Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Learning Till the End of Time

It just dawned on me.....

"You would like to have lessons with me till the end of time", said The Pedagogue at my last piano lesson....and so I started cogitating upon why I like taking lessons so much - especially one on one..but any lessons really - from a good teacher...not one of those frustrating ones that tell you everything you do is wonderful - I'm sure we've all been in workshops like first it feels good, then you think "I'm not getting anything out of this!"

I think the main reason I love lessons is  because I really enjoy learning new things, or - even more -  learning how to do/make those things I already do, better and stronger. I love learning more about art, and music, and more about learning itself.  I'm particularly interested in finding out the best ways to learn. Robert Bjork is very interesting on this - lots of You Tube.
And, yes, there's the 10,000 hours idea...but this number has been challenged on many levels.
If you haven't heard of it, a popular science writer summarized a number of findings on learning - (particularly with respect to music) and concluded that 10,000 hours of practice would make you an  expert.

However, many researchers dispute this e.g. * Macnamara et al (2014) examined all the relevant research and concluded:

" deliberate practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games, 21% for music, 18% for sports, 4% for education, and less than 1% for professions. We conclude that deliberate practice is important, but not as important as has been argued."

The original research was carried out by Ericsson, Krampe and Tesch-Römer in 1993 on violin students in Berlin. They noted that the best students had practiced around 10,000 hours by the time they were 20.  However to conclude from that research (as has been done)  that 10,000 hours is both a necessary and  a sufficient amount of time to become an expert is invalid. 

In 2017, Ericsson and Pool wrote a book about the limitations to the 10,000 hours idea **. (by the way there are a lot of negative reviews of this book too!).  One of the big problems with the 10g hours theory is that the variation of the number of hours the students had practiced was great, some of the better ones had done less than 10g, some more...10 g was only the average. And, there are other studies suggest that it takes 10 years  rather than 10k achieve a good level of mastery of whatever craft/acitivity you wish to learn.

And what does "practice" actually mean?  Making or doing the same old same old just doesn't cut it.  Everyone does agree that you need to push yourself further, take risks, make the tasks progressively harder, get lots of feedback about mistakes or weaknesses and then devise specific strategies to work on those.  As the athletes do.
People who are very honest with themselves about their work, and who gain good feedback - even if difficult to hear - (and believe me I've been through that!) -  do improve faster than those that keep repeating the same stuff.  Often it's when you hit that brick wall and struggle and struggle and really think about what you have to do to overcome it that you make the most progress.

The research on so-called brain games also suggests that it's not just using our brains that makes the differences, it's taking on ever more difficult tasks.  So, if you want to get anywhere, it's probably not going to be easy.   But are in good company!  If you learn a new brain game and then just settle into playing it over and over,  the brain begins to make things automatic. That doesn't lead to more cognitive strength.  which is why most "brain games" are completely pointless once you've got the hang of them!  That's not so say that they might not be fun!  but just don't kid yourself you're preventing Alzheimers.
On the positive side, it is very evident that the more you learn, the more you challenge your brain, the better it will work, the more creative it will be.  So really the answer is, stop reading the self help books and start challenging yourself!! Every new challenge is a step forward.
Learning is good for the brain!  It's good for you...but furthermore, it's one of the most exciting human activities there's the something special that we as human being can do - to push the limits of our knowledge, of our skills and our creativity...and to keep on doing it to the very end!

 Oh, I don't think my piano teacher is going to get rid of me very soon,  for learning feels so good.

If you have been, thanks for reading! 
  I hope your New year is both healthy and FULL of learning!   Elizabeth

Ps. There's still time to enroll in the 2018 masterclass - either in the basic program of assignments, or as an independent student.  Just contact me: elizabethmasterclass  AT

Deliberate Practice and Performance in Music, Games, Sports,

 Education, and Professions

A Meta-Analysis

First Published July 1, 2014 Research Article

** Ericsson and Pool:  Peak: Secrets From the New Science of Expertise

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Build your own Master Class!

It's upcoming to winter here in the S.E. of the USA....that is if we have a winter at all!  Last year we had about 6 weeks...and so far I still have impatience blooming in the garden - left over from last summer.....

I'll be starting my 2018 Masterclass on January 1st.
It's a yearlong commitment to improving your quilt designs (or other fiber media for that matter, I have had weavers, stitchers and embroiderers in the class).

Each month I issue a new assignment which addresses a key design concept such as the importance of good value patterns, how to achieve the illusion of depth or motion, how to work from a photograph, how to develop good color schemes and so on.  Each assignment can be interpreted by representational or abstract work and if you veer off the assignment a little, I won't mind! (Recently I took an online course where pretty much the only feedback I got was "you didn't follow the instructions"! - very hard for an iconoclast to do that!).

My principal interest is helping you make stronger work, and in avoiding the many pitfalls there are in designing and creating art.   I'm fortunate in that I have many art friends here and we can help each other with critiques but many don't have that.   Research in improving one's performance rests on two things: the amount of time you give to it PLUS informed help along the way.   It's not just the 10,000's the hours plus the personal help.
I think it's important to give critiques that focus on the strengths, but also address any weaknesses and suggest solutions.  I've always enjoyed problem solving and this is a great way to help others.  I used  to do a lot of traveling and teaching, but (as I'm sure you know) travel is just not much fun I was frustrated by not being able to follow through with the students for a significant period of time to help them move forward.  Having decided to get piano lessons after having failed to teach myself (for some time! ), I realize the huge importance of the regular contact with the teacher and mentor over a period of time.

I offer a year long Master Class with a blog and 10 assignments. I critique these at three stages: design sketches (need not be fancy!), blocking out, and finished work.
If you're at all interested please email me at and I'll send you full details, feel free to ask any questions.

Also, since I have more time now as I'm not travelling very much, I would like to offer a "Build Your Own MasterClass" - write and tell me what you personally would like: suggested assignments, or self-chosen ones, frequency of assignments, amount of responses from me and I can see what I can arrange and what the cost would be. A "personalized" course!

For the year long Master Class with the Master Class blog where you can view other students' work and my comments (this is as anonymous as you wish), please email me by mid December.
The strength of this class is twofold: the timetable helps to keep you on target!  And secondly, you can learn a great deal vicariously from seeing how I respond to other students' work.

  For a Build Your Own Class - just email me any time!  Let me know what you are interested in....and I'll see what I can do.

Looking forward to hearing from you.
If you have been, thanks for reading!!   Elizabeth

NOTE: I've had several queries about more details for the Build Your Own class...
please go to the special blog    for more information!  Thank you.   Elizabeth

or write to me directly: elizabethmasterclass AT gmail    for details of my regular master class.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

What is Style?

I was just reading about the artist's style in International Artist, in which Paul Balmer describes that for the artist finding one's individual style as "probably the most difficult task"....and his discovery of the answer.

I must admit that discovering my own style or creating a style was something I never really thought about...I just made quilts the way I wanted to about what interested me at the time...but I did always work in a series.  and again that has always seemed to me to be the natural thing to do.

 You make something and really like you want to make another!!!  or something similar...and in  making that second one, you think of different ways you could have done then you make a third...and the third begats the 4th, the 4th begats the 5th and so on... and so on!!

So I was curious to see what this painter's great breakthrough discovery might be.     And it's very interesting and something that I have seen in some of our famous quilt artists.

He had tried several things, like all of us, gone on courses, had favorites artists that inspired him...but then he goes onto say that the real breakthrough came  when he disregarded convention and tried something completely new - a new technique.

 For him it was the application of power tools to the painting - drawing with a dremel and sanding layered painting to reveal layers beneath...neither of this would I think work well with a quilt!!! but nevertheless inspiring of cogitation!

The central truth is: disregard convention and think up with a new way of approaching the task.  As we saw Nancy Crow do back in the late '80s and early '90 when  she took the idea of cutting out her fabric shapes freehand from what she had seen of  the quilts made by Anna Williams, the Gees Bend quilters and the Oakland quilters.. all African Americans working in ways they (or their ancestors) had learned through a combination of hardship and traditional African banner making techniques. 

At that time leading quilters were Jinny Beyer and people like that who were all about precise and complicated geometrical piecing...perfect points, discreetly matched fabrics.

Jan Myers Newbury took the old traditional Japanese shibori techniques, gave them a modern loose and much more painterly approach and began her long series of beautiful quilts all based on arashi shibori. 

Linda Levin quit using dye and turned to paint...painting pieces of cloth that she then cut up and applied very roughly and to a base layer of batting  (usually flannel) and backing.  I remember her work being criticized early on by people who felt that all appliques should have neatly turned under edges, Linda didn't even pretend to cover the raw edges!!!

Paula Kovarik discovered that she loved machine quilting...literally drawing and writing with the machine needle to create complicated doodles or diaries......

Suzie "Lucky" Shie decided to write her diary and impressions of her world ..out large on fabric rather than in a small conventional diary notebook.  She used air powered pens and brushes...which hadn't been used on quilts before.

So all of these people made the leap into what became known as their particular style based on a technique, usually borrowed from outside the quilting world......

If you think about it, a lot of Painters did this too.  Jackson Pollock notieed paint drips  occurring on the floor as he painted...he liked the drips...they looked interesting, fresh and he took the canvas off the wall, put it on the floor and dripped on it!!!

 Helen Frankentaler decided to forgo the idea of pretreating her canvases with gesso, and instead worked on the floor staining them with thinned paint.

Emily Richardson thinned down acrylic painted and use it to paint  on recycled silks which she then hand sewed together.

So...if you want to develop your own style and feel that you have not yet found your way... consider  looking outside the quilt world - to other art media, to the real world.  And when you have found a technique that you'd like to try, stick with it...the first few pieces will probably be more experimental samples than anything else...but keeping on going as all the above folk did will lead you..if not to the Holy Grail(!) at least to a recognisable style.  so finding a technique that you could apply in a new and different unconventional way is the answer...or one of the answers!!

Another way to a style is to work from imagery that no one has used before...photographers are well known for this ...before Bernd and Hilla Becher  no one had shown interest in the Low Graphic  style they used or in the photographing of forgotten industrial buildings - factories, pit heads and the like.

 Well, if you have been...thanks for reading!! And do let me have your comments...your own particular path to style discovery.......


Sunday, October 29, 2017

THe Christmas Sales season - make me an offer!

 A friend and I have decided to sell our work at a Christmas  fair!! or rather a "Xmas fayre in a Xmas shoppe"!!!! Yes I know you're puking!!! but tis the season and all that!!! 

She suggested I  cut up some of my quilts to make them into "bite sized pieces" - which actually turned out to be quite fun!!!  It's amazing when you do that, how you can discover much better little compositions within the whole.....I didn't take any photos....she's backing them for me right now!

But I also thought I'd have a"make me an offer" section too....let's face it I have a room FULL of quilts...most of them really rather nice, they've been in  both quilt shows and  art shows ...I have no spare walls left in my not suggest that people simply make me an offer?  Pase comment if you object...and tell me why? I'd much rather I had pieces out there being enjoyed by people, than rolled up in a room facing a doubtful future!
Of course I can always say: "well er....I've got a nice little bite sized piece here might suit your budget better!!!"

THe quilt below is for those that think everything HAS to be red and green and Christmas!
Everything you can Imagine is Real 49 x 34

Waiting for the boat 29 x 19

 How about the one above for the boat owners or rather would be boat owners in your life?

Four Rooms with a View 33 x 22
Or the one on the right for the literary types?
The First Machine 33 x 20

Above for those who like to take things to bits!!! and Below for the oil men in your family!

All that glitters is not gold 40 x 18

Ambivalence 35 x 48
this would  be a good quilt for those who can't make up their minds....

Athens , summer light 39 x 26
A nice one for somebody who like to trim hedges and keep them all very neat......!!!

