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


Kathleen Loomis said...

Definitely find this in my own work, although sometimes it has taken me a while to identify themes that have been there all along. I realize my own work is all about holding a bazillion little bits into a whole, and the bonds are very fragile. In other words, politics.

Elizabeth Barton said...

Had to laugh, Kathleen - there are a lot of political feelings in many of my pieces too: like The Arrogance of Calm , Brighter at the Top, The Affluent Drainpipe!

Kerry said...

I am a fascinated reader, Elizabeth...and one of my favorite directions in learning IS the Series...I have tried several times...but your class sells out FAST and BIG time!!!
SO thank you for sharing these thoughts...I always enjoy your blogs and have *starred* most of them!!!

Best regards,


Elizabeth Barton said...

Hi Kerry, I'll be doing another Working in Series class starting 2/3/12, so registration will be about 5 weeks before at
The other course Inspired to Design starts on 1/6/12 - so registration for that one would be right after Thanksgiving.
Hope you can get in next time you try!