Thursday, March 31, 2011


I was asked an interesting question today about “the topic of naming quilts”.  Now M-C just wanted to know if there was a standard system that should be used but her question set me to thinking.  And, actually I should have mentioned in my call for the  Arty Quilt Show (see blog of last week) as well as an obscure theme, “your quilt title should be exactly 27.5 characters including spaces.” However, to be serious. For a moment, anyway. As you can imagine I was the despair of my teachers  (a very strait laced convent school in existence for “naice” young ladies since the 16th century for tending to see the funny side of things when I should not.  Back to titles.

I personally do not like titles that have no bearing on a piece. I had a joint show one time with a quilter who had very elaborate titles and I searched through her work to find how they related and it turned out they were simply lines from songs she listened to while quilting!!! I felt quite cheated.   Similarly I don’t understand artists who name a piece when it’s finished  after some arbitrary aspect of it that wasn’t the point of the piece in the first place: “The quilt with the wobbly edge”.   

I also dislike “unnamed”.   How can one not have had words in one’s head when thinking about the piece?  It’s interesting that one of the other ladies in my current online class remarked that she could not work on a nameless project.  She found that having a name both inspired and focused her; even though  the piece might get re-titled it was an imperative starting point.  Many artists in many different mediums find it important to have a working title right from the beginning of the project.  I don’t understand how you could think about something in terms of “that thing currently on the wall” .  I even remember reading that, if you have no language, your ability to think, reason and cogitate is markedly diminished.  (And, as we know, most military endeavors have names – though, alas, there it doesn’t always aid reason and thoughtfulness.)

Now I know that in abstract art there was a period where making work about the process of making work was important.  I don’t think you’re ever making a piece about Nothing even if your work is purely about such formal or process issues.  For example (sadly I forget his name) the Italian (I think) artist who simply stretched a canvas and then slashed it (once) with a knife!  I saw it the the Tate/Liverpool – if anyone else knows the piece.    But if you make a quilt like that then surely you could entitle it The Slasher!!  or Slashed! or even Slashed when Sloshed

And then there are the folk who simply number their pieces: “Portrait of Fred #42”.  You know that always puts me off.  I wonder if this is their 42nd attempt to capture Fred’s unique personality, or the 42nd Fred they happened to be asked to make a piece about?  Maybe they were obsessed with Fred and never had any other ideas about work?   Or  Landscape #124?  Was does that  mean?  It came after 123 and before 125?  I begin to wonder if they haven’t just found something that has now become easy for them to do, they’ve had some success with pieces like that and simply want to knock out a few (or even a lot!) more!  A propos of this point, we were discussing in my Working in Series class whether or not one could have too many pieces in a series. There are many reasons for Working in Series which are good ones, but it’s evident that one can go on too long.  In  every medium  you can find artists who are no longer stretching themselves by working in a series,  but who are simply copying themselves!!  To me, that's not a series that's just running in place! I think you have to ask yourself - does this piece have/say/explore something different...and if not, why not? And if you can’t even think of a different title for the piece then I would wonder if you really were exploring and stretching.

I think the name of the piece is  very important and I consider it very carefully.  If I don’t have the finished title initially I’ll have a working title which  might be  as long as a sentence and it’s up on the wall while I work.   For me the title serves  two purposes:  an identification so I can hold it in mind.  It’s like knowing the name of the neighbor, or the doctor or the people in your class .  I have the name and the named person/object immediately in mind when somebody asks me about it.  Secondly and more importantly it's an integral part of the piece, a very short summary of some of the meanings of a piece.

all that glitters is not gold For example I did a small piece of oil drills, I quilted round them in gold thread. The title is "All that Glitters is not Gold".  The piece is not only about the awkward beauty of these strange objects obligingly and repeatedly dipping their heads to suck up the black juice, but also about the price we pay for that.


I made a quilt  called Red Morning. That was a description of the piece - it's morning light on a red town, and the sky is red. But also...I was referring to the old saying: Red Morning Sailor's Warning - i.e. times are going to get hard if we keep ignoring the environmental problems.





My quilt entitled Brighter at the Top, refers not only to that last glimmer of light limning the chimney pots at the end of the day, but also the fact that the better off we are (not obscenely! but in terms of not having to worry about money), the brighter and happier our lives are. Something we should remember.





