Saturday, July 28, 2012

Watching the sun go down

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Just got back from a lovely week spent mainly gazing in awe across distant ancient mountains!!  This is one of the many views to be had at Wildacres Retreat in North Carolina, up in the Smoky Mountains (some of the oldest mountains in the world)  just off the Blue Ridge Parkway.  A great place to contemplate nature in all her majesty.   Sitting sketching and trying to think of ways of simplifying all this into a few basic shapes and values, I didn’t do much painting but instead concentrated on trying to get down thumbnail sketches that I could later use in compositions for quilts.   I wanted to learn a way to capture the essential shapes of a landscape so that I could come up with ideas like the one I used for my Iona quilt (below). 

landscape, iona You can see some of the same types of lines.  Of course Scotland has water where the Smokies have mist!!

Landscapes like these are reduceable into long skinny 3 or 4 sided shapes, alas the sunset is not!

wild 006 How could one copy that soft glow in fabric?  And it changes every minute….

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Simple and rich at the same time…perhaps some stitching??? Cogitations are required!

Looking at these landscapes each day and trying to sketch them, it became apparent that the first sketches need to be done very lightly!  An eraser in one hand and a pencil in the other, not worrying about texture or value at first.  As fiber artists we are often seduced by texture and color but these really are not the first concerns in developing strong compositions.  Look and see, find the big shapes!  Then go for the values.  I like to try the actual (local) values first, and then play with varying them and see which rendition best suits the mood I’m trying to convey.  And sometimes you have to move a mountain or two as well! 

  One of the chief benefits of such a retreat is, I think, learning to take one’s time.  All too often we are in a hurry to finish the sketch, cut the fabric,  make the piece, hurry to enter it in the show…..but better work comes with a much more thoughtful approach, gradually taking in the depths, the mood and the meaning that we want to convey.

Next up: installing my largest pieces at the XLG show at the Town 220 Gallery in Madison, GA.  Opening is Thursday Aug 2, 6-8 pm if you’re anywhere near!  Love to see you! 

And then, a trip up to Canada, more landscapes to peruse……

If you have been, thanks for reading  and don’t forget to watch the sun go down….

PS  My Inspired to Design workshop starts up again at this week; there’s still time to register if you’re interested.  It’s one class a week for 4 weeks (4 classes in all), then 3 weeks beyond that with as much support, critique and helpful suggestions from me as you care to ask for!  You can also read what I suggest to other folk so that lots of vicarious (as well as actual) learning is possible.  I always do much better with the vicarious stuff myself!  The class covers choosing an inspiration (usually visual, but could be music or a poem, or even a dish of raspberries and cream!), developing designs, evaluating them for their compositional strengths, choosing color scheme, picking out your fabrics, cutting out and assembly.  Do join us!   If you have any questions about it, feel free to email me.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Abstracting the realism, or realising the abstraction

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I was very interested today to read in The International Artist magazine about artist Tom Heflin’s thoughts on working in both abstract and realistic styles.  His comments resonated strongly with me as I don’t think of myself as being primarily a representational quilt maker, although many have suggested to me that I am!  Kathleen Loomis was talking about the things she was snobbish about in a recent blog which definitely activated one into thinking about one’s own quirks and dislikes and one of mine is being categorized!  No, please don’t put me in a box! I don’t want to be a genre!

Heflin reminds us of the commercial belief that art should be categorized and the artist with it.  Whatever the medium: a rockstar must stick to his rock, a mystery author to her mysteries, and realistic artists to their realism.  A number of authors have combated this by developing a pseudonym: Ruth Rendell writes her more psychological stories under the name of Barbara Vine, for example.  And I must admit, I have done that occasionally!

all that glitters is not gold

  We are told “your art won’t sell unless people can predict what you’re going to do”!!  Yikes!! REally??  And yet on the other hand, if you see a famous quiltmaker churning out yet another practically identical piece to the one that made him or her famous, it feels so stale and chewed over.   But a gallery likes to promote one as a “such and such” artist, and the public likes to be able to say “oh, isn’t that piece by so and so? I love her work”. And then they feel smart and knowledgeable.

Heflin feels that  his ability to switch between realistic and abstract work is a result of being able to switch his thought and work processes.  When he works realistically, it’s precise and planned.  Abstract work is much more intuitive.  However, it’s important to be sensitive to the medium and to the different elements one can work with within that medium.  A warm color may need an adjacent cool color to enrich it and prevent it from being rather anemic.  Contrast and balance are always necessary. A large shape may need several small ones, a jagged line, a smooth curve and so on.   Between each intuitive step, there should be a conscious stepping back and analysis of what is happening on the design wall.  

asummerdaylongago72 If the composition isn’t strong, the piece will not work – whether it was created representationally, impressionistically, intuitively or whilst falling downstairs! Heflin feels that people often think that abstract art need not follow design guidelines in order to work:

“this kind of art still requires the same attention to composition, texture, rhythm and color as realistic art”.

There needs to be an underlying structure that pulls the piece together (something I feel is often lacking in quilts I see posted on the net).

It’s good to read that it is possible (even though galleries might not like it, since I’m not exactly besieged by them, no matter!) to work in two very different ways.  As Heflin says, when you’ve made a number of pieces in one style, you really feel a need to challenge yourself with something completely different.  I’m glad I have two boxes to get in and out of! Even if sometimes the box collapses when I get into it! And I’m in the mood for a little abstraction……

But, first, a climb into the cupoftea box……so, if you have been, Thanks for reading!!  and commenting!  I always read the comments with great interest.  And try to reply if I’ve something sensible to say.


PS I’m off to take another workshop next week – again a trek into the Blue Ridge Smoky Mountains of North Caroline, this time to a higher elevation seeking cool! Will report back upon return!

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Post workshop Inertia

Everybody talks about taking workshops as a way to re-energize themselves, but I find they have the opposite effect on me.  You get all bouyed up by the support – both artistic and practical (especially the food!) and then come home and real life hits you in the eye.  The stacked up tasks and all the everyday things that need attending to and the sudden cutting off of that rarified air all make it difficult to get back into the groove.

Here’s a picture of the rarified air at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Western North Carolina, deep into the old, old Smoky Mountains (the oldest mountains in the world).

john c campbell 044The Folk School has three or four hundred undeveloped acres; it’s so beautiful and,  alas, so rare to see the land as it was ,without strip malls, thousands of advertising signs, concrete block buildings and dumpsters.  Such a visual treat, you have to stop constantly and wonder at it…..

Unfortunately many of the classes are rather muscular!  Like blacksmithing and operating various lethal machines to do things with wood!  Of course the benefit of such classes is there are plenty of men around for the square dancing!  Which I thoroughly enjoyed! The dancing, that is!

Back down to the plains and Real Life: how can I put my new knowledge to work?  for any new knowledge will soon dissipate if not practiced till automatic, practiced till intuitive.

john c campbell 021

Fortunately I left a small piece half done which is calling me from the “sewing room”!  I know many have a beautiful fixed studio, but I migrate around the house with the changing weather: the hotter it gets, the lower I go!  but it’s been so hot here I’m thinking of digging myself a hole in the ground.   

I’m working on a new online class called The Designing Dyer.  I have often noticed that there is a gap between the surface design work and the quilts made from hand dyed and printed fabric.  So I thought it would be fun to try to bridge the gap…going from a particular kind of SD to a specific type of quilt design that would work well with that particular fabric.

john c campbell 029

I began with gradating dye colors and my sample is black – which is one of the best colors to do gradations with as
a) there’s a great range of values and
b) the dye companies throw so many different dyes together to make black that they make beautiful marks as they slowly creep across the fabric in the dye container…. so I’m working on a little misty grey landscape. (wonder where I got that idea?)



What I learned at the workshop was that I needed to STOP sooner – it’s so hard not to overwork.  And if you do, you lose both the mystery and the wabi-sabi.  So here I am determined to practice more at doing less!

I think I need to get a cuppa tea to get my head around this oxymoronic activity!!

If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth