Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Whence cometh the design?

This is one blog where I’d really like some input from readers! Where d’you start with your design? what is the beginning point? Looking around the Art Quilt world I see several starting points. It would be worthwhile coming up with a list so that when the well is dry and the Muse has gone on holiday (all nine of them! not that there is one for Art Quilts sadly, they were mainly concerned with different kinds of poetry!), one had something to turn to for direction.

Given that composition is an arrangement of elements (shapes etc) on a two dimensional plane in a harmonious, balanced and yet intriguing way…how d’you start? How d’you find the “entrance” to the maze? Where do the shapes, lines etc come from? I find I am not good creating in a vacuum – though virtually any sense can spark something that has me thinking “hmmm it would be interesting to see if I could get that onto cloth,I wonder if....”.
For example:


The idea for this piece: Beehive was more conceptual – thinking about people in tenements or skyscrapers as being like bees – we’re not bee- shaped so our spaces are rectangular – but they are all stacked.

383214-R1-E010 The piece on the right, however, Visions,was inspired by the Hildegard von Bingen choral music I was listening to at the time. I was thinking about the notes pouring down from the dark spaces above in a cathedral like the light broken into specks of colour flows down through the stained glass windows.


The piece on the left, Petra, was begun with a much more abstract concept: what if I bent these windows shapes into an arc? I love those “what if” starts to a piece!

Of course, many of my quilts begin from a straight visual image, but frequently this is not a new photograph, but rather one I took years ago that has haunted me. So it was 30 years before I made the piece The Red Gate based on a photo of an old stairway ginnel in Whitby, UK.


I love commissions that indicate ideas: here was the statement I got from a church in Atlanta: “ an original design to incorporate the thoughts and feelings in the mind of a person about to enter a sacred space..(plus) subtle representation of major liturgical themes: Trinity, gospels, Twelve Apostle, and incorporating some of the major colours used in the passage of the Liturgical year)”. (and, I’m sorry, I don’t have a picture of the quilts!but they are in The Trinity Presbyterian Church on Howell Mill Rd. and if you go there, and they’re still hanging in the Narthex – send me a picture please!) The church leaders’ request immediately flooded my mind with ideas. Feels great when that happens!!

So, whether it be music, memory, mathematics or a visual image, I generally begin with an actual idea. But I know a lot of quilt makers don’t – and not only quiltmakers. Yesterday, I went to see the MFA exit show at the local U and was surprised by how many of the artist statements indicated that the person began with a mark, and that mark led to another and another, until finally they felt there were no more marks to be made. This is a more discovery type of composing: if I play this note, then what note will sound good next to it? and so on. I know Emily Richardson composes in that way and her quilts were quite wonderful – shimmering light and shade. But I think that’s a very difficult thing to do and get right. And how about you? where d’you begin?

If you have been, thanks for reading! Elizabeth


Ruth said...

I keep a studio journal with ideas and thoughts that come from all over - what I see on the web, photos I take, photos from magazines, sketches, what ifs, etc. I try to jot down the ideas that pop up or images that I like. I might not use those ideas for a while but if I'm having a hard time coming up with something, I'll page through my studio journals and soon something will catch my eye and I'll work from there. Many times, the journal works as a "compost heap" and several ideas will begin to merge together to become something totally new.

Deb Lacativa said...

I've been thinking on this because the piece I just finished was one of very few of mine that originated on paper - crayons in a notebook. Time constraints have dictated this method, but it's not a suffering.

The departure from the drawing came with the colors and that is where I usually begin. A percentage of a certain color next to another one and then another positioned with the first two and so on, making marks with real broad strokes. The fabrics at hand lead the way.

Kay Koeper Sorensen said...

For me it all starts with the fabric - usually.
I look at the palette of fabrics and pick something that speaks to me.
I add friends of that fabric and pin them to my design wall. They may stay there days (or even longer) while I listen for them to tell me what they want to be.
After they have told me I then add at least one piece of fabric that is an outsider to the group to add some sizzle.
This is ony the beginning and I have been known to create a piece that doesn't even include the starting (inspiration) fabric.

magsramsay said...

It always starts with an image or part of one - usually a sketch or a watercolour,sometimes a photo. It may be many years later that the ideas come together , for example, I've collected images of crumbling doors for years but only now when I have the techniques available that may do them justice am I thinking of working through this theme.
I'm coming to the conclusion that I'm just not comfortable interpreting somebody elses theme or an abstract concept or using images other than my own. It has to be based on direct observation. Maybe that's the scientist in me!!

Nina Marie said...

Being the visual junkie that I am, I almost always start with a picture (usually a photo) that speaks to me. I have a huge file of files of downloaded images from the net - plus a loose leaf binder. From there I will work up a sketch. Color inspiration comes from other sources - usually posters and fine arts. Twice I have done pieces from watching woman in motion. It was their motion that captured me. With commission work, I work with the client and their photos. It seems amazing to me when artists start with a point and end with a great piece. Its like - "How ya do that?" moment.

Tangled Stitch said...

I'm a hand embroiderer but sometimes I just start with a simple shape and let my needle do the work. Once in a while I'll get an inspiration in my head but when that fails I just start a hand or a cross(I like to do hands and crosses) and let my needle do the work. All of the pieces you've shown are very lovely.

Anonymous said...

I find that my quilts usually start with a story that I want to tell. Or sometimes its just a phrase that grabs me and won't let go. Even way back, many years ago, my traditional quilts had words or stories quilted into them. Maybe thats why I've spent the last few years obsessed with quilted books!

Olga Norris said...

I realise now that my pieces all start with my need to find an expression from within. Often I am not aware of what I want to express until the elements of the design come together. It's as if the design desire is a magnet which picks up memories, images, particular examples of work or sketches I have done maybe even decades ago to present them for possible use. The figure(s) in my work express an overwhelming personal feeling to me, but must always present a universal also for the design to be successful, even in my own mind.

I have tried to start with a theme, and idea, a mark, etc., but that only works if there is coincidence with something I want to express anyway.

Barbara Strobel Lardon said...

Can I say all of the above plus some?
I can start with so many things it is never the same. Photos, fabric, a thought, a story, a color, a mood, a need to make a statement, a technique I want to try. Yikes, seems I could go on and on.

Karoda said...

My beginnings are strongly rooted in emotions...I can be struck by something that is occuring from the personal to the global and from literature...the emotion becomes to great to bear so to alleviate the pressure I think first about colour, then symbols and motifs. Absent of this, I begin with thinking about design elements which are triggered by thinking, reading, and/or seeing images by others or ones that I doodle.

and I have been reading, and you're welcome ;)

Lee said...

These are really interesting lists.

I am a profoundly verbal soul, and most of my work starts with some words. Sometimes the words are big ideas like Love or Rust or How Many. Other times it is simpler; one month of postcards was simply "coming to grips with brown." Sometimes an image will inspire me, but more frequently it is the words the image brings to mind that set me off!

Once I have words, I get images of what I want to do, and I assemble fabrics and start thinking about process.

While I have tried keeping journals, I found that too much energy went into the journal, and somehow drained off enthusiasm for making things from fabric. The same thing happens if I try to sketch too many ideas, or list things - all the sketching and listing become the work, and the impulse to make That Thing is dissipated.

Anonymous said...

I have a 'compost heap' made up of scraps of paper, some with words, some some very basic sketches, line drawings and pictures from magazines and newspapers, my own photos. The design usually combines a bit from here, with a bit from there.
I can usually work with fabrics from the stash, as I seem to collect fabrics I need. However, I rarely start a design with a particular fabric in mind, but once the other elements start coming together I know if the fabrics are waiting, or if I have to start shopping.
Judy B