Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A formula for success?

I do like these three small pieces I recently reconfigured from an existing idea that wasn't working so well. I don't know if they could be considered "a formula for success" - but they look more successful to me than they did!!! I'm thinking of them as "canyons" because they remind me of a long ago trip to Brice and Zion in the SW...amazing country!  some landscapes just attach themselves to the brain don't they?

A friend passed onto me recently a very interesting article about a formula for success...it's based on an interview with a ceramicist Curtis Benzle of Huntsville, Alabama.  He's a retired art professor.

He considers making a living as an artist to be the iconic 3-legged stool and is continually surprised that students aren't taught this.  To be frank I think this approach should be considered for many majors - all the arts certainly , but music too.
The three legs are:
1. making excellent new experimental art
2. making products to sell
3. teaching in a community setting

He feels that is is possible to make a reasonable living (probably in the south rather than on the coasts or in the North East!) if each leg is solid.

He had observed when he was a prof at Columbus Art college (Ohio) that the program really seemed to be focussed on the top few students - the one percent who were obviously extremely creative, talented and clearly very self motivated.  They were actually going to be successful artists with or without help from their college profs!!  Despite that fact that was where the focus was and not towards the other 99%.  The 99% were good but not exceptional, success was not going to be falling into their laps...as fine artists only.

He realized that the students needed to know about how to make a living, not just how to make art.
One of the keys was to help the main body of students develop their spatial intelligence to produce marketable skills. He instructed them in product development.  He gave the example of a sculptor who was unable to get any commissions for his big outdoor 5 figure sculptures who had the idea of making large metal flowers...very attractive and very affordable.  Another student was able to develop wedding bouquets made from origami flowers...not only very pretty...but totally sustainable!!

At first the art school itself set up a booth to sell the products, but as word of mouth got around and networking ensued, sales took off.  Meanwhile the students could work on their Major Pieces too...but they were having fun with the products.

They then got instruction in how to teach at a nearby art center, and other community related teaching places....this was actually hard for them, but again it paid off.

One very good point he made was that in both developing small affordable products and in teaching you are also developing a market for your larger more important work...and, as a result, everything grows and avenues open up.

I wonder how much of this is applicable to our art form?  Quilts take such a long time to make when made traditionally, but do the public respond to quick little fabric collages - which would probably be the nearest thing to the large metal flowers and the origami bouquets?.....well - while I don't particularly like them personally and would never dream of buying one.. I have seen art work particularly from Northern Europe that is fun, cheerful, colorful and eye catching and people do seem to lap it up.

So I think the debate is that unless you know that you are in that top 1% destined to be a fine artist come what may, are you willing to develop all three areas:  fine art - probably in our cases destined for the major shows, products to sell (and what might they be??? any ideas?) and teaching.

 I actually began teaching little kids in a summer camp!! that was pretty wild!  then adults in a night class and so on up the ladder....and I have really enjoyed that aspect of the 3 prongs.  I never thought much about the middle "products to sell" prong...maybe I should!!

So what are your thoughts?  Are we all trying to convince ourselves we're in the top 1% destined to be discovered as major concert artists very soon??? or are we part of the 99% trying to make an all round honest living from our art.  

If you have been, thanks for reading.     Elizabeth

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Why I love to teach online.....

No, not a quilt ...just my favorite color!  Scotland, Bonnie Scotland.....
When Carol Miller (late of Quilt university) first called me to ask me to teach an online class for her, I thought it couldn't possibly work.  I felt that without the face to face contact there couldn't be any personal interaction, and that teaching would, therefore, be much more difficult...and dry.

I also thought - what a drag it would be having to write out all the lessons!!!  And I'd never get the fun of travel...

 ..but the more I do teach online, the more I feel it's a superior method.  Yes it's true there isn't the socializing!! but there  also isn't the increasing hassle of travel.  And travel is also Very time consuming...it would take me at least a day - usually 2 or - 3 to get everything packed, and even the shortest flight meant leaving home 4 or 5 hours ahead of time, so just hopping to the next state was really an all-day affair.  another day lost.  Same  thing coming back, and then 2-3 days getting unpacked...so then I was  losing  up to a week without adding on any actual teaching days.

Time: Students
Many students, too, have long and arduous journeys schlepping all those supplies, and  many need to take time off work too ...that time would be better spent in their studio or sewing space, or just in a thinking place!  (like the above!).

When I started writing the lessons, I realized that, writing over several weeks as I usually do, I had many many more ideas for creating exercises, designs, explaining composition and creativity and so on, than ever I did when just talking in the class room - even with copious notes - yes, sometimes too copious!  I remember one venue got very fed up with me from holding students up from "vendor shopping time" - agh!  big biz!!  And I enjoy writing the lessons, doing the research, mulling over possibilities.

Student Development
...and  then it struck me that (as an online course takes weeks not days) the students also have a lot more time to really think about things, to do some research - usually online of course, for after all..that's where they are.  If you go to a symposium for fun, that's fine, and it's great!  especially if it's somewhere really neat and you meet some great new friends. No better place!   BUT what if you're going to learn something?   And it's a very large classroom and the teacher hardly ever gets round to you (that's happened to me several times when I've gone to painting workshops - and, initially, quilting workshops too.)  What can I personally learn from a Big Name if I'm one of 40 or 50 crammed into a classroom or hotel conference room for 3-4 days?

Personal Critiques
With the online classes I'm able to help each student personally, and other students can "listen" in and learn by kibitzing (often not possible in a large seminar work room).   I also have the time to think about any questions posed to me - in the classroom you pretty much have to answer straight away and (you never know!) your second or third thoughts on the matter could be better...you've got time and opportunity to think about those when you're online.

...for the teacher - yes I must admit - you can make a lot more money in person, there's no doubt!
but for the student - online classes are just a fraction of the cost of one of the big symposiums, and considerably less even than a guild-sponsored workshop.  That means that many more different kinds of people can take the workshops, greater range of ages and backgrounds...and incredibly wider geographical range.

Personal Contact is possible!
It wasn't long after I began teaching online that I realized just how GOOD it is!! And how much we can get to know each other, I love especially people who have taken several classes from me and I get a real sense of who they are and where they are going.

So, if you've never taken an online class, check me out at academyofquilting.com     - as well as me there are Lots of other teachers....and just see for yourself how much more satisfying a class is that has longer period of study, with less hassle, and more teacher contact.

Now I will admit that not all online classes are equal...there are some out there that treat neither the students nor the teachers very well....in my experience you'll get the most for your money and time with a class that is more a small personal business rather than being part of a large scale commercial enterprise. The more advertising, hype, marketing, slick websites etc etc there is...remember...it's you who's paying for that!!!  My next timed (weekly lessons) class begins on Friday March 2nd, and there are several "on demand" classes you can take as well.

I'd love to hear what you think the pros and cons of live vs online classes are..comments!!!
from both the students' and the teachers'  points of view.

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

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Six Hour Quilt Class

Well...I had this crazy idea last summer that it would be fun to see if I could persuade 3 victims to take a 6 hour class with me and make a quilt from start to finish - 3 people who had never made a quilt before!  In six hours....I wanted to have them design the quilt themselves, figure out a color scheme, work only from an existing stash (mine!), cut it out without a pattern, construct it, quilt it and finish it.

One person, it turned out, had made a sampler quilt about 100 years ago! One had done some embroidery, the other had once used a sewing machine to fix some hems!!  But all three were enthusiastic and open to ideas.

We filmed in short video bursts, yes, cinéma verité!  All warts very evident - especially on me (I had just been quite ill)...but I really liked the results.  It is very much a reality show...their questions were excellent and I'm sure that led to my explanations being fuller and clearer.  The question and answer process of teaching is so rewarding to both sides, I feel.

So if you've never made a modern or art quilt before, or if you just want to watch the process from  idea to quilt and all the decisions in between...or if you're looking for a way to do a six hour class for your guild....then consider this class.

It goes live with the academy of quilting this Friday.  

I have always tried to put a lot of research into my classes...and had been considering various topics, but my boss kept say "they want videos!".  I didn't realize just how much I'd enjoy going back to basics, showing three keen students just HOW to do it!  I do think it's enjoyable to watch, and you're bound to see something new - a lot of people have asked me about the kind of facing I do for example.   But I think the most important thing is seeing how the construction is really a very small part of the process...it's the planning, the cogitating, the experimenting that's where the art is.

And I'm happy to say, all three now have a nice quilt hanging on their walls - yes in pride of place!!

Happy to answer any questions/comments.......

if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Art of Enjoying Not Getting There!

"To climb steep hills requires slow pace at first"..
.as Shakespeare tells us in Henry VIII.
or, as my teacher says
 "if it were easy, everyone could do it!"
.......and yet still we look for magic pills and easy answers and quick routes...and  we are continually seduced by those who say they can give/teach/sell us these things! But, are we on the right track?

Anna Rose Bain, the portrait painter, describes how remarkable is the patience of world class artists when working, that their working habits are often quite methodical rather than being in some kind of astral zone - a  transcendent state of mind that it is sometimes suggested we should try to achieve (without chemical help! - but probably by purchasing the latest self help book or set of videos).  

A better approach might be to allow oneself patience and care when plying our craft. Instead of panicking when something "isn't working", take the time to ask the right questions: is it the underlying compositional structure? how does it look if I squint at it? why doesn't it communicate any feeling to me?  

