Friday, September 17, 2010

First paper, then fabric!

There are a lot of books and articles that suggest loosening up exercises – not only for the body but for the creative mind too!  I rarely give myself time to loosen up, but after a summer of travel and with none of the series of ideas I’ve worked on before sparking a “next quilt that must be”, I think it’s time to try some of these exercises.

I find it frustrating to try them with fabric, because you have to get up and down and pin and stand back and then repin an inch away – now if I had a butler to whom I could say “Johnson! just half an inch to the left with that red bit please!”  now that would really work….but until that time I think I’ll try my creative explorations on paper.  The good thing about paper is that you can try lots of ideas in a small space where’er you are, and you don’t have to commit too much time or physical effort to it.

I have worked on paper a lot refining possible ideas based on some realistic image – usually a photograph or set of photographs that I had taken.  But I’ve done very little “creating” straight out of my head.  I think it’s very difficult to sit with a blank piece of paper and tell yourself to draw.  But, it’s not too hard to give oneself a few directions to follow.

When I took the painting class last month in England, one of the other students fell on the first day and badly sprained her wrist so she had to use her non dominant hand for the rest of the week.  And it really loosened her up!  So my first idea is to make some marks on paper with my non dominant hand, and to cut off that old critical brain even more, I’m not going to even look at what I’m doing.  Immediately some questions spring to mind:  continuous line, or not? thinking of or looking at something, or not?

The great thing about questions like this (and this happens in workshops a lot where someone will ask me should I do it in blue or pink?  and I say, try both and see which gets nearest to your original intent) is that they yield more possibilities.  I won’t try to answer the questions in my head, but instead use them to generate more drawings.

Once I have a bunch of these improv drawings, then I can take a look at them – rotating them as I view them and see if anything springs to mind – a still life, a landscape, a street scene.  I can remove lines that are “in the wrong place”, or add lines…and then add some values to develop the sketch further.

so first with some non continuous marks:

I made four copies of a few marks, then turning them into four different orientations came up with four possible ideas:








Well those two both came out to pond scenes…this is probably because I’ve been down looking at the neighbourhood pond these last few mornings….but they have a very different feel..I’ve drawn the original lines more heavily so you can see them.

Working fsom the same initial marks, the next two I oriented vertically:









These turned into a still life, and a sort of figure…that could be further embellished into a Green Man. 

What’s really interesting is that although I started out with random marks, once I really looked at them I related them to scenes I’d gazed at recently (my brother in law has an outdoor arrangement of pots in the corner of his garden), or had thought about for quilts before (Green Men).  When we’re given abstract marks it’s really hard to stay abstract, we always want to make sense of things.  Well…I do anyway!!!  I know some very famous quilters who do manage to stay abstract!!  I guess I’ve just done too many anagrams in my life!

After the scattered mark exercise,  I tried a more continuous line:



Yes it does rather look like a mountain scene!!   and so,  by the thoughtful addition of a few more lines and divisions….we have a mountain quilt!



yellowmountain72dpi It’s a fun process…and now I’m headed down to the studio to do some more!

Love the comments!  Then I know you’re out there…and, if you have been, thanks for reading!    Elizabeth


Lynn said...

I'm curious what you mean by "Green Men?" I'm aware of a few definitions. (1) Aliens - little green men from outer space. (2) When you misplace something, some say a green man must have taken it or moved it. Are you thinking of one of these definitions or is there another I don't know about yet?

I've had a similar experience with drawing random lines then trying to find the picture or quilt in the lines. I haven't done any drawing lately. Might have to do some this weekend.

Elsie Montgomery said...

I like your mountain quilt. I did an actual painting one time that it reminded me of... and now I feel like quilting and it is much too late to start... sigh!

Linda and Michelle said...

Very cool mountain quilt....I want to study it some more and see how you worked with all the lines. I need something to free me up!

Judy said...

Love what you've been doing! The last few pieces are really terrific...not that they all haven't been in the past! LOL


Dianne Robinson said...

I'm enjoying your column. And this exercise would be perfect to take, along with a little sketch book, to play with on the plane. I keep trying to work with a sketch book, but do not draw, so this should give me a starting point. Good idea!

Jackie said...

There is an art festival here every year, and yesterday I received (via the quilt guild) a request for submissions for the annual poster. I may apply (why not???) and had thought of going to take some photographs, but why not begin with some lines? I hope I have the nerve to persevere in creating concepts (they want 8-10!) and submit them early in November. I know that I cannot be selected if I don't enter. I'm feeling strong and bold; thank you for the impetus!

Elizabeth Barton said...

Hi Lynn, there's a good explanation about the Green Man myth on wikipedia
you can sometimes find the sculptures tucked into a corner of an old country church!! Just making sure!

Elizabeth Barton said...

Thank you for the comments! I too am really trying to do more sketching, it really helps you to see I think.
Good luck with the poster Jackie - it's always good to try for a challenge!

Kaylene said...

Hi Elizabeth,

I enjoyed reading about your exercises. I have tried these types in the past, but I do not think I was loose enough to see the whole picture.

Kaylene said...

Hi Elizabeth,

I enjoyed reading about your exercises. I have tried these types in the past, but I do not think I was loose enough to see the whole picture.

Nina Marie said...

I've always started with paper - enough so that one of my quilt teachers once said to me - Oh you're one of those "paper quilters". I find it does loosen me up - I love my color pencils - I love scrunching up "the dogs" and throwing them out of my life. Always like to add new loosening exercises!! thanks!!

California Fiber artist and composer said...

If I understand the exercise right, you started with just the four marks and then sketched around them in different orientations. I am another one who doesn't draw.