even sport – though that is certainly beginning to improve as people realize that intelligence and elegance are at least the equal of power and aggression.

Economics, as ever, have always been a factor: paintings by men have always sold for more than paintings by women.  And, of course, books by men were more likely to be published (consider Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell), and also musical compositions.  Sometimes the works would be attributed to men when they were actually created by women.  Undoubtedly the same pattern holds true for all the arts, sciences (look at the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA) and other areas of knowledge.

Whatever the psychological, social and economic reasons for this, it does mean that there is a whole world of work produced by women out there which is likely to be new and inspiring for us!  Alas, we really can’t change history – though, of course, as many have noticed, the writing of history is vey fickle and changeable.  We probably have never known and will never know the exact “truth” of most that has happened to human beings.  Our personal perspective always distorts, usually unintentionally – but sometimes very intentionally – but that’s another issue!

So, whenever you research art….whatever the era: the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, the Age of Reason, the Victorian paintings, modern and abstract art, post modern art and into the present day – look for The Women!!  Their work is strong, it’s tender, it’s fresh, it’s waiting to be discovered. Let’s create a demand for it!  And I’m still waiting for women to rule the world!

If you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

PS – I’d bet that far more women than men take online classes and far more women are active in pursuing more knowledge in retirement…..the men are in front of the telly, the women are learning!!!
As you know I teach online at the Academy of Quilting – I have several classes, alas no men (unless of course they’re masquerading under a female name!!!  Now that would be a nice reversal of  events wouldn’t it?).
If you’ve never taken an online class, by the way,  and would like to check one out free of charge, no obligation (as they say) – Ruth Arbee, the Dean of the Academy is running one right now:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Does there need to be a Point?

As quiltmakers we have all seen (and often made) many traditional quilts, and so we are used to our work not having a focal point (FP), but looking at art magazines (of course when I should be working!), the presence of the focal point, aka "centre of interest" is often discussed.

 We are shown exactly where to create the The Point - not in the middle - oh no!! (finger wags like the actress in the airlines' movie about not smoking on board!!! naughty naughty!!), in the middle would be a Bull's Eye!  Actually, it was never the bull's eye that bothered me, but its horns.   

But the FP couldn't be on the edge either, otherwise one's eyes would slide off - a rather painful and disfiguring process I would think...although flounders seem to adapt being born with an eye on each side of the head, and  gradually having one of them slide over to the other side...maybe they looked at too much bad art?

NO, the Point should be at one of the 4 corners of the "golden area" where the division in thirds lines cross.  Photographers, I've noticed, love the Rule of Thirds, I think it's all that figuring out of precise stops that makes them so obsessive.  Or leads the obsessive to that kind of photography - was it the chicken or the egg that held the camera first, I just don't know! but just mention Rule of Thirds to a photographer and see him light up!

We're also told precisely how to create an effpee - well yes I know that sounds a little lewd, but really it's not.  To create an Eff Pee  you use contrast! One variable against a very different one. Like ketchup on icecream, enough to make anyone want to eff pee, actually.

But why should we do it?  aha!! Now, pay Attention!! for IT (attention) is the name of the game, it's the cherry on the cake, the pay packet at the end of the week, the laugh line (after a pause - contrast, right?)......................................................................................................................................................................................................
YES!!  (as Yoko Ono had printed on a small piece of paper pasted on the ceiling of the gallery which persuaded even John Lennon to claim up a ladder to read......
not only have a point (yes!  as Molly Bloom said - repeatedly if I recall - in Ulysses) but put it in an Important place and make your audience WORK to get it!

If one is good, arn't two better?  Well, think about a tennis game - imagine two balls flying back and forth across the court....your head would be spinning, to say nothing of the players' heads!  Generally speaking, "they" say - one main emphasis, but there can be secondary ones.....

