Friday, January 29, 2010

Festival of Quilts, UK


ferrybridge I just received word that I will be giving a two day workshop on design, and a lecture at the Festival of Quilts, in Birmingham, England this August.

Design and Composition in Art Quilts (2 day class) 
Tuesday 17th and Wednesday 18th August 9.30am to 4.30pm

Working in a Series (lecture
Thursday 19th August, 11.30am to 12.30pm.


Then, with Dominie Nash, I’ll be showing quilts in one of the galleries at the Exhibition site: from 10am to 5.30pm on Thursday 19th through to 5pm  on Sunday 22nd August.

This will be my first time working in a big Festival so it will be very energizing and different;  I’ll have to talk very fast to concentrate information that I usually give over several days into the smaller time format required for pre-quilt show conference workshops, but there will be a terrific buzz of excitement in the air that I’m sure will get the creative juices sparkling high into the air!


It is also the first time I will have taught in England. Every country has a different aesthetic and it will be fascinating to see how this comes out both in the workroom and in the quilts in the show.  Despite all the hassles involved, travel always broadens and deepens our knowledge, our inspirational well and our understanding.

  Since my trip to Iona and Knoydart (Western Scotland) last year I’ve not been able to stop painting watercolours of sea and sky and distant blurry mountains and islands!!  I wonder what repetitive activity the trip to Birmingham will lead to! 


The artistic differences  between countries are based on the light, the landscape, the weather, the building materials and the history – lots to absorb and cogitate upon.

I decided too to take a class myself whilst over the in UK, and having discovered what wonderful possibilities there are, I wish I could stay longer.  Taking a class and learning something new in a new place from someone with a very different background will inspire me far more than sight seeing in London, or shopping on Oxford street!

Go forth and learn!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

PS  please email me if you want to know any details about the class or lecture, or anything else! or make a comment – love comments! – thank you.  e

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Recycling clothing into art

I went to an interesting talk last night at the Art Dept of the University.
Amongst the many discards of modern society are clothes.   Our foremothers, and some present day folk , but alas not enough, recycled clothing into quilts.   Before synthetic fabrics, the clothes would be divided into wool or cotton and the fibres reclaimed and remade into a lower quality, but still useable, fabric of some kind.   But now there are way too many discards for any number of quilters to remake!  And the fibres are too mixed for the natural ones to be reclaimed.  Great mountains of unwanted used clothing rejected by the thrift stores are built up every week.  These are sorted and the more useful clothing sent to very poor countries like Haiti, but great hills of evening gowns, fancy dress, costumes and wild stuff remain.  Even if Tim Gunn and his Project Runway crew were multiplied one thousand fold and on telly as often as sport or political chat bovine waste, there would be vast quantities left engorging landfills.

Along came a couple of artists: known collectively as Guerra de la Paz.   Guerra de la Paz is the composite name of  Alain Guerra  and Neraldo de la Paz, who have collaborated for over 10 years.  They were born in Cuba but have lived in Miami for several years.  They were originally painters “who didn’t want to continue painting”.  They were inspired by the many weathered billboards in their area of Miami; the effect of nature on layered paper.  Seeking free art materials, they were given thousands of magazines which they layered into collages, then deconstructed, peeling and sanding off several patches and layers to create mysterious mixed images.  Describing their process they called this “letting go the ego” not caring which bits might be thought precious but rather leaving the results totally to chance.

One day they spotted several large dumpsters overflowing with great hillocks of unused clothing.  Further investigation lead to the discovery of mountain ranges of clothing in vast warehouses.  “Great free material and plenty of it!”  They got a commission in Miami for an outdoor installation and over a period of several weeks created “Overflow”, a waterfall of clothing descending from the gallery roof down the side of the building.  They were fascinated by nature’s partnership in the process: the sun bleached, the rain enrichened colour, the wind made the fabric dance.

Once they started using society’s discards more and more came to light; the fruits of excessive consumerism (itself begetted by unbound free enterprise reinforcing Greed), provided more and more opportunities to free material.  They used everything.  And began making more and more sophisticated shapes and comments on society.


(Apologies for quality of photo, taken from the corner of a dark auditorium!). 

In this installation the “rainbow” is an armature arcing from one set of coloured boots on the left to the right (yes, those are wellies under the clothing!  supporting the mass of fibre detritus). 


