|Looking west over the Hudson River|
Many people are flummoxed when it comes to thinking about being creative ….
Numerous times I’ve been told at shows and workshops – oh you’re so lucky you have a talent!
Well…it aint luck! I am lucky in that I’m tall…I didn’t have much to do with that! And unlucky in that I have asthma…didn’t have much to do with that either!
But…in being creative? It’s a combination of awareness and persistence…with the help of some exercises as starting points. Time plus good teachers.
Exercises? I hear you say! I hate exercising…well …I spent much of my life saying that exercise was bad for you…until I tried it…and then made myself aware of how I felt afterwards.
Yes it can certainly be tedious swimming up and down up and down looking at the concrete bottom of the pool with an occasional patch of algae – if I’m lucky! – for variation! But oh oh oh how you feel afterwards is great. And the same is true with art exercises. You do have to slog through quite a few, preferably without thinking too much, just going forward. Then when you have a number of examples…at least a dozen. Then you get to stand up, stretch, pin them up on the wall, make a cuppa of tea, and come back and look. And you might be amazed! And you WILL feel good!
So – when you look at the sketches on the wall, just what are you looking for? Well actually that part is easy…have you ever been to a quilt show? Or an art show? You know how some pieces just speak to you, just attract your eye with a combination of interest…intrigue and beauty? Well that’s what you’re looking for…only in a germinal version – in your preliminary sketches.
What creates Interest and intrigue? Something a little bit different, we are pretty much hard wired to spot things that are “different”…out of the ordinary, unexpected, dynamic, a sense of movement and energy.
Next time you go to a show – and I’m not talking about a museum show because by and large if the curators are any good and not just wowed by the Big Names’ leavings – which unfortunately you can sometimes come across…if they’re any good then everything is interesting and fresh and unique! But in a regular quilt show, or an “amateur” art show, you can see a mix of work. Much of it quite predictable. And then a few stand out….so you walk around and come back to those pieces…and sometimes they remain with you…and sometimes they’re quite boring the second time around. And I'm sure you have done that....so know that you can assess what will interest, intrigue, fascinate and satisfy.
What is beauty? Generally accepted it’s something that’s harmonious. We love harmony…yes with just a little bit of edge so it’s not “flat”! but balanced, everything fitting together. Harmony with nature is where we fit in with nature, harmony with others is where we get along with them well…harmony in music is not aberrant notes or faulty rhythms.....and so on.
In many of my online classes there are lots of exercises, that’s the main way I devise a class…though once in a while I’ll write one that is more technique oriented.
But let me mention a few new ones that I’m just now trying out for myself and thinking about.
If I find them useful, I’ll put them together into a new online class. So let me know what YOU think!!
Working from natural or accidental lines
Have you ever been intrigued by a pattern of cracks in the surface of a road? Or the striations in a tree trunk., or the angles created in a pile of rocks…or even an arrangement of pillows on a coach…there are numerous accidental “compositions” like this to be found.
Da Vinci like to look at rocks and clouds…and use the main lines they created as a starting point for a composition. A landscape…or a group of people.
I myself like to watch the clouds and imagine that I’m up there…usually on beautiful empty golden beaches!!!
Another Italian painter di Cosimo…sketched the stains on the tavern walls and made those a starting point, the 11thcentury Chinese painter Sung Ti saw patterns in the damp stains on bamboo walls…Klee took ideas from the markings and veinings on the marble tables.
Exercise with improv lines
You could start with clouds or rocks or a pattern of leaves against the sky…but you can also close your eyes and make random short marks on a piece of paper. Not too many, and not too close together…and use your non dominant hand…maybe a dozen or so. Then make several copies (preferably larger if you can) of your “seeds” and begin to fill in …think about the marks as the contours of hills or mountains..or the outline of people or objects…alternate between abstract and realistic compositions. Make a lot!
I'm not going to show any examples because I don't want you to limit yourself to how I would do it....but next time you sit down to watch telly, or are in a waiting room...take a little notebook and a pencil and just jot down random short lines...or even one long connected line (the latter better done not looking!!)... and begin to develop a little stash of these "beginnings". They're a bit like the first sentence of a novel: remember: "It was a dark and stormy night on the west coast of Scotland..." ???
Another way to do it would be to take some of the selvedges that you’ve ripped off your fabric, cut them into different lengths and drop them one by one from a height onto a piece of paper…take a photo of that…then print out several…and use those as a starting point.
Each piece of paper can be viewed in four different orientations…so keep turning your starting point around…don’t just stick with one way round.
The random lines are just the starting point...then later come back and see what you can create from them - is this a landscape? or an abstract pattern? What happens when I extend these lines to the outside edges of the paper? What does it look like if I double them? or join them together? ...and also have an eraser handy...would it be better to omit this line...and so on. Play with them for they are the building blocks of your final composition.
After you’ve got at least a dozen sketches based on the "beginning lines" pin them up on the wall spaced apart, don’t really look at them!
Then walk away…get that cuppa tea!...take your time before you come back…then evaluate for unity/harmony….and for freshness/tension/energy.
Which ones just stand out? Like those special quilts or paintings at the show.
Keep them..discard the others.....or take your crop tools and look for "interesting details"...you never know there might just be a gem lurking within a larger piece!
So, if you have been, thanks for reading...and yes please do comment!!! I promise I'll reply - after a nice cuppa tea of course!! Elizabeth
I'll comment after I do what you so clearly challenged me to do!
This is an excellent post, Elizabeth! Thank you. It reminds me of an exercise I learned earlier this year where the artist in question uses cracks in the sidewalk as a starting point for fanciful animal drawings. It never dawned on me to use those same cracks as a beginning for a more serious art project. I shall take my camera with me on my next walk!
Hi Elsie! good to hear from you...yes...do let me know if it's a useful exercise...or not...Elizabeth
Hi Molly, thank you for writing....there are just so very many intriguing things out there for us to look at and used as starting points. This exercise is a little different in that you just take a few of the lines and contours...then you have to fill in the rest yourself...
hope it works for you!
Hi again, I had so much fun with doing just lines. One may turn into a quilt. It weaves over and under and added texture makes it dimensional and interesting.
I've been noticing how the chairs in the row in front of me at church cast shadows on the floor (concrete not carpet) and fascinated by those shapes. Your post confirms that I've not lost my mind, and oh, I do pay attention to the sermon too!! :-) My hubby teases me about seeing quilt designs in the oddest places. I just don't always record them because my idea bin is too full already!
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