Friday, July 18, 2008

A break from blogging, and a renewal

I’m going to be “off the air” for a few days as I’ll be teaching at Morrisville college, somewhere near Syracuse , NY at Quilting by the Lake – actually I just wrote “Quilting as a Lark” – I hope it will be!! Since I don’t have a laptop (yet! The next big sale will net me one, I hope) I’ll have no email access there.

After QBL, I’m still hoping to teach at Madeline Island School for the Arts but havn’t heard from them since I signed the contract! I’ve emailed with no result. I’d love to go there, it sounds like a lovely place – an island in Lake Superior.

Even if I don't get to Lake Superior, I am going to visit lake Ontario: after QBL, I’m off upto Canada – hope to see some art there. On my last visit I went to the Textile museum in Toronto where they had a great exhibit called Blue. Their current exhibit Close to You examines the use of idioms and images from popular culture – don’t know if that’s quite my cup of tea! But we’ll see. There is also going be to an outdoor earth art exhibit at the Royal botanical gardens in Burlington, Ontario that sounds wonderful. And I’m sure there will be lots of galleries ( to say nothing of pubs) in between! That’s the great thing about art, there’s always something to see even on a rainy day!

Seeing new art (manmade and nature made) always stirs up ideas and energy. Robert Genn’s newsletter this morning described his “principles of renaissance”. I’d like to think I have some – though some of the authority figures I’ve worked for might not feel them to be so positive! Especially the principle of “inventing new systems” – the library I worked in wasn’t too thrilled about that!!

The “principles” are great ideas to follow: A Renaissance person is consistently curious and questions convention. One should always strive to make better (not just more) work, perfecting skills or learning new ones as necessary and looking for challenges rather than taking an easy path. It is fascinating to see the challenges artists give themselves: giant crocheted constructions,

paintings of emotion, poems tiny and perfect jewels. We must not fall back on the same old topics and solutions, instead we should invent new ways of solving problems. And take risks. A call to arms that will benefit rather than bankrupt. We need a 21st century Renaissance!!

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

Thursday, July 17, 2008

High Fiber Under Five

I received a request yesterday from the San Jose Museum of Quilts and Textiles for a quilt that could retail for $500 or less.
At first I thought – I don’t have anything that small!

But the more I thought about it the more I realized the idea of having a show of small very affordable pieces is a very good one.

It will benefit the museum, the visitors and potential buyers and the quilt artists too.

The museum will benefit by gaining a lot of visitors, by making 50% on all the sales and by helping people to see that owning art is a lot of fun!

Buyers will benefit by the years of pleasure having a unique, original, personal and valid piece of art hanging in their homes. I have several small pieces that I’ve bought over the years and they give me inspiration in the studio every day.

Getting started in anything is very difficult and it’s important to make the first step easy. It takes considerable energy to overcome initial inertia!!! So if we can encourage people to start collecting – in even a small way – the ball will have begun rolling.

As an artist I will also benefit in that people will be able to own and get to know my art much better. If what I’m making is any good, they’ll enjoy it for a long time – and maybe one day buy more! And if it’s not any good – then they’ve benefited the museum and got a nice pot holder!

My personal definition of “good art” is art that continues to give you pleasure and joy for a long time, when every time you look at it you notice something new – a relationship of one line or shape with another, the intriguing after effect of one colour upon another, a background image becoming suddenly visible and on, and on.

I went up to my quilt “store” and looked through those I have and found several pieces (as you can see!) that will be perfect for the show: Friday November 7th, 2008, 6-11pm. Be there!


PS from top to bottom the names of the pieces are:
Foggy Day,
Village St 2,
Cloudland Canyon, y/m collage1,
Village St 1, Watersky,

Across Old Town, Micklegate.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Value of Art: not necessarily WYSIWYG!

Does work have to be good to sell?
Does price reflect quality?

We all know the great popularity of Kinkade type of paintings and Hallmark card type of paintings – they sell well, better than any other kind probably, and command decent prices too. Do we have equivalents in the art quilt world? I think so.

