Sunday, October 31, 2010

Don’t Look Back

…was always the advice given by the centenarian as to the secret of a healthy old age…

and I’m beginning to think it might well be true of  critiques as well!!


I was looking through old sketchbooks and came across advice given me by the art prof 12  and 13 years ago and it was no different from advice given me a couple of months ago by an artist friend!! Yikes! how can I not have learned?


The professor said he always like my more abstract quilts the best because he felt the problem with pictorial work  was that it had a point of reference.  With abstract work, however, one could make up one’s own mind as to what the piece was about.  (But what if you want to make a piece about a specific something, I wondered?  Questions like that usually just lead to a downward sniff so were rarely repeated!)




He felt things that were too realistic prevented the viewer from using their own imagination. And I certainly want my quilts to engage the attention of anyone who cares to stop and look !  He instructed me that one should reduce  the information included in an artwork so as not to be too obvious.  My Lord! too obvious!! ugh – that’s practically as bad as tampon art!   And, in fact, I have learned from my attempts at watercolor painting, that it’s much better just to hint at something (e.g. a window on a building) than to spell out every last carpentered inch.  Lost edges are another way of reducing information of course.


Doing the unexpected thing – reverse  or multiple perspective,  reversed lighting, putting the focal point a tad outside the so-called Golden Area…(actually I think the “Golden area”  should go out with the “g spot”! )..would be other ways of reducing realism.

Ambiguity intrigues.  Definitely a mantra to remember!

Don’t have things too real…and don’t look back!  The view might be just all too familiar!

So what place d’you think realism has in art quilts? Please do comment.  And, If you have been, thanks for reading !  Elizabeth

PS  all illustrations are from pieces completed over 10 years ago.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Literal Truth - or is it?

One thing people often ask me is "how can I be less literal?'
 At first i was surprised at such a question, how could anyone feel that they ever even needed to be literal?  But then as I looked around me at quilt shows, I noticed that many "pictorial" or "representationL quilts really do suffer from literalism.  Now,  I do love to encounter verbal literalisms - the kind especially prevalent in hot and heavy romances (actually they're light rather than heavy but you know what I mean).  I love sentences like "his eyes rested on her heaving bosom' (vision of two eyeballs bobbing up and down upon bouncing pink balloons....
or: "she threw herself upon his mercy"  (could be quite painful!)
or: anger flickered over his face (sort of diagonal stripes)...
or "his heart sank" (an EKG on his feet?)    "as his hopes plummeted" - now have you ever seen a hope plummet?
and so on...

Listening to language literally is fun and once you start noticing literalisms, you'll come up with better examples than me I'm sure! (and please do report them in the comments!)   But you know we aren't very literal with our spoken or written language so why is there such a tendency to be literal with our visual language?
A landscape quilt with blue sky (probably with printed clouds), viridian green grass (preferably one of those printed grass patterns), and purple mountains way too distinct, with a brick patterned cloth for the little house, brown bark (yes I've seen that fabric way too often!) tree trunks, and (out of scale) leaf fabric for the top of the tree plus  a red tiled roof....and maybe a little Liberty flower print across the bottom...well this choice of fabric will kill anything.  And yet the same design using a much more imaginative fabric choice could be a lot of fun.
Why not leaves of grass? skies of flowers, grass of bark etc.  Or why use these kinds of literal fabrics at all? Unless to misuse them?   

And Colour choice is often not only too literal but actually incorrect!  Or, at least, limited to a child's idea of colours.  Skies can be any colour - anyone living in the Mid West has seen the green skies before a tornado!  Grey, pink, purple, that horrible dead white, yellow, navy - oh and yes - sometimes blue!  Plants can be of any colour too:  we have conifers in yellow, blue, rust, grey and green.  Deciduous trees turn into fiery oranges, reds, yellows and purples.  And all manmade objects of course can be any colour that man (and occasionally woman) chooses - except bras for ladies with a respectable chest (as opposed to two apples underneath the chin).  Such bras come in black, white and flesh.  Ugh.

