Wednesday, December 23, 2015


Visiting New York City.....

So much inspiration!

Of course we went to (probably) the most famous fabric shop in the world!  Mood.
Mood is 3 floors of gorgeous fabric and is often featured in the reality show Project Runway...with Tim Gunn. Alas, we did not see Swatch - the famous Mood dog  - we were told it was his day off!!

But we did drool over some fabulous fabric:

yes I bought 3 yards of it...and some of the bright yellow polka dot in the bottom left....but not for quilts.  I find it really difficult to mix commercial and "hand-dyed " fabrics in a quilt.  I also like the idea that I designed the fabric for the quilt as well well designed the quilt...
but I'm hoping I'll look pretty snazzy in a tunic made of the Italian rayon knit I'm holding up!

The highlight of the trip, however, was a visit to the new Whitney ARt down in the old meatpacking district...very close to the Hudson river.  The location and views are tremendous.

I was very inspired by the Frank Stella retrospective show - lots of wonderful ideas that could be a starting point for abstract quilt design.

Just look at these:

The wall texts were some of the best I've ever read, really informative of the artist's process.
Stella said about  working in series: 
"In the Protractor pictures I had been as loose as I could get within a system that I'd kept to for over ten years.  Imposing that discipline on myself endowed all the early work with both benefits and drawbacks."

The Protractor series (that's one above: "The Damascus Gate")  was "rigorously conceived".  STella laid down clear parameters for himself involving the use of the protractor shape and some of its implied angles.  He was able to design 31 variations on this shape.  The curator wrote that this extremely systematic approach (which was during some of STella's early formative years as an artist) led to Stella thinking about his compositions as problem solving exercises.  Setting strict limits actually allowed greater creativity.  If you say to yourself "how many ways can I vary these few formal elements",  you can see how setting limits can force you into being very creative.  In the same way that a cook might have only the same few ingredients with which to make a meal on 7 consecutive nights - if they want people to enjoy the meals - they'd come up with 7 very different ways of preparing those ingredients!

As time went on Stella continued to work in of the ones he set himself was to make one painting for each of the 135 chapters of Moby Dick!   Think of your favorite book and what you could do!!!  

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!!  Enjoy the winter holidays - "winter" (in inverted commas) indeed - it's forecast for 77 here, a mere 30 degrees above "normal".  Which I hope is going to be a bit of a challenge to all those flat-earthers out there!!!  But you never know.....happy holidays anyway!      See you in the New Year!         Elizabeth

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Master Class 2016

now that's a Working Studio!
I have a couple of cancellations for the Master Class on composition and design that I run on please contact me before the end of the year - in fact as soon as possible! - if you're interested.
elizabethmasterclass AT 

This year long class is based on a private paid subscription email/blog. On signing up, I’ll give you the blog address and send you an “invitation” to join.  When you’ve accepted the invitation,  your email address will allow you access.  
 I will send you the actual exercises/assignments once a month as an email attachment, and you will send me your images as email attachments, I will upload and critique those images on the private blog.  
 The students have told me that the critiques (which are supportive, constructive and anonymous) are the most important thing and extremely helpful.  It's especially worthwhile being able to see other people's work and read my evaluation of those pieces.  That way you get a lot of examples each month on how to address specific problems.

The assignments address typical design and composition problems and cover most of the areas where things can go wrong in creating your own designs.

The aim of the class is to help you strengthen your art quilt design skills and it builds on my other online and actual workshops. We won’t be addressing construction methods, it’s assumed you are already comfortable with a method that works well for you. 
 Around the first of each month, I’ll describe an “exploration” or directed exercise – nothing as limited as a specific project, but rather a set of instructions for a design (or designs), each month exploring a different concept, issue, topic or idea. You can make a quilt any size.  I won’t restrict your imagination!  But it will be important to address the main issue to which the exercise relates. You would certainly be able to carry out most of these assignments in a way that led to a series.

At the end of the year I ask students to assess what they have learned - here is a typical response:

"I learned:
-the importance of actually drawing out my ideas rather than thinking I can just rely on the picture in my mind;
-it is Ok to crop out the stuff I don't really like in a picture;
-it is Ok to move elements around in a picture to make a more pleasing composition;
-value is very important and I have to move beyond so many mid-tones in my work;
-that I need to value my own critique of a piece rather than worrying so much about whether others will like it;
-that I have created a checklist based on your assignments and comments that I can use to try to figure out what isn't working in a piece;
-that art comes in many forms and may be made in many mediums, but that the basic elements of design are common to all;
-the value of cross-training in other art mediums to help inform my work in fiber".