Some years ago I was in a very prestigious gallery that sells fiber and there were two pieces by two top quiltmakers. One was priced at $80,000 and the other (actually larger) at $18,000. These two artists are at the top of their game and the one with the much lower price is definitely not producing weaker work than the other. I asked the gallery owner why there was such a price difference. He replied the higher price was because he had exclusive rights of sale (rarity), and he felt the selling history and celebrity of the higher priced artist was greater.
Note: he did not say the work was better.

The same is true in the painting world of course – as a book called “I bought Andy Warhol” reveals – all the scheming and dealing that goes on with paintings being treated more like oil futures than works of art.

Robert Genn states that he is sorry to record that art does not have to be “good” to sell well.

What does sell well in the main art world is “perceived rarity, consistency of style, widely-based demand, celebrity hype and shock value”. Lets consider these “attributes” as they relate to art quilts.

In the sale of art quilts, demand and the familiarity of the name play a strong part. I have seen very small pieces – throw away pieces – selling for high prices because the maker is well known, while more interesting developed pieces by lesser known folk might never even get a second glance.

Consistency of style is a positive attribute when it results from a person working hard, making many pieces, trying to develop and portray a strong and individual vision. But it can also be negative – when we see yet another small variation on a very well known theme. A two edged sword: develop your own true recognizable voice, but don’t keep singing the same song!! (you remember, I love mixed metaphors!)

Shock value? I feel I have seen some work that challenges existing ideas of what the content of a quilt might be....but so often this is done in a cavalier rather than a genuine way. The content is made to be noticeable for its own sake, rather than the shock being a definite part of the total message.

Rarity? The gallery directors can achieve this by signing artists to exclusive contracts as noted above. But for t he most of us, no one is yet at the point where their production is lagging and the value of the art work climbing – I’m glad of the former, if not the latter!!

Onward and upward!

And if you have been…………………………………………..thanks for reading.


Monday, July 14, 2008


Line, shape, value, color and texture are the variables we play with in creating quilts.
(Yes! I know some people add gradation and direction , but since you achieve those with line, shape or value anyway, I prefer to think about the basic five.)
My earliest quilts were all about colour and light – I wanted to get the effect of light shining through windows as I have always been entranced by that.
I wanted the glow, and colour and value were my tools.

Probably this was a result of growing up in cold grey gloomy Yorkshire. When you grow up in a place with such varying light quality every day, it becomes very important - like breathing! I think what fascinates us visually must be laid down in the brain very early.
And I notice I keep going back to those early visual memories.

But for the last year I've been really focussed on line - hungry for it!!

My hometown is largely medieval, though whole sections are Roman (about 2,000 years old). So the lines aren’t straight! And, as a result ( like Hundertwasser!) I’ve always been a bit wary of very straight lines! Could never achieve them anyway, either literally or metaphorically!!
I love the lines the old timbers make in the buildings, both inside and out. The warping of lintels, the wearing of stone steps........

the sagging of roof trusses. So, I was very interested to read in Robert Genn’s newsletter that he feels that LINE is the most important element; that there is an “energy in line” that shape or value doesn’t have.
Lines can be sensitive or direct, straight or curved, appear and disappear, hesitate and break or strike out boldly. Not every subject demands an emphasis on line, but my current focus demands it!! I’ve made (well, almost made!) 12 of these pieces so far and I still feel hungry for more.

And if you have been………………………………………..thanks for reading!Elizabeth

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Upcoming workshop at QBL

I’ve spent the day writing out my notes and plans for the workshop I’m teaching at QBL July 21-25th. QBL stands for Quilting by the Lake and I must admit I signed up to teach because I thought there really was a lake!! But, alas, the lake is long gone!

My workshop is called “Inspiration to Fulfillment” and it’s about making an art quilt from start to finish but with a lot of focus on developing original designs. I’m hoping to be able to encourage the participants to come up with at least a dozen design sketches…and then we’ll choose the best one or two to complete. It is important to plan ahead if you want a good strong design.

I used to think that if I just got loose enough I’d be able to fling paint around and turn out delicious fresh watercolours….but the more I get into it, like any art, I discover that it’s hard work and planning that really makes the piece.

The painter plans ahead with thumbnail sketches, and practices skies and trees on scraps of paper, the potter turns pot after pot on his wheel, the dancer puts in long hours at the barre and in the dance studio. The result should look effortless – but that doesn’t mean that no effort went into it – far from it!!