The piece on the right,
called Ascension
is composed of clothing arranged from white through grey to black supported on a spider web armature.


I wasn’t able to get pictures but some of their most striking work was made from ties.  They formed snakes from the ties, with the open wide end of the tie forming a snake’s mouth with the narrow tongue (the narrow end of another tie) forking out in a vicious venomous attack.  Headless mannequins in smart sober business suits had ties transformed into snakes as they faced off in their business deals, hands shaking below, pointed tongues above!

They made a family from the clothing, with sock faces and discarded wigs.  Thinking it would be appropriate to have some family photographs, they took several of them to a Walmart photographer so they could obtain “that perfect family memory” standing in line with all the oversize moms and babies….but Walmart was enraged!  And refused to take the photographs!!  What! have a social comment on excessive consumerism in our halls? Not us!

So, before you rush out to buy more fabric!, make a nice cup of tea and have a leisurely look at the possibilities in your own wardrobe!

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

Friday, January 22, 2010

Finding Yourself, the Art Quilter

Terry Jarrard-Dimond and I were discussing the development of a personal aesthetic, or “your own voice” as it’s sometimes termed, a few weeks ago.   I’ve also given several workshops on “Finding One’s Own voice”,  so I was very interested to see an article in this month’s (Feb/Mar) edition of International Artist about exactly this point.

Alex Powers writes about finding out what kind of artist you are; he speaks from personal experience having for years made one kind of art, while really preferring another.  He describes ten questions that he feels would have helped him to realize his own aesthetic a little earlier.  Not all of the questions are appropriate to the art quilter, so I won’t copy them here (and they’re in the magazine!)…but I thought it would be fun to take the idea of a self assessment questionnaire and apply it to the art quilter.

1.  Design Elements:  usually 5  are listed in any art book:
      shape, line, value, colour, texture.
Which one of these is most important for you?  
I was surprised to realize that Line is the one I tend to emphasize. 
I love the line made by the edges of buildings  or trees against the sky, or the repeated lines of mountains receding into smoky distance.

april rains k

barton overture





On the left look at the line of the buildings against the sky, then the line of the sunlit buildings against the shadowy ones behind, and finally the line at the edge of the water.

On the right, see how I’ve made a quilt about these delicious calligraphic lines, the skinny white ones on the black, and then the reverse in the window space.

Trained as a sculptor I think Terry J-D might go for shape…and looking at her work that definitely comes to mind, but I hope she will comment!


Linda Levin I think goes for texture, looking at her very dense recent cityscapes (see left), it’s the overall patterning that speaks loudest.  






After Line, Value is the next most important for me:  I’m a great fan of very dramatic value patterns, and I think this might be why I love black and white quilts.

So – what appeals to you most and can you see it in your work? 
If not, hmm…are you making the right things for you?

2. Design
Some people work from a very detailed full cartoon, some from a small value sketch and others just begin with a blank design wall and one piece of fabric in their hand.
How much you plan a piece out beforehand clearly speaks to what kind of a person you are as well a what kind of an artist…however Alex Powers warns that: “Design usually has to be learned before it can be used intuitively”.
I do often like to have my cake AND eat it…so I often go for the middle road.  I can see the virtues of completely planning everything out, AND those of complete spontaneity.
So I like a small value sketch, having that helps me with my main shapes, lines and direction of attack, but allows lots of room for serendipitous choices along the way.  I like to know roughly where I’m going, but I don’t need to know the exact detailed route.  So my working method is definitely in sync with how I like to be. Is yours?

3. A picture plane is often divided into 3: background, middle ground and foreground.  Do you use all three?  focus only on one?  Flatten the plane so there is no depth?

bartonheavy metal 72

Answering this question I realised that (and I was surprised at this) I tend to be much less interested in the foreground…in fact frequently I like to have plain texture in front, little line or shape….my interest is in the middle ground…and often too in the sky.  this gives me the sense of space that I love so much.

And as I write this, sitting here in the middle of a wood with trees right upto the windows, I realise I’d love to swop them out for a nice lake?  Any takers?

