Monday, August 31, 2015

Abstracting Design and Designing Abstraction

Abstract Art: some find it really exciting, others come out with a trite phrase about their 5 year old and think that they're being smart!!!  (Oh my pet hate is the overuse of trite idioms!! please...never EVER tell me I stepped upto the plate and nailed it!  Those things break when nailed!)

I love the variety of abstract art, and how it all came about, and all the different kinds of ingenuity that abstract artists have devised...and I'm starting a new Abstract Art for Quiltmakers class this Friday with  the Academy of Quilting  (AQ)  - please check it out if you're interested.

One of the things that I do in the class is show how one can be inspired by a great artist, without copying from them.  I had an email recently from someone who is very inspired by a certain artist but hesitates to use any of that artist's techniques or ideas, lest she be accused of copying.

I think we can be strongly drawn to someone's work and then, by carefully analyzing exactly what it is that inspires us, take just that element and then incorporate it into our own work.
For example you might say "oh I love Elizabeth Barton's Red Shift series of quilts"....
then, ask yourself what is it about them I really like?  is it the color?  Then...go for Red.
Is it the shapes and lines?  just make a line drawing of one of the quilts and see how those elements are used.  Or is it the high value contrasts?  Can I use such contrasts in my work?

Is is the different textures that are utilized?  or the overall way of organizing the work?   Or the complexities of depth and devices such as lost edges??  (if you're interesting in those concepts, by the way, and not familiar with them, those are the types of design strategies I cover in my online master class, a yearlong commitment...write me privately if you're interested in more details of that.  There's an email link on the sidebar.)

Every artist has always been influenced by art that has gone before, even if it's negatively: "The Famous Quilter (FQ) doesn't believe in straight lines therefore I shall only use straight lines."
"The FQ eschews all pastel colors, therefore I shall see what I can do with pastels"  etc...

If you look at early developments in abstract art, you can see how the ideas and imagination flowed from one artist to another...each one taking (abstracting) a particular idea and then changing it, amplifying upon it, being intrigued by it and then creating their own work.
In the AQ class, we look at the work of women abstract artists - I fervently believe many of their menfolk took their wives' ideas and enlarged upon them!!

We can abstract elements from the work of artists whom we find totally inspiring, then use them and make them our own.  It used to be a vital part of art school training that one copy the work of the Late and Great in order to learn their technique, to benefit from their ideas.  Now such copies are not to be used as original art, of course, but they are a great way to learn "how" to do it.   You can't expect to make a masterpiece at your very first go, nor should you be expected to!  But you can learn.......

You can also learn how to make a decent cup of tea!!!  I've shown quite a few!!  And now to enjoy, if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

PS   I'm having a lot of trouble hand stitching these days...and you can machine stitch just about everything, except that nowhere does anyone talk about doing anything but hand stitching on the quilt sleeves...I'm wondering (as a non I don't really know its strength)...could you FUSE a sleeve onto the back of a quilt?  Is anybody doing this???   

Monday, August 24, 2015

+ feeling......

A couple of people asked in the Comments (of my blog) last week (love comments - thank you!! and thank you to Janis for the links - most enlightening - I had no idea all those QN 15 shorts were on You Tube)
..yes!, a couple  of people asked me "well just how do I get the emotion into a quilt?"

Actually the answer is fairly straight forward...but I do think it's a good idea before practicing the techniques  to look and see how the Great Artists of all time got emotion into their the internet for art- you can google things like The world's 100 great paintings etc and come up with a lot of work.  Or go to the website of many of the large museums, several have now had their best paintings carefully digitally photographed at high levels of resolution so you can really examine them.  As with anything new, always begin with clear classic examples.....

For example:

what emotion would you see in Mary Cassat's mother and baby paintings?

or here:

What emotions do you think Picasso was trying to convey in Geurnica?

and what do you feel when you see this painting?

While there may be a little variation I think that most of us would come up with wonder, tenderness and grief (not necessarily in that order!).

So what did these artists do to show that?

In 2D art you basically have 5 things that you can manipulate:  value, color, shape, line and texture.

