Monday, December 3, 2018

Af Klint, the FIRST abstract painter, at the Guggenheim

Sorry for the long gap in posts!
I went on a marvelous trip to Maine and New York City, and on returning home got bogged down in art fairs and recitals and whatnot!  Especially whatnot!

When in New York, I saw the Hilma af Klint show at the Guggenheim.
it is a MUST see!

Here is an introduction to af Klimt I wrote about 3 years ago:

Hilma Af Klint

While a number of male artists, for example Kandinsky, Braque and others, are generally regarded as the pioneers of abstract art, it is more likely that it was a woman who was the first abstract artist.
Kandinsky felt that he had painted his first abstract picture in 1911; he wrote about one of his paintings that it was “Indeed the world’s first ever abstract picture, no other painter was painting in an abstract style"..
Look at this detail with the effect of stitching!!  Love it....
Various artists vied with each other as to who was the first: as well as Kandinksy, František Kupka, Robert Delaunay, Piet Mondrian and Kazimir Malevich were amongst the earliest abstract artists.

What Kandinsky and the others did not know is that a Swedish painter by the name of Hilma af Klint (1862-1944) had created her first abstract painting in her Stockholm studio in 1906, five years before his first abstract painting. Hilma af Kllnt was lucky enough to be born in Sweden, a country that allowed women to study art long before other European countries. She enrolled in the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm in 1882 for a five year course of study, after which she rented a studio in the artist’s quarter of Stockholm and developed a reputation as an excellent landscape and portrait painter.
In the 19th century, few believed that women could be inspired by spiritual or philosophical matters but a Russian, Helena Blavatsky, was an occultist who co-founded a “religious” she called the Theosophical Society.

What is interesting is that unlike other such organizations, in the Theosophical Society women were allowed to hold senior positions and were considered equal to men – this idea, of course, was way ahead of its time. af Klint had joined this group even before she went to art school and attended her first spiritualist séance at age 17.
So Klint was in a place and time and with people who did not discriminate against women or limit them in any way. During the séances, she made drawings (automatic drawings) which were said to have been made unconsciously and in 1906 she began to paint a series of abstracts, small canvases called Primordial Chaos. Some look like seascapes with mysterious lights, others use geometric shapes like spirals, letters, and other symbols.
During a séance, Af Klint was told by a spirit guide that she had been ‘commissioned’ to make paintings “on the astral plane”. She said: ‘The pictures were painted directly through me, without any preliminary drawings and with great force. I had no idea what the paintings were supposed to depict”.

She worked in watercolor and gouache on large (3m) pieces of paper which she laid on the floor creating enormous, dazzlingly beautiful paintings. ‘The Ten Largest’ is a visual study of the four ages of man from a spiritual perspective.
Alas, none of her work was ever shown during her life and even today, few museums accept her as a great artist.
Thank goodness!! This is no longer true....
What led Klint to abstraction? People at that time had a great interest in invisible forces; there were many new scientific discoveries such as infrared light, X-rays and electromagnetic fields. These discoveries led artists to wonder if one could paint these phenomena. Could one paint abstract things like music?
There are groups of smaller paintings too in the Guggenheim show:

The show is a marvelous step forward in the recognition of women artists, but it is also a great inspiration for all of us, no matter what medium we work in.
Go and see it!!!  It's up into the Spring.....
If you have been, thanks for reading!
PS love comments!! So have at it folks!!!
Also write me:  elizabethmasterclass   AT gmail   if you are interested in a master class next year - you can join for 3,6 or 12 months..specific assignments or independent study.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

6 hour Quilt Class.....and painting!!

Well, I've been a bit remiss with the blogs lately...I got a sudden burst of energy having been unwell for many months and am rushing around doing all the things you can't do when you have no energy!!

I started a new series of's a result of walking at dawn every day in the summer - which is the BEST time of day to be outside for SURE!!  At least in the south east of the US.

I took a lot of photos, and am trying to figure out how to create the effect of light on the trees....
I was very much taken with a poem called The Waking by Theodore Roethke and all the images it conveys.    It seemed like it brought together some of my thoughts on the dawn walks and my delight at my renewed energy ...and I wanted to make art about it!

Not sure how to do that with fiber, so figured I'd start with watercolor.
I've uploaded quite a few images to my watercolor page.    Scroll down to see them all....this is my morning walk!