Isn’t this fascinating?   I’ll cogitate upon the types of questions one could ask oneself some more in another posting – come back next week, or make a comment yourself, I’d love to hear from you!   This is getting a bit long and it’s time for a nice cuppa tea!!!  If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Artist’s Process

I’d love to be a mind-reading fly on the wall  when an artist is working.  The process of making art is so fascinating.  I think too that  it is  necessary to have an actual process.  I keep wondering if there aren’t “artistic scales” I could practice each morning to keep myself “in tune”…or even to get into tune in the first place!  In a former life I was a psychologist and that’s probably why it’s important for me to know how, why and what a person is thinking when they’re doing something.   One way to “practice scales” is to try to get into the head of accomplished artists and observe the process.

One of the places where you can get such a glimpse is in the occasional, and usually excellent, interviews with artists in Art in America.  If I were a professor, this magazine would be required reading!!   This month they have an interview with the British artist Dexter Dalwood.  Dalwood’s paintings are an intriguing marriage of style and content.  He will paint about a contemporary situation (for example OJ Simpson’s White Bronco) in the style of another painter.  He painted about Gatsby in the style of John Singer Sargent, about Diana Vreeland in Matisse’s red room. 

While his themes are contemporary, and his painting style may “riff on previous ideology”, he feels  his work is very much about painting itself.  His artistic process begins with a collage.  These can be quite intricate and are, he says, “compositionally very close to the paintings”.  But while the composition is close, he does not want to recreate the look of a photo with his painting.  He stated: “I wanted to invent a bit of painting in response to the collaged element”.  Not only do the collages give him the basic composition, they also enable him to develop his ideas a little further.  The main difference between the collage and the painting is only in the colour.   Dalwood states that the value of working in the collage first, is that then he is less inclined to overwork the actual painting.    Since I find myself consistently worrying about getting that chewed over, overworked look, I definitely want to try out some of Dalwood’s ideas.

He also adds that while much is worked out before he starts painting (or for me that would be before I started cutting out fabric and placing it on the wall) there is “still a bit of paint (to) physically move around”.   but,  as Malcolm Morley says, he wants to be an artist who works “in oil on canvas, not oil on top of oil”!!!  I too would like to have far less carefully cut out, tried and then discarded pieces of fabric around my feet!!

So the collage is where the main compositional decisions are made, but room is left for some “painterly” adjustments when one approaches the canvas, or the wall.    With the plan in hand, Dalwood states he’s not having to stand “in front of a blank canvas, ape-man-like”!!!!  I’ve definitely seen that stance when I’ve walked through various seminars where different workshops are ongoing!!

Collage ahoy!  but first, a nice cuppa tea and a walk in the sunshine..

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

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Emily Richardson: The work is where the head is

Over the last few years more and more artists from other mediums such as paint or sculpture or graphic arts have turned to fiber.  It’s exciting and enriching and they will push quilting to a much higher standard.   I think it will also behoove those of us who do not have a formal art background to get some art education; fortunately there are many ways of doing this without taking a formal college degree – which, of course, does not necessarily provide a real education in art!  but that is another subject…

One example is Emily Richardson whose work I have always loved for its mysterious and painterly qualities.  I  was interested to reread some notes I made from a lecture she gave a few years ago and thought I would share them.  Emily composes freely, but also will use the grid  as a basis adding a free flowing design on top –  which she calls “painterly stuff”.  She uses silk, linen, cotton which she has painted with acrylic paint,  and hand appliques the piece together with her own version of a ladder stitch.

Emily works principally with silk: its luster and transparency are two prized qualities.  She paints  with very watery acrylic paint so that the hand of the silk is largely unaffected.  The cloth is  manipulated in various ways while she’s painting, or while the paint is drying so that it runs and pools and makes interesting marks. Usually she will paint all the fabric for one piece, or a series of pieces  at one go so it’s coherent and unified.

  (I’ve adopted this method for the workshops I give where there are adequate dyeing facilities and ask the students to bring only white fabric to the class, (which incidentally means a much easier task for them when it comes to gathering supplies!).   They then dye the fabric all at one go at the beginning of the workshop, mixing varying amount of just a few dyes so that the colours harmonize well.)

Asked about her process she stated: “sometimes I’m thinking, sometimes I’m just doing…what if I make it like this, or that” .   She said: “My work is where my head is.”  

