Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Back Log

What d’you do with all the quilts you’ve made that are getting a big long in the tooth and are totally unloved and unsold?

Here are some possibilities:

  1. offer them to your children – after all, any discerning and loving child will be bound to want Momma’s art work on the wall – right? If you include the poles, and the nails and a hammer and a step ladder…they may even take them!
  2. try selling them for knock down prices at the local guild’s annual quilt show – you can always add a few beads or bows or even a blue ribbon or two to try to increase their desirability
  3. Fold neatly into a dog or cat bed – these can always be rescued later and given a quick wash should a customer finally appear!
  4. offer to your minister – it helps if you write a few messages here and there on the piece “with best wishes from all your parishioners” or something of that sort.
  5. Cut up into smaller pieces, splash with guache or even a quick spray with car paint, or that matt black you did the barbecue with last week, and frame in little gold frames and sell at the next art fair.
  6. cut up into pot holders – here’s a touch Martha would approve of: stitch differently coloured ribbon round each one and make a loop – hang as a triptych on your kitchen wall and decorate a little apron to match for yourself. If you want to complete the vision, then a waitress cap with ribbons will make hubby glow when he comes in after a hard day’s work.
  7. cut the quilt into a rectangle and a circle, then assemble as a bog roll cover. Sew kewt!
  8. give to the salvation army writing down on the form “rare art work valued at $99, excellent condition”
  9. when looking after the neighbour’s cats when they’re away, hang the piece over their mantelpiece – they’ll be so thrilled they’ll buy 3 more from you instantly.
  10. cut up into cute little vests for yourself and 3 friends to wear at the next IQA show – you’ll start a trend! (or maybe end one!)
  11. Seventeen of them glued together will make a nice footstool for your feet.
  12. Give one to your husband to hang over the television - so much more interesting than sport.
  13. offer one to your dentist in lieu of his normal fee – after all, it will look good on the boat!
  14. Don a uniform and a tool belt, with a ladder over your shoulder, hang them in various public buildings around your town. Everyone will be so pleased to have real (rather than Hallmark) art!
  15. Send them to Project Runway – see if Tim can “make them work”!
  16. Announce on your blog: OK you lot, I’m not making ONE more quilt until this lot is Sold!!!
  17. Set fire to the lot!

And, if you have been….thanks for reading – and good luck with the backlog!!!


Friday, August 29, 2008

To Serialize or Not to serialize? Or, How to build a Quilt Zoo!

Despite my confession that I am indeed a serial quilter, I do sometimes wonder about whether or not it is really a good thing to keep doing the same topic over and over! Might one be producing corpses instead of fresh new work?

There is always talk about the importance of developing a “signature look”, a uniform style and a predictability. But why is this? Whom does this help? To play devil’s advocate for a moment…it is certainly a great help to a gallery if they can expect a Rothko to look like a typical Rothko, or a Pollack to always be painted in the air and allowed to drop onto the canvas…Customers like to know what they’re getting.

But if one is typecast in this way, it might lead to the artist being required to keep repeating themselves.

A Suzie Shie quilt therefore, should always include the characters and the journaling with which we’re familiar

. A Linda Macdonald should address concerns about the environment, or

a Jeanne Williamson should have an underlying grid of black and white

An Elizabeth Barton piece should be a quirky medieval street night scene - again!

My neighbour has a Nelda Warkentin with soft focus silks in a block format so my Warkentin should be the same (except, perhaps, bigger!)!

Or should it? What good does it do the artist if people expect and desire their work to be so predictable that there’s a risk that it fails to engage the viewer? That it becomes entirely a commodity and not a fresh artistic statement.

Is it simply for commercial reasons? That these are the products that customers have come to expect? Should our art as well as our world be so predictable? Because when we can predict things we can feel comfortable? But won’t that also run the risk of being bland and boring?

On the other hand…..

Would I really want to be one of those people that makes one collage in pastels and then one pieced work in bold dramatic colours and then do a photo image quilt with writing on it and then a reverse appliqué of flowers followed by a whole cloth painted anti NRA piece? Phew!! My head is spinning!! It reminds me of the time the famous landscaper came to visit our garden and instead of admiring the collection of varied plants said “oh, a horticultural zoo!”.

It’s clearly not going to help one work deeper and more thoughtfully if you just make one of everything, but it also is very limiting to become completely typecast! We must fight the requirement to be so predictable, to have to justify a change once we’ve thoroughly explored a theme. We want to keep growing and evolving not tramping up and down the same path singing the same song even if the customers expect it!

so - if you have been - keep on balancing!!!


Tuesday, August 26, 2008

With Refreshing Optimism let us consider the journey!

I was reading a very interesting article today in Art in America (September issue), one of my favorite magazines – a lot meatier than most quilting magazines!!! It’s a fascinating magazine especially the reviews: you might come across comments of unusual honesty and directness – I remember one reviewer saying that “the artist appears to have painted this picture while falling downstairs”!!

Cynicism in art is common, of course, especially these days: “one is hard pressed to regard [the artist’s installations] as anything other than relics of a civilization incapable of sustaining itself”. But another take on cynicism that might be more relevant to the quilt world would be this comment: “Perhaps in our age of cynicism the most provocative thing an artist can do is to be decidedly unpolitical and refreshingly optimistic”

So let us provoke the rest of the art world with fresh takes and insouciant gamboling (not gambling – though of course it is!!) in the world of dye, paint and fibre!

To return, however, to my original point: The article I was reading today is a review by the painter Richard Kalina of a show in New York called “Action/Abstraction”. The show (which I’m sorry I won’t be able t o see) examines Abstract Expressionism as seen by the rival critics Clement Greenberg and Harold Rosenberg – both long deceased. The author discusses in depth their disparate views and the enormous influence they had in the second half of the twentieth century. He closes with some important conclusions that are relevant to all artists.

In order for us to understand the role of the artist in society today, Kalina feels that we should have some way to determine the validity of the work. There should be a way to judge the quality of the work by some means other than market value (and in the quilt world this might also mean acceptance to those key shows, the number of prizes, popularity in magazines etc etc). As Oscar Wilde (ever a man for a pithy quotation!) said (those) who know the price of everything know the value of nothing.

Greenberg and Rosenberg were very serious thinkers and writers with considerable knowledge of art. Even though times have changed and the art world is much more scattered than before, their way of judging forms a strong basis for assessing the quality of a work of art. When Rosenberg looked at art he questioned: Is there evidence of “a creative spark”? Can one see an authentic observation or concern on the part of the artist? Does the artist show a significant commitment to their work? Does this piece of art justify its making?

Greenberg would compare the work to its predecessors. He would also stress workmanship, looking at how well made the piece was – whatever the medium. He would examine composition: How well do the different elements work together, is everything essential? Is there anything missing? He also felt that a conceptual piece needed to go beyond the mere idea of that concept. (think of all those dreadful tampon pieces we had to put up with in the name of feminism!). Greenberg valued what he called “aesthetic surprise” which he felt was an essential part of great art: “aesthetic surprise comes from inspiration and sensibility as well as from being abreast of the artistic times”.

Both critics would urge us (as would be artists) to risk failure, to push deeper, to avoid easy solutions, to eschew the predictable, and abhor the trite and slick. This is going to be tough! But it sets a direction to begin the journey.

And if you have been, thanks for reading….and now for a nice cuppa tea...


Monday, August 25, 2008

People who inspire us

I think it’s really important to be aware of the best (as we see them) exponents of our art form; who brings the golden vision to reality?

We can learn from them what can be achieved, how it can be achieved – their inspirations, their design strategies and their working processes. We can also learn about our own taste – what sort of artists do we want to be when we grow up?

So I try to look at as much art as I can – obviously beginning with those I admire most in the art quilt and fiber world, but beyond that into painting, sculpture and all the other amazing mediums in which creative work is being done.

I think it’s very helpful in discovering your own voice to realize which artists really speak to you. Having got the gut reaction of “oh I really love this piece” then I try to take the next step and question myself: Why? What is it about this piece that you love? Is it the workmanship? The design? The colour? The repetition of key forms? The chiaroscuro? What is it? I try to define very clearly what I’m responding to so that next time I’m in the studio and about to start on a piece I can decide whether or not I want to “borrow” and then make my own some element that I admire in another’s work.

For example one of my top favorites has always been Dorothy Caldwell. I love all the evidence of handwork on her pieces – all the hand stitching. I’ve incorporated a lot more hand stitching into my own work this last year. I hadn’t done any hand stitching for years having been so indoctrinated by those traditional quilt police that hand quilting had to be tiny pinpricks created with the perfect up down motion of the needle on a piece of cloth stretched tightly!! Well no more tight stretching for me!!! I gave that up years ago! However from Dorothy I learned that one can be much more free with the stitching. I also love her rather mysterious compositions that allude to her themes rather than boldly hitting you in the face. I still havn’t learned that one! But I have used a lot more black and white.

Another favorite is Rachel Brumer – her work has so much meaning, such a strong clear message that is never trite nor obvious. From her I can learn to have the courage to make work about what really matters to me.

I really love Carol Shinn’s work: especially her cropped compositions and the colour shading she uses. Her inspiration is often something you might see with a sidelong look and never quite realize just how dramatic and interesting it is. Her work makes you see more.

I’m definitely going to try to get more dynamic compositions into my work, less predictability. I also feel that it’s really important to use lots of grey and neutral colours.

For a long time I’ve admired Pauline Burbidge’s quilts – she likes high contrasts of colour and repeats that vary in a fascinating way. She also uses a lot of texture and black and white in her work. I really dislike flat work (one reason I don’t like fusing) and would love to get more texture into my quilts.

My final artist (for today!) is Elizabeth Brimelow – another British artist – working with texture. Elizabeth’s strength is in recording the quiet rhythms of nature – she focuses in lovingly on all the little details that you become aware of with long peaceful reflections of the countryside or seashore. Her work is so thoughtful – I want to emulate that deep insight into the inspiration.

I’ve put a link to all of these artists from my website go to the Links page and you’ll find them all. They show depth, thoughtfulness, an appreciation of quiet strength, individuality, texture and high contrast! And that – I must remember!!!

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

Saturday, August 23, 2008

How to make better work

I know that many of us in the art quilt world have as our chief goal that of making better work – improving the quality and impact of the quilts. It’s not very satisfying to keep making the same piece over and over even if it is in different colour ways or with slightly different arrangements of the main themes. We want each piece to be stronger than the one before; we hope that one day the golden vision behind the eyes might actually be realized on the design wall. But it’s hard to think how to get from vision to actuality. Friends can be sympathetic and supportive but do get fed up of continual moans of “but it’s not good enough”!!!

I’ve found two possibilities – I’m sure there are more – please add them to the comments!!! I’m all for interactive blogging!

First: you’ve got to be working at it every day – think of it like trying to be a concert pianist or an Olympic athlete– they have to train and practice for hours each day. So however little time you have – devote at least a few minutes each day to practicing your craft.

Second: pick one specific weakness and spend more time on it. My father was a classical guitarist and would drive me mad by repeating one bar or phrase over and over and over until he got it right – but that’s what it takes. So take a good hard look at the latest piece. Where are its strengths and where are its weaknesses? Is it colour? Did you put too many different colours in? or stick entirely to one value or temperature? Is it boring? Is it chaotic? Is it unbalanced? Is it too trite or predictable? Etc etc. Gradually work through a checklist of design principles (there are lots of books on this – I personally have found some of the older books on painting by people like Edgar Whitney to be the most helpful).

Having found One weakness (this isn’t confession!! You can’t get the lot sorted at one go!) – then address that exact problem very specifically. Perhaps you tend to consistently use a mid range of muddy colours…then it would be worthwhile practicing building colour schemes – or review the stash and see if it needs some amendment. Then in making the next piece, really focus on getting that particular difficulty right. The golden vision isn’t built in one day but you’ll be more likely to get there if you don’t change horses till you’ve reached the bridge you want to cross!

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

And – please check out my website, I put up a couple of new pieces!


Friday, August 22, 2008

Sometimes the littlest ones are the hardest….