People are coming from all over for the workshop: New York state of course, but also Canada, Florida, California, Massachusetts, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Virginia. It’s great to meet kindred spirits from all over. I once had a quilter come from Australia to take a workshop with me and she was a real gem!!

Now to start packing….but no swimsuit!


Friday, July 11, 2008

Technical Matters

I’m back from a fun four days screen printing and painting with friends – nothing to show yet because I’m still “batching”!! that is I’m letting the dye molecules make fast friends with the fiber molecules in the perfect steam heat (85 degree heat, 90% humidity) of summer Georgia with rain storms! A lot of people ask me for directions for dyeing, dye painting and screen printing with MX dyes. I don’t think you can do better than get the instructions directly from the dye company websites. I order from on the East coast – they are very good.
I hear equally good things about west coast based Dharma.

Here is the link to Prochem’s instructions for direct dye painting and screen printing:

If you go to their page, you will notice there are four methods given. I use method one, I always have a few yards of pre-soaked (with soda ash) fabric on hand. I keep a big bucket of the soda soak in my outside studio I can throw fabric in easily any time. You can see bucket, line, print table and batching fabric (under plastic) in the photo below. also a lovely patch of self sown cleome!

The soda soak will keep forever (until it’s all used up!!). I have a line for drying the fabric right there. Some people put the fabric in their dryer to dry it, but since I’ve several times managed to burn soda soaked fabric by ironing it, I’m not too sanguine about putting it into the heat of a dryer. Plus it uses up electricity, and we get plenty of free heat in GA!

I have left screen printed fabric “batching” on the print table for days – if not weeks!! It will come to no harm, and magic may happen – you never know!

Method two on the prochem website describes putting the activator/soda ash directly into the dye/alginate mix. You can just add soda ash and that works fine, if you add a mix of baking soda and soda ash as described on the prochem website it slows down the dye process. You would use this method when you want to take some time – several hours or even a couple of days – to paint the fabric. The baking soda activates the dye much more slowly than the soda ash. Why is that a good idea? Well, once the soda ash, the dye and the fabric get together they start mating up pretty quickly!! And you should complete the painting/screen process within 4 hours otherwise the dye is pretty much exhausted. It takes baking soda longer - as it slowly converts to soda ash.

Method 3 doesn’t involve batching (i.e. leaving the painted fabric in a warm (over 70 degrees) damp situation for 24 hours or more) but rather steaming to set the dye – so you’d just that one if you were in more of a hurry or couldn’t batch. To me the extra work of steaming is rarely worth it! And of course I’ve plenty of local heat without using electricity unnecessarily. I’ve not used method 4.

You use the same techniques for dye painting (applying thickened dye with a brush) or screen printing (applying thickened dye to fabric through a screen with a squeegee).

Kerr Grabowski has made a very detailed DVD of her screen printing processes and I’d recommend it – the only problem is you have to find a naked man (as she does!) to hand you items as you need them!! I think I’ll have to employ one for my next workshop!

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


P.S. the quilt at the top "City of Garlic and Sapphires" was made from many different pieces of screen printed fabric.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Developing Your Own Style

Have you heard people say “Oh yes, I can tell that piece is by so and so.. That’s her/his signature style”?

What is style?

A particular style is not a mystery. It can be largely defined. I think it’s helpful to look at artists whom you admire and define their style. What is it about a Nancy Crow, an Emily Richardson or a Dorothy Caldwell piece that makes it so clearly their work? What is their particular way of arranging those design elements, line, shape, value, colour and texture, that is so uniquely their voice? I’ve found it helpful to look at several pieces by one person and analyse them in terms of repeated traits. How is this person drawing me in? Why does this work intrigue me – does she do the same thing in every piece? Why are these lines and shapes so pleasing, so well balanced and proportioned? In what myriad of ways is this person showing a consistent and strong voice? They are definable – if they were not, then they wouldn’t be said t o have a signature style.

How does one achieve a style?

As in every art medium it is import to peepeepee! Persistence, Practice and Patience are the keys to making better work. In this way, your own style will naturally develop.