And, you know, you are allowed to move things in a quilt design!!!  The tree doesn't have to be slap bang in the middle just because it is.....and you don't have to put all the trees into the quilt.  Plus, even if they look alike (which they rarely are if we take the trouble to truly examine them) don't make them alike.  Give each one a little character.  For the same reason I'm against the strip piecing where you cut widths across the fabric  and then join them up and recut and every slice has the same components in it.  Too predictable!!  When I did strip piecing, I would cut many different lengths of fabric and then join them all together (at the skinny end) into one long long long length...and then take the two ends and start stitching them together until I reached the middle.  Then I would repeat that - so nothing came out the same!! Much more interesting.

Actually I've never really understood why socks or gloves have to match..or curtains (drapes)!  I have these lovely little curtains I've dragged around the world and if they fit a window in a room they're going to be hung there - even if the other windows have to have a different fabric.  So if you have several yellow elements in a piece, make them each from slightly different yellow fabric - there will be much more life in the quilt as a result.

Eschew literalism!  it's hard to swallow otherwise!  
If you have bean (gulp!), thanks for reading!!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Florida Workshop

I love teaching guild workshops because every guild has a different flavour to it which is so interesting real.  Also folk usually know each other well which leads to a strong undertone of camaraderie which is very engaging.
Last week I was in Fort Myers, FL with Art Quilters Unlimited (and they surely are!) teaching a workshop on working in a series.  I asked the participants to commit to making 6 quilts in the series they designed and most of them said they would make a firm act of commitment!  so we shall see…..    It is necessary when Working in a Series to make such a commitment because it is so easy to get distracted and then progress is limited.  And there are always barriers to progress in any art.  Sometimes one is leaping upward, other times ploughing across flat land and occasionally sliding downhill despite grabbing onto every scrubby bush in sight.
This was a delightful group very willing to laugh at my jokes which always makes the teacher feel good!!  And here are some of their results…now you must remember that in the space of just 3 short days, they chose a theme, developed a description of it, sketched out a number of designs, worked on value patterns, figured out colour schemes and then began working on their pieces…so these are just the beginnings – and I hope they are imagining glorious end points!  I know I am!
Firstly apologies if I misremembered anyone’s name, also for omissions, some of these birds just flew away from me before I could digitally capture them! There was a great  variety of themes: natural and manmade landscapes, abstract ideas and alcohol!
Jeri, Mary, Mechelle and Sherrill each chose plant themes based on the natural life of Florida..
I love the curves of Jeri’s  tropical plant, there’s such movement here.

Mechelle’s theme is one of the many nature reserves in Florida.  Many feature boardwalks that go for several miles across  the mangrove swamps – strange trees who literally stand up high on their own roots…

Sherrill brought one photo of the plants in her garden and was able to come up with many different variations  based on details of the photo.  This strong branch will soon sprout side twigs and mysterious circles!  The basic structure of the design is bold and strong and so whatever she layers on top the composition as a whole will work.
mary b

Mary B. spent her time on a series of designs checking different value patterns using Photoshop to fill in the values – these swamp scenes look very inviting.  I love the little path that the eye can follow into the trees.
Several people  worked with ideas based on structures:

Linda began work on a series based on old bridges – their strong beams and the rhythms of the metal fencing lends itself to bold dynamic designs.
it was amazing how rotating this sketch gave rise to vastly different perspectives.

Sandy began at the top….

Carol drew a number of intriguing designs – interlocking boats and buildings…she set herself the challenge of balancing these two kinds of shapes.  The simplification of curves and verticals requires careful positioning.   She chose a beautiful complementary colour scheme.
sandy s Sandy S made a lovely little series about times of day – look at the amazing difference in atmosphere that changing values can create (above).
Rose also was fascinated by a boat shape; this is one of just 3 pieces she created. The wind was fairly whipping her and the sailboats along!


Janine wasn’t able to get much done in fabric, but had a great series of drawings of tropical drinks!  These are going to be super – and very refreshing!