Please email me  if you're interested and I'll send you full details.  Thank you!   And a wonderful Winter Solstice celebration to everyone - however you enjoy drink and make merry!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading.   Elizabeth

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The Quilts that made them Happy!

Last week I showed some of my own favorite quilts and explored why I really like them; I invited readers to send in some images...and a few good people did!

Here they are:

From Heather Dubreil, a wonderful quilter in Canada:

As a faithful and appreciative reader of your blog, I feel compelled to answer your call to send along a jpg of my favourite-ever quilt, titled Camden Town #2. I chose the palette in a fugue-like flurry of inspiration, yellow being my favourite colour, and I especially like the rhythmic patterning of the windows.

Looking forward to another year of your thought-provoking posts!
Isn't this a gorgeous piece?  It just glows!  Thank you so much, Heather, for sending it.
 And from another Canadian quilter:  Elsie Montgomery:

Not sure about one favorite, but I do love this little quilt. It was made for a challenge: find a “photo of a woman’s face and mess with it” so I Googled “woman’s face” for the image and used the first one on the screen.
I love it because it draws me closer to humanity. Everyone of us hides behind layers at times. Some cannot escape the persona they have chosen because they fear being exposed and rejected. This quilt makes me less inclined to probe what people hide, and more inclined to just hug them.
Others see different things, such as terror or boredom, but everyone has an opinion, which I like too. However, the best reason is that when I finished it, I felt terribly satisfied. That does not always happen!
Thanks for your excellent challenges!
 I really like the mystery in this surely did "mess with it" as, of course, Jasper Johns told us to do:  quoting NY Times art critic Roberta Smith quotling Johns:  
"Writing about Jasper Johns, it is often irresistible to quote, yet again, the artist's famous sketchbook note: ''Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.'' Johns has built an influential career on these legendary instructions to himself and they illuminate the basic tenets of his art with increasing accuracy."
Here is the link to her very interesting article on Johns.
And you've definitely suggested the idea of a public/private face - we see so many "public faces" in the media and know there is a LOT being hidden from view....
Thank you, Elsie, for a thought provoking piece.


And from Geri Patterson-Kutras

Enjoyed your blog as always.  I think reviewing our quilts is a wonderful way to end the year and look back at what we've done and where we're going.  When I did this it definitely brought a smile to me because there's so many good memories connected to so many of my quilts.  I've attached a photo of one of my first "serious" quilts, it's called Courage.  The inspiration was a photo I took of my grandchildren and their friends at the beach.

It has remained one of my favorite quilts because of the children and because it was the first quilt I tried painting on a quilt.

What a lovely memory...memory quilts have such power I think, they are imbued with meaning right from the start.  The grey background is both interesting in itself, but also very supportive of the painted figures - nice  going!!  I can see why it's a favorite.  Thank you for sending it, Geri!
 And from Del Thomas:

These images:

Del writes that she loves both of them: because of the color - so bright, so intense, so happy.
Cactus Flower because it came out exactly as I pictured it .  Even though it took me a long time to finish it.
Parrot Percussion because it was a complete surprise - I made the blocks and rearranged and rearranged them on the design board until I came up this this. The center of each block has a part of a parrot.

I agree- your cactus flowers are amazing!! so joyous and cheerful...I do hope you have this quilt hanging in a place where you can see it every day!

And from Susan Sawatsky, her 3rd quilt:

 Her favorite quilt because:

This quilt is only the third art quilt I've made. I took a class  "Cityscapes" by Hilde Morin and as you can see I veered off sharply on the city  It is my favorite because of the barn which took the whole 3 days of the class to make. Once I got home I had a very difficult time giving myself permission to do anything other than what was taught. I finally emailed another gal who took the class and asked her, tongue in cheek, to give me the go ahead to do whatever I wanted to finish this up. Cutting up the barn in the class fashion was not an option since it would have disintegrated because of the very narrow pieces sewn together.
I love the look of the whole quilt finished, the barn, the sky and the thread painting. It will probably be my favorite until I make another one.

            There's  a good moral to this story: ALWAY give yourself permission to do other things from what one was taught!!   Good point.  And very nice shadow effects Susan....

And from Leanne  Hopkins:

I truly enjoy reading your blog as you bring out the heart behind creating. Your comments provoke thinking deeper about why we do what we do and provide great insight from your wealth of experience and training.

Attached is my absolute favorite of my creations. I am a landscape designer and do art quilting for fun, so the subject(s) came from my heart. There are 29 creatures included in addition to the trees. What I enjoyed most was the process of creating the piece with layers of painting, felting, lace, yarn and beads. My imagination was stretched as I thought about it day and night. In other words, the piece evolved from somewhere deep inside me.

Wow! wonderful work and amazing wonder it's your's a quilt where you'll find something new and interesting every time you look at it.  Beautiful atmosphere...gorgeous.
Thank you!
Hope you have enjoyed these favorites from some of the blog readers!   Elizabeth

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Looking at your Favorite quilts...What makes you Happy

I loved the discussion (as times heated! great!) last week about how to be happy.....strangely enough I was reading yesterday, in a book about something completely different, that one of the best ways to be happy is to be learning something new.
Despite that!!  I though it would be interesting to look back over some of the  quilts I've made and decide which ones I was happiest about...and why.

I've made quite a few quilts in my time - between two and three hundred - and I thought it would be very interesting to look back at them and see which ones I would select as my favorites.  It might also help direct me....and tell me something about myself!

"Where Bong Trees Grow" was always my daughter Clare's favorite:

Where Bong Trees Grow
 It was one of a series of ten pieces I made that were all 60" square - a good size.  Agnes Martin chose this size for her paintings because she felt that it was "life size" - you could really feel you were IN the work.  I liked this quilt because of the atmosphere  - the sense of the magical castle (I was definitely adding Sleeping Beauty to Edward Lear here!) on top of the hill.

As a would-be minimalist though, I would say one of my favorites is Farne Islands:

Farne Islands

I wanted to capture the many different moods of sea...or ocean as you say here in the the distance with the odd sparkle, roiling around when you're close up, or splashing over the rocks - plus doing all the surface design for this was so much fun!!  Loads of different techniques.

A New Day

A New Day was a favorite too because I love the sense of silence and expectancy that you get very early in the morning...the sky is streaked with a million colors that float into each other.  There's the glow of the first sunlight angling onto the houses where all are peacefully asleep - but you the first one to be up and about can appreciate the quiet softness of the early morning.

Everything you can Imagine is Real

 I like this one because it's so rich in its color...without being garish, and there's a mystery about these emerging (or are they disappearing?) figures...I love mystery in a work.

City of Mists
 always loved this piece...I had challenged myself to use only grey.  I dyed every single kind of grey I could think of: brownish, pinkish, bluish, greenish etc - you just add two complementary colors together then tip the relationship first one way...and then the other.
I have a whole lesson about dyeing neutrals in my Basic Dyeing for Quiltmakers class, by the way - it's with

Black and White, No Grey

I just adore black and looks so good to me I could just eat it!!!  Always fancied a black and white living room!!    This quilt also has two things that are really important to me: movement and mystery.  Great combination!

 Incidentally, as I look back at these, some of my favorite quilts, nearly all have been repeatedly rejected from the Big Shows.  They get into All media art shows with no bother, and I don't enter the smaller quilt shows (it's just too expensive to enter very many with both the entry fee and all the shipping costs) I don't know what that tells me about the direction the art quilt world is going..I must be on a very different path!  

It's a really useful exercise to pick out your favorites and figure out just WHY they are your faves....
sure wish I could ask some of those Big Names which ones they love the best!  And if any of Them are reading this (!) plus any of you (of course) please send me picture of the quilt you made that you feel is the pinnacle of your oeuvre so far.....tell me why you love it...72 ppi and about 6-8" wide will work...and I'll upload whatever I can to the next blog!  Send the image and the statement to:  - the AT being @ of course.  Thank you!!!

And, if you have been, thank you for reading....all comments very much appreciated!  

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Gazing into space and thinking...the way to be happy.

Neither waving, nor drowning but thinking......

The most often asked question to a quilt maker is: how long did it take you to make that?  and then...."oh you're so lucky you're retired you have all the time in the world! "
Would that it were so!  But those of us who are lucky enough to be retired and to be reasonably healthy (of course many aches and pains and so on of which I shall say absolutely NO more...not wishing to indulge in an "organ recital"!!)....those of us who are retired and energetic are finding that the best thing in the world, the greatest happiness, is having  the time to learn and practice new creative skills.

Winston Churchill wrote:
"The way to be happy is to find something that requires the kind of perfection that's impossible to achieve, and spend the rest of your life trying to achieve it."

Making art and making music are probably the best examples of an activity where perfection is impossible, but trying to reach it is wonderful.
Sport?  well - maybe when young!  For it does require a certain physicality!
And I definitely include arts like cooking and gardening!

So, given that, why are so many artists focused on making things for other people?  Making things to sell (which is a very difficult thing to be successful with), or making pieces to be accepted by a show - with all the constraints therein: size, date, number of layers, where the stitches are or are not, or making things for the latest group "challenge"??  Is this really the way to be happy?  is this is the best use of our art?
And, more importantly, is this a way to improve your art?

I see people boasting on the social networks that they did a "happy dance" ( an overused phrase anyway!! Please, eschew ALL clichés on your way to "nail" it as you "step upto the plate" while "jumping out of the box"!) because they got into a certain show.  But sadly I don't see them telling others of their delight in engaging in learning and developing and gradually improving their art. 
And most show acceptances are so meaningless:  perhaps one third of the art is inspiring,  but two thirds were merely  lucky.
Why do we even think of using acceptance/rejection as a measure of happiness?    

And also...why does how long it took you to make it matter? And why does it matter to the questioner?  What are they expecting to hear?  Well, it took three hours, therefore if you have three hours frree on Sunday afternoon you could make one too??!!
And, yes I know the clever answer of "three hours and 20 years experience", which neither addresses the heart of the matter nor is encouraging to the questioner. It's just clever, and it's been said so often, it's now a CLICHé!!

So please, make it or learn it because it makes you happy to do so and because it's thrilling to progress a little nearer to the dream.

If you have been, thanks for reading!   I appreciate it!   Elizabeth

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Giving presents!


We're getting near the present giving season again...and I've already got it all sorted out!
I decided to give each of  the grandchildren 3 things:
something sensible (clothes usually - incredibly LARGE ones!),
something sweet that they'll enjoy (yes, Mom has given the okay) and then..
.an start their own personal art collection.

When my girls reached 21, I didn't give them jewelry or a bright red sports car (ha!), but rather a painting by the artist of their choice (local, living... not Picasso or Monet!).  Art lasts for ever.   The ring I was given for my 21st wore out in a few years...most people don't even remember what they were given to mark an important anniversary.

Many presents that children get these days are quickly used up - one way or another: broken, out dated, shrunk, eaten...but a good artwork will live on.


 I think it's important to introduce young people early on to the idea of collecting art; it's an important habit to have.  Much more important than collecting shoes, or movies or popular music or having the latest fad thing everyone else has.

There are so many things to be gained from an art collection.

 When you move apartments, or houses, you can be instantly at home once you've hung your favorite art pieces on the wall.
 Art that will not only make you feel at home, but also make you feel good in some way every time you look at it.
It will help you remember a favorite place or person or pet,.
It will add beauty,  it may make you laugh. It will make you feel better!


Now what else but Art (and yes I include music!) will do those things?  Some may say - well "maybe a million dollars.." but in fact studies show that once you've got all the basics taken care of (and, yes, that is important) beyond that more money does not make you happy.  Look at all those miserable millionaires you know!  Does the Trump ever look happy??

Introducing children to beginning an art collection by giving them paintings, or sculptures, or photographs and so about something they already love.. will attract their attention and their joy.  Their love of the object, even if it's a doleful basset hound or a "don't mess with me" cat, will spread  to the art work and in that way they'll begin to see the value of having art.  So many homes I go into have only calendars and doctor's appointments hanging on the walls, it's so sad...when art can enrich our lives so much.  Begin early!!

Comments? I'd love to know what you think.
I'm off to the studio to make more art...after a nice cup of tea, of course.
If you have been, thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Time management: Five steps.

On the last day of my live workshops I always have an open discussion about anything people want to ask - some strange things have come up!!  Unexpected things  that's for sure! for example one group that wanted to hear all about personality theory - now what that has to do with quilt design?  I don't know but I was happy to talk a little about that and then segue into how that related to one's art work!

In the last workshop, a student asked about time management.  This really is a key issue these days when it comes to actually producing something as a result of your creativity.  We are all pushed for time!  The number one reason people give for not doing  ANYTHING - is lack of time.

Years ago a book was published called "How to Live on 24 Hours a day" - unfortunately I've not yet had time  to read it!!   Arnold Bennett.  It's actually a free download from Amazon along with other self help books by Bennett.
"straightforward, vigorous, pungent" says  the New York Times!! Sounds more like manure....but!!

Actually I did start it, but didn't really come across anything very new - after all it was written about a hundred years ago.  But it's always interesting to see how the same issues bedevil us across the ages.= - we do have all our modern appliances...but we still don't have enough time!

HEALTH and PRACTICE are the two things we need most to improve our skills - whatever they are - quilting, cooking,  croquet  or canasta - if you want to get better at it, you need to practice.  In order to practice you need time.  To have the energy and creativity to practice you also need to be in as good health as you can manage.

So, time management.......

There are five steps:

1. Take data.  Write down everything you do for 3 days and see where the time is going now. Particularly note where someone else is wasting your time for you!
Also make a note of your diurnal rhythms i.e. is there a particular time of day when you are at your sharpest?  Or mellowest?  Some activities require a clear focussed mind, others only require time.  You don't want to waste your "best time" on mundane stuff!

2. Make a list of all your activities - including those that appeared on the data sheet from step 1 - AND - the activities you would like to do if you had time for them.

3.  Prioritize list 2.  Obviously the necessities of day to day living have to rank high, also those things you do to improve/maintain your health (usually exercise of some kind).

4. Work out a reasonable daily or weekly schedule....and implement it.  Keep taking data so that you can see where things go wrong - maybe your schedule wasn't that reasonable...or maybe other people are needlessly using your time for you.  Make the Most Important things from your priority list as unchangeable events that have  to happen almost every day.  But you choose what they are...don't let anyone else choose for you!

5.  Address the areas where your schedule is not being followed.  Consider each one as a problem that you can solve e.g. phone calls that go on for ages - either you can schedule them when you can also engage in a simple activity, like cooking or cleaning, or stitching.  Or, you can cut them short:  "Well, I won't keep you any longer, I"m sure you're busy" is a very good exit line!

Even if you can only harvest 30 minutes more a day from carrying out the above five steps...that will gain you 182.5 more hours in a year - more than enough to make another beautiful quilt!

If you have been, thanks for reading!  And do please comment with your own favorite time management ideas.  Elizabeth

Wednesday, October 28, 2015


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Sometimes, you've just got to have fun!


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

the Best way to improve.....

Don't forget if you're in Athens, GA to come down to Clayton St tomorrow night! October 1.  6-8.30
to see a show of parallel paintings and quilts...

The watercolor

The quilt

Meanwhile, having got the show all delivered and set up, I turned to other things......and......
I was talking to a 17 year old boy last week - since I left the university I rarely have a chance to talk to people in this age group and it was lovely to get back to it - especially as he was very polite!
But talking to him about a number of different activities (reading, typing, swimming, dancing, speaking a foreign language, music, learning, drawing etc), I realized that he kept coming back with the same refrain:  "I wasn't naturally good at it, so I gave up". Sadly he may well have tried these things but been laughed at by his peers...or even parents or teachers.

Of course few of us are "naturally good" at anything!  And those that appear to be, are generally speaking the product of homes where that particular activity has been encouraged, taught and stressed from a very early age - so early that they don't remember a time when they weren't engaged in it.
Yes it would be lovely to grow up in a bi- or even trilingual home with highly artistic or musical parents who had us drawing, painting, singing and playing at an early age with lessons in skiing and skating and swimming and tennis, and lots of books being read and discussed, and computers with fun typing games - oh yes! that would be really lovely!  And then we could be so happy because we were "naturally good" at an amazing number of things!

The childhoods of Picasso and Mozart and the Williams sisters and many others such are well known and you can see how the access, the encouragement, the teaching and training began right from the minute they could hold a pencil/racquet or plonk out notes on a keyboard (not at the same time of course!)

It's been said many times:  the way to the famous musical performance venue,  Carnegie "practice, practice, practice".    And, while you won't get good at doing everything by practicing,  I think it's pretty clear you will get much better at your practiced activity.  I doubt Mozart was very good at tennis, and I don't think Picasso or the Williams sisters could form a musical trio!  Be interesting, though, wouldn't it?

With something like art and art quilts, the best way to "practice" is to keep making work of the same type - focussed practice .  (I'm sure that's true of other activities but I don't have much experience of them.)   Working in a series, whether it be a series of serves, of sonatas or of serigraphs, develops one's abilities tremendously.  You can become very good at what you do if you specialize.  That's why you don't go to a rheumatologist for brain surgery!

Working in a series is also very emotionally satisfying.  You're not scattered around trying this idea you saw there and that idea you saw here, you're looking inside yourself:  finding out what really really draws you in, what subject, what format, what focus makes you feel really connected - to yourself, to your art, to your subject.

it just so happens (!!!) that I have a short course focussing on Working in a Series beginning this week with the Academy of Quilting  and I do have a book out - with the same name - published by C&T last year, you can order a signed copy from me, or go to your local independent book seller, or Amazon. Do think about the class don't need any prior experience.  Also it would be helpful for other media..other than quilts.    It would be lovely to see you in class!  Please feel free to use the Comments section of this blog for any questions, or email me privately (link on the sidebar).  But whether you're interested in the class or not, do think about the importance of practice next time you feel those words "I'm not naturally talented" about to pop out of your mouth!!!

There's the old story about the famous pianist who was approached by an admirer after a concernt: "I'd give an arm and a leg to be able to play like you", said the fancily coiffed admirer.  He replied: "Madam, I gave 40 years of my life!".   Now you don't have to give 40 years to improve!!  Really, it does start working in the first couple of weeks.....give practice a try!

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

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A local show: the many benefits

                                         (yes, it's a quilt!)

 In nearly every town there are lots of places to show art: local art centers, public libraries, small galleries, restaurants, doctors' offices etc.
 It's a really good to get your art out there, maybe sell something, probably not...but you will always benefit in many other ways.

1.  Firstly, it's a really great way to make you finish work!! so often I have a piece almost made and then run into a problem, meanwhile another piece is calling out to be worked on and the first one is put aside..yet another unfinished object circling the orbit of the sewing rooms.....

2.  A show forces you into the next step too:  Not only to actually getting  the work finished but also to prepare it for  showing.  I have quilts and paintings stacked sleeves on the quilts, no threads nipped off neatly, photographs not taken, rods not cut, paintings not matted, backed and framed etc etc.

3.  Organisation!
I do so envy those people - though I think they are Very Rare - who have an idea, make the fabric, cut it out and sew and quilt and finish the piece. Back it, photograph it, cut the hanging rods, make a cute little - well labelled - cloth bag for it and place in neatly on a rack somewhere.  I have rooms with quilts spread out on the floor as I hunt madly for The One that someone (finally!) wants!!  "I'm sure it was in here somewhere."  The noodles are all labelled, alas with the names of quilts long gone!!  I think there was a system here one time - now was it chronological, or size-logical?  or something else?

4.  Letting others see your work and realize they have an Artist in their midst!! 
 Having to live up to something, really does make us reach higher.


5.  Seeing all the work hanging beautifully in whatever facility you've persuaded to show it.  It's a real thrill!!

6.  Also as you see the work, the stronger pieces and the weaker ones make themselves known, and you can also spot those places where if only you'd added something or, (more likely) taken something out, the piece would have been better.
You see the work with new eyes when it's hanging in a gallery.


7.  And some really places print up nice postcards!!  And (icing!) have an opening!!

OKAY!!  so did I take my own advice??  well...come and see:

So, for those of you that are in or near Athens GA....the opening is
Thursday October 1st: 6.00-8.30pm 
 at Aurum Studios, 125 East Clayton 
in Downtown Athens.

I have 4 new quilts, 3 about Athens, Ga and one landscape....and lots of watercolors!

If you have been reading, thank you!  If you are planning to come, I look forward to seeing you nice cups of tea alas...but there will be a drop of the stronger stuff and a few good nibbles!!


ps - all comments will be read and cogitated upon with considerable relish!!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Colour: the big attraction

Like it or not, color continues to be the big seducer. So many people respond "the color" when asked why they like something, or when they reflect on what attracts them.  I wonder why?  Why is it important for us to see in color?  I couldn't find any obvious answers on the net...yes there are plenty of studies on which colors make us Buy or Consume the most!  As you might imagine more psychological studies have been aimed at advertising than anything else.  There are also some "color therapies"!!  Red will make you feel sexy, green calm, yellow energetic, grey depressed etc...presumably Damien Hirst figured that polka dots in many colors would attract a lot of mixed feelings!    But it's hard to see how color helps in survival...well, yes, perhaps at the traffic lights!!  

However, whether we know why or not, it is important to know that the colors we use in our work should be thoughtfully chosen.  It really doesn't work to just slavishly follow "local color" if you're working from a particular photograph - whether representational or abstract.  Sometimes the local color (i.e. actual color that the landscape or whatever really is) is gorgeous, but often it's a little dull and predictable.  Few of those city scape quilts that I made actually reflected the real color of the cities - which were mainly grey.  Not that I don't love grey! (see below!)

  Using a lot of different colors at once  does not constitute good color practice.  Think about it in terms of interior design – only one thing worse than beige beige beige is red yellow green blue brown and pink in one room!!
In the same way that a composition is strengthened by harmony within shapes/lines and textures, so is color harmony also something to be sought.  
Here's an example of what not to do (actually it looks a LOT worse in real life!)
 Had I entered it into a show, I think I would have got the “most use of colour prize” !!  I have pink and red and orange and yellow and purple and turquoise and ultramarine and brown and black and white!  A great example of what not to do!  I do have some awful dingy beige  pieces in there too....I think somebody told me it was always important to add beige!!  

  It’s a great idea if you can discipline yourself (sadly something I’m not very good at!) to cut a small swatch off every fabric you own (that’s a different color) and work out a scheme from the swatches.  I usually do this with the whole chunk of fabric which means the studio looks like a tornado came through flinging fabric into the air.  You do need to see the color on the fabrics in real life though to make a good decision.  I'm not good at imaging a color scheme...I like to get the fabrics all spread out and see if they are both harmonious AND interesting.  Now that's a delicate balance:  too much harmony is Dead Boring and too little is jumbled, confused and unattractive.  But if you have the fabrics all spread can see which way the balance is leaning.  

The first solution to consider for a color scheme that looks boring is actually not adding more color, but rather increasing the value range.  That, plus the addition of a little spice of a saturated color, might well be enough.
If the opposite is the problem: an eye shattering explosion of color, then the answer is to begin by removing the screamers!!  Then decide which color you have most of, which secondary color is its complement...and then remove all the other colors.
e.g. if there is a lot of blue, then you could keep all the blues, and  the complementary yellows, peaches, ambers and oranges, but remove the reds and the greens and the purples (which might look very good together in a second pile for another quilt!).

As most of us know there are really a limited number of generic colour schemes: monochromatic (one color), analogous (several adjacent colours on the colour wheel) and complementary (colours opposite to one another on the wheel). (split complementary is the same only you add the colors adjacent to the opposites).  Yes you CAN take 4 colours that form a square or rectangle on the wheel but it’s difficult to make a harmonious scheme doing that so I'd advocate against it, unless you're devising an advertisement for sugary cereal!

flora and ferra k
I love monochromatic – there’s nothing better for really giving a crisp result than one colour and white:  and I’ve used it a lot  - especially black and white.

A monochromatic scheme is also great for setting a mood .  Here’s a quilt all in greens giving a soft woodland mood.
And another:   

And grey has been another favorite – grasping the softness of a misty morning:
    I spent a whole year on grey!!  

An analogous scheme gives a soft rich mood – 3 or four adjacent colours on the wheel can be  so luscious.  Think redorange/ red /red violet – how sumptuous!  Or turquoise/blue/blue violet – cool and marine.  Or yellow/yellow-orange/orange – so tangy and fresh!  Yes you can almost taste those colour schemes!  it’s good with an analogous scheme to add a touch of a complementary colour as a minor note, a 7th note!  This can really pull your eye to the focal point.  In the largely green piece above you can see how I’ve a tiny touch of pink in the windows..
Complementary schemes: blue/orange, purple/yellow and red/green – and all the ones in between – yield a more complex harmony.   It’s important to make one of the colours dominant, however, in order that there’s no Battle of the Colours!  The choice would relate to the theme.   I have used the purple/yellow scheme many times, especially in the night scenes I’ve done.

Colour:  an excellent servant, a poor master!

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

and do let me know WHY we need color!!