I try not to make “one offs”; I try to commit myself to making at least 6 of any one idea – even though it may sometimes be thought I do too many!!! But I find as I keep repeating an idea then several things happen: my sense of what is important about that idea grows stronger, my knowledge of what I can leave out, what is unnecessary, becomes greater and, above all, I can allow myself to take more risks.

And if you have been………………thanks for reading!!!


P.S. I’m heading north out of the summer heat of Georgia for a few days RR and G (rest, relaxation and gossip!) with some close friends so I won’t be back on the blog till the end of the week – talk to you then!

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Art of taking workshops wisely

Even in Art Quilting – a relatively “young” art medium – it can be difficult at times to think of new ways of being creative, new ideas, new possibilities. A good way to jump start is by taking a workshop - however there are disadvantages to this solution as well as advantages.

Different ideas, techniques, subjects, assembly methods, design possibilities etc are taught and then, within the space of a 5 day workshop, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of examples!!

“Oh no, not another Crownie!!’ You gasp, or gulp: “Yikes! another graduate of the wellknown Chicago School…..”.
You go to a quilt show and say “aha! I can see which class she took!!”

I even had someone in a workshop come up and show me very proudly an copy she’d made of one of my quilts – with the help of another teacher!! And, while it looked very nice and imitation being the most sincere flattery, that wasn’t the point!

But is this a bad thing? I don't think it’s a bad thing to try….but it is definitely not the fresh, personal and valid work that we’re looking for. Some people are good at thinking up new ideas or have access to new materials, or cross knowledge from different fields of art – they introduce the new food to us: we taste it, try it….some pronounce some things inedible (like the f**ing technique that to me translates as: how to glue fabric to the base of your iron and many other places you don’t want it!) whereas others realize they have discovered their life’s dream.

When Picasso said : Good artists copy. Great artists steal”, he meant that you should take a new idea and make it your own. (as he did with Cubism).

By the way he wasn’t the only one to say this: T.S. Eliot said “immature poets imitate; mature poets steal” in his book of literary criticism: The Sacred Wood.

It’s fine to begin by copying (as do other fine artists: the new conductor, the violinist, the landscape gardener, the glass blower…), this is one of the best ways to learn. However, this initial trying out of an idea should be just the beginning (and, by the way, not for public view). So please, don’t just take workshops continuously learning another technique and another and another*…. Instead learn one new thing and then explore the new morsel inside and outside, right way up and upside down, backwards and forwards – try it in green and pink and white!! And hold back from more workshops with the artist whose ideas really inspired you, lest you find yourself not moving forward into your own work. Make that new idea, technique, design process your own!!!

And if you have been………………thanks for reading!!!
And do write a comment! I love comments!!

* unless you are taking workshops "just for fun"!! Just for fun is totally legitimate in itself!!

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Favorite web sites (and books!) part 1: Looking at things differently

As an art quilter I find inspiration and enjoyment from several different kinds of web sites though I won’t discuss them all today because I plan to revisit this topic!

I particularly enjoy Art related web sites – those that give advice about both the techniques of art (composition, color etc) and the business of art or just discuss art in general.

An interesting one I came across is:

This site has loads of information about every aspect of art and you can even try to become a “featured artist” with a very easy upload of a couple of images.

A recent article that caught my eye was “jump starting your creativity” – the author encourages us to question ourselves “what if?” For example, I often make quilts about cityscapes, and buildings.. so instead of taking another photograph of an urban scene and rendering it into fabric without much change, I could ask myself –

what if I was a mouse looking at this scene, how would it look?

Or if I was floating from a balloon?

What if I cut this image up into squares?

What if I imagined it was dark and I had a big search light?

What if I only had two colours to work with – what if they were a really strange combination – like lime green and orange?

What if I asked the next 5 year old I stumbled across to start the sketch for me……(have you never stumbled across a 5 year old? I know I have!)

What if I closed my eyes and drew it?

What if I tried to sketch it upside down?

These questions reminded me of a wonderful book by Alan Fletcher, a British graphic designer, said to have been one of the best designers ever, called “The Art of Looking Sideways” – you can see him on YouTube discussing his book which he says is “a box of goodies”! A thousand or more ways of looking at things differently.

So today – don’t forget to ask yourself how you too can look at things differently…..

……………..and if you have been, thanks for reading! Elizabeth