Let's take each one of these:
Value:  you can have an art work with soft gradations in value, or very marked sharp ones.
See how Picasso uses very bold contrasts of value to convey feeling, Cassat keep the value changes very soft.

Line:  note how Cassat's lines are soft and melting, Picasso's are hard, Van Gogh's are excited like exclamation points!!!

Color:  Cassat uses soft warm colors to show tenderness....and love ...Picasso used harsh black/white/grey contrasts....and van Gogh had a sharp complementary blue/yellow color scheme,  bright and scintillating.

Shape:  Mary Cassat's women and babies are rounded soft shapes that enclose and intertwine, Picasso's are harsh, pointed, jagged and rent with emotion.  Van Gogh's shapes  are spreading out in waves and circles radiating across the sky.

Texture:  again Picasso has a harsh bristly texture, Cassat's is so soft it feels like warm velvet.

I do go over some of these concepts in my two books: Inspired to Design and Working in Series both of which are basically about the application of the major principles and techniques of art to the design of quilts and available from me, your local independent quilt store or Amazon.
Or look at Molly Bang's little book:  Picture This: How Pictures Work  which shows these concepts very clearly in use in the telling of the Red Riding Hood story.

I hope this explanation helps to answer the questions!  Let me know what you think...and also I'm very happy to have topics suggested for the blog...sometimes all the cups of  tea in the world don't inspire me to anything except a trip to the loo!!

If you have been, thanks for reading.....Elizabeth

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Working from a realistic inspiration. A three step operation.

When you’re inspired by s/t realistic (rather than an abstract concept), and making art from it…it’s important, I think, to NOT try to simply reproduce it.
Whatever the medium.

The first step is selection, enrichment and organization/composition.
If you look at a landscape painted by Cezanne, or O’keefe or van Gogh and then see a photograph of the actual scene that inspired them,  you’ll see that they have both enriched  and systematically organized (rearranged to create a “composition”) that original view in order to create a strong painting.
This is just what we strive to do when making a quilt based on a real scene.  Whether it’s a landscape, a cityscape, a portrait, a still life or any of these, the art falls flat if we very literally copy what is in the photo or in front of us.

The second step is intention…adding in your feelings, your thoughts…
That’s when people say – “that’s just not what I envisaged”  - in their mind’s eye they saw it in enriched fashion, they enhanced the colors, omitted  the rubbish…etc.
And particularly in that they have not managed to include their feelings in the piece.
You could really love your little grandson….you could make a quilt that was a copy of the boy…a better quilt would show both the grandson and your love for him.
You need  to ADD what’s in your head  to the scene (or photograph) to create art.

The third step is even more interesting..
And that is – to deliberately address the medium you’re using.  To utilize the particular properties of that medium to make your image a work of art.  That’s why I think just simply printing photographs onto fabric really doesn’t work very well – at least I’ve never seen them work well.  Printing photos onto fabric doesn’t use the medium.  Furthermore, many people just print the photos as is…without  the two steps described.  While it is actually possible to enrich (though not the  ridiculous stifling unnatural super saturation popular amongst some photographers!  ), re-organization, actually composing, isn’t easy to do with most photos.
***Note here that I'm talking about those quilts where the photograph was simply printed out as is onto a piece of fabric, then cut out and attached without any manipulation or designing onto another piece of fabric.  There are people doing wonderful things with photographs, but they spend a lot of time designing how to integrate the photo with the fabric - either before or after printing.
If you create wonderful fabric using photographs, and then use that fabric AS fabric in a well thought out and designed way in your quilt...and have lots of lovely stitching...then can work!  But it's not easy......and I will always feel that you must consider and respect the medium.

The glass maker will use the light shining through the glass to bring the art to life, the woodworker , the texture and grain of the wood.  The watercolorist will exploit the way that light can go through the paint and bounce off the surface of the paper.  The oil painter can use texture and richness of many different particles of color.
The quilter should use the particular qualities of fabric and stitching – the way the fabric takes the dye, the subtleties achieved by surface design….
The stitching – whether machine or hand – should really add something to the meaning and beauty of the piece…and not just be an incidental factor.