Finally I’ve finished a small quilt I’ve been stuck on all year! It was one of those pieces where you make the focal area first and then find it impossible to finish.. The focal area is generally about a quarter of the total area, which means you have 75% still to resolve!

Here’s the bit I’d done:

It’s pieced and embroidered – my original inspiration was an odd little painting by Egon Schiele – better known for his, er, more anatomical paintings!! But he also did some wonderful old cityscapes and landscapes, including strange little funky trees. We also have plenty of strange funky trees on our 10 acres, especially old dogwoods and redbuds.

But having got this nice little piece, I felt it was just too small by itself and really needed to be set off against something. First I tried it against plain black – ugh horrid!! Looked like some kind of funeral card… I didn’t really want to introduce any more elements or colours – I audited boxes of fabric ..and t hen just left it alone for months. Finally one day when looking for something else I came across a bit of shiboried discharge I’d done on a big pipe last year – not easy! Handling a 5 foot length of pipe and bleach! And of course, idiot that I am, I seemed to have cut the piece down after making it!! So now it was smaller than my trees/window element. But I felt it went so well, echoing the movement of the branches and the light on the window, that I cut down the embroidered center piece to fit.

So here it is:

I don’t have a name for it, though!!! So if you can think of something both pertinent and lyrical and funky (hmm, is that possible?) – please send it to me!!!

And if you have been, thanks for reading!


Thursday, August 21, 2008

My Favorite Quilt

You know how people ask you which is your favorite? Of course it’s like saying which is your favorite child in some ways….having given birth and nurtured (or, in the case of a quilt, nurtured and then given birth!) an offspring you have a lot invested in them and it’s hard to despise even the doggiest product. However, I find there’s always such a gap between the golden vision in my head and the actual piece that when I first finish them I’m usually very disappointed. Thank goodness, unlike children, quilts can be put away in a cupboard for a while!

After a few months of maturation in the QSR (quilt storage room aka spare bedroom), I’ll bring a piece out to see if it’s improved any with Not Being Stared At Gloomily(NBSAG). There was one quilt that I made about 8 years ago, it went off to a few shows and then straight into the cupboard. I’ve always loved that piece but it was a bit of a one-off and no one has ever wanted to buy it.

It was a piece about water and has so many memories and links related to it. A friend and I were in Kerr Grabowski’s deconstructed screen printing class and Kerr challenged us to choose a theme and make as many screens as we could related to that scheme. I chose water.

I had just had a great boat ride from the Northumberland coast (England) out to the Farne Islands– little rock covered islets now reserved for birds. There used to be a light house there and Grace Darling, the daughter of the lighthouse keeper in 1838, was a heroine well known to British children for many years – especially the girls of course! – for rescuing many half drowned souls from sinking ships.

Thinking of all the different movements of the water on the way to the islands I made several screens and printed fabric. I even incorporated a Big Splash (from David Hockney’s famous painting).

While looking for this image I came across a neat YouTube piece that steals both the splash from Hockney and the dog from Wegman!

Crouched over a very hot computer in very sticky Georgia I rather wish I was jumping into a pool after a ball!!

David Hockney is still painting Big by the way. He has returned to Bridlington in Yorkshire (where I used to go for summer holidays as a child). His latest picture is of

Bigger Trees near Warter (sic) and he gave it to the Tate in London challenging other famous artists to do likewise.
It is 40 ft by 15ft and is made up of 50 panels.

Hmm…. I wonder what a quilt would look like in 50 panels?

I had an email from my friend painter Margaret Scanlan today – she has a show in Hendersonville, NC featuring another polyptych – I love the dynamism of this piece – maybe another idea to consider!!!

And if you have been…thanks for reading.

Oh!! And my favorite? Well that’s it at the top!! And, of course, I do have other offspring I’m quite partial to….


Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Reclamation and Dogs

I never thought I'd come to it - but I'm going to post a picture of one of my dogs!

I was surfing around – as you do! And came across Cathy Kleeman’s blog about Reclamation. She wrote “Do you have old works that you no longer want on display? Or something more recent that just didn't work very well and is never going to get out of the closet? What do you do with them?”
And it reminded me of a class idea I’d suggested to a quilt group last year – I called it

Extreme Doggie Makeover!

