Friday, March 27, 2009

Reading, surfing, thinking……

I like to spend the first half hour or so of the day improving my art education.  While it would be lovely to go back in time, be young  and full of energy and at an amazing art school, I don’t think any of those are likely to happen!  However, I have always learned better by reading, making notes, thinking, explaining what I’ve read to others..than by sitting in a lecture hall doodling and daydreaming.

My favorite magazine for quilt artists is Art in America – I really think one’s  imagination is much freer looking at work in mediums  other than quilts,  AinA rarely show quilts or even fiber art (sadly, but maybe one day!) .  My favorite online newsletter is Robert Genn (you can sign up for this and it comes twice a week in an email – 3 snappy paragraphs that may be irrelevant – delete! – or may set you on trail across the internet – heartily recommended).  Today Genn’s  newsletter (Painter’s Keys) was about Virgil Elliottt who wrote The Oil Painter’s Bible – available from your local library. (Support libraries!).  So, you’re thinking “oil painting?! what’s that got to do with quilting?”   But the book is largely about art as a whole, how we see what we see, how great painters are able to engage us so that we will continue to be intrigued by their work for hundreds of years.  You can always skip the chapters on oil painting brushes and so on!   I read again a section on the illusion of depth in two dimensional work.  In almost every workshop I teach, someone asks me about achieving depth.   Elliott sums up the techniques neatly into geometric perspective (developing a horizon or eye line and relating other lines to it) , atmospheric perspective – the effect of light+atmosphere on objects as they are at greater distances from us and selective focus.   While he advocates much practice with all of these to the point that the artist is so familiar with them they become intuitive, I think that  even a little understanding is sufficient to introduce depth into a piece.  As well as the effects of atmosphere and light,  using detail and high contrast versus a blurred, soft focus, low intensity blending of colour can indicate depth and areas of interest.

Thinking about selective focus, I wondered how one might use hard and soft edges in quilts.  Obviously people who paint whole cloth can just utilize the lessons straight from painters.  For those of us who piece or applique (whether by stitching or that other method!), I think  we could “lose” the edges by using more muted colours or, as Paula Nadelstern does, use fabric that has the same or similar background colour.  It’s an intriguing possibility and I shall cogitate upon it for my next quilt!  Dominie Nash loses edges by the use of overlays – semi transparent organza or organdy.  Which, interestingly, is exactly how the oil painters do it – with layers of paint, the top layer being transparent.  So we can lift their ideas!!  Talking of Paula Nadelstern, she has the honour of being the first living artist to have a solo show at the Museum of Folk Art in New York City – it opens on April 21st – so do go if you’re in town!!

Back to my morning art education: Art in America always has a long section of reviews; the wonder of the internet is that you can immediately look up any artist who catches your eye to see more work.  Today I was struck by the paintings of Paul Bloodgood  and those  of Gladys Nilsson, both of whom had  shows  reviewed in the February issue.  I rushed to the computer to see more, and then started thinking: what is it I really like about this work?  What has the artist done that is pulling me in?  why do I respond to these more than to the other paintings who were reviewed this month?  I have some ideas….but really need a cup of tea for more intense cogitation….so, if you have been, thanks for reading, I’m off to get the kettle on!    Elizabeth

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