There are quite a few good books on Design and composition – many of them rather turgid (and expensive!) college texts or, at the opposite pole, just full of pretty pictures without much explanation. A little book that I keep going back to and often recommend is “Picture This: How Pictures Work” by Molly Bang. Just let me quote you the first paragraph so that you can see how both readable and apposite to quilt design this book is:
“One day I was sketching objects around the house while an old friend was visiting. He suggested I draw not just isolated objects, but whole views, whole pictures. The more I drew, the more I knew I was lost”.
I remember feeling just like this when I first started to design my own quilts having got totally fed up with those horrible “sampler” quilts we all made back in ‘80s! Whoever dreamed up that idea should be shot! It was impossible to make a quilt that was a whole design, it was always just an assembly of (largely unrelated) parts. Very frustrating to put all that work in and then just see this mishmash of shapes and things. I remember taking a workshop from a Big Cheese in the hopes of getting the information I needed but being told, oh just do it intuitively! Well my intuition just didn’t do it, however hard I wished it to. In the same way that I couldn’t play the Chopin nocturne I’d love to be able to do, or speak the language my immigrant friends all chattered away in! I was never one of those people who could dress themselves in a few bits and pieces and look totally amazing and pulled together. Instead I was much more of the bag lady type!
So I began to read, to kibbitz in art school, to take art classes and to visit museums and galleries and copy “pictures” in the hope of figuring out just HOW it was done.
Here is Molly Bang on the same journey trying to learn how pictures work:
“I took a painting course…I read books on art and on the psychology of art. I went to museums and galleries to look at paintings and try to figure out what I felt about them and what the paintings were doing. Lastly, I taught pictures to [third-graders] hoping I’d learn something working with the students”.
And working with the children, finally, she came up with ways to make pictures: comforting pictures, scary pictures and so on gradually figuring out how certain elements in pictures affect our feelings. In the book she tells the story of Little Red Riding Hood, showing how certain colors and shapes and arrangements of value can express the emotions of the characters. It’s a deceptively simple little tale and from it you can learn a lot! I definitely recommend it!
Jan Myers-Newbury is teaching a shibori class at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN this summer, mid July. If you’ve never been to Arrowmont, you should! It’s a really wonderful arts and crafts school – I’ve taken about 15 workshops there over time, and have taught there about 6 times myself (my 7th time will be next year: Abstracts Quilts, Dyeing and Design – mid August I think though I’m looking at several possible dates). I’ve taught quite a few places now and Arrowmont has the best facilities for surface design of anywhere. The really fun thing, though, is that there are about 10 concurrent classes, all in different mediums. You can breakfast with woodworkers, eat lunch with painters and dine with ceramicists! and that’s just the first day! Many of the studios are adjacent to a really nice gallery space and it’s lovely to walk through the show everyday and really get to know some of the work.
Arrowmont gets some of the best teachers around because of its reputation and its facilities. The food is really good too! And they have a great range of accommodations so you can “slum” it in a dorm or have a private room with bath, or anything in between. My favorite was always the old cottages, historical dwellings with lots of atmosphere. It’s in the Smoky Mountains and the scenery is lovely, and it’s generally a lot cooler up there than down on the plains. Totally recommend it, no reservations! And yes, they do have air conditioning!
I took Jan’s shibori class years ago and it was a great deal of fun; I’d love to do it again because her new work shows that she has developed some powerful new methods…but alas I have something else going on that week. I would definitely recommend the class if you’ve ever wanted to really dig into arashi shibori techniques – Jan is the expert on this. Just take a look at her website! Her work is breathtaking. I know nobody else who can get that degree of color and depth into their quilts. Amazing. Try it! Plus she’s a very fun lady!!
so – d’you have any great recommendations? if so, I’d love to hear from you – whether it’s art books or mystery books or workshops or even how to overcome the “bag lady” look!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!! Elizabeth
What is the focus of the workshop in Portland in Sept? abstract quilting, by any chance?
It's always interesting to read others' experiences and perspectives regarding quiltmaking. I still love my first sampler! It's black and jewel tones - still my preferred palette. I found out from that sampler that I adore curved piecing and despise nine patch. I doubt I would have tried curved piecing without that sampler class. I realize art quilts are a different beast altogether in terms of design, but I personally love sampler quilts. I learned so much - both technically and about my own preferences - from that quilt.
Hi Katie - the workshop in Portland is on Working in Series. I'm teaching an Abstract Quilts: dyeing and designing workingshop at Arrowmont, TN next summer. It's a new workshop for me and I'm just developing it.
Hi Marie - I'm so glad that some people really liked their sampler quilts!! And you certainly make a good point about it being an excellent way to try out different ideas. My problem was that I made about 5 of them, probably with hindsight that was 4 too many!!
I too love that book.
Thanks for the reminder to get it out again for a re read.
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