I thought it was a great workshop possibility!!

I described it thus: “Bring your “dogs” in for a makeover!! Many quilts just don’t seem to have the strength and pzazzz that you pictured when you first had the idea. In this “clinic” we take a look at what is not working – and why – suggestions are given for strengthening the composition, clarifying the color scheme, constructing the unconstructable or deconstructing the over-constructed!

Learn how to finish the unfinished….or how to learn from them – and then leave them!

This workshop aims to give you ways to solve problems in design and composition, in colour and in construction.

Bring an open mind and lots of problems – the more the merrier!”

Now, that particular guild must, I think, have been made of very superior ("superi-ahhhhhh") quilters because they just sort of shuddered and rejected my idea!! But I had based the workshop plans on a workshop I’d done for another guild – about 30 folk each presented a piece and we talked about how to evaluate it, how to strengthen it, reduce the weak spots etc (as above). Many of the people later followed the suggestions that were made and emailed me pictures of very nice work that resulted. I actually saw one of them get a prize in an art show! And there was only one piece where I was utterly gobsmacked (as in totally speechless at the horror of it!!) – and, very fortunately, when given the opportunity to speak about the piece, its maker was able to totally justify it to herself and needed no further input from me – thank goodness!

Maybe one day I’ll get to help folk make over their dogs!! Or, at least, commit them to their Happier Hunting Grounds!!

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


Monday, August 18, 2008

Artists rule!!

Even though the economy is in dire straits, artists don’t stop working. Nor do they use the excuse of “increased costs” to plump out their prices. Artists consistently produce beautiful, thoughtful pieces despite everything else collapsing. Art keeps us centered and hopeful. Making a work of art or enjoying one made by another, whatever the medium, gives us hope that not everything is headed in a downward spiral of war, profit and greed.

Talking of profit and greed and increasing markets: Have you seen those obscene new adverts by a burger chain that are targeted at young children?

Play sports and eat!! Eating fast food is the reward for soccer practice!

Or even worse:

eating fast food can encourage the opposite sex to give you presents and gaze into your eyes!!

At 7 or 8 years old????

Let’s get children making Art instead of scoffing fries – art keeps you healthy and wise!! Greed gets you (or someone else!) wealthy – but at the cost of wisdom, sanity, ethics and health.

Enough ranting! I've uploaded some favorites by me (2), Cezanne, deKooning and Barry Hirst –

company I'd like to be in!!!

I chose images that will probably not be submitted to QN, by the way!

and, if you have been, thanks for reading!!!!


Sunday, August 17, 2008

I’m in love!

I’m in love with an image…sometimes it just gets me this way – inspiration doesn’t just glow but comes with a wallop and a hunger. When I was sailing in Canada last month I saw a complex arrangement of shapes (old steel mills) across the lake in the glow of the setting sun. Yes I know they are pushing out pollution!! But, observing them with an unpolluted eye, the pattern of related shapes in the closely harmonizing light was quite compelling. Click click into the mind’s camera. I am a camera …” as noted by John van Druten in his played based on Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories during WWII – observing the living film noir of those times.

Then yesterday I saw a photograph of mills in this week’s news magazine…..a different light, different shapes but the same raw mix of taut square buildings against sky and water….

And finally this morning reading over breakfast (such a delightful thing to do!! I hate chirpy breakfast conversation!!) I came across a painting by Pissarro – oh yes! Mill+sky+water – even better was the foggy light he conveyed. And look at all the gorgeous atmospheric space!!

I love the effects of fog and the neutral palette and have made several quilts about that.

Architects have recognized the beauty of these old industrial buildings – for example, the Tate Modern Museum on the bank of the River Thames in London was a power plant.

Several of the beautiful old woolen mills in Yorkshire are now galleries and shops. Here’s a picture of Salt’s Mill where David Hockney has a gallery.

And so, I have a direction…….I’m off to England next month (with the friend in the green mac above!) so I’ll be looking out for more examples, and then when I come back….dyeing greys and browns and rusts and oranges….