It is conceded, however, that while having an FP really really helps to grab attention, you really don't have to have one -  if you have a reason for not having one.  If you want to emphasize the overall decorative quality of the piece, the traditional block quilt for example or paintings such as those of Lee Krasner or Agnes Martin where the aim is to evoke an overall mood.  You can also be making a point about the lack of a point......the point is the point is in Warhol's repetitive soup can paintings. 

Perhaps there does need to be a point to it after all?  but maybe, instead of reading art magazines I'll go and make a cup of tea - a much more productive distraction!
If you have been, thanks for reading!
AND...please do weigh in with your comments, I look forward to all the Points that you make!

Monday, August 4, 2014

An easy way to do value studies.

I'm always advocating value studies in my classes and while I enjoy the mindless contemplative task of shading (usually I'm listening to an audio book, to be honest! currently Tartt's Goldfinch and hoping there's a happy ending but increasingly doubting the possibility)...eniow, while I don't mind shading away with my pencil almost horizontal, I know many find the task quite irksome.

So why not use Photoshop © or Photoshop Elements ©?  
This is what Susan Lane did in my Abstract Art for Quiltmakers class ( and everyone was admiring how crisp and clean her drawings looked.  

Here are the instructions (thank you Susan!)

1.   Draw the sketch using a bold dark line.
2.   Make sure all the corners and points where the lines connect are closed. 
        Otherwise color will leak from one area to another.
3.   Scan your drawing and save it to your computer as "Drawing 1" or,
          make a duplicate file, so that you can always go back to the original.
4.   Open the file in Photoshop
© or Photoshop Elements ©
5.   On the Toolbar (left side of screen), find the “color” tool, two overlapping boxes, one black and one white. The black should be on top. If it isn’t, click on the little double ended arrow, top right corner of the two boxes. This arrow switches the boxes.
6.   With
Black Square on top, you are ready to fill the black areas of your value study.
7.   Click on the “paint bucket” tool. This tool fills large areas. Now this tool often "hides" under other tools! On my (very old) PS, it is hidden under the Gradient tool which is a square that shades from dark to light.  In order to find the hidden tools, simply click and hold on any of the little icons - you'll be surprised what you find! The paint bucket tool looks like a little paint can spilling out.
8.   Now back to your drawing, click on the area you want to fill. The color tool shows that your current "color" is black so that is the color that will "fill" or "paint" or "shade" any area you click on. 
9. When you have shaded all the areas you want to be very dark with black, open the color picker box by clicking on the black box in the color tool.
13.   The “Color Picker” box will open. On the bottom right of the menu box is C Y M K with percentages.  These are the basic colors that put together in different mixes create all the colors in the program - similar to the ink cartridges in your printer: Cyan (blue), Yellow, Magenta and K (black).
14. Decide how many shades of grey you want in your drawing - how many different values.  You already have two with black and with white (for white of course, simply don't add any "color" to that area of the sketch). 
Set C, Y and M to zero, 0%
Now you can decide how dark you want your mid value - or values - to be.
If you only want one mid value, then set K to 50%.
For two mid values, I'd set it to 33%, fill those in, and then 66%.
In my example below I decided to have 5 values: white, 25%K, 50%K, 75%K and 100%K.
15.   So I set CYM to 0%, and K to 75% then clicked on OK at the top right of the menu.
This put me back to the drawing, and I filled all the areas I wanted to be medium dark.
16.  Back to color picker, and reset K to 50% for medium. then filled the medium areas.
17. Back to color picker and rest K to 25 % for medium  light. Then filled the med light areas.
Now I saved every step so that I could show you, but obviously you don't usually need to do that.
If you fill an area and then decide against it, just "Step Backward" i.e. Alt-Ctrl-Z.
Or you could refill with another value.

Here  is my basic drawing:
 Drawing 1, no values added
 Drawing 2, black added
 Drawing 3, medium dark and black added
 Drawing 4, medium, medium dark and black added
 Drawing 5, medium light, medium, medium dark and black added

Hope you have fun!!!
And, as always - if you have been, thanks for reading!!  And thank you to Susan.    Elizabeth