Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On the Road...

One of the great things about teaching quilt workshops is all the amazing places you get to visit and the people you enjoy meeting.
This week I'm in Sisters, Oregon.
 It is an old forestry town now converted to a tourist place...very pretty with lovely hanging baskets of purple petunias, and lots of pretty plantings alongside the Western style shops.  The Sisters in question are three mountains part of the Cascade chain - which can be seen in the distance from the edge of town..within the town we're deep in pine woods.

I took the photo on the left on the way to breakfast this morning!!

And here's me teaching.....

I only hope the solemn look on the ladies is concentration and not despair!!!  They worked really hard and produced some super designs...I set the parameters tightly at first emphasizing major important points in creating strong composition - like unity with variety - and then gradually broaden the variables.
Here are a few of their designs:

I think there's a good chance at least one of them will find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow:

If you have been - thanks for reading!!!  and please do make comments...also I'd be very interested in any topics you might suggest for the blog...  thank you!!  Elizabeth

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Best Place to start a design… directed by Sherlock Holmes…

 A lot of people like to begin their quilt design with a photograph; I have very often done that myself.  It’s really hard to begin with just a blank page when writing or a blank canvas when painting – so I wouldn’t expect quiltmakers to be any different.  Why should they have to begin with a blank wall, an empty cutting table and all their fabrics neatly stashed away according to color in drawers, shelves or boxes when artists in other media don't?

However, when it comes to choosing that inspiration,  I find many many quiltmakers do not know where to begin.  They have a beautiful folder full of gorgeous photographs, but they don’t know which ones will lead to a good design.

 Now I must say upfront that in ART there is no way that you can get it right from the outset!! Unless of course, you’re filling in a paint-by-numbers picture, or following a quilt pattern.  There are no guarantees.  And if you really want guarantees, if you really want to know that every single minute of your effort, every piece of cloth and stitch is going straight to a perfect end then I suggest you do stick to the patterns that someone else has worked out for you – there are lots and lots of wonderful ones.  But if you have an adventurous creative spirit – as I suspect most of us do! – then I know that you’re willing to take a few risks…..and many many famous artists have told us over and over that without risk there is no original art.  So you’re in good company!

Let’s look at some steps you can take in choosing a photograph or other inspiration source that will help you to focus on what is important, what might be more likely to work out well.

Elimination is the key
As all good detectives know (beginning with dear old Sherlock of course!), it’s a great help to eliminate things.  Narrow the field to the likely candidates.  If the reason that you chose the inspiration picture is totally based on any of the following, and nothing else, then I would eliminate it.

Color is not important at all – any color can be changed. Keep the gorgeous colored pictures in a separate “color inspiration” folder.

Value isn’t important, you can develop a strong value pattern on any background. E.g. a white wall can have all sorts of enticing shadows cast upon it…a sky can have clouds and nuances, stacks of white boxes can have light, reflected light, cast shadow, shadowed sides, side horizontal to the light source, side vertical to the light sources….

I don’t even think texture is the key, since you can add it too…unless your piece were all about a specific texture in which case I could definitely see beginning with it….

Subject too is largely immaterial – a good artist can make an interesting design out of any subject, in fact that’s one of the important things about art – helping us see the beauty and design that can exist anywhere.  The same is true of poetry: think about the poem by Rose Fylman that we all knew as kids: It begins: “I think mice are nice”!! 

Size – I have not found the size of the source material to be of any concern, small images can be enlarged, large ones made small.

Medium: again no problem, designs can be developed based on any medium that you can translate into a simple sketch: photos, paintings, fiber art, sculptures, theater…film, tv.
Incoherent jumbles of many different random objects.  Sometimes by using your crop tools, you can find some areas that will work, but as a whole these are very difficult to work with.

So, having taken out all the photos that related more to the above concepts, what does that leave us??

Lines and shapes and the relationships between them.   
And this is the key.  Look for pictures that have good interesting shapes, that are fairly clear (a few lost edges will add to your design so don’t worry about them), and where the relationships between those shapes is an interesting one.  These are your likely candidates.
Spread them out so you can look at them all together, which ones pull your eyes and your heart?  Eliminate the ho-hum ones. 