Constance Howard used to say that it should appear as if that artwork could not have been created using any other medium.

Yes, you can make good quilts based on real life inspirations (despite the abstract quilter diehards!!) but I think it’s necessary to follow these three steps to achieve that.

So – tell me what you think?  D’you consider these steps?  D’you carry them out?  Am I missing something?  Convince me!!  Meanwhile, I’m off for a nice cuppa tea….
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Creativity…..some things to do, and some not to do…

How very many times do I hear the phrase:  “Oh, I’m just not creative…”
Being creative is part of being a human being, we are adaptable creatures, that’s how we’ve survived so long…and proliferated.  Children (unless there is something very wrong) are very creative.  But most types of education focus so much on cramming facts and processes into our brains that there is little time and less encouragement to be creative.  See this very funny talk on TED by Sir Ken Robinson

1.  There’s definitely a lot of evidence in many areas that fake-it-till-you-make-it works!   Power posing for 2 minutes before an interview can make you appear more confident, raise testosterone levels and decrease adrenaline – even if you don’t believe it will!!  So the first thing  to do is to stop describing yourself as an uncreative person!

2.  Engaging in an activity that doesn’t require specific thought so that your ideas can wander.. walking for example is my favorite one…but also ironing…..ideas can occur anywhere so have a note pad handy!  I carry a couple of 3 x 5 cards and a small pencil in my pocket…also have them handy in many places in the house!

3.  Not watching things online or on telly that engage you but don’t inspire you e.g. soap operas. Some very interesting research published online in Media Psychology  shows that just hearing stories about people who act unintelligently actually reduces our cognitive ability!!  The article, by Markus Appel,  is provocatively called: A story about a stupid person can make you act stupid.

It’s called media priming.    Apparently,  if we watch/listen to/read items that we don’t specifically analyse and think about in terms of whether or not we really agree with the ideas/activities portrayed, then our performance afterwards on a simple written test is much weaker than if we do critique the item.   Of course much of the media is designed to stop you thinking!!!  But just because it’s designed that way, doesn’t mean you have to go along with it.  Start thinking!  It will improve your brain and your creativity!

4.  By contrast looking at, listening to, reading etc wonderful artistic creations tends to spark our own ideas.  For us 2D visual artists, there is a feast of visual information online since many of the major art museums of the world have uploaded digital versions of their holdings.

5.  Embrace the new!  Try new things, new places, new activities:  a day outing to somewhere you’ve never been before.  Visit a museum or gallery you’ve not gone  to before…even small towns have little galleries everywhere…sometimes even looking at bad art can spur you forward as you think “hmm, I could do that better because I would….”

6.  I personally have not found writing a journal about all my worries, or making a map of numerous associations to be in the least bit useful.  Nor is lighting candles – one of the “new Age” suggestions I’ve seen on line!!   Perhaps if you light candles, stand on your head and write a stream of consciousness diary with one hand while tramping a mind map on the ceiling with your feet, Something might happen!!  Doubt it would be very creative though…
These activities, I think, tend to focus one more on what is mundane and tedious in one’s life rather than leading to new ways of thinking. 

 7.  I do think that that the old art school exercise of 50 (or so, pick a number, any number!)  different drawings of an object, in writing 50 different story ideas etc,  is useful though.  It does take one time to work through the ordinary ideas to get to those less visited.  Obviously the strongest associations will come up first – just like on Google! – and those are going to be the most mundane…keep on working…

8.  Years ago I used to teach a workshop called Coaxing the Muse and I think it worked well…we tried looking at art in a slide show, listening to music, tasting delicious foods, going outside looking at nature and smelling the roses.  Indulging the senses opens you to what is around you,  and you become more mindful and aware.  Deliberately Experiencing the Sensory Input…which we so often ignore being focused on getting bills paid, devising the grocery list etc etc.  Is there something about what you see, hear or feel that is just amazing?? All artists begin with something…yes even abstract ones!