Joyce debated whether or not to pursue an abstract theme, then switched to a very abstracted version of a photograph of boats and water.   The gradated background gives wonderful depth…and I love the way the orange colour carries through into the distance.

Betty’s sketches are so graceful… the way they swirl and overlap is both soothing and satisfying. Her drawings also demonstrate the power of completing value sketches before you start work with fabric.

Jo Ann also worked on a series of value sketches – she too was inspired by the natural world…that of butterflies.  She hopes to make these with overlapping silk organza – they will be gorgeous!

I don't have a picture of everyone's ideas but there were several more people who worked with natural or manmade landscapes.  New York City from across the Hudson River is full of amazing possibilities as Barbara showed in her many sketches. Susan photographed several of the ladies in the room, printed out the pictures and drew sketches from them which she then manipulated in various ways - a wonderful series of portraits is planned.  I really look forward to seeing those.  Very unusual.

Mary’s bold and beautiful picnic table is so full of energy and pep.  Mary claimed to be almost 80 and she made one of the most youthful and lively pieces!  Isn’t this fun?
So you can see it was a good trip – I even got to walk along the beach and dip my toes in the Gulf!!


Now I must get to some serious work!  or well..maybe a cup of tea first…
if you have been, thanks for reading!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Don Lipski, visiting artist

I went down to the university art department last week again to hear a talk given by this month’s visiting artist.  Sadly, it was a much quieter student group with no interesting tattoos (or other things!) to ogle!   BUT, no matter ! I’m so thrilled that I can add to my art education by attending these talks;  there is so much one can learn and be inspired by.  Don Lipski is a sculptor who has completed many commissions in the 1% for art program.  His use of “found” or “manufactured” objects is totally fascinating.  He discovers beauty in shoelaces and rope and testtubes…don’t know whether I could incorporate some of those into my quilts…but…worth cogitation!


This butterfly hangs in Denver university in one of the science departments; it is made from test tubes filled with resin.  The butterfly is suspended from one cable so that it moves gently – even though it weighs a tremendous amount.




This is a detail.




Sorry this isn’t a very good picture -  Lipski took a bus, cut it in half longitudinally then took out a wedge (narrow at the front, wide at the back) had the bus reassembled and then mounted as a sculpture in front of a bus station.  It is still fully wired, so all the lights come on at night.  I was reminded of the special bus that Harry Potter rides on!  This is in Reno, NV- an appropriate setting for magical beliefs!


Lipski wasn’t originally an art student, he studied  American History at the University of Wisconsin and having flunked a sculpture class, in his last year took a ceramics class instead.  The teacher was so inspiring that he decided to go on to grad school to get an MFA.  He had always made little sculptures – like the one made from matches on the right…and saved these until he was able to have a show with hundreds and hundreds of them.  Always playing with found objects, thiIMG_2540nking about what you might make….

He pinned the little sculpture up on the wall (see left)and called the show “Gathering Dust”.  What a perfect title!  Something to think about……probably like you I’m keen to remove those dust gatherers!  so where are the sculptors when you need them?!

He had always wanted to make Big Sculpture, however.  When living in NYC (don’t all move to NYC by the way because this was in the “old days” when gentrification was just beginning and factories moving away from Manhattan would just dump all their inventory on the street) in Tribeca and with a huge empty factory for a studio he was able to bring home masses of stuff from dumpsters.  One time he was able to “rescue” a whole dumpster full of brush handles and made sculpture from them.  He was very amused to read one critic’s review of his obsessive removal of all the bristles!  He’s very happy for people to read what they want into his pieces!

A typical piece made from of dumpster rescued material might be a walker (Zimmer frame) with a dead netted Christmas tree trapped inside it. He enjoys just making things, taking things and putting them together to make you rethink their shape and form.  He formed fly swatters into an elegant wheel – and later books into a wheel form. (see lower down).  .IMG_2542


People would call and let him know when factories were going out of business; the piece on the right was made from thousands of discarded shoelaces.