And the Arrogance of Calm refers to certain events in the last presidency but also to any tendency we might have to not worry about impending problems – especially environmental ones.  This quilt is from a series I made about Drowned Cities – nature’s revenge for thoughtless living!

Okay, this is getting a bit preachy, and I must admit I mainly want people to really enjoy my work and think it beautiful and want to imagine how marvelously their homes would be improved by having such a piece on the wall!! (including me!).    However, Titles Matter.  For that reason I put considerable thought into them and also stitch the title onto the front of the piece.

Well, if you have been!! thanks for reading…and do please comment…All of the above is just my opinion and I’m happy for you to disagree… carefully cogitated comments  come well to this forum!   Elizabeth

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Going After Inspiration

Isn’t this an amazing quotation from Jack London?

“Inspiration is not something that floats in the air like some radical gas to be collected in fairy nets; it is more effectively generated by a basket of practical ploys. Further, for flawed individuals like ourselves, it's easy to see something, have a vague idea that it's something special, then pass by and forget it. The written list and the quick sketch nail fleeting wisdom to the intransigent brain. "You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club."

I’m currently really enjoying teaching my Working in Series workshop on line.
One of the exercises everyone is doing is about going after inspiration (not with clubs but with keyboards!!). 
I have people getting inspired all over the world: the US, Canada, Australian, England, Germany, Spain, Italy, Norway, Sweden, Brunei, Switzerland, South Africa and Taiwan!  What a wealth of art and craft is available!
An activity that’s impossible to do in the average conference type of workshop is to ask the participants to do research.  (Though I have done this when teaching at somewhere like Arrowmont (see button on side bar) where there is a wonderful library full of inspiration! (as well as a gallery with wonderful art work)).  For Jack London is right, just sitting at a table in a hotel (where many workshops and seminars are held) isn’t terribly conducive to finding inspiration!  You either need to come armed with it, or you need to go and get it.  The online classes are weekly so people have a whole week to dig it out!  And being all over the world, they are digging on many continents!     And in the workshop I’m  encouraging folk to make a habit of Writing it Down, or Making a Sketch. Don’t just find it and rush on, find a way to preserve it!

I never expected that I would enjoy teaching online as much as I have; there are so many possibilities – such as the research above – that hadn’t occurred to me.  Of course, real life classes are great too – and they have opportunities that the online ones don’t.   I’ve been lucky enough to visit most of the well known spots where Art Quilters congregate and now I’m enjoying working for specific guilds.  I get a lot of inspiration from visiting places I’ve never been and I usually ask for a short tour of the area from the kind ladies who host teachers.  Many many thanks to those who’ve driven me up the marvelous Highway 1 on the California coast, who showed me San Diego from the old fort, who took me on a cable car in San Francisco, and over the Golden Gate Bridge, showed me the stunning mountains in their winter dress in Western Canada, the beach in Florida, and I didn’t even have to club any of them to get them to lead me to these inspiring scenes! And it’s great to be able to get to know so many people all with the same addiction as me!  I love it when I can spend a few minutes one on one with each person in the classroom, and it’s truly fulfilling when they make a breakthrough and I can share their thrill at what they’ve done.

Inspiration is everywhere;  we think we could never forget what we saw, heard, tasted, smelled, felt and reacted to deep within us…but alas memory often does dissipate like London’s radical gas….so a picture, a paragraph, a sketch…carefully preserved in a special folder or shoe box (as Twyla Tharp advocates in her book The Creative Habit)…will provide the link for ever.

And if you have been, thanks for reading!  And don’t forget to enter the Arty Quilt Show (described in the post below), deadline April 1st!  I didn’t mention the theme before because Fresh Work is what is wanted, it’s “Eschew Obfuscation”.   Enjoy the chew!   Elizabeth

PS Love the comments!! full of inspiration!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

A New Arty Quilt Show!

Announcing a New Quilt Show!

Prizes:  There will be “big”* prizes!

Juror:  at least one juror (we think we can persuade old Fred Flubs from the Fibers dept of the local college to emerge from his hiding place amidst the dusty looms to peer at your images).

Catalogue: we hope to produce a lavish coffee table  book (screw on legs included) which will be free with $100.00 s/h  plus an annual opening fee of $30 to anyone who enters the show.

Dates: Entry deadline is April 1st.   We will issue rejections, and a few acceptances by November 1st if you include an sae with a bonus prepayment of $10.

