Wednesday, April 7, 2010

The Art of the Study


I’ve been thinking about how one improves…yes I know! practice!  but how difficult it is to practice when you only make one of something every 2 or 3  months.  We are really handicapped as quiltmakers by having such a lengthy process.  I’m sure you’ve all been in the position where you’ve laboured over something for months and at the end hated the dratted thing!!  I know I have.  The secret to improve is being able to practice something over and over…but how can one do that with something so large and time consuming as a quilt?

Thinking about the making of large oil paintings, I realized that many of the old masters (and mistresses too I’ll be bound, not that one usually hears about them, alas) made many studies and drawings before they began work on The Main Opus.  And nowadays we treasure those drawings and studies as works of art in their own right.   In fact, they are frequently enjoyed and loved more because they are fresher, more natural, more experimental than the finished large work.   There is a spontaneity in the studies that is very appealing.  Furthermore, they often address the essence of the piece without a lot of the extra detail.  Now it so happens that the kind of work I love is very spare – even though my own voice has often been overly taxed with detail, even (puke!) whimsy, in the past, what I am drawn towards in the work of others is economy.  Everything said with a few strokes or lines.  Bach’s unaccompanied cello works speak more to me than any Beethoven symphony (though I do confess a sneaking enjoyment when in certain mood for Carmina Burana!).

So where does this lead me?  I’d really like to figure out a way to make those studies…smaller pieces that address either just the essence, the main lines….or a particular interesting detail of the entire piece.  And will I make the entire piece?  well perhaps…when one of the Carmina Burana moods is upon me…

So I’m off into not a “brown” study…but a blue and green and red and yellow and black and white one!

If you have been, thanks for reading…and do share with me how you have addressed the problem of the inability to make many pieces and thus have reducing opportunity for practice.  Elizabeth


Quilt or Dye said...

I have observed the same issue. So, I have started making smaller pieces, even to the point of some artist trading cards. The point for me is to be able to experiment--not to turn out a "quick and simple" product but to be able to experiment from start to finish with a particular technique to see if it fits me.

As I get more comfortable with a variety of techniques, I do find myself drawing more as I visualize what I want for a final product. Then I choose which technique may be the most successful to get me there.

magsramsay said...

Journal Quilts! I'm now in my 7th Year of making them.They've mainly been try-outs for larger pieces and varied in size and format (tho I keep coming back to 12 inch square). I've honed technique and design and also worked out what's not going to work as well as building up a stock pile of ideas for the future.

Lynn said...

Journal quilts is the more popular term but the word "journal" makes me think of a diary and what I make are not really diary entries in quilt form. So I call them sample quilts. Small pieces used for trying out a technique or color palate or a quilting pattern or thread - an experiment that may or may not lead to a larger quilt.

I keep all of them as reference, even the bad ones. As you have said before, we often learn more from our mistakes than our successes.

Elizabeth Barton said...

I think of journal quilts as being more about one's day to day life and being quite self referential and perhaps therapeutic...a different beast! I'm thinking more of studies...trying out ideas and compositions and approaches to a topic. well ..that's the plan, anyway!

pam in sw florida said...

This year I am working on work that is very new to me. Trying to push myself up a level. Making every little piece a study as if on paper-many are cut up and put in my scrap basket and I don't care.

I am using my fabrics, yes-my handdyes-as an artist would use paper.
I find I love it.

Nancy said...

When I am working with a new technique, I make studies. Earlier quilt judges gave me mixed marks on some of my finishing techniques. So I worked through a dozen small pieces so I could do lots of finishing in a short piece of time.
Now I do my studies with paper and pencil, scanner and computer. Trying different design ideas out until I get the layout I want. Sort of studies, or maybe the work for doing a series.