Friday, September 30, 2011

Off to the Smokies

blue ridge dec sunset 09

Tomorrow I’m headed due North,  up into the Smoky Mountains which stretch across Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas.  I’m going to teach a workshop at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts which is a wonderful place.  They have classes in spring, fall and all summer long as well as many conferences and local events the rest of the year.  I’ve taken about 15 different workshops there (a good portion of my art education!) and have taught there myself about half a dozen times.  What’s really great about it is the mix of different classes at the same time.  You might have breakfast with woodturners, lunch with jewelry makers and dinner with photographers before walking through a gallery of ceramics and enamel work to attend a Power point about painting!  And that’s just the first day…   Plus their facilities are really super, no messing around in hotel bathrooms!!  Instead, the textile studio has five large sinks, a full size area for washing down screens, large print and dye tables, washer and dryer etc etc plus (best of all) a whole wall of windows looking out over the mountains.

I’m teaching a class on tie –dye – mainly arashi (fabric tied or twisted onto pipe) but also we’ll take a look at clamping and some stitching and some co-ordinating gradations.  Then we’re going to examine all the ways the gorgeous fabrics we’ve made can be used in quilts.  Jan Myers-Newbury has very generously sent me images of her outstandingly beautiful new work.  She is definitely the high priestess of this art!! Very inspiring.  Her work is very abstract and also references traditional quilts.  




I’ve mainly used shibori fabric in a much more impressionistic way, cutting out the beautiful leafy shapes and collaging them.  Though I must admit this is a bit laborious!!  There are several other well known quilt makers who work with shibori and we’ll look at many of the ways in which this fabric can be used.


I’ve got lots of examples that we’ll talk about in a fairly long Power Point.  Then it will be time to sit down, do a few value sketches and design some quilts….after which …out with the scissors and rotary cutters!!

Snip snap, stitch stitch…. and I’m hoping we’ll have a great array of quilts tops before the week is over….I’ll take pictures and post them!

I’m afraid this class is full…but I’ll probably be doing it again some time…or if I live within driving distance of your guild and you have good facilities…we could talk!!  or even a small class here…all sorts of possibilities!

If you have been, thanks for reading!!!  Elizabeth

Sunday, September 25, 2011

One of my favorite You Tube videos

Edrica Huws is one of the most inspiring makers of fibre collage pieces, or patchwork or quilts (whatever you like to call the work). For people who feel that realism of any kind in this medium is to be avoided at all cost, Huws' work should be an eye opener. Realistic work is so often considered to be nothing but 'twee kitsch whereas abstract work is thought of as being "pure". Of course neither is true, you can have bad and good examples of both! Unfortunately there is a tendency for overly cute schmaltzy easily digested realistic work to be very popular, just in the same way that jelly doughnuts with cream and powdered sugar and sprinkles on top are popular!! Or double size cheese hamburgers and giant sodas! Or Elvis on velvet, or the blue lady similarly enthroned, or three plaster flying geese above the fireplace. Familiar, requiring no thought on the viewer's part, sweet to the untrained palate. There are such indelicacies to be found in every medium: painting, quilting, clothing, cooking, gardening and so on.

So please...put on your most elegant clothes, eat a beautiful meal, plant a texture garden and enjoy a video of wonderful pictorial fiber art:

If the above link doesn't play for you, then select and paste
into your browser.

There are several other you tube videos about this artist, but I love this one because of all the Welsh language which normally you have to visit a pub in North Wales to hear!!

Pictures can be inspiring!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

What we can learn from teaching

I teach a couple of workshops: Working in a Series and Inspired to Design.  In both of them I’m urging the participants to think,  think, think about what it is they want to make work about.   
What do certain inspirations actually mean to them?  Why do you react to this,  and not to that?
After a while, inevitably, you realise you have to ask yourself the same questions.
Teaching is also a journey of self discovery for the teacher  as well as for the students.

I’ve particularly focused on the idea of looking for leitmotifs both in one’s own work (over time) and in that of other people’s work   to which one is intensely drawn(no matter the medium).  Looking back over my work, and over all the images I have pinned up on the wall, it came to me that what I really love is a strong beauty, a powerful beauty.  Dynamic diagonals, bold contrasts, robust well-knit clear simple underlying structures.  I also love the beauty of age.  I think this is because as age encroaches, the softness and prettiness, that is charming but often without substance, diminishes and the real strength and bones appear (if there are any!, if not ----collapse!).

warm light 300 from slide


My first series of quilts was about windows and in those I was really focused on light; the power of light, the contrast between light and shadow.  The quilts on the left, Warm Light  is a typical example from those far off days!.  








I must have made a dozen or so window quilts before it occurred to me to put the windows into buildings and old streets – always old building, old streets – showing the effects of time..but not time as an enemy and a devastator but rather as a beautifier.  The important of light still dominated, however.



And then many old streets later…I got into surface design in a major way!!  You all know how addicting dye is!  Dye and chocolate!   I love screen printing because of the magic that happens, that wonderful surprise moment as you lift the screen and peek underneath to see what amazing image has suddenly appeared on the white white blankness.  And screen printing is quite a strong muscular activity – especially as I love Big Screens!   Most of mine are home made, big chunks of wood stretched with sheer curtain material –and, by the way, I was very interested talking to Joy Stocksdale (one of the most amazing screen printers  of all time) the other day to learn that she too uses sheer curtain material on her screens.

So now I was combining a very physical surface design technique (not for me the size one paint brushes and tiny pots of thickened dye or pigment!) with complex powerful piled up cities.


What next?  Next came the series based on shibori – another very physical surface design technique – twisting hard, ramming down, binding and clamping till the fabric shrieks!!!


and then, and then …the power of red, of black and white, of industry…but of that, more in the next post. 
Do  write and tell me what you have learned as you look over your own oeuvre or someone else’s.
D’you see themes, light motifs, recurring ideas? 
D you think these are part of the essential nature of the maker?

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Into the Mainstream

I always remember someone at the local fiber guild saying “we don’t want quilters in this group, they have their own group”.   I felt pretty miffed at the time, but there is a tendency when you’re into something as big as quilting to be quite homogenous and homoartistic in your contacts and colleagues.   I think it does us no good, however.  We don’t learn about art as a whole (I’m always amazed by quilters who’ve never heard of very well known painters), and they don’t learn about us.    It’s also so much fun to be mixing it up with other –ers!  (like paint-ers, and jewel-ers and pott-ers).

So I joined a plein air painting group!  One thing I learned is that it’s so lovely to be outside on a cool September morning…something I never do with my sewing machine!  especially not in the middle of a field of sunflowers…how many of you have dragged a machine into a field??? not many, I’ll be bound!

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And here we are staking out our patches, most people crouched under the big oak tree for shade…

Some “old timers”  bring truck loads of gear!  These painters can be worse than quilters!! I’ll never forget Violet and Connie (veteran workshop takers) dragging in about 100 large bags of fabric for the Nancy Crow class at Arrowmont! (and that was before NC required it!!).

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some like to stand up…some prefer
the comfort of a folding chair…




critique time!!One nice thing about painting is you can get from the blank paper to the critique in the space of a morning….this poor lady did not know I was going to put a photo of her bottom on the internet!!  Beware if I’m behind you taking pictures!!

sunflowers in september

And this was my picture…I incorporated several different views into one, something I’ve been trying to do with the quilt designs too so this was a great exercise in composition and design.







and then of course there’s the post critique refreshment at the local hostelry!!  These plein air painters have it all worked out!  There IS a lot to be learned from joining an all medium art group!!!



If you have been, thanks for reading!  I look forward to meeting some of you in a field one day!!  And please do write with stories of fraternization!!  Elizabeth

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

More on Color: common mistakes in art quilts

I’ve been thinking more about color as I’m making notes for a chapter some day…..
Everybody loves color and quiltmakers can’t wait to get to it!  In my workshops I try to persuade folk to judge a design by its value pattern, but alas the seduction of the color addiction has folk slavering and shaking – “oh color more color I’m so deprived, when can I get my next fix?!!” 
And color is such a visual feast!   I’m just as bad as everyone else for wanting to gobble it up, for making sure I’ve got the biggest dollops on my plate!! 
The children always ask “but when will we get there?” and the quiltmakers say “when can we use color?” with the same plaintive tone!!

Here is a quilt I made that has a lot of color:

a new day 72

The design for this quilt, however, didn’t have any color in it – it was a black, white and grey value sketch.  So let’s look at this piece desaturated i.e. without any color:

a new day desat  One thing that is evident is that I have quite a range of darks and lights…several of the darks run together to form interesting shapes (though I probably could have used to have done more of that and it would have been stronger).    There are just a few lights – this is because my main theme was the first light of a new day just beginning to catch the buildings…and that fits the theme.  The sky also is a mix of darks and lights just as you see at dawn (I’ve been walking a lot at dawn this summer!  100 days over 90 will do that to you!) which again is very relevant to my theme.

Now how would this quilt have looked had I not had this strong value pattern underpinning it:

a new day reduce contrast Well…it looks like I dropped it in dirty dishwater!! dragged it through the mud…even so it’s rather hard to reduce the contrast in a piece that has a lot of contrast enough to make it clear that all mid tones are a bit dull!!  But I think you get the idea.

So…avoid the mud puddle!!

but what if I was one of those color junkies that uses all saturated color? 

well …..look:

a new day too intense Now, do not tell me you like this!!!  I’ve had to get a pair of sunglasses on to even view the screen!!  too much saturated color definitely spoils the broth, ruins the child and leads to sensory overload!  And I’ve seen plenty of quilts like this!

Very interestingly, reducing the intensity of the color actually isn’t so bad, at least not to my neutral loving Armani clothes desiring self:

a new day lower intensityThere’s something both restful and mysterious about all those beautiful neutrals….but of course I know it wouldn’t sell and probably would never catch the juror’s eye in those tachistoscopic presentations they have to choose work from.   But this image does show, I think, that a good design doesn’t need color to work – it does need value contrast however.   If I subject this to the mud bath, I get:

a new day lower intensity lower contrast It looks something like what I had to drive through on foggy days before they began to work on clean air.  Of course, this is what the politicians and big business want us to go back to; this is how China is doing so well economically.  However that’s another issue!!  sorry to bring it up, the picture just reminded me.

Another thing to watch out for in designing with color is the balance of color temperature.  It’s best to have a distinctly warm feel, or a distinctly cool one.  My original idea (the first picture above) was that the overall temperature of the piece would be warm, a warm fresh new day.  But what if I was uncertain and had an equal mix of warm and cool colors?

a new day equal temps Doesn’t that look so weird and unsettling?  it’s looks as if  I’m uncertain about my message.  And the equal balance just doesn’t look “pulled together”.   Part of this too is because once you have an equal number of cool and warm colors, you’ve also probably got more colors than you need – too many colors is far worse than too few.  

Color is a complex dish!!  You need to make decisions regarding value, hue, intensity and temperature to get it just  right.  And now for a cup of tea – I need to get the temperature, the freshness of the water, the steeping time just right!  and it’s got to be in my favorite mug too!!  Think on!

If you have been, thanks for reading!! 
And do comment on your reactions to these variations on a color theme……  Elizabeth