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