Now you should be down to a very few….are there similarities between them?  Can you take one shape from one and add it into another? Are those shapes strong and interesting – by interesting I mean not a stack of straight sided boxes!!  Great for organizing your files, but BORING in art work!

I would then sketch out the main shapes in those remaining photos, then continue your search for the perfect starting point with the sketches ONLY.  Soon, I think, one will stand out…and if it doesn’t, if they’re all equally brilliant – well then you’ve got perfect ideas for several quilts!!!

If you have been, thanks for reading!!!  And any tips or comments you’d like to pass on….I’d love to read them!!   Elizabeth

The "What the Hell?" award.

I was reading an interesting book about jurying for piano competitions. The author felt that when you have three jurors together they tend to give the awards to the tried and true…not the person who’s doing some experimental work, pushing their ideas and their musician ship further, but rather the person who adheres to the currently accepted ideas of what is correct in piano playing.  Furthermore he felt that they tend to judge by things that are quantifiable: i.e. speed, accuracy of notes and tempi etc. 

It’s also clear that when new art (whether in music, or in painting or in fiber art) is first made public, it is frequently misunderstood, underestimated, ignored, disparaged (“my five year old could do that” – somebody actually said  to me that of a quilt design once!!), even condemned.  There is, it seems, a distance between fashionable norms (of any art form) and the artistic challenge.  Would the work of some of our most innovative and inspiring art quilters have even been accepted a few decades ago?

I know when I go to a quilt show, or look at a book of quilts, I see an Awful Lot of Predictable work…and very little that actually shows me something different.  I’m sure there are many reasons for this that relate to the quiltmaker, the publishers of magazines and books, the tendency for the market place to always dilute ideas so that the greatest number of people can understand and therefore BUY!   But also I wonder if the jurors aren’t to some extent to blame too.

Why are the winners so predictable?  I think that there is a tendency for the hierarchy within the quilting world to both represent and defend the prevailing aesthetic.  People say “oh it doesn’t matter who the jurors are” – I think they’re clearly wrong…and the more jurors you have, the more you will skew the results towards the present norm.  And the weirdoes and iconoclasts who might try some ideas that disturb the quilt world (remember all the furor about a skeleton quilt a few years ago?) face significant  prejudice.

 Furthermore, many of the jurors of the more traditional shows are “trained” to follow a specific standard.  Which seems totally bizarre!   If they are following a standard prescribed by some “authoritative body”, they are not even making their own judgments!  And so we continue to pursue the status quo.  The pianists go faster and faster, the quiltmakers make tinier and tinier stitches, or buy machines that make sure that their stitches are as machine like as possible!!

 Perhaps there could be a category for Different Quilts.  We’ve got landscapes and cityscapes and abstracts and florals and other nature themes, and now we have “modern” quilts, well what about “Different Quilts”?  Quilt that really challenge us, quilts that break the rules, and appear to develop their own rules.  Quilts that can’t be easily categorized, that are not very comfortable.  Quilts that might appear ugly at first sight, but then you remember them and have to go back and have another look.  Dystonic quilts, awkward quilts, odd quilts – but still having their own internal logic.

Can we get away from the Tame?  Will the jurors take some risks too – and stop worrying about fashionability, decorum, taste and general acceptability? 

Can we have more quiltmakers who will transfix us with their sheer force and uniqueness?  Yes there are a few out there – and I’d love for you to nominate them in the Comments!   I would definitely put people like Dorothy Caldwell into that category.

The Kiss of Death for any creative person should be that Awful “Viewers’ Choice” award – the award that goes to the most easily digestible pretty pap in the show!!  Instead let’s have a “What the Hell?!!” award!

Well I’m off to consider my WTH piece…with a nice cuppa tea of course!

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

PS I just noticed that for some weird reason my blog of last week never got uploaded!!  So apologies - I'll put it up next week.   or maybe the week after I'll be traveling it will be good to have something "in the bag"!