Black and White, No Grey 38 x 53
Two black and white ones for the elegant aunts...the one above for the Political Aunt, and the one below for the musical one.....
Overture 35 x 47
Don't forget the train spotter....or factory owner.....
What Pretty Smoke36 x 43
Of course I don't know just how many would be boat owners, oilmen, train spotters, pollution inspectors and the like will be at the "fayre" but I shall have a lot of fun imagining them!!!

All comments most graciously read and replied to!!  
If you have been, thanks for reading......Elizabeth


Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A beautiful fall day here in Georgia - finally!! A day of complements.

Highlands, FAll

Fall is such an inspiring season for so many of us, all those lovely warm colors mixed together....once again nature gets it right!

it's always good to have one dominant color in a piece, one color  that sets the mood for the whole piece.  It doesn't have to be the most saturated, the most intense fact it's probably better if it isn't - that would be too dominating....  but having one main color helps to pull the piece together as a creates a color structure for the piece.  

This is actually very easy to do, and is one of the basic technical "tricks" of artists.  Set the mood with color!  In the above piece I've split the usual red of autumn into orange and pink and scattered those shades, in various values, throughout the piece.  

I've added a little complementary color - green.  This is because having the complement of the color enables the eyes to refresh and so makes the first, the dominant color even richer.

Complements, of course, are simply opposites on the color wheel.
Adding a complement is another artist's tool!  if your colors are looking a bit flat, add a dash of complement!

So: a dominant color, a complement, a quick dash of something bold and intense - if needed - you might already have it...and a good helping of neutrals.....and you have a tasty color dish!

All comments and compliments! gratefully received, most desirable - I've been teaching a square dance class introducing the idea of desirable difficulties in learning!  so I'm well up on desirable!
especially when it comes to difficulties!

If you have been, thanks for reading.   Elizabeth

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Learning how...

When does the dawn light?

 As a teacher and a learner myself, I am very interested in just how people learn.  When does the light dawn on how to do something?  How can you get there from here?  How can I help myself and others to get there?  Just about anything you want to do that's a bit more involved than making a cup of tea (though alas many can't make a decent cup of tea!!)  requires some learning, some teaching..either of oneself or others.

 So I've been fascinated by the work of Robert Bjork (he has a LOT of you-tubes you can watch and listen to).  He started a learning and forgetting laboratory at UCLA to investigate learning.  It turns out that many of the ways we have been taught to learn in fact are not very effective!  What's even more surprising is that even if you give people a chance to learn something in an effective way versus an ineffective way, they will usually choose the latter.  Why?  Because the old ways are familiar, they are comfortable, they are easy to set up for both the teacher and the learner...and countless books and learning materials are based on them!  Oh here come the flat-earthers once again!! it's not only (whisper) the science about climate change that is being hotly denied, but the science about many more things...including learning.

A very common way of having somebody learn something is to require them to repeat it many times.
This is called blocking.  It's very evident in many skills including athletic ones (e.g. throwing skills) or learning strings of facts (people read the same chapters over and over again), or craft skills like calligraphy.   And of course it's used by manufacturers in areas like producing clothes:  one worker sews the first seam, another the next seam.  Nobody sews the whole garment.  Nobody could. The manufacturer has control of the learning.

But if you teach something in repetitive focussed blocked practice,  a few days later, if you test people on these skills, the ones who have learned by blocking do not do as well as those who have learned by interleaving (mixing up everything they have to learn) - and several weeks later the interleaving group's superiority will be even more marked.

Bjork has several other points to make:
 - that it's better to space out your learning, lots and lots of random attempts instead of a whole day spent on a specific task, that when it's more of a rote memory task
 - learning by testing yourself (e.g. with flash cards) is more effective than rereading the material - EVEN if you get the answers wrong!
- also that for skills like piano playing, it's better to learn on a variety of pianos, in a variety of settings and at different times of day. can we apply this to becoming more creative?  (and I don't think that Bjork or his associates have experimented with creative skills like designing art quilts!! or painting).
One thing that occurs to me is to not limit one's creativity to one place, one type of work, one setting - you might get less done initially...but in the long run you'll be overall a more creative person.
so for example in one of my design classes (like the abstract art for quiltmakers class just coming up at the academy of quilting), 
you would probably become more creative if you tried a lot of different exercises and created a lot of different designs using different drawing material, painting materials, collage materials.  Choosing different times of day, sitting in different place!  Like right now I am in our local library on the second floor which looks out over a school playground...lots of different things to see!! and not where I usually sit to write a blog.