The Six Hour Quilt Class

I'm starting my six hour quilt class again this Friday with Academy of quilting   run by a lady who is now a good friend even though we've never met!!!  Plus it's good to have a boss at the opposite end of the earth!!
The Six Hour quilt class is a very fast paced class (though obviously you can take it at any speed you like) with one hour for each of the six crucial steps in quilt making.  It does assume that you can run a sewing machine  and know the basics of sewing two small pieces of cloth together but you don't need to know much more than that.  You design your quilt, choose your fabric (all from your current stash! - no extras needed), cut it up, sew it back together, quilt it and finish it....every step is clearly outlined and illustrated with short video clips from an actual class I ran in my studio last summer...nobody in the class had ever made a quilt before!  
it's a good class if you don't have much time, but want to try your hand at an art quilt, or if you want to try quilting for the first time but don't want to be bothered with rules and minutiae!!  Or if you'd like to see how to teach a one day class for your guild!   Happy to answer any questions....

Happy looking! Happy sewing!!!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!!   Elizabeth

Monday, August 27, 2018

An abstract moment!

No! your five year old could not have painted that abstract picture!!!
 Abstract painting  is actually quite sophisticated even when apparently simple...

In a way all painting is abstraction - if you think about it.....


Even a fairly literal painting like the one above has many abstract qualities...I've abstracted the colors of the new spring leaves...and then massed the shapes into large soft areas...I've played with the push pull of the dark versus the light..I've created a basic vertical structure but added dynamism with the diagonal lines...some going upwards, others grounding.... and the diagonals balance out so we don't have a sense of falling...

I find I get SO many quilt ideas from looking at abstract paintings.  From some you can "steal" the structure, from others, the color palette, from others a detail will suggest a motif.

It's so much fun!!! If you're interested in learning more....then I'm starting an Abstract Art for Quiltmakers class this Friday with

I often begin my abstract work by looking at art...then I'll play piano a bit, or go swimming and see what aspect of the art stayed in my mind.....and then do some sketches, or value see how things will work out.

Life is good, right??? when the creative juices are flowing.......
if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

Monday, August 6, 2018

Hanging a show...let your artwork breathe!

St Ives, Pond in Winter, Rainy Rainy Night

I've been lucky enough to have quite a few shows, solo or two people ...but never before have I actually hung the show myself....and that's what I did this morning with the help of two lovely guys.
(Forgive the quality of the photos, by the way...quilts look better in fairly low light I think.)
It was so much fun and we laughed the whole time...and the crazy thing was I had been dreading it.   But in the  right place, with the right kind of help, everything went so smoothly and happily.
And it was so much better being able to choose for myself just which way the quilts and paintings (watercolors) would interact instead of having a curator (who hadn't sweated over the work) do it.

Emerald City  and 3 small watercolors

One thing we noticed was just how much better the quilts look spaced out beautifully on a gallery wall, than they do draped on a bed in a spare room (which is probably where many of us keep our quilts).  This show is going to be up for a year, I doubt there's much possibility of sales...but the quilts are breathing, and being seen and giving life to this gallery space.   When we create art we want it to be enjoyed, not rolled up in a closet!

Another artist (not fiber, a sculptor) turned down the chance of showing his work with me for he felt the gallery was not prestigious enough!!  But surely with our art we want to reach the people?  We want to convey our vision of the world?  They can agree or disagree but it will (hopefully!) open their eyes to all the beauty that is around us,  even in these very challenging times.

Heavy Metal, Swimmer, The Last Glow

So ...let your art work hang out in all possible places....and it's so much fun arranging and rearranging the pieces so they work together just right....when I was a teenager I was always rearranging my bedroom furniture - all 3 pieces of it!!  This morning I had the fun of doing just that with 30 pieces and, moreover,  without the heavy duty hammer, drill and ladder work!!! (Thank you so much to J and L for helping.)

For those in NE Georgia...this show is at Athens Academy, in the Harrison Art Center, (3rd entrance off Spartan Lane)  and will be up throughout the school year.  Opening reception Nov 4th...sometime in the afternoon - I think!!

If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Mod meets Improv! a class.....

D'you like Modern quilts?  The best are very attractive.
And of course, like any other "style" of quilting, there's good , very good, okay, ho hum and downright poor!!!

However, 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.   

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? 

