Tuesday, January 29, 2013

New class this Friday

"Inspired to Design" - my most popular class starts again on Quilt University this Friday.  This is the most basic class I teach.  It's about taking a photograph and extracting lots of different quilt ideas from it. 

Ideas sketched out and hung up on design wall for review  
It also covers the basics of thoughtful design (I expand on those in my follow-up class Working in Series), and choosing a great color scheme.  I also go through how to block out a quilt working from a small sketch - no need to drive across town to the copy shop and spend money on a couple of large cartoons!  I don't know who started this idea that you need a full size cartoon to make a piece - certainly painters don't have that.  Perhaps tapestry artists do.
Here's the photograph   
Here's the sketch 
And here's the quilt!
as you can see there are some differences between the final version and the drawing - I like that - if you have the main shapes in places and the main values organized, then you can add little interesting bits if you feel an area needs them.  it's like putting a fancy door knob on the door of a house that is all previously designed.
If you're slavishly following a full size cartoon, it's a lot harder to make those little changes.  On the other hand if you have no sketch at all, then it's very difficult to have a good basic structure to the quilt design.

Eniow!  just some of my pet peeves...some people have marketing Mondays and wordless Wednesdays, I have peevish january the 29ths!!!
If you have been, thanks for reading!  And if you are signed up, I look forward to seeing you in class!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Looking for the Patterns

Life has been busy round here with three separate Christmases - the family coming to stay in dribs and drabs - which has been fun but I think three is enough!!  I was beginning to feel like the guy in Ground Hog Day!   But repetition is the central point of pattern and if you look you'll see many patterns within and without your experience.

I thought I'd become very scattered making quilts, painting watercolors and then signing up for square dance lessons and coding using prime numbers!  Then I realised that it's all about patterns.

 I think patterns are what drew us into quilting in the first place.  I remember as a small child loving to visit the rose garden in the local park.  Not because of the prettiness of the flowers (though I loved the scent of roses and still do) but because of the copious dropped petals that I could retrieve and arrange into complex patterns on the old stone flags of the garden.  Of course I hadn't heard about Andy Goldsworthy and I had no photographers on hand to immortalize my efforts!!

So it was really just one step from rose petals to fabric petals in the beautiful rhythmical traditional quilt patterns (I always loved the shifting ones like Storm at Sea, or Broken Dishes) and then to square dancing.  I just couldn't figure out why square dancing would be so interesting (the other dancers are so well, "country"!!) until I realised from this website and this Japanese one  that it was the visual patterns that intrigued me.

and now to grab my code book and off to coding with primes!!  I wonder what else presents in repeating patterns?
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

workshops: past, present and future positive!

In the same way that I love taking workshops, I also enjoy teaching them...and especially the planning! Planning out a new class and doing the research leads me in all kinds of different directions which interest me a lot - and I hope will interest the students!  

Currently I'm having a lot of fun understanding, analyzing and deconstructing various abstract art works (particularly those by women artists) in both modern and contemporary art (modern being 18602 to 1970s....  and contemporary art being that made by still living artists) and seeing how their design and construction processes might relate to fiber.  I was afraid this was not a legitimate activity until I came across this you-tube clip by Elizabeth Murray - one of the foremost artists of the 20th century where she talks about deconstructing a de Koonig painting in order to learn from it.

Murray is fascinating as a painter because she was both representational and abstract at the same time being indifferent to attempts to classify her as belong to one art form or another.  There is such a tendency in the arts to try to group people according to genre - which as art quilters, or are we fiber collagers? or mixed media artists? - we constantly run into.  Murray is credited along with Philip Guston, Frank Stella and Brice Marden as rebuilding painting (which was thought to be "dead"!) during the 1970s with her innovations and bold expansion of ideas. As such she is a great source for inspiration not only for painters but for all artists.  And so are many other amazing women painters of the last 100 years!!  This is going to be a great year of exploration for me.

I did have another idea for a class - but couldn't get any interest in it...that was "the Sensuous Quilter" - we were going to see, hear, smell, feel and taste our way to new designs!!  Ah well, it's good to have some crazy ideas once in a while - even if people think you are - well - crazy!

I'd love to take a workshop in abstract art, but have never seen one...so that's why I decided to build my own!  As well as looking at videos, I'm also reading What are You Looking At by Will Compertz which proves to be a fascinating look at all the different movements there have been in art since the mid 19th century (and the invention of the camera which changed everything).

Meanwhile my Dyeing to Design class at Quilt University starts this Friday and in two weeks my Inspired to Design class also starts at Quilt University.  If you've not taken a class with me before, that's a great first class. My first abstract class will be at Arrowmont in August. Quilt University has the best value of any online classes I've come across - check them out!

And looking back to last year, I'm honoured to be nominated again for one of those Professional Quilter TOTY (Teacher of the Year) awards.  At first I was a little puzzled by the announcement that I might get a TOTY award because the word "tottie" has somewhat different connotations in England!!!

Well back to abstraction!  or is it forward....
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Talent, skill and happiness.

Emerald City

“Oh it must be so wonderful to have such a talent!”

 How often have you heard that?  D’you really believe it?  If I don’t know the person well I just smile modestly and say nowt…but if I  know them I tell them it’s  not talent but rather persistence, stubbornness and a desire to master something very difficult.  Or, at least, tame it a little.  Winston Churchill (reportedly) said:

 "The way to be happy is to find something that requires the kind of perfection that's impossible to achieve and spend the rest of your life trying to achieve it."
  Churchill painted – and built brick walls when he was really frustrated!
Making good art requires the development a lot of different skills, together with the determination to stick at it for a long time plus, if possible, (but, alas, hard to find), an encouraging and insightful teacher.

Robert Genn, a renowned Canadian painter of landscapes, described four basic skills that he thought imperative for the serious artist.  Like most of the books I’ve read on the subject he rated drawing as one of the most fundamental and most important skills.  Traditionally, for hundreds, if not thousands of years, art schools have also emphasized drawing.  There are lots of good books on the subject – I particularly like those by Carrie Parks who was a police sketch artist trained by the FBI!  She focuses on the ability to actually see what you are looking at, and NOT to glance, label, then bring up a cartoon like symbol in the mind rather to focus on the reality of the shapes and wiggly lines that make up a landscape.  It’s important to tell the left brain with its stylized “trees” or “flowers” to shut up! Don’t work with names like “tree”, “boat”, “head” instead find the basic shapes.

 The next step is to develop a basic measure (e.g for the human face this might be the width of the eye), then “measure” everything else using that as a “yardstick”. Most people have the width of one eye between the two eyes…etc.  Drawing is based on developing such “measures” like the point of a pencil held at arms length, then looking at the relative sizes of the objects AND the spaces between the objects in terms of “eyes” or “pencil lengths”.  As you can see, being able to do this is a technical skill, that can be learned in the same way that children learn to recognize letters of the alphabet.
Genn’s second skill was color.  For anyone working in a medium using color like fiber artists, it’s very important to know about hue, value, intensity and temperature in color.  It’s crucial to be able to recognize – and manipulate – the effect that colors have upon one  another and how to choose and group colors within a composition.

The third skill he mentioned was abstraction which really struck me as I’m currently very interested in abstract art.   What exactly is it?  I realized it wasn’t just arbitrary splashes of paint on a canvas or pieces of fabric thrown at a wall (though that certainly can be fun it’s just as likely to lead to good art as those poor monkeys still slaving away on their typewriters (or probably computers these days) trying to come up with a Shakespeare play).
Abstract art has been defined as a “controlled visual magic” – wouldn’t it be wonderful to say “oh I’m a fiber magician” when people ask what you do?
The control consists of a) a defined structure, b) using  compositional guidelines thoughtfully and c) working with implication, suggestion and mystery rather than literal representation. Good abstract art yields an emotional reaction, before the frontal lobes take over and start to analyze.  A mix of abstraction and realism adds tension and mystery.  I love art like this – where you think you can almost see where the artist started.

And talking of Composition, that’s the fourth skill that Genn lists.  He feels that “composition is the queen of the skills”. Having the ability to compose those basic elements well is what makes the magic hold up! Good Composition is a Bach cantata, you know there is a basic structure, there are rules of harmony and so on but within that Bach manages amazing feats of rhythm and melody and contrast.
Being able to capture, hold and intrigue the eye entrancing it with the variety of different moods and shapes, edges, and lost edges, all kinds of magical things going on and yet coming together to form a complete whole is a wonderful thing. Hopefully, not an impossible one!

The person who has been able to develop all these skills will have a unique voice, the ability to express feeling within their art.  And thus that unique voice will be seen as an amazing talent.  But we know…the magician didn’t just happen to find the rabbit in the hat….! 

Having delineated these skills, the building blocks of “talent”, Genn pointed out that there was nothing wrong with simply making art for the fun of it without trying to build one’s knowledge and skill.  But: 
“But if you persist in this direction, your unskilled work will be like that of so many others--and you will begin to bore yourself. On the other hand, the skills I suggest are worth learning for their own sake--and they will stand you well no matter what you try to do. They are hard won. We value most what is hard won--and so do many others. Skills worth learning take time and patience.”

 And remember Churchill:
"The way to be happy is to find something that requires the kind of perfection that's impossible to achieve and spend the rest of your life trying to achieve it."
Isn’t that great!! As well as art I’m also going to learn square dancing and with my co-ordination that going to be impossible too!

  I’m off for a cuppa tea! 
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!
PS I have two online courses starting within the next few weeks: Dyeing to Design on January 18th and Inspired to Design on Feb 1st.  check with quiltuniversity.com if you’re interested.  Quilt university’s courses are without doubt the best value for money of all online classes – it’s an amazing organization.
PPS I'm happy that the quilt at the top of this blog: Emerald City has been chosen by the American Ambassador in Monrovia, Liberia to be shown in the American Embassy there as part of the program Art in Embassies!  quite an honour and a lovely surprise.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Unpredictable, beautiful and shaggy!

Amy Sillman     Cliff

A painter whose work I really admire is Amy Sillman – if you Google “Amy Sillman images” you’ll come across a lot of great pictures.    She’s an abstract painter who also incorporates almost identifiable images that tease your mind into a Gestalt whirl!   She writes that she wishes her work to be

"Every day the raw, the goofy,
the inexplicable, the urgent,
the disrupting, the embarrassing,
the awful, the complex, and the 
fearsome barge into my life,
whether I like it or not. I respond
with paintings that are partly cartoon,
partly lament, partly grudge, that I 
hope are unpredictable, beautiful,
but sort of shaggy”.

I’m enjoying spending these first days of the New Year soaking myself in art – it’s so refreshing and enjoyable compared to the dire tv we have these days – the endless yapping heads, the stupidity, the lack of compassion and complete absence of long sightedness.  It seems like everything and everybody is just looking for what will gain the maximum profit.  I’m even being deluged with emails by companies whose products I reviewed with less than 5 stars on Amazon – they want me to give them 5 stars whatever I think about their product “because it will hurt their ratings” – as if that is reason enough!!  It’s like the school kids who feel they should have an A because of their GPA – the quality of the work is irrelevant.  I bought a new mp3 player to replace one on its last legs and discovered that the new ones only work properly with downloaded and paid for music – not with free library books!
And so to turn to art is so refreshing – to find the unpredictable, the beautiful and the shaggy is wonderful.  Turning the annoyances of everyday life into beauty!! Hmm I wonder what sort of a quilt I could make about eye drops, mp3 players, chattering inanities and cliffs?

If you have been, thanks for listening!