Entries: Entries must be completed within 6 months of entering the show and must have never been viewed by or shown to or at  or with or from any other person than the maker including the cat.

Images:  should be no greater than 5” x 7” or 6cm x 8cm at 396 ppi with exactly 1920 pp per top and bottom side.  Files larger than 2 BM will be rejected, 1 BM is enough for anyone.  Mbs are good but be careful with kbs especially those marked “dogs only”.  Rewrite CDs.  Make sure your camera has exactly 17 megapixels, these can be of any size.  
Images should include the hands (at the top) and the feet (preferably at the bottom) of the quilt.  These will later be recorded for identification.  No fake quilt stands with plastic hands and feet please!

Artist statement: we expect a short artist’s bio, 3 words should be sufficient, but request a 300 page essay on the meaning of your quilt.  We may edit this.

Size requirements:  the horizontal measurements should not be greater by more than the square root of 9.5 x the height of your sewing machine needle.  The left side vertical measurement, while it can be greater or less than the bottom edge of the quilt, should not exceed by more than a factor of 0.0062 the nebulous variance of the logarithmic multiple of the right.  The circumference of your quilt cannot be less than the diameter but could be greater than the height as long as it does not exceed 50” (60 cm).

Sleeves:  We request that the sleeves be made from rip stop nylon at least a foot deep (boot included) in a daisy print fabric so that our volunteers should have no difficulty in inserting  the assorted left over plumbing pipes we use for display or in finding the sleeve.  Of the quilt.

Sales: will definitely be encouraged.  We will take only a modest 66.6% of the full price, or 72% of the best offer whichever you prefer.

Quilt Return:Quilts will be returned in 2021, please send a courier at that time to find them in our basement storage with excellent overhead lighting supplied by a 40 watt bulb.  Flashlights available for a small extra charge.

Fees: a donation of at least $50 is requested, please send more if you can.  It may help your chance of inclusion.

Thank you!  We expect a great show!

And, if you have been…..thanks for reading!!  I look forward to the entries!  Please comment first!  Elizabeth

*any one wishing to donate a prize please contact Sally “Splendor” Spoofer at

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The many values of value in design

I’ve always loved the amazing difference in mood you can create by changing the values in a quilt.  With the help of Photoshop – take a look at the following possibilities:

tree value landscape light

tree value landscape dark





The landscape on the left suggests a fairly bright summer’s day with a cheerful mood; simply reversing the values gives a much more mysterious scene…the illuminated trees against the distant dark hills!  And of course with 4 values there are 4 x 3 x 2 = 24 possible arrangements just of value alone in this little sketch.  (Try it if you don’t believe me!!).  And that’s just using each value once.

Here’s a little cityscape with the same two sequences of value:

cityscape value landscape dark cityscape value landscape light





Again, the arrangement of values alone creates a very different mood and sense of place.

I looked back at some of the quilts I’ve made to see what happens when I reverse the values (and the colours) – this is a lot of fun!!!  (in Photoshop: Ctrl-I is the magic word).


bartonheavy metal 72 reverse values








On the left Heavy Metal as it exists; I’ve slightly romanticized the colors and the silvery reflections on the lake; on the right the manipulated version betrays the reality of the nasty acid effects that power stations can have on our environment.  The image looks so much starker but I love the bold harshness of those colours.

bartonheavy metal


Now look how much more menacing this image looks if I desaturate the colour and increase the reversed value contrast.







But what happens if I simply reverse those values?

We’re back to a rather magical scene!  It’s the values that count.





What’s so fascinating about values is that it’s not only the top to bottom arrangement (as it were) but the use of higher contrast in values in some areas (the focal area) versus low contrast in supporting areas.   As human beings we’re prewired to be attracted by high contrast, so it’s always a good idea to save the highest contrast in a piece for the area you wish to bring out in a piece. 



In the quilt on the left Chimneytops (now happily in the Thomas Contemporary Quilt Collection) notice where I’ve used the greatest contrast?     Yes! That little window…when I photographed this scene from Whitby in Yorkshire I was thinking about how neat it would be to live in that house and have a studio in the little attic room with the dormer window looking out over all the activity in the old fishing town!!!

This is just really describing the tip of the proverbial iceberg (alas probably melting!) in terms of what you can do with value.  That’s why I think it’s so important to know what you want to convey with your art quilt and to have a firm grasp of how you can do that!  It’s not by chance that value is valued!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!!   Elizabeth
PS I’d love to know what you’d like me to discourse (i.e. witter on about!) upon!!  All comments received as rain showers on a hot summer’s day!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Why buy art quilts?

I’d love to know why people buy the art that they do buy.    What reasons do people give when you ask them?

I’ve heard that people like a puzzle, they like art that isn’t too distinct so they can enjoy figuring out what it’s about..they like a little mystery in their art work!  but I’m sure for most people this isn’t the reason they buy a particular piece.   I have bought work I’ve found intriguing though; I especially like a piece that keeps giving up more and more interest.     towerblocks


LP,who has bought work from many well known quilters, also loves those constant new realizations:
“The quilts are always complicated and even after living with them for a long time I continue to discover new things upon closer examination.”

Tower Blocks


(Elizabeth Barton)


(Elizabeth Barton)



brimelow shingle close up Shingle (detail) (Elizabeth Brimelow)

I love work that you can look at every day and never tire of.    One time we bought a very pretty picture…but after a week on the wall it became so trite I had to relegate it to the guest bathroom!

I looked around at some of the pieces I have bought over the years and tried to remember what it was about the work that led me to want to own it.  Very often it was the way the piece made me feel.  Not necessarily any particular mood – I don’t have pieces that are all energetic, or all calm.   But if I look at an art work and it makes me feel something  then I’m much more likely to want it.

burbidge applecross

The feeling could be a mood – or it could be that the artist has been able to help me experience the object so well that I feel as if I’m actually in the place (in a landscape) or I can taste the fruit, or smell the flowers, or feel the wind on my face.   This was true of this vignette of a gorgeous spot in Western Scotland.


                                                                    Applecross by Pauline Burbidge


One of the prime reasons for buying a piece seems to be the quilt’s  immediate impact, an almost visceral response to a particular scene, composition, collection of colours and shapes:

“ A great assembly of rectangles and triangles”. 
  “Their visual impact always draws me to them.”
“They were so graphic. They were so powerful! I had to have one. ”
  “color combinations are very successful and effective”.

People love to own quilts that evoke memories; these add so much to the richness of the piece.  It’s wonderful when the vision of the maker and the memories of the new owner add together and multiply meanings:
  “I miss cities very much.  So many quilters are making beautiful "nature" quilts but your buildings speak to me  I also like the old cities of England  so that's an attraction on another level. ”

theredchimney230 The Red Chimney.  Elizabeth Barton

I purchased a quilt  because it was of milkweed pods, which I remember from my childhood.”

I do love it when the person who falls in love with the piece really likes the my “favorite” bit of the quilt – you know how there’s always one little section that you feel is just right?  If only every inch could be like that!

how perfect the bare tree branches are against the white sky”

Looking out the back looking out the back detail

at left

Full view
Looking out the Back

                   on right



When a quilter buys a quilt, the craftsmanship is also very important:
“The pieces that I am attracted to always have interesting construction problems that have been handled beautifully.”

Several people stressed how much more meaningful it was to own original art, that the maker’s hand had actually held and cut and stitched, rather than  “copies” or prints.  

Overall, it is what the art work adds to one’s daily life that is paramount.  I know that every time I have moved, the first thing to be placed  in each room is the art work.   As LP writes:

Each new piece brought a lot of joy into our lives. A difficult time for me was when we were trying to sell our house and the real estate agent insisted that we to put our art in storage. We have quite a few large pieces. It was very lonesome without them.”

Furniture is for sitting on or at!!  Art work gives  meaning to the space!  So well summed up by LP:
I can’t imagine a life for me without pieces of art in it. Whether it’s a quilt, a painting or sculpture, I love the art we own and consider myself very lucky to live with these treasures every day.”

If you have bought quilts, please comment on what it was that lead you to want a piece!  And if you havn’t ever bought any, then maybe it would be worthwhile thinking about it!!!  And, as always, if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

PS I’m happy to say I’m out of hospital and taking it easy at home with beautiful spring flowers all around – it couldn’t be a better time of year to just sit and enjoy nature.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The person in the piece

People talk about developing a style or artistic voice and that is important…but that voice must also be saying something!  Not just blah blah blah or how cozy are the little houses with yellow windows in the snow, or  a pallid, predictable description of the beauties of nature…but something fresh, unique, curious and personal.  I think the work should reveal something of the maker, I don’t want to see work that anyone (including a computer!) could have made.  I’m quite unimpressed with those pieces where an image has been scanned into a computer and manipulated with few tricks in Photoshop, sometimes to be copied, other times even just printed out onto fabric and we’re all supposed to be amazed?  I suppose it is pretty amazing that someone could learn how to make ink or pigment stick to fabric…but that’s an amazement I can pretty quickly get over!

So in this my third (and, I promise, last!) blog about the David Humphrey talk, I’d like to report on how his paintings record his own thoughts and feelings.  What’s interesting is  how the work can reveal the maker.  Humphrey confessed that, looking at his earlier work, he is often embarrassed by the “heavy handedness of the psychological content”.  One can try too hard to impress: hint, discuss, don’t shout!  though, I think it is probably inevitable  that when you first begin to try to express yourself (whether you’re a painter, quilter, writer, song writer etc), it comes out a little bit clunky and self conscious.  And following that, there  may also be a typical stage to go through where you try out different styles.  Humphrey said that after trying on  expressionism, he went into several neo-isms! “I was interested in the liquidity of the paint, the nature of the support and so on”.  Definitely art quilters have done this.  You take a workshop in fusing or monoprinting or 3D flowers and for a while your quilts are all about the materials and the technique.    Confess!  you’ve been there, so have I!  And it’s a fun exploration, but it’s not a personal statement.

After these stages, Humphrey’s paintings began to focus much more on his own life; perhaps it’s a little self indulgent to do this, but I would always defend the personal story against the statistical treatise.  Why an individual does what he does and thinks what he thinks is generally a microcosmic reflection of the larger world – as Miss Marple so frequently discovered!!    So, having having a child, Humphrey “painted the baby as the imperial tyrant” in a painting of a diaper marked “Empire”.  I’m sure there are times we all felt that!  though didn’t want to admit it.  But, perhaps he was too frank, because the marriage ended in divorce!

He based  another series of paintings  on old photos from the family album: the classroom as a memory (on the left below),  and (on the right) referencing markmaking in painting photos..fusing dots on dresses with dots on the computer – and fusing the images of his three sisters wearing identical dresses. Triple fusion!










He was thinking about how a photograph can become more real than a memory: 
Augmenting a fictionalizing of memories as evoked in photographs.”   
His  playing about in Photoshop (deliberately lowering the resolution on the computer before projecting the image onto canvas) served the purpose of underlining the meaning.   Though he did wonder if he might at times be “telling a story and distorting it in the interests of making a lovely painting!”

Memory does strange things, and life even stranger.   His old family home was sold to someone else and then used as the set for a Steven King movie!  Quite freaky! Imagine the layers of memories and thoughts, past and present in that situation.  Humphrey made work based on stills from the film to express some of his experience in that unusual double entendre.  A strange quirky and personal event that would make a fascinating story if one met the person in a waiting room, or on a plane or train!!  Sometimes you can get the person sitting next to you to tell you something really curious about their lives!!

Humphrey went on to talk about many other series he had worked on trying to explore “Imagination’s plastic capacities!”  He feels that :  “Strength must be learned in weakness.”  This is the theme he explored in his earlier reiterations and augmentations of Ike’s paintings.  It’s hard to think how that could be applied to an actual art quilt, but I have found that it’s a great exercise in a workshop to look at Very Bad Quilts and discuss just why they are Bad.  Of course one can’t really do this online without offending !!  As the makers of the VBQ might be watching!! Whereas I know they are not in the workshops!!!

His appreciation of the visually curious in life was vast; he obviously really enjoys riffing on themes from other artists but also contrasting ideas almost as  visual neologisms e.g. in putting together images of beefcake and cheesecake!   Or the conceit of someone actually strolling into one of his landscapes in an Alice Through the Looking glass way:


I loved his final piece, where he discusses the relationship between tough and sight, a theme important to him .  In the painting the subject is touching the picture plane – reaching forward  to try to touch us as we gaze at her….

IMG_2752 You may not like the painting, but it’s arresting and powerful and intriguing.  What is on the other side of the glass?  How much of your work is really a reflection of you and your unique personal impression of the world?

If you have been, thanks for reading!! and do please comment on my witterings!!!  Elizabeth