Furthermore, how can I use improv techniques to make this quilt?

 Well... do check out my covers all those topics. and more!! 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

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Abstraction: the continual fascination

Say what you like about abstract art it continues to fascinate, tantalize - yes sometimes frustrate and annoy (!) people...
As quilt makers, I think abstract art is a lot more inspiring than more realistic art.  And of course abstraction spans a very wide field - from the throw and see what happens of abstraction expressionism - though some were a lot better at throwing or dripping or pouring than others! - through to the precise geometry of people like comma Abts.  From the Impressionists' abstraction of light...through to those who focus on a detail, or an unusual angle....already I can feel my mouth watering at the design possibilities!!

I was lucky enough to stumble across a very fine review of abstraction at the Met (NYC) this last spring as well as a wonderful example of paper/fabric collages by Miriam Schapiro at the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD).  

Look at some of these great mind boggling inspiring images!!

here's Jennifer Bartlett, a long time favorite of mine...notice how she organizes the three elements of fish, lily pads and a grid (she loves grids!!) - into a balanced design.  She's not interested in realism or perspective but rather in the contrasts of shape and movement...and the grid helps to pull everything together as well as provide interest in the negative areas...We can learn so much from analyzing how the abstract painters just do it!!

Below is Anselm Kiefer and the Met's notes - always interesting....from this we can take the idea of flattening out the shapes created by plants and weeds, the drama of the black and white...we don't have to include bloated corpses of course!!! The way the plants are arranged into a  coherent jumble is inspiration enough!!

and below a little Mondrian I hadn't seen before....I love the way he balance and contains that huge red square - see how some shapes are bounded on all four side, some three, some two and so on...not chance..this all carefully worked out...also the balance of the two very heavy black rectangles with the red....and the line across the top of the red....

Here's the whole painting...and a detail of this Joseph Stella painting...doesn't it look so quilterly???
He's divided the images he was inspired by into that's something we could do!!  There's a Welsh fiber artist whose name I'm blocking on right now!!! Edwina or Edith....Hughes or hews...or something similar....she worked in this way too....

And of course one of my other favorites, Kandinsky...before he got too spiritual!!!  this series of paintings around the time of the magazine he started, Blaue Reiter, always seem to tell a story....and yet they are beautifully composed and designed even if the story is totally mysterious......and we can see how he pulls all these disparate ideas together and organizes them.....

And now the two Schapiro pieces....a lot of cloth, in some there was a little paper too....I'll make the images as large as I can.  These were big full "quilt" in size...the lower one is very formally organized like a traditional quilt pattern but a great deal of variety and fun going on.
The upper one I just love with all its wonderful energy and yet it is all of a piece...and you can see just exactly how she has done that.

I do hope I've intrigued you  into thinking more about abstract art as a great way to inspire your own quilt designs....I do just happen to have a couple of classes with
that focus on many different ways of coming up with designing inspired by abstraction!!!  One starts this Friday - July 6th - the other will be later this year...I just found so much inspiration there was too much for one class!!

So, if you have been, thanks for reading...AND think ABSTRACTLY!!!!  so much more fun!!

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

It's been a while...

It's been a while since I posted....mainly due to a killer headache that had me in its thrall for several really get to enjoy even little things like just thinking!!! when you get better from such an event.  All's well now (cause almost certainly a medication reaction) and I'm ready to start a new online class with

Last summer I had a lot of fun helping three friends learn how to make quilts for the first time.....they brought various images they liked and I showed then how to derive simple design ideas from their pictures... - well two went for simple, one overdid herself with complex!  There's always one......
then we talked about how to pick a good color scheme...using just the stash at hand...

I'm a great believer in simplicity, and in using ordinary every day tools and equipment or fabric at hand etc rather than being tempted to buy loads of new gadgets and fabrics and wot not.
Let's face it, we are a wasteful society....I'm always appalled to read just how much food gets wasted every day in the USA (40%)....not only could that food have helped those in need, but also think of the resources of water and electricity and land etc that were used to produce it....only to be wasted!
However, you didn't come here to be lectured at!!!!  But in my classes I always like to come up with ideas that can get you into creating right away without having to go out and buy or order a whole lot of new stuff!!

So I let the three friends loose on my stash, having first organized it for them...and given them a short talk about choosing colors....I set up a couple of machines, one lady had never even used a machine before!  we didn't need templates or anything hand cutting works just fine!  So you can see how I demonstrated that to them.  Sewing things together quickly with a minimum of pins, marking and fuss also helps keep things moving.

Once they got their tops together, I showed them easy ways to layer and plan quilting patterns......

And in the last lesson we covered how to face the quilt, in a really easy way, and finish everything off very nicely.

I think you might enjoy watching them go through this process...and it would be really fun to get together a group yourselves...either literally or virtually!   and try my easy easy fun way to make a very nice little art quilt.    I say "little" but you can make any size you want....bigger is always better I think!  but you don't need to do any more complicated piecing...just use bigger pieces of fabric!!

The class is divided up into 6 hours.
 Designing. Color choices. Cutting out.  Assembly. Quilting. Finishing.

Each lesson is a mix of text, still images and short it's not polished photography!!!  I don't think I'd win any prizes for Director or anything...however it's a very realistic and valid portrayal of what happens in a quilting class...especially with three highly verbal ladies!!

You can see that 1/3 of the class is spent on planning.....
It has been said that in art 80% of the work is done if you plan well...That's something I've found to be really true.  Even though, like everyone...I balk against planning at time...I just want to launch myself into all that delicious fabric or paint or whatever medium I'm working in....but then there's the horrible drag of taking out, of realizing that you cut up a bit of fabric, or worse several bits! , that don't go with the quilt, and the time and the effort of going back and forth to the design wall...what if? no.....or, maybe? nah......and so on.

Throughout the process, I''m there online to help, advise, support, critique...whatever you wish!!
so if all this sounds check out The Six Hour Quilt class at!!

And I'm happy to answer any questions about this or any other of my classes...also I'm willing to come up with tailor made classes for you or your groups...just let me know!  I don't travel so much as I used to, but I'm here at the computer everyday.... looking out of the 'net of art quilters around the world!!  When I'm not designing, or sewing, or painting, or playing piano, or dancing, or swimming or doing aikido that is!!!!

So, if you have been, thanks so much for reading................Elizabeth

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Spot the art quilter!

Eight Art Quilters sitting in a row at the Cloisters, NYC last week.   A gorgeous day.....and a wonderful place.  We were in New York to see the somewhat controversial Metropolitan costume show called Heavenly Bodies - garments created by high fashion designers based on ecclesiastical garments.  The garments based on the monks' outfits in flowing simple elegant lines.... black velvet or fine wool rather than coarse sackcloth.... were the most striking...I wonder if next year's fashion will be nuns' habits for all!!!

All of the above people have been in Quilt National and Visions and many other shows...see how many you can identify!!!

Anybody feeling short of inspiration should visit their local museum or art gallery - I came away with so many ideas from the Met 20th century paintings galleries.  Many of the works actually would be stronger if realized in fabric!

  There's also a Miriam Schapiro retrospective at MAD (Museum of Art and Design)....lots of fused and glued and  glazed with acrylic...and they looked very fine!!!  Onward!!

I look forward to seeing how many you can identify!!!   And, if you have been, thanks for reading....

Friday, May 4, 2018

The Daily Doodle!

Consider taking a class in a medium other than that in which you usually work...
I think you can learn a lot about composition through taking a good painting class - one that emphasizes planning and structure, and consideration of values. Furthermore, you can quickly try out a few ideas without having to cut into expensive fabric!!

You can learn from others' mistakes, sharpen you critiquing skills, enhance your knowledge of basic design, and pick up ideas to spark creativity.

It's very helpful to see other students in the class make basic design errors that you just know you have seen in many quilts!!  Assessing other people's work is a great way to build your own sense of what will work and what problems need to be solved.

I recently attended a 5 day painting workshop - now too much of it was spent on demo - this is something that happens with painters, I find, and (thankfully!)  it's something you rarely see in a quilting class - how many quilters would spend 5 hours just watching someone else make a quilt??? you're itching to get into the fabric yourself!!!

Criticisms aside, I found several things about the class  to be very helpful.

The teacher began with a review of the basic elements...but stressed particularly shape.  When working from a photograph, isolate the large shapes and from them derive the basic structure of the piece:  horizontal, vertical, diagonal, radial, pyramidal etc.  He emphasized that an art work  (like an opera) should be about one main  subject  with supporting characters.  And, it works best if there is one main type of shape but with lots of variety.

For abstract designs, one way to begin is with a  doodle - doodle daily!!  Make a lot of them!  And then when ready to make a quilt, find the most interesting ones...the ones that are both pleasing to the eye...and have a sense of mystery or tension that forces you to want to look further.

 The great thing is that everyone loves to doodle, it doesn't feel like work...and it can be done anywhere, at any time...but you are exercising your creativity every time.   Don't just do the same obsessive doodle each time!!!! I know there's a temptation to do that...I like to make little  chrysanthemums that grow and grow with each circuit of the flower....

Sometimes beginning the doodle with your eyes shut, or with your non-dominant hand will jump start you into something different.  Just relax and take your pen for a little walk.....don't critique yourself as you go along.  Do keep all the little doodles though and pin them up round the edges of your design wall...if one looks boring after a week or two, take it down....keep the interesting ones.  The key to good design is to make it interesting, something that you want to keep looking at.  But make a lot! the first few are not likely to be very good....your old doodle habits may want to control things!

Another way to start is by looking at something around you - could be a table leg, or a bush or a distant landscape...keep working with a continuous line.   Look more at the object than the drawing itself.

As always I'd love to get comments from you - have you found doodling to be helpful? Or taking classes in another medium?  What would you recommend?

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!!

Monday, April 16, 2018

Square or rectangle???

I posted this some years ago...but recently in some of my classes it's evident that designing begins with the first four lines - i.e. the edges of the piece...and  those should be considered as carefully as all the rest.......

I've often wondered how important the so called golden ratio really is in art.
It's one of those things that "experts" love  to talk about ...but anyone who labels anything in art as a "rule" has me thinking "why?"....actually I must admit I wonder why? about a lot of rules...BUT that is another issue!
As art quilt makers it's important that we know which guidelines are really useful in designing...and which are more the result of one person repeating what another said, and another repeating  that.  Like the old story of the famous grandmother's recipe for roast turkey which involved cutting a 2" slice off each end of the beast.  The family swore for years this was the secret to her perfect roasts, finally somebody asked the old lady the reason for this rule..."oh", she said, "it was to fit in the oven, I only had a small oven!".   And cooking isn't the only place where strange superstitions and practices have built up over the years...maybe we're all turning round and round before we peck at the feeder like Skinner's chickens!!!  And I want to know "why?"

But first....what is this Ratio anyway?

Well, here's the standard definition:
The Golden Ratio the result of dividing a line into two parts  (part a and part b) in such a way that:
the longer part (a) divided by the smaller part (b)    is also equal to
the whole length divided by the longer part (b)

There's only one number ratio that will do that and it's approximately 1.618033989...
It is exactly equal to (1+√5)/2 - if you're the mathematical kind...which I'm not...alas!

but mathematicians really love these special numbers!!!  And in mathematics the 1.618 number turns up everywhere e.g. in a pentagon - hence the "magic" of the five pointed star...but I digress.

There are many books and articles written about the importance of  this ratio in art, in architecture, in painting, in photography (photographers cling onto their Rule of Thirds almost as tightly as to their cameras), in poetry, in music and in nature.  The Greeks revered it.  Kepler said that in geometry there are 2 treasures: pythagorus and the Golden Ratio.

So last week I went to a couple of lectures by the Famous Calculus Professor (FCP), now retired and keeping his mind active by examining any claims as to the magic of numbers!!

He showed us 9 different rectangles:  which one was the most pleasing?
They were all different ratios:  1:0.75, 1:1, 1:1.25, 1:1.5, 1:1.6, 1:1.75, 1:2 etc

Take a look and see which one you think is the most attractive:

Opinion was somewhat divided but people did tend to prefer certain ones.  Scroll down to the very end to see which one is the so called "golden" one.....

So is there something to this?  Have artists, architects, musicians etc across the ages used these particular proportions to increase the beauty of their art form???  

When the the GR experts show a picture of the Parthenon with the GR lines drawn around it.  You can see, if you look carefully, that the position of those lines is largely arbitrary - done simply to create that ratio – do you include the steps or not??!!!  It’s very random.

There is some evidence that Le Corbusier actually did use the number. But images of Mona Lisa with lines drawn on it are quite arbitrary too – often they don’t include the whole face!  You could actually take any portrait and just randomly draw lines on it and sooner or later you'll come up with the right ratio.

People have spent a lifetime analyzing the number of words in verses e.e.g Virgil’s Aeniad….showing  that they agree to the GR.  But you can count up the words or  the syllables in so many ways you can create something that approximates the GR if you pick your object carefully.

They thought people like Mozart used the GR and counted up the notes, or the phrases etc etc…but a careful analysis shows the same problems with music as with poetry. Imagine counting all those notes?  and what about chords? d'you count them as 2, or 3  or 4??

Despite numerous claims that artists, writers etc did use this particular ratio, (one prestigious Latin professor even built his whole amazing career on revealing this in various writings) - despite analyses of the art of Da Vinci and Micheangelo and Virgil and Dante and Mozart etc   most of them DID NOT use this ratio.  They simply used whatever felt right for their particular art form.

So is the whole thing about the Golden ratio a load of old cobblers then?  well....having thoroughly debunked its use in art, the FCP  turned to nature and the Fibonacci series.

Now you all know the Fibonacci number sequence...a lot of quilt makers have used it in designing their quilts.  This is the sequence where you simply add the two previous numbers in the row to create a third number:  0, 1, (then 0 +1 = 1) so 1 is the next number, but then 1+1 = 2, so the next number is two, and 1+2 = 3....

0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34 and on and on and on upto at least 17 thousand digits (somebody had a big computer and a lot of time on their hands!!)....

Now,  consecutive Fibonacci numbers have a particular ratio to each other....and guess what?  yes!  it's 1.618...very approximate in the smaller number but by the  time you get upto 233/144 it's spot on.

Then we looked at flower petals, and the spiral lattice you see on the bottom of pine cones and pineapples.  Counting them up we realized that there were 13 clockwise spirals and 8 anti clockwise spirals.  13/8 = 1.625  - pretty close to THE ratio!!   
But why? why does nature "choose" to use the Golden Ratio, the magic number beloved of mathematicians where artists (of whatever medium) actually haven't?  The answer is efficiency.  The best way to get the MOST little seeds into a sunflower head, or pine cone, is to create the lattice effect of two sets of spirals that are related in that particular ratio.   And if you're going to survive, you want as many of your little babies out there as possible.

So...the ratio is Golden for survival, but...really not at all crucial for art!  So don't worry if your ratios are a little off, your thirds not quite corresponding to the norm, Da Vinci didn't, the architects of the Parthenon didn't, Mozart didn't....just smile gently at the critic or the teacher who insists  on concrete, permanent, eternal rules without question!!!

However......also remember that one of those ratios in the image above was considered "more pleasing" than others.....and having a more pleasing outline would give your art work a head start....

....and now for a nice cup of tea after all that hefty cogitation....if you have been, thanks for reading!

and the answer is:  number three.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Getting looser as you get older!

One of the things that is very apparent when we first begin making art - in any medium - is just how very tightly we work.  I think we're trying so hard to get it "right" it becomes a bit rigid....I remember cityscapes where every window is carefully delineated, every roof has a chimney with ALL the details and so on....but as time goes by - with experience and with age we begin to work out just what is really essential and what not.

I'm reading a fascinating book called A History of Pictures  by David Hockney and Martin Gayford.  It's basically a conversation between a very knowledgeable and gifted painter - probably the UK's most popular living painter and an extremely erudite art historian/critic.   In their discussion about the development of picture making over the centuries, they allude to many works I've never seen... and most helpfully nearly all the work they describe is included in the book so we can see just what they're talking about.  (don't you just hate those art reviews where they critique something at length and never show you a picture of it!).

Now  their conversation covers a lot of ground - Hockney being Hockney (!) there is a definite emphasis on the use of the camera obscure - a sort of  pre-electronic overhead projector - and I know a number of quilt makers who have used overhead projectors to create their designs.  They discuss how this came about and whether the art thus created is legitimate - it is!!    but what's really interesting is that then Hockney points out that all the great painters - Rembrandty, Titian, Picasso - got looser as they got older.   They began to emphasise that 5th principle of design that I know I have mentioned repeatedly in class (often to blank faces alas!!  but one or two knowing nods!) - i.e. the principle of economy.
(the first principles being: unity, variety, rhythm and balance).

