Monday, July 20, 2009

The preliminary sketch – to do or not to do…


Sometimes I think maybe I’m just lazy or indecisive when I spend days messing around with little sketches, making tiny adjustments, cropping, resizing, altering the ratio (landscape to portrait – wide wide? or long and skinny?), trying different values – a night sky?, light from the right or the left? Keep that building in place, or lose it? Blend the colours of various objects, or make them very distinctive?......well you see how my mind goes! I end up with piles of paper lying across the study floor..(I do try to reuse the reverse side!! And then eventually shred it for the compost pile, so hopefully I’m not being too environmentally insensitive)….sooner or later, however, I find one image stands out. I’m looking for the one that best fits my original idea, and is the strongest and most interesting visually.


I think it is very worthwhile to make these sketches, though I notice few others do (or at least they deny it when I ask them – like people used to deny studying before an exam!! Even when they’d swotted all night!) . Away from denial and back to rough sketches: I would never try to go anywhere without a map, and I think trying out ideas on paper is really helpful. For me it’s not time wasting. There are always so many judgments to be made in making a piece anyway – and getting up and down to the design wall, pinning, standing back, “oh, ghastly!”, rushing to the wall, unpinning, flinging that piece of fabric aside!! Or worse yet, having cut a hole in the middle of a favorite bit of fabric the exact right size, deciding no….the value is wrong, should have cut it from the other side! That wastes time, energy and fabric!!


Working some of the main problems out on paper ahead of time means that when you come to actually blocking the piece out on the design wall, the big decisions are made…and now you can address the little ones more easily. You know what values go where, the placement of the big shapes and the overall colour scheme. Never try to solve the details before you’ve got the main bones in place!!
“What type of doorknocker will we have?”
“But we havn’t decided if it’s going to be a castle or a chalet yet!”


                                  I find I can get into a much more meditative mood when blocking out the piece on the design wall, if I’ve done the more distractible (let’s try this! How about that? What if I…?) casting around for possibilities on paper ahead of time and have a working plan to base the piece upon.

This method doesn’t mean that I lose spontaneity, in fact I think I probably gain it. I have the main idea, the general structure of the piece already in mind, and so, as I glance at the sketch and cut and place those big pieces on the wall, I can make little ad hoc adjustments, serendipitous additions of colour, or soften the lines as I go along. I don’t like blowing a sketch upto full size and cutting templates, by the way, that does tend to make a piece look a little rigid and forced.



Another advantage of doing sketches ahead of time is that with a pencil and paper you can allow yourself to be more experimental. The time and the fabric involved are minimal! What if you cut it into 3 pieces and rearrange it?? This is easy with a pencil drawing…a little daunting with a large piece of fabric!!

It’s also helpful when it comes to working out machine quilting ideas…at this point I’ll make some copies of the sketch so I can try out different possibilities.

So, take out your pencil and paper! We’re going to make a quilt!


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

PS – after my blog on dyeing a couple of folk asked if I do dye and screen printing workshops here in my studio – answer: yes! If you’re interested email scenario is a small group of 3 or 4 friends who come together – that way you can share the travel costs, double up in hotel rooms, and enjoy being together. Cost? $100 a day per person (for 2009) which includes all chemicals (fabric is extra). I provide just about everything! Including a simple lunch in our beautiful terrace garden!


Jackie said...

I agree about the sketches and drafts being helpful. I used to be so tied to a photograph and just noticed with my most recent piece how far from that point I've come. More creative for sure. Thanks for all your help in that regard. Your Asilomar class helped as did all your examples of photos and subsequent quilts.

Clare Wassermann said...

yes and thank you for the reinforcement that preparation is key xx

magsramsay said...

I'm a constant scribbler too but I don't throw everything away, keeping some examples for pasting in my 'scrapbook' afterwards to record progress.
I'm relieved to see your sketches are just that, workings out, rather than the polished products that some would have us believe are their preliminary thoughts ( and that are so scary for the novice)
I recently used Photoshop to get an idea of what layers would look like in a quilt but got too involved in trying (and failing) to replicate the pleasing results I got.
I think the roughness of sketches is important otherwise I can get too caught up in it being satisfying in itself rather than a guide.