Candles were a great find!  he loved to make unusual sconces for them – here the trumpet becomes the candle holder and the wax gradually drips over the trumpet.  So – if your child won’t practice on his instrument..well…turn  upside down and insert candle!  Lipski stated he didn’t plan great metaphors for his work, he just put things together.  People can derive their own metaphors he feels.

He’s done a lot of work with books: “maybe I’ll look smart and literary” he says as he nails books to a wall, or arranges them in piles from largest to smallest.  That reminded me of the rector’s daughter in Cranford who felt that in inheriting her father’s library she developed a  “literary” reputation!



Lipski has had several artist residencies with big companies and has been able to use their manufacturing techniques to create strange and unusual objects.  During one such residence at Corning Glass he was able to entrap many fruits, flowers, vegetables within  glass as above.

When he goes to a factory, he like to ask “What if I ….” about the objects he finds there.  This question was the most important one students should be asking he felt, that their main job is “to learn to believe in experimenting, in going off in every direction”.


Here a helper sits atop a giant ball of “string” – heavy duty marine rope at Gateshead in England.  It took a dozen people  and a fork lift to roll up this ball!  Sadly, when the powers at Gateshead returned the piece to the artist, they unrolled it in order to ship him the rope!!!  I’m so glad that doesn’t happen to  other art forms…imagine getting back a few yards of fabric and thread rolled onto a spool when your piece was returned from the show!


One time Lipski was  given a million little plastic bags with dice inside – part of a failed game someone had developed.  He took the dice out, but couldn’t think of anything to do with the plastic bags but found they made great photos when he got his son to leap into the pile and pose!



Some of the dice were glued onto a giant metal buoy he was given….






He worked with the Fabric Workshop in Philadelphia making things out of flags in response to the anti-flag  burning legislation that was proposed.  In a show“Who’s afraid of Red White and Blue?”   at the Corcoran,   he included a giant ball covered with tied flags. 



After the show the ball went to a college sculpture garden, but was vandalized –  the flags cut off and ripped apart by protestors: a ball covered with faded, twisted flags was unAmerican they felt.  As in “kill the abortionist for he kills”.  Why don’t they look in the mirror?




Now he’s doing interesting things with books!  Here is a wheel of books, but he has also covered who walls with books splatted out and nailed down!  There are a number of massmarket books I’d be happy to do that to!



There are few things he doesn’t work with – when trying to give up cigarettes, he decided to make sculptures from all the cigarettes he might  have smoked – this is one of several pieces where the cigs are arranged in large humidors, placed filter side out, or tobacco side out to give two different values.

When working in San Francisco he couldn’t find anything to make art from unlike NYC and Houston.  But he did come across a razor blade factory – and so made a piece from them – a chilling room with the walls entirely studded with razor blades jabbed into the plaster on one corner. No problem generating metaphors there.

Now he lives on Long Island and there’s no manufacturing, no choice dumpsters filled with goodies!  but there is sand and wood…so that is what he uses.  He made a piece for Grand Central Station that was composed from an old dead olive trees, suspended upside down with chandelier crystals attached to every branch.  In Denver he made sculptures from the city workers tools – bolted together into wild arrangements.  He made a sculpture from cowboy hats – in order to collect enough hats he hosted a great party, but you had to bring a hat to get in!  “I can make art out of anything in the world…I’m now making something from plastic skeletons!”.

Actually…..he confessed he sits at a computer all day dreaming up these ideas on Photoshop and has a project manager who actually realises these seemingly impossible ideas – like a fountain made from bathtubs overflowing! (though for that he bought doll house bathtubs and glued them together  for the maquette!).  For once, Photoshop was not up to his dreams!

And so…see you down at the Dumpster!   If you have been, thanks for reading, Elizabeth

PS I’m off to Florida to give a workshop on Working in a Series; I’ll be back in a week with pictures from there – I hope! – of amazing things!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Plein Air Quilter

Today I joined a group of plein air artists and had a really pleasant morning, sitting in someone’s gorgeously landscaped grounds pretending to paint but really just enjoying the sun and the breeze, the light and the shadows.  After painting, we reviewed our work and then repaired to a local restaurant for (considerable!) revitilization while we moaned about the lot of starving artists!