   She tries different ways of cutting out her pieces of silk and cotton as she sits on the floor.   She cuts out the contours & the “best bits” – no saving of those precious morsels!She puts them up on her design wall in an “act and respond” manner, adding  then eliminating.   Sometimes she will work from the back on the negative spaces, either with a black silk, or with an intensely colored commercial silks.

Emily states there is a lot of symbolism in her work much of which is derived from photographs she has taken, often of moving elements – like landscape seen from a moving car, or water.

The interaction/application of what we might call “Traditional Art” or “formal art” with  fiber has only recently come to quilting and  is changing the look of “quilts” significantly after the quilting doldrums the first 80 years or so of the 20th century – a Great Leap!

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

Friday, January 15, 2010

Taking risks

steelyardfrieze 300

Every New Year’s  Day I make the same resolution! No, not the one about better time management – that’s a given! – but the one abut Taking More Risks.  Both with and within the work.

There are so many quotes about the importance of taking risks, you wonder how many writers just write about it, rather than doing it!   However, it is only by taking a chance on something  new discoveries are  made.  It’s very easy to fall into a pattern of producing variations on a successful piece – you just have to look at any quilt show, magazine, catalogue or book to see that!

Taking risks involves letting go of the security of past successes; continuing to make the same things over and over (even though they get into shows) can be stifling to an artist.    To be creative is to be a risk-taker.  It’s not creative to repeat.  Refining and developing, however, are good…but at some point I think everyone needs to look at what they’ve been doing and see whether growth is really taking place, or whether one is plateauing.  (flatlining? eek!!). 

How do creativity and risk-taking work together? Pablo Picasso said: "Every act of creation is also an act of destruction." A creative person will take the risk of breaking away from an established pattern in order to explore new possibilities.  I’m trying to work myself up to this!!

William Styron felt that  "the pain (of the creative process) comes from the 'extraordinary risk' from 'plunging into unknown territory' not 'really knowing whether you're going to come out alive.'"  No wonder it’s a scary proposition!  I don’t think I’ll be able to go that far.  But looking at my work over the last year or so, and looking at what I admire in other people’s work…and..coming to the realization that what I love is space, airiness, light and empty landscapes, I think I want to open up the quilt spaces a little more.  I want to try to dispense with the details (like windows and chimneys) that I wonder if I might have hid behind.  Yes, it’s a risk…but…

Picasso again:  “Success is dangerous. One begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others. It leads to sterility.”

As Lee Krasner said: “We get used to a certain kind of color of form or format, and it's acceptable. And to puncture that is sticking your neck out a bit. (But) then pretty soon, that's very acceptable.”  So I’m going to try some new formats, some new colour schemes.  Several of you remarked on the pink I used in the last industrial piece – great!  It’s about and industry?  Leaves and branches and rusty corrosion?

And it’s important for me to follow Bridget Riley’s ideas that “nature is not landscape, but the dynamism of visual forces.. an event rather than an appearance. These forces can only be tackled by treating color and form as ultimate identities, freeing them from all descriptive or functional roles.”  That statement is such a challenge, and one I hope I can rise to! 

If you have been, thanks for reading!  and think about taking a risk with your own work…especially if you’ve made a dozen or so pieces that are very much in the same mode.  And write and tell us all how you did it!


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

I was in despair of this piece…


o fortuna

d’you ever get like that?  Everything seemed to go wrong, but finally it has come together and it looks pretty nice I think.  I’ve got the depth I was after and the many layers of meaning of this kind of image.   It’s not very large: 27” by 40” .  I’d love to do it much bigger, but I’ll cogitate upon that for a while!!!

This is the 9th or 10th piece in the industrial series I’ve been working on for a year or so now…see more on my website and the second one I’ve done based on a colliery.  It’s not so long that these big winding wheels were a common site in Yorkshire (where I’m originally from) and Durham, where my grandfather was a miner.  A giant, ominous wheel of fortune…if all went well there was a good wage and free coal, if not…a terrible loss.

Phew!!  thank goodness it’s ready for the photographer!
any comments (positive or negative one can learn from both!) gratefully accepted.

And , if you have been, thanks for reading!  I’m off for a walk now while the sun is shining!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Art Quilt classifications

I’ve found it difficult when talking to non-quilters to explain the difference between an art quilt that might win Quilt National and one that might win in the Art Quilt category at IQA or AQS shows. The term “art quilt” covers so many different possibilities that I thought it would be interesting to see if any specific directions could be noted within the art quilt world.

Big quilt shows mainly categorize quilts by size – which I’ve always thought kind of weird – I suppose size does matter?? Apparently they would think so!  But in the Art world as a whole size is not of much account…you never hear of the School of Small paintings!  The Mona Lisa is arguably one of the most famous paintings in the world  and is actually quite small.

A categorization system could not be one dimensional for quilts  could be classified on different variables.  For example you could have a landscape that was realistic, or a landscape that was imagined or distorted.  You could have a small blue quilt, a large blue one etc.  Perhaps a system that relates to the original concept would make sense.

Block Quilts
There are very traditional quilts that are more or less copies of old  pieced block patterns in modern materials.  Then there are traditional quilts that manipulate the old block patterns : Jinny Beyer was one of the first to start a whole movement like this.  She manipulated the old blocks into different shapes like diamond or rhomboids, she added in lines and took out lines, but her starting point was always the traditional block.  Nancy Halpern also worked from the traditional block but pushed it further, sectioning it and repeating sections, or devising new one-patch shapes – not just the traditional square or triangle but endless tesselating quadrilaterals!  After her, Sylvia Einstein also worked with the traditional block but manipulated color, value and texture so expertly that it gave the quilt a fresh dynamic look that was unexpected and dramatic.  Following from that Nelda Warkentin took the same square block but updated it with her rich surface design and layering techniques.  
And so we can see The Block gradually moving away from the traditional pattern but still bearing block characteristics of a specific repeated shape, which is sometimes varied in size.

The Block that Wasn’t: Natural or spontaneous arrangements
The Shape Quilt.
The block originally was an arrangement of shapes within a grid however loosely defined.  But when the African American quilters of Oakland and people like Anna Williams and Rosie Lee Tompkins developed highly imaginative variations on the original patterns by dropping some of the “rules” that over time had solidified – things like straight lines, matching colours, symmetry etc, the grid itself was often also dropped.    This opened up many possibilities for arranging the myriad different shapes which can be cut from fabric into interesting, pleasing compositions.   Parallel loosening of traditional compositional arrangments were also seen in other fields.  For example, in flower arranging..instead of the old pyramidal placement of blooms, with symmetry and balance considered paramount, now many flower arrangers pick up the blooms loosely in their hands, shuffle them briefly then insert into a vase for a “natural” look.   The “natural” look also appeared in fashion – it used to be that you didn’t wear a formal jacket with a workaday garment like jeans – now that is hot!  Never let your underwear show, now it’s on the outside!

Image Quilts
Traditional image quilts were frequently floral, but local scenes were often described in cloth.  This type of quilt also has persisted and changed over time.    As in the art world there are flowers, landscapes, animal scenes, cityscapes, seascapes, portraits, still lifes and illustrations.    This type  of work has changed similarly though to a lesser extent than the block quilt.   The AQS type of image quilt is probably more realistically and tightly conceived than the QN type of image quilt which may be more painterly, more impressionistic.   The Art Quilter is concerned, as is the painter, with the more formal aspects of her composition: unity/tension/rhythm etc – translating the imagery rather than attempting to reproduce it.    Though I do feel that the advent of the digital print is a some retrograde step for this type of work. A photograph on fabric is still a photograph, and probably a less good one because fabric is coarser than most photographic paper. 

Embellished or Surface Texture Quilts
Traditional embellished quilts were the embroidered crazy quilts so popular in the over fussy over decorated Victorian era.   Today we see a full range of quilts that are just about the surface and nothing but the surface: about beads, about stitching, about a specific surface design process like discharge.   Then there are quilts that have a different beginning: block, shape or image where the quilter has enhanced (0r tried to enhance!) the quilt with some surface manipulation.   the best of these quilts are those where the basic design and the embellishment are completely married together to form a unified whole.  The quilts of Dorothy Caldwell inspired by the traditional kantha cloths of India where stitch and shape come together to create the main theme or idea are a wonderful example of this.

All of the above categories (and there may be many more I’m just not bringing to mind – please add them in the comments!) can be made in a Very traditional way, a Very Non-traditional way and somewhere in the middle.  The goals of each position differ, but the same categories occur in both traditional and contemporary.

So, how do I answer my own question of how to tell the difference between an AQS quilt and a QN one?  I think it is more in how you approach the task, and how you carry it out rather than in the basic category ofquilt.  How much are you guided by the “rules”, how much d’you want the unexpected to happen? D’you want to create something totally unusual?  Or d’you conceive of a fresh look at an old idea?

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

Friday, January 8, 2010

On the Art of the Critique.

I’ve been thinking about critiques and critique groups.  I think being able to get feedback where you’re really stuck is very helpful – somehow it’s always easier to see the mote in the other person’s eye! 

But I’ve tried forming critique groups of local friends with little success: in the first group everyone was so pleased to be asked, but then the date of the meeting would come around  and they hadn’t done any work!! so then we just gossiped – which is fun but doesn’t further the cause of art!   A  year or so later, I tried again…this time, the people actually brought work but everyone was far too nice..and soon we were back gossiping again.  One more try, different group of the first meeting (sun afternoon), the hostess poured us all a glass of wine, at first I thought hmm this might help to loosen up the discussion a bit, but instead she proceeded to get drunk and maudlin!!  Again, the cause of art was lost!

So when I decided it would be helpful for people in my workshops to learn how to critique their own work using basic design principles as a format I felt some Rules were necessary.  (I’m not normally a Rule person, but I didn’t want people doing nothing while being nice and getting drunk!).  So,  after the initial design stage, when people have 6-12 possible designs sketched out and pinned up on their design walls,  I ask the students to form small groups of 4 or 5.   I give  them  very specific instructions (I creep around on quiet cat’s paws behind the groups listening in to make sure the instructions are followed!).

  The person who created the design is not allowed to speak at first, however she has been instructed to write  on the board  the Theme or Main Idea of the potential piece.  I’ve found that, if allowed to talk, it’s very difficult for the designer not to try to explain the work – and of course the work should be self explanatory – if it’s not, it’s not working.  The other thing that happened was that the designer would give a long introductory paragraph about their own deficiencies!  Well, that’s not going to help either! Thinking and talking about how hopeless you are doesn’t actually move you forward – whether you’re hopeless or not!!

The designer also can easily get off  the topic and talk about the sketches they didn’t make…that’s irrelevant..and I quickly try to steer the discussion back on the track of looking at exactly what is on the board and why it’s worth following up into cloth, or where it might need some changes.   Nor should the observers be allowed to  relate the sketch to their own inner world – as in “it looks like my mother in law!”…this might be entertaining but is definitely off track! 

The observers are asked to state which of the sketches appears to them to be the strongest and to say why.  They are not allowed to say simply “ I like this one, I don’t like that one”.  Rather, they should say: sketch #6 is very strong because it is so dynamic with all the movement and the diagonal lines.   Or, sketch #2 is too chaotic and doesn’t convey the theme of peacefulness to me.  The discussion of strength or weakness, attractiveness or banality or formlessness should always be supported by a discussion of the unity or tension or balance within the sketch.

When I first started doing this I was afraid that a) people would be too nice (!), or b) just waffle about their likes and dislikes or c) say nothing at all (a few still do that, but when prodded by that lurking teacher nearly always have something worthwhile to offer.  But I’ve been very pleased and surprised by how enthusiastically people engage in this…the person who did the sketches has only spent a few hours on many sketches and so doesn’t have too much heart invested in any particular one, so they’re not going to get hurt…and the commentors, sensing this, are able to give honest critique instead of just being polite.  I tell them you can’t just say “I like this” – you must Always say Why..and similarly for a negative area…just to say “I hate that pink shape!” (or whatever) is not constructive, one has to support the response with a reason.   And if people appear to be missing some element,  I  try to suggest questions that might be asked.

Critiqueing is not about finding a single solution for a problem – there are NO single solutions;  what’s good about a group discussing a piece is that the designer will then be presented with a clear sense of what’s strong and weak, whether or not the Idea has been conveyed, and several possible ways of making the design stronger.  The point of a critique is not for the critiquers to solve the problem for the designer, but rather to open up avenues of exploration for them that their more objective view may see.  Don’t ever look for a critique to solve your problems for you…instead use the teacher/friend/observer more like a plumber…unblocking your own ideas, helping them to flow along new channels where necessary!

It’s important to approach being critiqued in a non-defensive way, for that’s the only way to see things less subjectively.  It’s a wonderful gift to be able, however  briefly, to see things from another’s point of view…suspending the “buts” that always spring to mind!

In a college setting, the classroom critique centers on three things: 1.technique, 2. composition and  3. concept.  In my workshops, I prefer the students to reverse that order: let’s first talk about whether this little sketch conveys anything about your idea, secondly let’s look at the composition addressing unity, tension, balance and so on and only finally (and then only if sufficient time) will we discuss possible techniques to be used in making the piece.

Critiqueing another’s work  is a very good way of learning of learning how to look more clearly at one’s own art.  People learn more by analyzing another’s work, by figuring out its qualities, and its weaker areas.  What’s really working to help people make stronger compositions is not being on the Receiving end of the critique, but being on the Giving end.  

Meanwhile…anyone want to join a critique group?  I’ve got some nice wine…..
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


I keep hearing people complain that art quilts are not accepted in the “real art world”. Unfortunately in the “real art world” art is a commodity like anything else with the name brand always commanding a higher price than the same thing with a kroger/safeway/tesco/woolworth generic label.    In which case, of course , you actually have to taste it, live with it, imbibe it and be very knowledgeable and experienced to be able to tell if it’s a new, different and amazing baked bean, or just a copy of all the other baked beans out there.

So why are so many art quilts shows being judged by art quilters?  Surely if we want to see how our work holds up against some Platonic ideal of art then we should have jurors who are acknowledged experts within the Art World as a whole.  People who have spent many years looking across and examining all kinds of art, who have a breadth and depth of vision – these people would probably not be practicing artists themselves but critics or teachers or writers or  curators  or art theoreticians.  Most good practicing artists are usually very focused on their own work and very good at assessing work very like their own, but perhaps not so good at looking at the field in general.

I look forward to the day when a major art quilt show has the courage to choose  a panel of jurors who are from outside the art quilt world  - they can certainly have one or two art quilters as consultants people who know who’s teaching what to whom and so on – but let’s have some Fresh Eyes on the scene!

and, if you have been, thanks for reading!! 
and – let me know what you think!    Elizabeth

Monday, January 4, 2010

Music in the Studio



I was thinking about music and the part it plays in creativity.  Music is one of the most abstract forms of art (well the sort I listen to is, anyway!).   It’s really helpful at several stages of the process of creating an art quilt.


In my workshop on Inspiration we explore all the senses and different experiences as a starting point for a design: different pieces of music, poetry, visual stimuli, relationships, taste and smell, feelings – both internal, and generated from external situations, activities etc.  I play Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, or by contrast Vaughn Williams Sinfonia Antarctica…(brr!! the howling winds!) and ask them to  doodle in response to the music – from ear to hand.   Satie is another good one, or the Beatles!

The Design Wall – The Zone
After I have my small value study, and have made my fabric choices, I begin to work on the design wall.  I really need to tune out the old left brain criticizing, or being too literal at this point.  I want to get into the “zone”, the  alpha rhythm and dream my way down this design river…letting myself draw onto the fabric fairly freely within the dictates of the small sketch.  Good Zoning music for me is a capella singing – either one voice or choral…Cleo Laine, June Tabor, David Daniels, or just about any bunch of monks omming their way through a piece!  The old Ravi Shankar records (d’you remember those!) are great too at this point.

Putting it together – piecing and applique
Thse are fairly tedious steps so I always do it by colour!!!
I look for green or blue or red music!  You know how that goes, I’m sure you can divide your CD collection up into colours!

Machine Quilting
Okay, the top is sewn, layered with batting and backing..onto the machine quilting!!  This is where Bach and Mozart really come into their own with their driving complex harmonies and constant rhythms!!!  The pace they set really help to keep you moving evenly (shoulders down now!) under the needle.  Debussy or Dave Brubeck have no place here!!  We need no changes in tempo!

Handwork Finishing…
This is where I like to listen to something new, something I want to understand and absorb, I don’t need my mind on the stitching and I don’t need to be “in the zone” either…so I’ll play my newest CDs:  at present a fascinating album of gypsy music arranged for violin and 2 guitars: Nadja Solero-Sonnenberg and the Assad brothers.

Okay!! so let me hear from you – what part does music play in your creativity?
AND, if you have been, thanks for reading – or is it listening?!!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A Guest Blog

Please check out my guest blog on Subversive Stitchers (how did they know?!)....

I don't know that people do come to me for advice, but I do know that I enjoy breaking - or at least nudging! - the rules. Thanks for reading! Elizabeth

Friday, January 1, 2010

Reviewing 2009

I thought I’d look back over last year and see if I could see any direction to my pieces, anything I wanted to change – or stick with – in 201.! 
I finished about 15 quilts…some were started in the previous year of course and about half of them were very small.  I’ve been working smaller for a number of reasons:
the challenge! 
the chance to work out ideas in smaller studies
the idea of grouping smaller pieces together to hang
shipping costs…
And that has been interesting and worthwhile.  So I will do more small!
I’ve mainly continued with the industrial landscapes:
what pretty smoke full

steelyardfrieze 300five mills rampant 300

flora and ferra k300

These four were all based on the Hamilton, Ontario steelworks.
The one that’s least interesting to me was the Five Mills Rampant where I made the mill section into a block and repeated it reversing the values…close up this was fascinating, but at a distance it looks a bit too decorative.  I am pleased with the other three…black and white always looks so crisp and definite!  it’s good to have something definite!  Oh what pretty smoke (the yellow and turquoise one) really conveyed the different levels of meaning – there’s an Art Deco feel..when smoke was used as a rather romantic element…the title is based on the very ironic Oh What a Lovely War  play about the terrible events of the first world war….smoke of course is devastating to our lungs…struggling with asthma as a child brought that home very clearly.   I do love the space of Steelyard Frieze (pink sky, black water)…I want to add more space in my quilts.
Then I took a look at my current home town (Athens, GA) and discovered a lovely abandoned factory – this lead to 3 pieces:
cement works 300
tracy st silos

a nice factory will keep me happy for months!!

After that I decided to make 4 more pieces in the 18 by 24 size that Dominie Nash and I chose for work that we would hang together at the UK Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, UK next summer.
bluebeard's castle colliery Copy of karen dec 09 012 karen dec 09 023
I like the vertical orientation better – I also still find my eyes drawn to the plain black and white one!!
When I.m travelling a lot in the summer, I always like to have something to stitch away on…I love the look of hand stitching and really want to do a lot more – here’s a detail from my second piece on the Ferrybridge Power Station:
karen dec 09 009
I’ve got to figure out quite how I’m going to finish and present this piece…also I need others in similar vein if I’m going to enter it anywhere!!

karen sept 09 010

I made two more pieces in the black and white half timbering series that I worked on a great deal last year…getting looser and looser with the curves on the black timbers: on each of them I did a great deal of stitching…
fuge for PB

And finally I sewed full circle and revisited an old “window” block idea upon which I had made about 20 quilts back in the 90s:

It’s been an interesting year!  I think I have managed to stay fairly focussed  but I’ve also used different palettes and formats.   As a whole I don’t think they look too bad!  some have been accepted to shows, one of the best was rejected – what can I say!!  Three have been sold – hooray! I’d always much rather my work was out there giving people enjoyment than folded up safely in my “quilt store”.
I want to continue with these ideas, but try being bolder and looser!  I do love those with the stitching on….so must remember that – stitching and Big Shapes…and bold colors with High contrast.  
It’s good to review…take a look and see what you’ve done…and then plan ahead.
So, if you have been, thanks for reading…in 2009…and I hope you’ll continue to read AND comment – oh yes! please do comment – in 2010.  Elizabeth

what pretty smoke! turquoise,orange,yellow 36w,43h
steel yard frieze pink, black grey 68w,35h
five mills rampant red,black white purple gold 57", 25"h
flora and ferra black,white 24w,45h
Cement Works blue, gold, black 42” sq
Red Abandon red 46w,65h
Bluebeard's Castle black purple yellow 18w,25h
Colliery black, white 18w,24h
Tracy St Silos black,white 19w,25h
No Grey b/w/r 38w 53h
Fields green 44.5w,34h
Intertwined black/white 25'w,25"h
Battersea green, pink, yellow 18w,24h
steel reflections black,white,grey 24w,18h
Fugue for PB orange purple 35w50h