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

Saturday, August 16, 2008


I’d love to try my hand at jurying. I’ve only ever had one experience and it was in jurying mixed media for an art/crafts fair. It was fascinating prospecting for excellence in different mediums. I discovered that clarity of purpose in the maker does stand out - especially if there are several examples shown. Seeing several pieces by the same person also helps you to decide if they just keep making the same work over and over again – I know we’ve all seen that! Hit on a winner and make it in as many different colours, shapes and sizes as you can dream up! So I looked for a clear, strong and fresh style regardless of medium together with some real ingenuity and imagination in expression of the style over several pieces.

The hardest part of jurying was deciding which of the least able artists should have the few places left over after we’d awarded spots to those whose work we felt to be worthwhile. Then I must admit it was a bit of a toss up: one clay, one wood, one glass, one jewelry!!!

If I were a juror with power (!!!) I might be inclined to say – let’s just leave some empty spaces rather than fill the remaining slots with tired, trite or predictable work. I would be happy though to give those places to new upcoming folk whose work was perhaps still a little raw but looked different and new and exciting.

So to all of you out there reading this who are looking for jurors….I’m willing!

What I’ve actually been working on these last few days is sorting out loads of show entries, paperwork etc. Very boring but very necessary to the working artist. I’ve been on the other side of the jury situation trying to decide which piece to enter which show. It’s very difficult. In the past I have tried to focus on what I think those particular jurors would like – an impossible task!!! But this time I decided to use a different principle of choice.

. Over the last year I’ve made about 12 pieces that have focused on line rather than colour. They’ve focused on specific elements within a building, rather than the cityscapes, and they’re definitely not as “pretty” but I feel they’re strong and intriguing. (well, I hope!!) My friends say “yes, this is stronger work”, but people in general prefer the older work. So I’m going to put them to the test – I’ve entered 3 shows with the new work and I shall see what the consensus is!!!

Below are 2 examples – you can decide which is which!!!

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


Wednesday, August 13, 2008

A Calendar

I decided to make a calendar – I’m going to England to visit friends and family and I’m sure they’re all sick of hand dyed silk scarves – my usual offering!!! Plus non quilters just don’t value intriguing pieces of Artist Made Fabric (AMF) that the rest of us would drool over!

So…I thought…a calendar of my art quilts – you can never have too many calendars. And if it ends up in the loo – it may well be the recipient of hours of pensive speculation!!!

At first I thought I’d do it on line – but they’re very pricey, and there are all kinds of restrictions – you can’t have different sizes etc…and no idea as to how long it would take.

So then I thought – well I’ll go buy an ’09 calendar and just photocopy it and stick pictures of my quilts over the kittens etc. Well, there’d been a tax free day and would you know it, people who shop on tax free days stock up on calendars!

I remembered then that there is a mathematically limited number of days on which any given January 1st can occur – and sure enough on line I soon found out that 2009 will be the same as 1998!!! And of course you know who can’t throw away all those lovely inspirational pictures! Actually I had 3 different 1998 calendars to choose from!

After that, it was easy – scan in the calendar, cut out the month, place it on a blank “page” in photoshop, place a picture of a quilt on top, text box for name of quilt and “2009” having brushed out “1998” – and Bob’s your uncle!!

Now I need to go find a copy shop to spirally bind….and I’m away!

I love hand made pressies!

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


PS I have no idea where the weird colours came from!! but I rather like that red sky....hmmmmm......

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Remains of the dye….

Oh yes, I love dreadful puns – as well as mixed metaphors! I never change horses in midstream without checking to see if the stones have moss on them!

But, back to the remains: I have found that the most useful pieces of my Artist Made Fabric (AMF) havn’t been the lovely clear images I’ve carefully printed, but rather the odd corners – and especially the sections where I just wiped off the remains of the dye clinging to the squeegee. You can get really neat mixtures of colour if , instead of scraping off the squeegee into a waste bucket, you just scrape it along the fabric…so I’ll print print print and then scrape along all the edges. Co-ordinating fabric!

I love to print, dye, paint etc all my own fabric, but it can be daunting to actually cut (split infinitives are permitted these days along with hairs!) the AMF up into little pieces!

The fabrics that are the hardest to slice into are the big pieces that appear to have overall impact in themselves. Here are some examples that have been mouldering under my cutting table for a year or more!

I realize though that unless the piece of fabric completely sums up the main idea you want to express in your piece, the idea of using it as a whole piece is a siren calling you onto the rocks.
Take the scissors to the sirens!

Rayna suggests you cut into the section you like the least – another possibility might be to keep the fabric folded so that you look at it as a piece of fabric and not a whole work of art.

Hmmm….maybe if I folded them a different way……


Monday, August 11, 2008

So what IS good art?

Is anyone else trying to predict what those Quilt National judges will like?
I know I am!
How can we predict what the judges will be looking for?
Do judges of art shows in general follow particular guidelines when deciding whether a piece is IN or OUT?
Some people say it’s impossible to define good art – or bad for that matter.
But I think one can get a bit closer than that …….

One way would be to ask if the art in question fulfilled its purpose.

A good doorbell is one that rings loudly and clearly and predictably enough to summon the household to the door. People can have different tastes in door bells – but no one would think a door bell “good” that didn’t serve the function of a door bell.

The purpose of a piece of art is determined partly by the maker and partly by the ultimate owner. The painter may paint the picture to convey the beauty of color and light in a particular scene, the owner buys it because the image gives them great pleasure and delight. He/she just can’t stop looking at it – every time they go into the room their eyes are drawn to the piece and they derive joy from the colour and light.

The maker decides what they want to convey with the clay as they begin to mould it, the value sketches preparatory to the painting, the mood before the poem, the sounds before the symphony.

In judging a piece, assess how well the maker of the piece expressed the idea they had in mind at the outset. It’s impossible to make a strong piece without a clear idea – if Picasso wanted to paint a pretty picture for a maternity ward when he painted Guernica he missed the mark!! Of course he didn’t, he wanted t o express his feelings about the war that was going on at the time - but had his commission been for the expectant mums/moms, they would probably have given up their labour and gone home!

It’s very difficult to assess art where the maker states that at the outset they had no idea they wished to convey – they “just moved the pieces around until they seemed to fit”. Can you imagine an engineer thinking – “oh what a lovely day to make a machine….I’ll decide what it’s going to do after I’ve got a few pieces put together”!!!!

The composition of the parts (whether they be lines, shapes, values etc or nuts, bolts, rings, motors) should relate completely to the basic idea and t o each other.

A good toaster is one that toasts but also keeps on toasting year after year……

A piece of art should keep on fulfilling its purpose year after year. This is one of the problems with “pretty” art – it looks attractive when you first buy and hang it, but mere prettiness soon gets boring – it doesn’t delight and refresh our eyes year after year. There are several “pretty” paintings that now hang in our guest room!!! I can’t bear to look at the boring things any longer!

I think that the reason this kind of art doesn’t work for long is because the reason it was made was slick or spurious or manipulative – e.g. “I’ll make a pretty picture of a pretty thing that people can hang in their bathroom and I’ll sell a lot of them…”.or “I want to show that my beliefs are right and yours are wrong”, or “if I make this cigarette look really enticing to teenagers they will buy it and get addicted”….

A good piece of art will also be well made: Craftsmanship is important. Whatever the object is, if it’s poorly made it’s not going to be good: poor craft will detract from it either because it won’t last very long, or because the ugly stitches or gaping holes etc distract from the main intent.

So now…back to my sewing room – what do I want to convey? How best can I do that?

And ….will they believe me?

Please write....tell me what you think good art is.....

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


Sunday, August 10, 2008

QBL 3, cutting into fabric and nitrogen

Yes 3 odd bedfellows for topics I agree! But these are some of the many simultaneous thoughts that swirl around in my brain. I wonder just how many ideas one can experience at once? That would have been a lot more interesting to study for my PhD!!!

First: QBL – the third (and final) set of pictures from my class. Note that most of the pieces were not complete but were excellent beginnings and middles!!. I love the repetitions that were used by many people to give great rhythm to their piece. Without rhythm, cacophony!!