So, on getting home, I thought why should painters be the only ones to work outside?  I did debate trying to get a picture of me hauling a sewing machine up a tree…but…alas couldn’t figure out how to use the timer on the camera! (which of course  would be  the only difficulty in getting such a picture ;)!)

Instead, I headed to the patio and stretched out a couple of yards of fabric onto a table I have there which has 3 layers of foam insulation nailed onto the top (so much easier to pin into than carpet underlay – whoever dreamed that up for print tables can’t have had arthritis!).   


As you can see I’m right outside in the garden (and have the mozzie bites to prove it!)  but one should suffer for one’s art, right?

IMG_2566 IMG_2567

I’m very lucky to have a beautiful big screen which I’d prepared Kerr Grabowski style yesterday.  It’s about 4 feet square so fits nicely onto my 4ft by 8ft table:

IMG_2571 here it is ready to print…it’s very heavy so getting it into position saves me from upper body exercises for at least 3 days!     I can just about reach across it with the squeegee if I don’t mind slightly printed – ahh – protuberances!



  And here’s the finished result…I think it looks really interesting…after I made two prints (which covered the entire 4 by 8 area), I set the screen down to dry again.   I think I can get a few more prints off it tomorrow…but I took all my scraped off gloop and used it to “paint” all the sides of the fabric…that way I’ll have long strips of lighter value, similar hue colour which will be very useful when I start to design a piece using this fabric.


here’s a detail – I just love this texture – I actually made a couple of monoprints from it too (it’s just corrugated cardboard) which are underneath the printed fabric – didn’t want to disturb them!  Now I shall have to hope for a warm night so it’ll batch well.  I usually leave this kind of printed fabric a week or more before washing.  Waiting is one of the surface design processes I do well!! Especially en plein air.

If you have been, thanks for reading!  And do let me know about your own plein air adventures!   Elizabeth

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sometimes it’s the parts that are greater….

A couple of years ago I made a quilt that had some really super sections to it and I just loved the colours (green is my favorite colour!) but somehow as a whole it really didn’t seem to work.

So after dragging my feet for months and months…(after all who really wants to cut up something they’ve gone to considerable effort to sew together!)….armed with a long ruler, a piece of chalk and a rotary cutter (to say nothing of a stiff cup of tea!), I did the dreaded deed!  And it felt good!!  The little parts looked quite relieved to be on their own!

so this was the original:

greenhouses k 300 

and here it is divided up:

green houses separated Arn’t they sweet?  You can see them one by one on my other blog with sizes and prices and all. (The colours arn’t dimmer, it’s just the difference between a professional camera and a little point and shoot).

Sometimes if a quilt doesn’t feel right, give it time..maybe not 2 years! – but give it some time, and keep looking at it, and with luck you’ll figure out a change that will really improve it.  I’ve trimmed them down – my quilt Overlook was Vastly Improved by taking off the top section:

overlook72dpi Overlook (before beheading!)

overlook230dpi Overlook (after the Big Chop)

And I’ve even thrown them in a dye bath!   The Really Awful Ones usually go to the thrift store – a comfort for some poor little kitty somewhere.

So..what d’you think?  Are those little green houses and trees better separated…or not?  My fingers are crossed!!  But I doubt I’d ever sew them back together (not my fingers!! the little quilts ….)

– I’ve got my eye on one of those little pieces for myself!

If you have been, thanks for reading!    Elizabeth

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Looking at Art


I’ve often wondered what people are actually doing inside their heads when you see them gazing at a painting in a museum. Being of a naturally cynical bent, I often suspect they are mentally going over a shopping list, or imagining telling the boss what they really think of him! But what should one do when looking at art? When I went to university you only studied the subject you’d signed up for…and there weren’t any appreciation classes. I have read through the notes from art/dance/music appreciation courses but I discovered that these were not really courses on how to appreciate or experience the work but actually more like abbreviated histories of the range of art or dance the teacher exposed them to in class.

Maybe no one else wonders about this!! Perhaps this is just a problem for a cogitator such as myself. Not only do I think, but I check to see I’m really thinking in the “right” or “best” way! I used to feel I should spontaneously experience Deep Thoughts and Grand Emotions when standing in front of a masterpiece. There should be an explosion of gladness within my heaving bosom! I should leave the gallery a changed person. But so often it’s the same old me inside my head! Is this my fault? Or the fault of the work?

If you eavesdrop upon other gazers you learn very little: their remarks range from the disparaging “my child could have done this” ( then rush home with paints for the little monster!) to the pretentious “it’s his use of ultramarine, isn’t it?” And… it??

Yes, I know how to assess a composition and I often marvel at how frequently the greats keep “the rules”…but you know sometimes you can feel a little bit cheated by that – surely an artist of this caliber should have found a more interesting way of balancing the weight?

If you spot the technique too easily, then perhaps they have failed to give you (the viewer) anything to do. And I do feel a considerable responsibility for bringing my attention and my thoughtfulness to bear upon the work. I don’t, therefore, like the answers to be too easy – I prefer it if I must engage with the work to discover its meaning. Easy and trite solutions are not satisfying. I want to leave the room feeling that I’ve been enriched – not just by the piece itself but by the dialogue between the artist and myself. I think that if this happens, I will be able to become a better artist myself. If I can see and appreciate the nuances then I can create nuances of my own. It’s the difference between something quite prosaic and ordinary and something that speaks of the maker in a fresh and compelling way. It’s the same way that good writing doesn’t use commonplace idioms so many of which grate after just a few repetitions (have you noticed now how people are being “thrown under the bus” everywhere – it’s not even an accurate metaphor!). If it’s written well, the language illuminates and you think “that’s how to put that feeling into words!”. Memories resonate with delicious almost shivery awareness.

I shall continue to visit galleries all senses aquiver! I want to focus on the work right from the start…not idly saunter up thinking about something else…what does this piece say from across the room? Is there more as I approach more closely? Have I experienced this before? Or is it a new and beautiful visual expression of what the artist wishes to communicate. Is this a genuine feeling, or just pure bathos and sentimentality?  What does the content of this work actually mean to me? Is my delight in it emotional or much more intellectual? How is the artist evoking this response in me? If I watch and think about my looking and thinking maybe my cogitations will lead somewhere……..

Well, if you have been, thanks for reading..and do tell me about your Grand Thoughts while viewing Art…I want to know!
It is important to learn how to see. Elizabeth

Friday, October 1, 2010

Finally done!

electricfields Doesn’t it feel good to get the last stitch into a multi stitched piece?  This quilt seems to have been going on Forever…I decided to stitch +++ on top of the beautiful shibori pattern to try to show the rhythms of the meadow grasses.  I wanted contrast of form and shape and texture.  Stitching really adds gorgeous texture to things, I’d love to see folk doing more of it.

Copy of karen dec 09 010

Ferrybridge is a well known site in England but I had never before seen it from the train.  I loved the way that the fact that I was moving when I took the picture below slightly blurred the grasses and I thought the shibori pattern would be one way to capture that movement. 

uk 09 234

I’ve been inspired by these cooling towers before;  the previous quilt I made about them, though,  was from a very different viewpoint.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         The above quilt is still touring with a SAQA show that started in England in ‘09.   

It’s fun to revisit ideas with a different idea in mind.  In the older quilt I was thinking about the towers as part of a total urban scene – the sort of image I grew up with – industrial buildings mixed in with much older buildings, factories mixed with dwellings.   In the newer quilt I’m much more concerned about industry versus the natural environment.

Which one d’you like the best?
  Ferrybridge (the older one) is 60” square,
 Electric Fields (the green one) is 45”w, 34”h. 
Do send your comments!!!  I’d send you a postcard of Electric Fields if they had printed it in the right colours!  However, they have promised a reprinting…so let me know if you’d like one when I get them!

If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth