Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Seeking Innovation

I often wonder what pieces to enter into a show and why the jurors choose the ones they do (if they do!).  When considering which pieces to enter, I try to remember what kind of work that particular show seems to favour.    If there’s a catalogue, this may be indicated in the juror’s statement from the previous show.

In general juror’s statements are extremely useful to “mine” for ways to evaluate your work and to help you decide what to enter.  You tend to see the same themes over and over: unity and harmony – everything playing together to “support the aesthetic statement”.  So, I guess, if you want to make a quilt about “rough” – then your lines and shapes and colors and stitching etc should all be “rough” but also be sufficiently integrated to show a high level of craftsmanship – not so easy!  And if your quilt is about “smooth” and all the elements are smooth then you run the risk of it being trite, banal, predictable and, of course, redundant!  to say the least!

Another oft mentioned phenomenon sought by the average jurors  is the grabbing of their attention. Does the image  compel them to want to look longer and further and become lost in the piece? but then what happens to the subtle quietly beautiful piece? probably lost in the crowd…alas.

One juror remarked that it was hard not to favor innovation over adaptation, i.e. work in a series – but not for too long!  Freshness, originality, innovation  are the  concepts of which most jurors are very fond.  I notice that in the local art shows I like to enter these are the key ideas which the juror say he/she seeks.   Though sometimes it is hard to see!  For example in the recent OCAF (Oconee County Art Federation), the juror picked 2 of the following three pieces:

thelastglow72 affluentchimney72 forcefield 1 72

She chose the two more complex subtle pieces rather than the bold strong graphic quilt, which surprised me, so one should be bold and innovative, but not too bold or innovative!

Quilt National, the grand master of all quilt shows (or should that be mistress?), has been said to be  a “standard bearer for change, advocating innovation and [presenting] a challenge to redefine the concept of quilt” (Robin Treen, QN 2007).
To make a quilt that meets these requirments is a huge challenge for those of us still attempting to master this very complex medium that requires considerable technical skills as well as a thorough knowledge of composition and design – and on top of that the requirement to be always forward-looking, breaking fresh ground, leaping upward without a nice comfortable crampon or two!  And very often I feel that those who have mastered the medium then find it hard to be yet more innovative, introduce more and newer ideas.

thearroganceofcalm72 botallackmine

On the above occasion the simpler bolder piece was the one that was picked. Hmm…

: wherebongtreesgrow

but then this piece was rejected:





and the one below (which is okay, but definitely not as strong as the one on the right) was accepted…





Well with the upcoming shows, I shall try to be innovative, but not too much so, bold and subtle, obvious and obscure.  I wonder if I dare to enter my unrecyclable piece anywhere?



I’m sure those quilt police would just love the ratty old towel upon which this piece is based…but arn’t those dye splotched towels we have in our dye studios so beautiful?  and they are truly innovative…you don’t see them anywhere else…..hmm…..


well, if you have been, thanks for reading!  and do let me know your thoughts, especially if they run counter to mine!  I’m interested in all ideas….especially, of course, the innovative ones!!  Elizabeth

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Art quilts “Made in America”

pond in winter, looking east full 72 ppi

Reading the October issue of Art in America magazine  (yes, I really do need to get caught up!), I was continually struck by the number of paintings and art works that are very clearly based on fiber work.
And, it made me realise that with the new SAQA definition of an art quilt being an amalgamation of:
the old (now appearing to be quite fuddy duddy!) Quilt National definition of “3 layers stitched together and never before seen by virtually anyone on the planet”! (“Oh I can’t show you a picture of my new piece I might just enter it into Quilt national”!) ……
“anything that references” the art quilt
of this artwork is now eligible for SAQA shows, and the artists eligible to be SAQA members.

Consider the work of Stephen Westfall for instance.   He paints beautiful renditions of various well known diamond variations, half square triangle variations, bars, squares within squares.  They are really super, bold and strong, with eye catching colours, crisp and dynamic.  Who could want more?  Why bother with cloth and stitching in the post post modern world? (or is it post post post?) Especially those of us with fingers that no longer want to push a needle and thread around; you can hold a brush with your toes!

Eric Beltz draws  cross stitch samplers.  the old fashioned kind with morals.  Somewhat updated I must admit!  as in: “Happy is that people who have no history” , “I snow all about you” and “Revive”.  These are gorgeous totally meticulous renditions of great grandmamas samplers.  ( I wonder, by the way,  if his art reviews all start with “these are not your grandmother’s samplers” – such an overused phrase there’s probably a key stroke short cut to it on journalists keyboards).

Jenny Hart too, and oh dear, how is this website headed “this ain’t your gramma’s embroidery”!!  I swear I had not visited this site before I wrote the above paragraph!  Oh my, the contagion of these phrase. Like, whatever!

And what about Dorothea Rockburn’s work?  It is very reminiscent of a current vogue in art quilting for what I call surface design samplers. “ We made this wonderful fabric in a workshop and don’t really want to figure out how to incorporate it into a piece, so I think we’ll just kind of overlay a few of the best bits and stitch them together.” Actually those folk would do well to see just how Ms Rockburn makes those glorious samples work together!!

And then there’s Canadian artist Liz Magor’s folded  blankets and sheets "newly cleaned (well that's very artistic!), neatly folded and draped over hangers of different dimensions [and]  the blankets were irregularly spaced along one wall of the gallery" to think about.

Perhaps we'd do better just to wash, iron, fold and hang up the lengths of fabric from which a quilt "could be made" thus evoking the Power of Potential!
And perhaps they would "hover and vibrate with inchoate meaning" - how I'd love to make a quilt  that hovered with inchoate meaning!! oh yes!  I’m vibrating at the very thought…. especially if it produces "faint echoes from our own planetary realm of art"!!

All these “quilts” are Made in America too – no Chinese reproductions here!!  Actually, if you think about it, if you really want to buy Made in America – buy art!!    Especially art quilts (however they are made!).

Art is such a wonderfully incestuous activity!
   So if you have been, thanks for reading! 
And do please send your comments (however tongue in cheek), they add so much to a blog. 

P.S. the quilt at the top was just awarded The Edward Lambert Memorial prize at the Athens Annual Art Show; I’m thrilled and honoured.  Ed Lambert was a much beloved professor in the art department at the University of Georgia.  He gave great encouragement and support to many artists (including me, I’m happy to say) and was revered by so many in Athens.  He died suddenly last year, a great loss to our community.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Early work and later voice

cityscape 72dpi

timepastortimefuture Trying to tidy up my image files yesterday (and if anyone knows of a quick and efficient way of doing that I’d love to know!), I came across my first few pieces.  I didn’t start with  traditional quilts, but with screen printing – this was back in the 70s when long skirts, wide trousers and kaftans were all the rage and that’s what I made most of these lengths of fabric into.  (above an early screen print from the 70s, to the left a quilt made from many deconstructed screen prints about 10 years ago).







Even back  in the seventies I liked the patterns and designs created both by man in city scapes and buildings and by nature, especially hedgerows and natural scenes.  Though I’m not quite sure where the weird combination of characters in the full length skirt on the left came from!  Four panels, printed in black on gold polyester!!!  The more modern piece below (a quilt entitled Midwinter and available for purchase by the way) shows the same tree shapes occurring but the animals have hibernated for the winter – not that you see many giraffes up on the moors at any time of year! And the trees are appliqued rather than printed.








I started screen printing when a friend and I bought a big old fashioned silk screen and squeegee between us and worked on her kitchen table in a very old 17th century cottage by candlelight, while her husband played Chopin on an old Bechstein. cactus 72 dpi

I useplants 72 dpid textile paint and newsprint and usually designed the images while sitting through interminable staff meetings.  I have a feeling I even cut out some of the stencils in those same meetings – the conference table was huge and perfect for this kind of work.  Oh for the good old days!

It is interesting looking back how you tend to continue with the same ideas; I’ve made loads of architectural quilts since then and am now back to nature and landscapes and still have very much the same sense of design.  The two small images are screen prints from the 70s used for jeans!  The larger image below is a quilt made from screen prints much more recently.


D’you find you keep returning to the same themes? Can you see your “style” and the “mark of your hand” in your early work?  At the SAQA meeting in Philadelphia in March I’m moderating a panel on the development of the artistic voice with three guests whose work I’ve always admired: Dominie Nash, Emily Richardson and Lorraine Glessner.

In the discussion I’m going to ask them:
What have the been key experiences in your artistic life?  
Is this something that a person coming new to art in mid life could orchestrate?
Or is an art education necessary to being able to make strong and lasting work?
What advice would you give to people who started making traditional quilts through a love of cloth and sewing but now want to take what has been a pleasant hobby to a much higher level where they are creating pieces that will bring them and others much joy when hanging in their homes/hospitals/waiting rooms etc?
How does one  make the leap from a hobby to a higher plane!
At what point should  quiltmakers think about "developing a voice" - is this something that just happens, or can you guide yourself into it?  And should you?
What is it do you think that makes you an artist? 
How would you define that description of a person?

