Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Practical Matters: Pricing and Scanning, and the Drink of the Gods.

I know I often witter on about more philosophical or esoteric points such as composition, cogitation or combustability (rarely spontaneous!) but, let’s face it, much of art is related to practical matters of which recently pricing and scanning (not necessarily in that order and not really connected, except both being part of the substructure of art) have recently been of concern.

I had to retrieve images of some older work and discovered how poor some of my original slides were!  Some due to the deterioration of age, others due to (what looked like) drunken camera work from the outset!  They tell us that most media have a shelf life and that we’ll need to continually shift our images from one medium to another as time goes by.  And it’s true.  My slides from the early 90s despite being boxed up, with only rare excursions to be seen (and rejected  - though occasionally, delightfully (if hopefully is now acceptable surely delightfully must be too!) accepted by jurors across the country), have definitely deterioriated.  They’re shifting into the  sepia mode of old age, gradually fading away. Old slides don’t die they just seep away.  (sorry! love bad puns).

However…thanks to Photoshop (and I’m sure most other photo imaging software) one is able to make considerable corrections to old images.  Here are a couple I’ve found particularly useful:

My scanned in image of an early Windows quilt looked like this:

windows blue light 1

You can see how that drunken camerawoman must have not had the camera lined up either horizontally or vertically with the center of the quilt.

Also there has been a considerable loss of color and of contrast.

1. First step is Ctrl(command for the McLovers)-‘ (control-apostrophe)

this puts a nice grid over the whole catastrophe:

blue windows 2




2. Then select the image: Control-A

3. Then go to Edit-Transform-Skew

( I couldn’t persuade the Print Screen to show this, alas)

what happens with Edit-Transform-Skew is that little boxes appear on the corners of the image.

4. Take the cursor (by whatever means possible! scruff of the neck if that’s all that works!), place it on one of the little boxes  and pull out the image one corner at a time so that it lines up with the grid. It’s amazing! 

windows blue light 3


5. Apply the change – I usually just click on the rectangular marquee tool (the one at the top left of the main tool bar that looks like a rectangle), and it asks, very politely, “apply, madam?” (I’ve got a nice old fashioned version of PS) to which I agree.

6.  The next step is to saturate the color a little more:

a) Image-adjustments-hue/saturation.  Then move the little slider up or down to the level appropriate.  And hit OK.

b)Image-adjustments-brightness/contrast.  Again move the slider till the image appears as you remember the quilt.  And hit OK.  windows blue light

If I can, I like to pin the actual quilt up on the wall so I can keep looking from the monitor to the quilt as I work on it.


Looks a bit better, doesn’t it?

And in a few more years, I guess I’ll be shifting these images to some another new as yet unthought of mode of images storage.


Somebody asked me the other day how I price my work.  I arrived at the price by two different means and then took the average between the two. 
Firstly, I took the price list from a quilt show I was in – a show of a group of artists of similar experience and quality.  I calculated everybody’s price per square foot (you can do it per square inch if that’s easier).  That gave me a range of prices.  I disregarded the prices commanded by a couple of egomaniacs with amazing connections (EWACs) who were way off the curve and calculated the mean psf.  
Secondly, I made a note of all the time I spent working on the next quilt, from start to finish. I paid myself minimum wage.  To this  I added in the cost of the fabric, the dye, thread, needles and a modest amount of electricity, water and a very small amount of money for the infrastructure of the various machines I used.  Then I added in the gallery or agent commission.

Very interestingly the two figures were about the same. This was ten years ago – the figure was about $150 psf.

When times are good, and one is selling work, they say you should increase your prices about 10% a year.  I think, like most artists (and sales people), I’ve found that when the economy is stalling you’ll need to either hold steady or even decrease.  There is a myth that, if a work doesn’t sell, doubling the price will increase its desirability – well this may work for Any Warhol, but not I think for most ordinary folk!!  If a work doesn’t sell there are a number of reasons why but not, I feel, that the price is too low!

Well…time for a cuppa tea – enough of practical matters!  The drink of the gods (yes, they drink tea!) is the next important thing. 
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  And – commenting!  Have at it!  Elizabeth

Monday, April 16, 2012

a point of view?

Maybe I’m strange, but I do think a work of art has to be about something.  The “something” doesn’t have to be a concrete object like a flower or a building or a boat, but could be about light, about layering on color after color (Rothko), or an abstraction about the mechanization of modern life (Mondrian) , or the mark of the hand as shown by the texture of a monoprint (Nancy Crow’s new work).  I always start with  a spark of an idea….could be the way the light falls on the edge of a building




or how many shades of grey there are in a city






could be a certain play of shapes – two shapes and two colors abstracted from a favorite painting….




or the way that light glows through windows warmlight





or about the experience of laying on the floor underneath the skylights watching the clouds scud by……

scud 300


I do feel it’s important to have a strong emotional connection to each quilt (or painting) as you make it and to try to convey with the arrangement of the various elements your thoughts and feelings that were the starting point of the piece.  Why would you want to put in all the time and effort it takes to make a quilt if you weren’t expressing some fairly strongly held feelings about something?

I think it would be very hard to start with a great big nothing.  Art is a language too – a visual language with consonants (positive shapes) and vowels (negative shapes) and sequences (rhythms and repetitions)…and surely “I wandered lonely as a cloud” is more meaningful, more thoughtful and more engaging than “k szncdfdc .l d.zh zxz c.ljc”.  

Yes, I have seen paintings that had no paint but just a knife slash through the canvas!  and I do remember them! But not with awe, and admiration and meditation!   Really, a jumble is a jumble whatever language you speak!  But!  maybe I’m missing something….please educate me if I am – the Comment Forum is open!

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

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Artistic Identity

At the recent SAQA/SDA conference in Philadelphia, I moderated a panel of three artists Dominie Nash, Emily Richardson and Lorraine Glessner who each discussed their development as artists outlining some of the major influences and key experiences of their career.

nash, red landscapeI was very struck by Dominie’s presentation and asked her permission to reproduce it here.  She was originally a weaver but has been making quilts for a long time now.  When we first met, at Quilt  National in 1995, she was working on her Peculiar Poetry series, subsequent series have included Red Landscapes (example above), Stills From a Life (example below) and her new Big Leaf series.

nash interlocking still

Here is her presentation from the April 2012 SAQA/SDA conference:

“I go to my studio every day because the angel might be there. What if I didn’t go and the angel came?”Philip Guston

I do try to go to my studio every day. It is a place where I need to be.

If anyone had told me when I was young that I would be talking about my career as an artist, I would have been incredulous. I had been following an academic path that others had put me on, as a dutiful daughter/woman/student of that day, and my art teachers had made it clear that there wasn’t much point in continuing my studies in that field. I didn’t know there was anything to art but drawing and painting, and all the works of art I saw at the Art institute of Chicago couldn’t have been done by mere mortals, and untalented ones at that. That I could parlay my longtime interests in working with fabric, thread and yarn in domestic ways into a lifelong passion to create useless objects and figure out with fascination the next problem to challenge me, was a life-changing surprise. Through fortunate circumstances I have been able to do this every day in my studio for many years, failing as often as succeeding but always striving to reach the next level. This is my job.

I began as most people do, whether formally trained or not, in an unfocused way, trying a little of this and a little of that ,until finally motivated to eliminate one technique or style after another and zero in on what really seemed to express my voice. I still take side paths to what seems at the time a brilliant idea but then don’t engage me enough to develop those ideas further than a few works. My studio storage area gives evidence of all this meandering in the endless piles of work, some of which has been cut up and reconfigured, some given away, and the rest languishing in wait for my retrospective. When I finally figured out a way to create a complex surface without piecing or traditional appliqué, and pursued learning and using many surface design techniques, there seemed no limits to what I could do (except for a failure of imagination during those all too familiar blank periods that most artists suffer, accompanied by feelings such as “I will never make another good work, so I’d better go out and get a job, except that I have no qualifications for doing anything else—I should have listened to my mother and finished my PhD” Constants throughout this by no means straight-line journey have been a love of color, pattern, texture, leaves and landscape, layers, architectural details, and patching/collaging to achieve a surface satisfying to me. I also strive to evoke a sense of mystery, to create work that makes the viewer want to return, where everything isn’t visible at first glance. I didn’t consciously try to figure out what my voice is or should be, but when I look back on what I’ve done, I see those constants appearing and reappearing:interest in cropping out details as the basis of a design,changes in scale and perspective ,sometimes in the same piece, became more apparent when I began to shift from abstraction to representation, but I think they were always there.

After my first random explorations, I have primarily worked in series, whether they comprise 4 pieces or 40. Pushing an idea in different directions and trying variations is an intriguing process for me. A viewer might not always see the consistency which makes a group of my works a series, but my imagery, thought process, and artistic concerns makes them a series in my mind. I never know how long a series will interest me, and I sometimes pick up an earlier series and continue it with new work, or work on several quite different ones simultaneously, as I am doing at present.

One of the important lessons of my informal education has been how much I have learned about color, composition and expressiveness from looking at work in other mediums than my own, especially painting and printmaking. I have also been influenced a great deal by the spirit and aesthetics of ethnic or folk textiles , especially those that are worn and patched, spontaneous and obsessive in detail.

I hope I’ve become more self-critical over the years. I remember being so thrilled when one of my ideas would come to life, but I had no idea that it was quite awful and thus was crushed when it was rejected. Possibly formal art training might have toughened me up sooner with all of its critiques, but in the end we are probably our own best critic. I am continually striving to avoid letting external validation or lack thereof determine the direction of my work. I aim to just keep doing the work, moving on to a new idea or direction only when I have given up on or lost interest in what I’ve been doing, and to avoid the danger to artistic growth and improvement of continuing to do what has been successful long after I have run out of interest or fresh solutions to the problem. Then it’s time for a new problem. Eventually, there is always a new problem. Though I’m rarely satisfied when I finish a piece, even if I am I feel a need to move forward and try again. The process is the most meaningful part. This is what being an artist is all about for me.

“Artists…realize that no solution is ever final, but that each new creative step points the way to the next artistic…problem.”    Anthony Storr

Thank you for reading Dominie’s elegant and witty writing – as elegant and as witty as her artwork!  do visit her website for more images. 


Monday, April 2, 2012

AQE Philadelphia, 2012 Jurying: shouts and whispers.

esb at saqa

I just got back from the opening of Art Quilt Elements 2012 in Philadelphia and the associated joint  SAQA/SDA conference.   Lots of excitement, loads of visual stimulation and a great deal of talk and meeting of old, and making of new, friends!!  (that’s me,above,laughing at myself pontificating!)

I was on two panels – the first one on the jury process itself.  We were asked to comment on the process and give some suggestions re gaining acceptance at juried shows of this calibre.  These were my remarks:

“It’s a great privilege to be asked to choose a small percentage of pieces from a great number knowing,

as I do  so well myself, how one sends off the images  with great hope, cautious optimism and considerable trepidation. It’s an interesting phenomenon that people rarely want to know why a quilt was accepted, but rather why it was rejected! In fact of course one can learn just as much from an acceptance as a reject.

As jury members we were asked to score each piece from one to five and each time I gave a high score to a piece I wished I could shout:

“I love this because……….”

And for every low score I wanted to quietly whisper to the person:

“ you put so much work into this quilt and I can see that -  and it would have been wonderful if only you had…..”

So here are some of my shouts and whispers –

I loved it because:

It’s fresh and new and tickles my fancy – which is a place I love to be tickled!

Validity of purpose was obvious

A message and a particular point of view are very important…and I could see what the artist was trying to communicate

The best work has substance.

A great composition can carry a piece a long way.

The best work stays in your head and you want to look at it again and again.

My whispers: remember the juror has very little time..(though thanks to being able to view the images at leisure at home weeks before we came together, I was able to devote considerable time to the task).

Composition is v important

Validity of purpose is obvious,

And so is the lack of it

Trite obvious half hearted images turn you off very quickly

Messy ill composed jumbles don’t work; if  it’s ugly and jumbled too it’s not going to make it

Nor do pallid wishy washy ideas

Heavy borders usually pull a piece down

Undersized images are hard to see and will get less attention

Clunky compositions have no grace

Unity – or the lack of it – is very evident….

You can’t take bad drawings and make good quilts from them

A piece needs to have life and movement, lifeless work is not going to capture the viewer’s attention.

It’s important that some attempt at design, at composing the shapes (consciously or unconsciously) is evident and the patches just don’t appear to have been slapped on higgledy piggeldy.

It’s very important that there is Meaning to the piece – some work just didn’t have enough content to hold my interest

Title the work carefully, many titles are very off putting! There were several I just had to ignore…

If you’re doing something that has been done many times before, you have to do it better!

It struck me that in many cases it was the composition or arrangement of shapes/squares/rectangles etc that failed. If something appeared lumpy, unbalanced and muddy it was hard to look at for long.

There’s a difference between working in series and working to a formula

Sometimes I really liked the idea, but it was poorly executed

If it’s a folk art piece it’s got to have a special naivete;  a cross between folk and hallmark is not good!

Some pieces failed because the idea or the composition didn’t suit the medium

Some had too many different ideas, others didn’t push the idea far enough.

I don’t know if I would have juried myself in – if I could have made a quilt and then wiped the memory of it from my mind and entered it that might have been very revealing!! But I’m so very grateful to have been asked to be a member of this jury panel. I learned a great deal that I hope will stand me in good stead for the next time I think of entering a show and I’ve tried to tell you the chief things I gained. My tremendous thanks to the gracious hospitality and wonderful AQE team – they are the true stars! This show is their vision and every time it gets better.”

Oh and, by the way, my next Quilt University class, Inspired to Design,  starts this Friday, April 6th.  The class lasts about 7 weeks during which time you get 4 full downloadable lessons and unlimited questions answered!  well…questions about designing and making an art quilt!  Quilt University classes are really affordable: $36 for all the lessons, access to the discussion Forum where you can ask and discuss many things, and a photo gallery  for each  student.  I only wish I could find a watercolor class that was as reasonable in cost and as extensive in coverage.  In this class, I hope to inspire you with the many different ways you can travel from inspiration to fulfillment.  My journey sometimes starts with a place I have visited, a memory of a building (and then a hunt to find an image), a few words or a pile of coloured fabrics.  I remember one time searching through 30 years of slides to find one particular photograph from a trip to Whitby, a fishing village in Yorkshire.  That search led to three great quilts.

From my inspiration source, I usually make a large number of rough sketches, trying to reach the essence of what I see by using the fundamentals of line and shape.  In the lessons I discuss the steps to take to refine the design, before assembling it on the design wall in a free flowing painterly way!   My other Quilt University Class, Working in Series is open for registration too and it starts later in the Spring. 

Do let me know if you have any questions about either class. And, as always, all comments gratefully received, bloggers do like to be encouraged!!

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