Sunday, March 22, 2009

Between Quilts/ Working from photographs

And now I’m in that limbo between quilts…sometimes they’re just falling on top of one another, overlapping so there’s always something to work on ……..but then there comes a point when everything gets finished at once and there’s a stillness.   What is the next piece going to be?  Will I start with a clear cut idea for a shape?  that’s frequently a starting point for me.  Another possible place is a particular colour combination.  I’ve been away a few days up in the North Georgia mountains and the colours of the hills – smokey blues, going  to dark green and the deep pink to mulberry of the new leaves coming, plus lots of white flowering pear trees…hmmmm…..seeing a beautiful scene, I’m always tempted to take a lot of photographs, print them out and then start to work.  But… have to be careful when working directly from photographs…..  The temptation is to go in with a literal translation but there are so many problems with this.  The camera doesn’t see things like we do – it has one eye, and most of us are blessed with two.  Images are flattened.  The effects of light are changed and the glow is lost.  I’m often so disappointed when I look at my photos of some amazing glowing side or back lit effect I saw in the garden and it’s just dull and flat.    The shadows on a photo are much darker and often without  the many subtle colours – and the camera’s eye is so Overinclusive!!! too many meaningless details!

In my workshops I encourage people to bring photographs as a reference or starting point. From this start they develop sketches, simplifying content, emphasizing what was important about the experience, pushing the colour, blurring the surroundings, moving elements that either overlap too much or are not connected at all. 

As I look at a photograph  I ask myself attracted me to this image?  what lines, shapes etc in the photograph support that first impression, and what is irrelevant or weird and should be omitted?  Is there anything that should be repeated?

I like to print the photo in black and white so I can assess the value pattern – and usually adjust it.  I also like to invert the value pattern and see if that is more interesting!  You can get some really surreal effects inverting colours  as well– that’s a lot of fun on a grey day!

Artists have worked from photographs since cameras were first invented.  I was reading in Gurney Journey (an excellent blog – see my links) – that art historians have discovered that nearly half of all the photographs taken in Paris in the late 19th century were commissioned by artists for figure studies.

James Gurney suggests making a quick sketch – however rough – of what you remembered as being important and memorable in the scene before you even look at the photo – that way you’re not so influenced by the camera’s memory which can overwhelm your own.  Remember those pictures from childhood where you can’t remember if it’s the event itself you recall, or just the repeated viewing of the pictures by family members?

He also suggests that having mined the photo for the nuggets you need, that you put it away and continue to work from your own memory.

It’s a good idea too to have several photos of the same scene, capturing different aspects – you can put all of those into one quilt even though the camera can’t capture them all in one frame.

Here’s some examples – hopefully I followed my  advice above!!!  You’re free to comment!

lendalbridgesq lendalbridge OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Above, the original photo, taken from the bar (Roman fortification)walls in York, UK,  a long time ago (old photos often stick in my memory)…next Lendal Bridge 60 x 60, then a second quilt Museum St 35 x 54. You can see how I’ve continued to simplify elements and sharpen the colour contrast in the second piece.

westcliffwhitby theredgate westcliffsteps

Above an old photo which we took in Whitby, Yorkshire – one of my favourite spots of one of the narrow ginnels that go up the cliffs….in the first quilt, The Red Gate, my area of interest was the red gate…which as you can see I repeated.  In the second piece, West Cliff Steps I played with the light, putting one side into deeper shadow, and the other with a bright glow.

It is fascinating to work from photographs, but as in everything – don’t be too literal!!!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading.



Frances Arnold said...

Hi Elizabeth. I am so glad to have found your blog. It is WONDERFUL and you, as usual, provide so many inspirational ideas. I still miss seeing you at our meetings!!!! I started a blog ( a few months ago, although not quite your quality. Thanks for putting this up for me (and others) to enjoy!!

Katherine in Australia said...

Hi Elizabeth, I am really interested in your comments on using photos. I've taken so many photos 'to use for a quilt one day' but somehow it doesn't seem so easy to simplify them and get started.

Your photos of York &
Whitby and the resulting quilts are great examples of focusing on a particular aspect of a photo.

I really enjoy and learn from your blog,

Martha Ginn said...

Elizabeth, thanks for the great advice on how best to use the many photos we all have taken for inspiration. I will read over and over to lock into my mind that our own memory of the place/object/event is even more important than what the camera has captured.
Martha Ginn

Tangled Stitch said...

I have to agree with Frances. So glad I found your blog. It is so interesting and so educational and your quilts are so beautiful.

Nina Marie said...

I just love this series of quilts - something about the play of color, value and contrast that really appeals to my eyes! I'm working on a piece right now that if from a photo and totally agree that its so hard to get the exact feel from it. You want to edit - but not to much that you miss what you are trying to covey. I would love to hear where your creative muse takes you next!