9.  Give yourself time to be creative….it really does take time.  We are so focused and everything today is “instant” and “fast” – how many quilt books have “fast” or “quick” or “easy” in the blurb???  Isn’t that horrid?  Isn’t that just plain insulting?

10.  Keep an inspiration notebook.  One of my favorite authors collects strange little items reported in the newspaper and has used them as a kernel for a whole novel.  As you read a magazine, rip out images that attract…and into a notebook, or (like Twyla Tharp, author of The Creative Habit which I definitely recommend) a shoe box.

11. Set parameters – don’t sit there looking at the blank page, or the blank canvas, or the blank design wall…instead choose some parameters: size, subject, way of looking at the subject, representational? Or abstract.  Monochromatic or full color?  Big shapes, or little ones?  How many shapes – how many lines – how many colors etc.

12. Theme…and variations.   Print out images of the six pieces you’ve made that you’re most happy with, and figure out why.  Why oh why were those So much better? 
And now, Can you think of any variations upon them?

So, I set myself the parameter of 12 thoughts – a magic number in many ways! – and I’ve reached my goal…I’m off for a nice cuppa tea now…

Please do let me know your thoughts on encouraging creativity!  The Comment box is waiting……apologies for the anti-robot/spam stuff – but it’s the only way to keep the blog weed free!

If you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

Monday, August 3, 2015

To stash or not to stash...that is the question

You know how so many of us have a stash - a great hoard of beautiful fabrics?  Some I know keep some of it hidden in the cupboard in the spare bedroom, or even the boot (trunk) of the car!
Some have it proudly displayed by color, each piece folded precisely.  Many have elaborate, elegant shelving systems - ah how I yearn for those! Some like me have Piles...yes Piles!  Some definitely more orderly than others...but still piles... there's the shelf piles, and the floor piles, and the table piles...and the migrated through to the living room piles....

So imagine my surprise when a very well known Famous Quilter (FQ) told me  that she didn't keep a stash at all!!  As she conceived of each quilt she made the fabric precisely for that quilt...and those quilts were Gorgeous.  And, as you can imagine, the colors perfect, everything working together to create a wonderful piece of art.  But think of the restraint that one would need!  and what happens when she dyes something  that doesn't come out right?  Does she condemn it to recycling?  or give it away?  She did say she had a small bookcase that had a few pieces folded on it.....

But there is definitely something to be said for conceiving of an idea and then making the fabric to precisely fit that idea.  I have done it occasionally and always been pleased with the results.  In the quilt below, I made up about 50 screens with images painted on them - all at the same time - with this quilt especially in mind.

I think it helps to make a coherent whole even though this was a very large selection of different images on the screens.   I did cut out many sections..of course I'd hoped I could just sew them all together!! but no...I wanted a bit from here and a bit from there was quite a pile of stuff left over...that wouldn't have pleased the FQ!!

In the quilt above, I made a lot of screens about water - using a limited palette but thinking of as many different line qualities as I could that would suggest water.

And in the one above here, I worked from a set of photographs of my brother-in-law's giant shed stuffed to the gills with old window frames, screens, bed springs, boxes, paint pots etc etc...
There was a lot of fabric left over from this one too...but I managed to put them together into another quilt!  The FQ would have been proud of me!

And I have made several quilts - like the one above - where I've just dyed one color, but in every different value and  temperature I could think of...and then used all that fabric for one quilt.

So - if you'd like to take a class where you first make the fabric...then make the quilt..I have just the one coming up!  It's with and it starts on Friday.  Tell the Dean I said you could have a place in the class!

Each week I describe a different surface design method - we work through the elements: value in Lesson 1, color in Lesson 2, texture in Lesson 3, Shapes in Lesson 4 and Line in Lesson 5.  You dye/paint/print the fabric...and then make a small quilt based on that week's fabric.

Low water immersion dyeing, arashi shibori, regular and deconstructed screen printing are all covered.

Thank  you - FQ - I still have my piles, but sometimes I do get organized and make the fabric for the quilt and it's a very satisfying start to finish process.

And now for a nice cuppa tea.....if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth
and please please do comment!  Love it!  Read them avidly! (with said cup of tea in hand of course!)