Do read or listen to something of  Bjork says, and think about how you could apply it to your own learning journey - and write me a comment about it!!!  I'd love to find more ways to apply his discoveries to my own learning.
If you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

Monday, September 18, 2017

Two mediums, one imagination

Looking back over the last few years as to what was the greatest help to me in learning to create better compositions for my art quilts, one of the most important things was learning to paint.
 And, latterly, learning to play piano.  There are a number of factors that apply to all creative endeavours......  many goals and techniques that will transfer from one medium to the other.  

One of the things I've learned from piano lessons is the importance of contrast: loud vs soft, fast versus slow, staccato vs legato.....all of these things occur in the fiber arts too!  Without contrast, whether it's of value, or shape, or opacity, or quality of line, color, edge quality and so on, a piece rapidly becomes boring.  Imagine the one note Samba all at the exact same volume and aural quality - ugh!!! and how many quilts have I seen that looked just like that...b...o...r...i...n...g!

One of the attributes I love in watercolours is transparency and  the sense of mystery that this conveys.   Transparency is (relatively!) easily achieved in watercolour painting,

and I think it should be possible in quilting too.  I used a lot of transparent elements in Gathering Storm (below).  And in Electric Fields (detail below)




 I also used a lot of contrast...of value especially in Gathering storm.....whereas in the cooling towers the values are similar but I have contrasted soft edges within the markings on the towers with the hard edges that outline the towers

I do love dyeing and screen printing and have the stash to prove it!  I find screen printing especially magic, as you lift up the screen, you have really little idea (well, I have little idea!) as to what amazing image I will reveal!

I particularly like to overlay prints and also have developed some ways of printing with various cut out shapes sticking on the screen, then picking them off  full of dye, reversing them and printing with another colour.  All very messy and so much fun!!  The more imperfect the print, the happier I am!

This is a detail of the screen printed base layer of the piece I’m about to start work on;  I’m thinking of layering more with organza, and maybe some opaque elements too.  We’ll see where it goes!  I’ve got some good rich saturated colour for the focal area, and need to achieve a greater range of lights and darks..sticking with my urban theme.


One of the other things I just love in music are the was said of one pianist that while he missed many notes, his pauses were wonderful!  Well in watercolor the space is the white paper....  I’ve not often used white much in quilts – apart from the black and white series I did a couple of years ago (example on right).  Modern Quilts use a lot of white to great effect.

Negative space is very very powerful in a quilt... and I have always had a great awareness of the negative space and the quiet areas -  so important in a painting  - in music, in poetery, even in stand up comedy.   
And so…. What are you up to??  Is anyone else so foolish as to try to apply learning from one medium to another?    How well did it work?
And, if you have been, thanks for reading…………………Elizabeth

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Modern Quilts

Warm Light  (37" x 53")

This early quilt of mine is going to Quilt Con which is the Modern Quilt I'm not sure where or when!!  It's a display that SAQA organized.    But I'm very pleased to have a quilt being shown there because I'm very attracted to Modern quilts - well the best of them, that is!!  Like any other "style" of quilting, there's good , very good, okay, ho hum and downright poor!!!

I think the Modern Quilt movement is very encouraging...the work is often very refreshing and reminds me of the blankets, and similar strong fiber works, that we see from Peru..made hundreds of years ago.  There's an elegant simplicity to them, an economy of style that really celebrates fibre.    I am so glad that the movement was started!  Now my quilt actually predates that movement by some time....but it languished unshown for many years in my "library"....which is art books and quilts!  And it's a room with a view too!  Now what more could you want?

