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 Yes...it 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


Sharon Robinson said...

I agree with all you are saying. Particularly in terms of addressing the medium. I am turned off by the practice of some art quilters of posterizing a photo then reproducing it in fabric. In some cases this process includes some abstracting or editing, but in others the attempt seems to be to replicate a photograph. Why? I love art quilts for all the reasons you mention. The tactile qualities of the fabric, the discipline (sometimes) of figuring out how to piece a composition, and the ability to work on large pieces, then roll them up to transport. How many people would do a lot of 80" x 90" paintings??

Judy Warner said...

I love your ideas, Elizabeth. I have done a number of representational art quilts and they always take on a life of their own as I create. It simply means listening to your heart and where the composition is directing you.

Anonymous said...

I've never much cared for photographs printed on fabric but could not understand what it was that I always felt was wrong. Thanks to your post I now know! Although your post seems primarily aimed at quilters, your advice is also relevant to the non-quilters among us like myself. Thank you.

Carolynn said...

Great post. I am inspired by realistic subjects and I really liked the way you broke that down. I especially agree with your comments about working with the medium. Art quilts should be something that works best on fabric. The fabric and thread should be necessary! Thanks.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see a post on step 2 - how do you show love in that quilt of your grandson? I don't think I really understand what this concept is about.

Thanks - Lois K

Turtlemoonimpressions said...

Sorry but I completely disagree with your ideas about photographs being inappropriate for textile art. Doesn't use the medium? I use the medium when I print my photos onto fabric in every way. Each fabric takes the ink differently. I treat each one according to the effect I desire. And most of us don't just simply posterize a photo and print it off haphazardly - that sounds more like a swipe than a criticism. I spend many hours artistically manipulating my photos and integrating them into the whole of the piece. And I LOVE how they look on fabric, be it cotton or silk or opaque or sheer. And when mixed up with nature prints or hand dyes. For some, I use InkAID, a gesso for fabric, for others I may use a more textured ground. The possibilities are endless and very satisfying to me. A shame that you can't appreciate it.

Elizabeth Barton said...

Thank you to everyone for your comments!
I will think about a post on how exactly you put the feelings in - thanks for the suggestion Lois.
Janis - I'd love to see your photographs on fabric, they do sound lovely...I just haven't seen any like that...and I've seen an awful lot of the "other" kind...but I'm open to being convinced that photographs on fabric CAN work especially, as you say, if they are manipulated in a way that makes them work. Perhaps you could give a few links?

and keep up the commenting!! it's always best when it's two way...or three or four!

Janet W said...

For photos on fabric, look at Charlotte Ziebarth's work. Evocative and subtle.

Jackie said...

Well said! Using the medium, thinking HOW to best use it to express what I want to say, is the whole point of the work, isn't it? Otherwise I should be a poet or a dancer or a painter!

Turtlemoonimpressions said...

Some of my art quilts with photos are among these on my Pinterest page: https://www.pinterest.com/janisdoucette/my-art-textile-mixed-media/

and then Wen Redmond's:

And yes, Charlotte Ziebarth's book is my current favorite! http://www.charlotteziebarth.com/

Hoped you find it worth the exploration!

Faith said...

I like this post. I like how you so often break things down into simple steps. But I'm with Lois (anonymous) on step 2. I really struggle with this. I'm trying to plan a quilt now and this is what keeps stopping me, because it is something that needs the emotion, and I can't figure it out.

And I agree with you about photos simply printed and stuck on a quilt. Except for centers of crazy quilt blocks and some memory quilts (and not all of either of those), I don't like them very much, but I never really understood why. Now I do... not just from your post, but also from going to Janis's pintrest page. Thank you, Janis! I definitely plan to check out your other links. This will help with my current quilt-in-planning, but I'm still stuck on how to convey the emotion.

Judy Rys said...

These days, most commercial textiles are created using computer graphics, ink and a printing press. You may not like all of the commercial fabric that is available but it is still a very useful process. Whether a photo was manipulated using Photoshop or a line drawing was created in Illustrator, both take time, skill and thought. Designs utilizing both programs are used regularly to create commercial fabric.

Color may be added to fabric using ink and a printer or dye and soda ash. The way color is transferred onto fabric shouldn't be the issue. As with all art, quality varies.

It's unfortunate that you haven't found any that you like, but that doesn't mean printing photos on fabric, "doesn't work very well". It actually works very well.

I use photos in many ways. Some are manipulated and combined with other images, printed on fabric and incorporated into a larger piece. Some photos are turned into thermofax screens for printing on fabric. Other photos are used as a reference to create a design in illustrator. Photography and printing on fabric are very useful tools.