These old guys...and I think many more - Georgia O'Keefe definitely comes to mind, and Arthur Dove, and Milton Avery and John Marin... showed in their late work how an economy of means and the ability to make fresh creative marks were the most important things.  I think we see that in a number of our most revered quilt makers - I'd be fascinated to hear from you as to whom you think would fit this description!  I love a very spare elegant look myself, that's why I'm quite enamored of the best of the modern quilts - many are just wishy washy versions of same/old...but there are a few really excellent ones.  At her best I think Nancy Crow has shown us the importance of economy and the strong line....Jan Myers-Newbury - economy and texture,  and many of the Australians...perhaps reflecting the spare interior of that great continent.

I think this is why details are often so much stronger than an image of the whole quilt.  Use your crop tools!!! Cut it down...focus focus.....

Hockney says: "In old age [the great} artists... don't repeat themselves.  The late work is the best.  There's something else there, something new."
So...let's do it! something to strive for...let's get out of the easy groove, the "recognizable trademark"...and get loose!

Rembrandt is reported to have said: "If I want to relieve my spirit, then I should seek not honor but freedom" .   So please, less worry about challenges, guilds, shows, prizes - and yes, even sales, let's make our late work our BEST work!  Freedom......

Comments?? please!!!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading....  Elizabeth

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

A formula for success?

I do like these three small pieces I recently reconfigured from an existing idea that wasn't working so well. I don't know if they could be considered "a formula for success" - but they look more successful to me than they did!!! I'm thinking of them as "canyons" because they remind me of a long ago trip to Brice and Zion in the SW...amazing country!  some landscapes just attach themselves to the brain don't they?

A friend passed onto me recently a very interesting article about a formula for's based on an interview with a ceramicist Curtis Benzle of Huntsville, Alabama.  He's a retired art professor.

He considers making a living as an artist to be the iconic 3-legged stool and is continually surprised that students aren't taught this.  To be frank I think this approach should be considered for many majors - all the arts certainly , but music too.
The three legs are:
1. making excellent new experimental art
2. making products to sell
3. teaching in a community setting

He feels that is is possible to make a reasonable living (probably in the south rather than on the coasts or in the North East!) if each leg is solid.

He had observed when he was a prof at Columbus Art college (Ohio) that the program really seemed to be focussed on the top few students - the one percent who were obviously extremely creative, talented and clearly very self motivated.  They were actually going to be successful artists with or without help from their college profs!!  Despite that fact that was where the focus was and not towards the other 99%.  The 99% were good but not exceptional, success was not going to be falling into their fine artists only.

He realized that the students needed to know about how to make a living, not just how to make art.
One of the keys was to help the main body of students develop their spatial intelligence to produce marketable skills. He instructed them in product development.  He gave the example of a sculptor who was unable to get any commissions for his big outdoor 5 figure sculptures who had the idea of making large metal flowers...very attractive and very affordable.  Another student was able to develop wedding bouquets made from origami flowers...not only very pretty...but totally sustainable!!

At first the art school itself set up a booth to sell the products, but as word of mouth got around and networking ensued, sales took off.  Meanwhile the students could work on their Major Pieces too...but they were having fun with the products.

They then got instruction in how to teach at a nearby art center, and other community related teaching places....this was actually hard for them, but again it paid off.

One very good point he made was that in both developing small affordable products and in teaching you are also developing a market for your larger more important work...and, as a result, everything grows and avenues open up.

I wonder how much of this is applicable to our art form?  Quilts take such a long time to make when made traditionally, but do the public respond to quick little fabric collages - which would probably be the nearest thing to the large metal flowers and the origami bouquets?.....well - while I don't particularly like them personally and would never dream of buying one.. I have seen art work particularly from Northern Europe that is fun, cheerful, colorful and eye catching and people do seem to lap it up.

So I think the debate is that unless you know that you are in that top 1% destined to be a fine artist come what may, are you willing to develop all three areas:  fine art - probably in our cases destined for the major shows, products to sell (and what might they be??? any ideas?) and teaching.

 I actually began teaching little kids in a summer camp!! that was pretty wild!  then adults in a night class and so on up the ladder....and I have really enjoyed that aspect of the 3 prongs.  I never thought much about the middle "products to sell" prong...maybe I should!!

So what are your thoughts?  Are we all trying to convince ourselves we're in the top 1% destined to be discovered as major concert artists very soon??? or are we part of the 99% trying to make an all round honest living from our art.  

If you have been, thanks for reading.     Elizabeth