Second: Cutting into hand dyed fabric…seems like both Rayna Gillman and Diane Perrin Hock have been discussing this on line. I used to be very wary of cutting into expensive commercial fabric ( I have boxes of untouched Liberty lawn to prove it!), but since I started making my own fabric (I dye, paint and print it all these days), I’ve not had a problem with taking the scissors or rotary cutter to it. My thought is always that I can make some more…and next time it will be a little different and therefore will add some interest to my piece! I do agree with Diane that work based on what I call a “cor blimey” piece of fabric (with no judicious editing and additions to aid composition and add negative space) is very weak. And clarting it up with beads etc doesn’t help!!! Turning soup into lumpy soup doesn’t necessarily improve its visual impact!

Third: Nitrogen in your tires. During a routine service to my car, the service manager persuaded me to agree to the tires being deflated and refilled with nitrogen. This will improve my gas mileage, life of the tire and all creative activities! $40 poorer (just think how much dye that would buy!) I came home and checked the benefits of nitrogen on the internet – general consensus – absolute waste of money in ordinary street cars – be warned!

and, if you have been, thanks for reading!!


Saturday, August 9, 2008

More pictures from Quilting by the Lake

While I didn't get a picture of everyone's piece at Quilting by the Lake 2 weeks ago, I did get most of them! Here are 4 more and there'll be more again tomorrow.

As you can see it was a very talented class - the best I've ever had at QBL!!! though on presentation night (where each class presents its work to all the attendees) - every teacher after me claimed that their's had been the best class!! I just hope that they are proving it on their blogs!!! We shall see!

I love these cows! and was most impressed that Maggie made a field trip to a nearby farm to get some close up pictures!

Everybody's work looks different because they're working from ideas that interest them; also I really emphasize individuality and "developing your own voice" in my classes.

It's interesting how different people's interests, ideas, style and personality do come out in the work that they make. I think if we understand who we are it can help us make more valid and original work. Are you a quiet person? or a bold and dramatic one? Are you fascinated by colour? or do bold shapes and lines in high contrast values attract you more? do you like things to be very clear, upfront and spelled out, or do you like a little mystery and uncertainty? Are you calm person, or do you thrive on excitement? think about it, look at your work, look at your friends work!!!

I don't know who made this next piece which I saw in the Earth Art exhibit at the Royal botanical Gardens in Hamilton Ontario, but I think he must be fairly neat, obsessive, a person who literally likes everything squared away and accounted for......
This was a dying redwood tree that he cut up into blocks and rearranged into a giant block.
Not only is it a stunning piece....but look at the quilt inspiration he draws from!!

and, if you have been, thanks for reading......

Friday, August 8, 2008

Back to the blog!

I’m back home after a great 2 weeks – first at Quilting by the Lake (QBL) at
Morrisville, NY, secondly in Canada. Above is a picture of the view outside our classroom window – which was stunning!

I was teaching a design class at QBL and here are some of the pieces that were made in the class. Inspired by photographs they had brought with them, the ladies in the class each sketched out several possibilities for a quilt design. These were then discussed as to their compositional strengths, value studies were then shaded in and finally several colour exercises to develop a strong coherent colour scheme for the chosen piece.

Everyone did great work, and all were totally different – I’ll show more in the next few days.

I didn't crop Barbara's piece too much - so you can see the great view she had next to her work space.

This was the last year for the workshop to be held in Morrisville, alas – I loved the views and the long walks across campus in all the beautiful scenery. Next year QBL is moving to Syracuse and it will be much more convenient and cooler for everyone – I shall be there in the second week. I’ll be teaching design again, but focusing this time on developing a series of pieces.

After QBL, I went home with Carol Taylor for a couple of days and enjoyed her spacious studio – I didn’t mess it up as several had suggested I might!! check it out on her website!

From Carol’s home I went around Lake Ontario to Burlington, Ontario – a very pretty small town in Canada. I love to go sailing, though it’s a rare treat. Here’s a picture of me on Lake Ontario – the motor on our boat wouldn’t start so we couldn’t get back into the marina and had to be “rescued” – hence the second boat lashed to ours. As you can see I was a nervous wreck!!!!

More pictures tomorrow.