However, one thing is happening in the modern quilt world that isn't so good.   And that is that lots of "easy" "modern" quilt patterns are being published....the quilting companies are commercializing things yet again.....I remember one time I was teaching at a place where there were other teachers...and, at lunch, I asked a student in another class about her class: "how is it going?"...and she said fine, she liked the teacher...but she had had to buy a whole lot of extra equipment to make the particular patterns and it  was all getting a bit tedious and expensive.

That's sad!  I see all quilting, but especially a new young type of quilting, as a way to help people realise their own creativity...while it's often good to start with a simple pattern to get your feet wet... after that you really don't need to be printing out complex templates - or worse yet buying expensive ones - when you could be designing your own quilts and using your brains to work out how to put them together!

so....I thought...well I want to write a class that addresses that!
The class is aimed at anyone who is interesting in modern quilting...what is it? how is it defined?  how can I learn to make one?
AND, most importantly, how can I learn to design my own modern quilt? 

 Well... do check out my covers all those starts this Friday...but doesn't matter if you're a bit late starting....
it's at the Academy of Quilting - online of course...very convenient!   
It's called Mod Meets Improv....because not only does it cover modern quilting and its design, but also it introduces you to Improv methods - no templates!! Freedom!
Happy to answer any questions about it....(email link on side bar)....and would love to have your comments:  do you like Modern Quilts?  What do you think about the movement?
What d'you feel about commercial patterns being pushed so hard?

as ever, if you have been - thanks for reading!!!  Elizabeth



Thursday, August 24, 2017

How it came about...

Black and White, No Grey

 A few folk have asked me about the quilt above and how it came about.....
Well, it all began with the one below:

Edging Into Line

I always loved this little quilt and am glad it's gone  to a good home!
I took a photo of the building, somewhere in "Shakespeare" country in England some time ago..
Now the quilt isn't an exact copy of course...I never do that...I take what interests me, add more and rearrange, simplify, omit what is not of interest etc....but I had the sketch and the idea on the design wall for a long  time.

Then one day I was packing in a hurry to go off to teach a class at Arrowmont (super Arts and crafts school in TN, thoroughly recommend it)....and at the last minute I thought: oh I need to demo a quilt from the start for this particular class....what fabric shall I take?  didn't want to mess around for ages choosing out colors so thought - I'll just go with black and white.

So that limitation both made my fabric choice very easy...and I think made the quilt a lot stronger and more elegant...limitations are good!  Too much is always too much, I think!

 I put the little house together in the class and when I got home then had to figure out the background...  I wanted something to really set off that black and white but not detract from it at all.
This gorgeous blue I'd just double dyed with 3 different blues caught my eye and I loved the idea of  black and white taking center stage (for once) and color being the supporting cast!!  An edge of luscious color just really appealed to me.  When I get the colors right I can almost taste it!

So then, of course, I had to go on and make more black and white quilts with an edge of color:

The Strength of quiet Windows

I thought I'd like to be more abstract though and not tied to a particular photograph....the above quilt is a real beauty and will be shown in Decatur, Atlanta, Ga in September at Different Trains Gallery

along with about 8 others (not all black and white though!).
On Strength of Quiet Windows I got REALLY carried away with all that hand stitching you can see in some of the "windows"...hand stitching is so beautiful, so evocative....

Having done that one, it was time to make something for Quilt National and I got really carried away and pieced a huge wide quilt - it was practically the whole wall in the studio... about 10 feet!

Remembered Lines

This time I focussed on getting a lot more push pull with the black/white lines....don't know if any half-timbered building ever had such crazy stuff going on..but isn't it wild?  Love it!
Well, it was way too huge to I thought  hmm I'll just take a bit off on the right, and a bit on the left....and put those pieces  together, add in what's needed....and get a bit more of a wiggle on the top....and ...voila!....
the quilt at the top of this post!
Remembered Lines was accepted by QN and sold to a collector right out of the show which was great! I needed that design wall space for something else....

So now you know!  I love to hear the stories behind the comment and tell me yours!

And if you're looking for a class with lots of personal help with me...I may have the class just for you!   There's a link on the side bar....

If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth