Wednesday, October 28, 2015


So think your quilt is looking like wallpaper?
(and there are an awful lot of them out there, believe me!!)
I love showing poorly designed quilts in my workshops ....but daren't get away with it online!!
(apart from my own...I have a lot of "dogs", there's no doubt!!!  (apologies to any canines reading this blog...but do please comment!).

What can you do to improve the design?
Here are three tips to avoid producing any more wallpaper!

 Think about adding a focal point...I like to think of a quilt design as being like an opera... there is the lead singer, the star - the Tenor...He stands out, he's towards the center of the stage (unless he's singing mightily while dying of suffocation in a tomb of course!!), he's bigger, bolder, louder and spotlit!
Sometimes there are one or two or even three other singers engaged with him in varying melodic patterns i.e. interesting and varied auditory arrangements...and we can create the same thing visually.

With no focal point - no center of interest - then everything is equally interesting, or equally boring!
I was ill in bed a lot as a child with little energy and I remember I looked and looked and looked at all the wallpaper in my room - a basket pattern, I wanted to find the one basket that had some different flowers in it! (never did).  As human beings we are hard wired to find the novel elements in our surroundings and investigate them.  They may be good to eat.....or good to run away from!

So create a focal point by having something a bit different in that area: different shape, different line quality, different size, different color etc.   And make it fairly easy for the viewer to find it by having it towards the center of the design. Furthermore, make it  obvious by its contrast with the areas around it which is how we normally see things  - whatever we are looking at is clear, sharp, focussed...that which is in our peripheral vision is softer, blurrier...

Another thing that will make your quilt more interesting is to increase the value range.
If you have any photo - imaging software on your computer, then simply scan in your sketch ...or a photo of your quilt, and increase the contrast in value.  In PSE you can find this feature under "Enhance"...  Making the darks darker and the lights lighter will make the whole idea bolder and richer.  You don't have any darks to make darker? or lights to make lighter?  well...that's probably why it's boring!   Create some!!  You ARE allowed!

Add variety, something different, something unexpected and edgy.  Imagine one of those Thomas Kinkaid snow covered cute cottages with the lights on inside...and there's a little figure climbing out of the window!!  Makes you lean forward and take what is happening there..I didn't expect to see that!!  There's lots of different ways to make things unexpected...Tracy Emin the British artist who makes blankets appliqu├ęd with text.  She uses not only  strong personal language ...but she also exploits her dyslexia with strange bad spellings.  Not your usual bad spelling...but something that makes us have to take a moment to figure out the text.

And of course, if you really want to make wallpaper...please do!  It can be very soothing..just don't hang it above the bed of a bored sick child!

And now for a nice cuppa tea I think, cogitation can make you thirsty...
if you have been, thanks for reading!


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

I'm back home after a trip to Wisconsin - 3 little workshops in a row with outings to see the countryside (and cheese and chocolate factories - the staples of life!) between each one.

I'm working on a Long Talk I'm giving to the local "learning in retirement" chapter - I need to either shrink it, or learn to speak a lot faster!  The talk  accompanies an extensive power point about Abstract Artists, specifically female ones, though most of the things they talk about are universal. so the issues are not particularly feminist, rather the artists are less well known than their male counterparts - UNdeservedly so!

It's fascinating reading about these artists' practices; so many of their comments are directly relevant to art quilts and to the way I teach. My workshops in Wisconsin were really about ways to derive and evaluate designs - first on paper, then in fabric.

For example, Eva Hesse (1936-1970) always loved drawing.  She said that because it was more flexible and immediate than painting or sculpture, it was much more useful in developing ideas. She frequently worked with found materials: latex, cheesecloth, resin.  The forms she created were sometimes ordered, sometimes chaotic but the compositions were often worked out in drawing, or little watercolors.  (For images, just google "eva hesse images".)

She found  that,  while drawing gave her pleasure and satisfaction, it was also a very efficient way to work: 

 " First, feel sure of an idea, then the execution will be easier.” 

Drawing  is both a way of  working through ideas and a way to explore different technical issues.  Hesse found  that she could use the drawing to follow a chain of thought, a variety of serial techniques,  using repetition  as both content and form.
One of her favorite shapes was the square; in repeating squares, she could look at shape, negative space, and also the relationships between the squares.

 Hesse believed that “repetition does enlarge or increase or exaggerate an idea or purpose in a statement”.
These  "statements" or concepts also revealed the artist's feelings as well as their cognitions.

 Sometimes her drawings began with a grid which was fairly regular but then  the slight variations between the units would begin to  suggest resistance to enforced regularity - as happens in the improvisational approach to cutting out squares.   in using grids in a more flexible way, Hesse emphasized the mark of the hand, its variations and unpredictability and its beauty. 

Doesn't this sound like many of the exercises I give in my workshops?  Alas, like so many artists, Eva Hesse died of cancer at a very young age...I would love to have given her a pile of fabric to work with!

And now for a nice cuppa tea to soothe my PAC (plane acquired cold!)....if you have been, thanks for reading!


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Sometimes, you've just got to have fun!


Now don't laugh at me...but sometimes it does you good just to have fun...and I have had fun!!  A friend had given me a box of stretchers (the pieces of wood you slot together to make the basis for a screen (for screen printing) or for a painting)....well I have LOADS of screens for screen didn't need more...

....and then another friend gave me several yards of canvas   (very handy to have friends cleaning out their studios!)....and I thought let's make some canvases for painting!  I love the new square paintings that are so "in" right now...and I really like the look of cats, they have so many different colors to their fur.  And our life painting group only meets once a week...whereas I can get photos of cats any time!!

Plus, I soon discovered that my knowledge of using acrylic paint, of putting images together, of enhancing color, of matching color, of cropping to get a good composition etc etc - in fact all the things you need to know to become a better artist in any medium - including art quilts ( Of Course)
has been immensely enhanced by this very refreshing exercise!  

I began with the rather demure kitten at the top...I think I only had 3 tubes of paint, for some reason the rest were in the car (yes, I keep a bag of every different activity I attend in the car - ready to go! - it's a great system if you have a big enough car!) she's not all that colorful...but I was very pleased with the expression.
And then came Freddie posing for his mug shot!  I think he looks a bit like a rabbit - must be a cross!!


Thistle, the house cat - glaring at me daring to paint him.  It was a challenge to create interest in his large dark brown blob of a body!  But you know - when I'm teaching designing art quilts, I always suggest you don't use one chunk of dark fabric for a large dark area, but instead put together lots of bits of similar value but varied colored fabrics...and that idea works well for Thistle.  I also deliberately chose a complementary color to his golden ruff.

Can't you tell right away that Hermione is THE boss cat in her house?  There are (at least) 2 other cats and two dogs (yes, I'm going to try them next!  but will have to get some glossy paint for those wet noses!) in her house but she is The Queen of that castle!  Again I'm thinking complementary - rose versus olive...and bringing that background color into the cat....having a complementary background color will always make the central subject sing.   And it's very good to have all your colors spread throughout the piece...not just blue in the sky, red in the roofs, green in the grass...but everything popping up everywhere - Unity -  right?

Only young but I think she'll grow up to be rather a particular cat!  Now I was beginning to think about blending color - I didn't even realize you could do that with acrylic!!  It's amazing how much you can learn just digging right in, putting  the music on full blast!  (Bebo and Cigala and yes I groan along with them!)  I was thinking about how I could use the contrast of hard and soft edges to convey the sense of the soft fur against those sharp eyes!

And here is the next one in old guy relaxing on his laurels!!!  I ran out of the small stretchers so now I'm into bigger canvases so it's taking a bit longer...I'm experimenting with a different kind of brush stroke on this one....

So if you're bogging down a bit with what you're doing now, consider a different medium and subject for a while..something light can get more practice in the basic design activities and not worry too much about Having to Get it Right!!

And if you have been, thanks for reading...yes I'm the one out stalking the neighborhood cats  with my camera!!