Do let me know your answers to these questions…and if there are any other questions on this topic you think I should put to the panel.  And, if you have been, thank you for reading and especially thank you for commenting – I always read the comments with great interest.


PS I do have pieces for sale, they vary from time to time – they can be seen by clicking on the “pages” listed at the top of this post.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Time Management for Quiltmakers (and everyone else)

winter by the sea 72ppi

Like everyone, I never seem to have enough time to do all the things I want to do. So I’ve come up with a Time Management checklist for myself so see if I can’t just squeeze a little more juice out of those 24 hours!!

  1. I definitely have to have a diary/planner/appointment book. This is especially helpful for combining appointments and errands since I notice that leaving home even for something as small as picking up more thread somehow seems to waste a whole morning. If I can combine my thread, ink, shipping, library and dentist appointments then I’ve saved 4 mornings!
  2. I like to plan out the next day the night before – a nice to do list with items ripe for crossing off! I used to write it out at breakfast time but found I was waking up the night before thinking oh! I must remember to do so and so, and thus, and such and the whirling mind would lead to a whirling bod, wakefulness, finally dropping off to sleep just before dawn, sleeping in and wasting half a morning!
  3. Like a lot of people, I’m great at displacement activity – if there’s something I don’t want to do I fritter away time on inconsequentials while I work up to the Dreaded Deed! So now I put the thing I least want to do as Number One on the to do list, once that’s done and checked off, the rest of the day’s tasks seem easy by comparison. Checking off items on the to do list is a good reward too! I thoroughly recommend it!
  4. I’m also a great believer in Initial Inertia – I used to drive an old Rover 75 (1948!); it took about a gallon of gas to get it moving, but once it was rolling it was a great ride – very stately!! So I’ve found that if I can just make myself do that very First Step, I’ll often get rolling along quite nicely (not necessarily stately!). I’ve said before that I like to outline the quilt I’m going to make on the design wall with ripped off selvedges…and that’s an excellent First Step for me….if it’s a phone call I have to make that I really don’t want to, I’ll say: “just look up the phone number and write it down by the phone then when you’re ready, it’s there”. And of course that often gets me into dialing…and so on… Threading up a machine with the next color needed is another first step.
  5. I also try to notice where I’m losing time each day– which is one reason why I like to plan out a color scheme and have all my fabric pulled from the outset. I used to start with a couple of pieces then hunt through the stash for a third and so on, creating a veritable tornado of fabric by I was done. Then it all has to be folded and put away – another time waster
    . I have scissors Everywhere! – then I don’t waste time looking for a pair. The printer is wireless (now! After some sweating…) so I don’t have to email images to self from one computer to another…the main computer has a hub with all the different camera cables etc already attached and so on. I also fill about a dozen bobbins at a time and just have 3 bobbin colors: light, medium and dark.
  6. I really try to avoid other people wasting my time – politely of course! If it’s a nuisance call, obviously one just puts the phone down and lets them prattle on to thin air; if a friend or relative, I say “well I mustn’t keep you…” (translates as “I’m afraid I’m NOT going to let you keep me”!). I like to combine social time with exercise too – makes the exercise easier and makes double use of the time.
  7. I try to use distractions as reinforcements: e.g. checking for emails only AFTER so many minutes on task!
  8. I love filing systems!! Though I must admit to an overflowing In Tray too…and a huge pile of magazines and journals! Ostensibly to be read during adverts – yes I do allow myself a little telly! – but mainly just developing patina!
  9. I try to handle each piece of paper once which is why if you write to me you may well get your card or letter back with something scrawled on it! Or an email is replied to straightaway so then I don’t take the time to read it twice – quicker to hit reply while what you’ve said is still in my mind.
  10. And of course, it’s important not to do that which does not need to be done!! Such as ironing all the fabric….just iron the bits you are going to work with…yes I know ironing is lovely…smoothing out the wrinkles of the world..but it does take time! Tidying up the studio – do you really need to have everything arranged just so? I must admit I don’t understand the drive to have the perfect studio…do we really need to know who has the biggest one?
  11. I try to set goals well ahead of time with the Big Task split into many little ones and something accomplished towards it each day…like writing a book or an online course – 30 minutes a day is, I find, much more possible, than larger chunks of time which take a lot of working up to.
  12. I do like to write the blog, but always find I have to make it relevant to something I need to do – like manage my time more wisely! Having said that, I’m off to make a cup of tea – a very wise use of my time!

So, if you have been, thanks for reading…and I do hope you found it a good use of your time! Do share any time management tips that you have too….we all would love a couple more hours of creative time per day! Elizabeth

PS – The quilt at the top? I love space…the beach in winter is a wonderful emptiness.