  Interestingly, this last question  applies to all art forms..  I was attending a master class the other day...the student played a slow tender piece technically well...but.......
.then the teacher asked someone to come and stand right by the piano and LISTEN very hard, obviously and concentratedly while looking at the pianist..who then replayed the piece really trying to communicate its meaning solely by the way she was playing...and it was much better.  She was really trying to "tell" the person not by words but by the music what it meant to her.

  Analytically what she did was emphasize certain sections a little more, she increased the contrast - of positive to negative space, of loudness to softness, of legato to staccato, of quick to slow etc...all the things that we have in our fiber repertoire: color, value, shape, space, edges.....these are the same things! We can communicate, if we think, and take our time.

But perhaps (yes there always is a "but perhaps"!), "the Holy Grail is not in the finding, but in the journey"....as  Saul Zaentz (and, I think, many others) said.....

Putting those two quotes together,  I guess you end up with learning to enjoy the slow pace of climbing the hill for you might never get to the top!!!

If you have been, thanks for reading!  And do respond with your thoughts about this wonderful process we enjoy struggling with and struggle to enjoy!   Elizabeth

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Modern Quilt...improvised....

I love Improv!! That doesn't mean that some Planning doesn't go into it...I think all the best improv starts  a well thought out structure  and then you get to feeling improvise on top of that...whether it's comedy, or music or  quilts...

As I look back over the quilts I've made - and there are quite a few! coming up to around 300 now...it's the simpler ones that I actually like the best....and they are so much more modern!

When I look at other people's work...and when I advise and suggest in my various classes I'm always urging for an elegant economy.  If you look at some of Picasso's early drawings and Matisse...with just the fewest of lines they create a whole world of impressions.

.....and of course some nice bold hand stitching is just the cream on the cake!  something that we as quilters and fiber artists can do that isn't possible with mere pigment!

and so I had a lot of pleasure writing the Mod Meets Improv class for the academyofquilting  coming up with different starting points for beautiful elegant quilts that are surprisingly easy to make.

I have a new class starting the end of this week, if you're interested.  The classed that the academy runs are very inexpensive...I just took two expensive painting classes, and honestly the class was huge and the students got Very Little feedback...and none of it with helpful suggestions for overcoming problems.  

 I really like to help people move forward in my classes and I think showing people how to analyze problems and then find possible solutions is what a teacher is there for.  I have been very critical of many classes I've taken because the teachers don't do that - usually they're just too nice, but often they have too many people and so simply iterate the original instructions...just too much effort to go beyond that.   it's actually worse in painting than it is in fiber arts!  but, it occurs everywhere...

.of course private lessons are really really nice!!!  as I'm discovering in several of my endeavors....but they are expensive and I think a small group lesson is a good starting point.

These are quilts I've made over the years that were not complicated, one is traveling with SAQA in a Mod Quilt show....others still reside here, some I've sold, some I've traded!!  Love a good trade.

so if you're looking for a new, fresh approach to quilting.....consider taking the Mod meets Improv class!!
I have an even easier class coming up mid February..but it's a lot of fun: it's basically a reality show!  More about that when I have a firm date for its running.....

Meanwhile, I hope you've enjoyed looking at these quilts!!! I love to meet you in class!
If  you have been, thanks for reading!!!  Elizabeth

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Journey into Abstraction!

A lot of people feel that they don't understand abstract art...and as a result don't like it.
Even one of my close friends came up with the line "my 5 year old could have made that" - nearly as bad as "not your grandmothers' quilts" right???
Not your grandmother's phone, or her clothes or her tv or her car or probably her diet for that matter!!!

Good abstract art could not be made by a five year (unless perhaps Picasso as a child, as Mozart composed when he was a tot) - they simply don't have the sense of organization, the ability to judge between what adds and what detracts, the sense of color, how to convey mood etc etc.

I do think though, that if you want to make abstract art it's very helpful to have some idea of the processes, particularly the design processes that the successful abstract artists have used.
and this is what my class: More Abstract Art for Quiltmakers, starting Friday with www.academyofquilting.com
attempts to do.

 The class examines some of the more influential abstract painters since abstract art began - yes! with a woman painter!!  Hilda af Klint.    Not poor old Kandinsky as he claimed.  Women were there FIRST.....    From each "school" of abstract art, I derived design exercises that  you can use to create many many designs of your own.

Some you will like, others you won't...but you will have a lot more knowledge of abstract art as a whole...and a number of very straight forward starting points to set you on your own journey to abstraction.

This class is parallel to my Abstract Art for Quiltmakers class. They deal with the subject in different ways. More Abstract Art looks at the history and the popular abstract painters we know. Abstract Art for Quiltmakers focuses particularly on the contributions made by female abstract artists.
all the exercises are different, if you liked Abstract Art for QM, you'll like More Abstract Art for QM - but you'll have many different things to try.

Happy to answer any questions!
If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth