Monday, February 23, 2015

A Little Dissonance

"Do you mind a little dissonance?"said the piano teacher as we discussed how to play a certain phrase.
I said I loved it - and realized, in saying  that, that the same principles hold in all the arts.  In pictures (whether made from paint or fiber*) we call dissonance "edge" , in pictures that move (i.e. films) it's known as dramatic tension - but it's the same phenomenon in all.  Even in a romance we would be bored silly if the heroine's romance was perfect from start to finish!  Boy meets girl, they fall in love and ride off into the sunset is pretty dull after all!!  no no we want girl meets boy, they fall in love, then Something Happens and all is in jeopardy, but with a courageous effort from somewhere, all is resolved!   Look at Dickens and the trials and tribulations his central characters went through in order to achieve their Great Expectations - which of course always turn out to be different, and nobler, as a result of the trials endured.  Classic Greek drama too.  And in cooking!!!  if all the tastes and textures are the same, it becomes so bland...even if all the colors are the same.  At the convent school I attended for 12 years - yes 12 years martyrs have done less time! - we would have grey mutton with white fat, white and grey lumpy mashed potatoes and cauliflower boiled down to a pinkish grey mush....yes even, I mean especially! - in food we need color and contrast! I learned about contrast early!

What purpose does the contrast, tension, edge, dissonance serve? why do we need it?    there area number of reasons.  The Greeks felt that in order to be completely satisfied by the drama we needed to feel different (and strong!) emotions when experiencing it.  Keen interest, horror, anger, despair, relief and finally joy.  Running an engine at all its different speeds gives it a good work out!
Eating a meal with different tastes, different oral textures, even different temperatures is so much more enjoyable.  Contrast not only draws our attention, it enervates us.  It tunes up our senses and our emotions.  it makes us feel and see and hear so much more clearly.  it is much richer an experience than the bland simpering sweetness of the Hallmark/Kinkaid variety.

How is the dissonance/tension achieved?  In music you can contrast rhythm, color (with different keys), timing, legato vs staccato notes, single versus many notes etc.  Now do these things sound familiar?? Oh yes:  contrast in values, contrast in color, contrast in shapes both positive and negative, textured versus solid fabric.   It's all the same principles in art quilts.

Very interestingly,  self taught artists  have always been very aware of the need for tension - think about jazz, think about the "who'd a thought it" quilt makers of Oakland and Gees Bend fame whose work lead to exciting new developments in art quilts in the '80s and '90s.   They were less bound by the "rules", less concerned to be following them, and more interested in the actual Impact of the work.
As Picasso noted to be able to paint like a child but with the knowledge of the trained artist was the way forward, the goal in art.

Does it work if the whole art work is dissonant?  Well....a protest song maybe....but generally if it's all dissonance we'll turn it off, tune it out.  So we don't want too much, we want a little tart salt, a little bitter lemon, a little vinegar on the chips (fries to y'all!).  The contrast in sound, or sight or taste or feel makes each component much richer.

I'm always looking for good topics, topics that are central to making exciting art work, for my Master Class (there is a significant waiting list for  the online version by the way, but do email me if you are interested.  Also there are just a couple of places left in the Actual version to be held on Cape Cod this June, email ambasatrvl AT for details).  I think it would be fascinating to see how we can introduce dissonance into our fiber pictures, our art quilts, using some of the ideas I've learned from music and the other arts.   I shall sit down with my laptop and a nice cup of tea and do a bit of cogitating on this one!

Consider adding dissonance!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!    Elizabeth

* It's curious, isn't it, that if the artwork is made from paint it's called a picture and if it's made from fiber it's called a wall hanging.  And yet, most pictures are also hung on the wall...and art quilts are really pictures (whether abstract or representational).  I think I might refer to myself as a maker of pictures in future!!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

A Live Master Class: the synergy of actuality!

Seeking inspiration - I'm the one on the left!!
My online master class has proved amazingly popular - and I would really like to thank all those folk who were/are/will be in it! (I do have a waiting list by the way for 2016 - and there's an email link on the side bar).
 The master class is year long class and is  based on a private paid subscription email/blog. 
Assignments are sent out monthly - they're very open ended and address different design issues
 and some are just fun!   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!
 Quilts can be representational or abstract or somewhere in between. 
Which is usually where I am - somewhere in between!

Much of  my focus and input is on helping the students learn how to critique and evaluate 
their designs, and the quilts at every stage of construction.  
I believe in clarifying the strengths and the weaknesses, 
and suggesting solutions for the latter.  It's really important to be both constructive and specific.
Telling somebody "that doesn't work" without explaining WHY it doesn't work, and HOW one might
 fix it is simply an exercise in frustration.  And I did experience several classes like that myself
 until I saw the light!  
 And  decided instead to educate myself in the arts, as far as I can.

Since the online Master Class has been so popular, and since I know that a lot of people really love to 
take an actual class - to get away from home and immerse themselves totally in the Art of Art quilts
for a few days, it was decided to hold a Live Master Class this June at Falmouth, on Cape Cod.
There are just a few places left in this Live Master if you're interested, please contact
Linda Gallagher at           
 Linda is a travel agent and she can give advice and assistance re travel, accommodation etc.

It will be a whole week (8-12 June) of Master Class. 
 Several different assignments will be presented and the design issues involved discussed. 
 Each morning will begin with a description of  the assignment, 
and/or a Power Point lecture relating to it, and (where appropriate) a demo. 
After a delicious lunch (right there!), I will given lots of one on one advice all afternoon.

Both actuality and virtuality are,therefore, available!!  See you in class!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading.......Elizabeth

Monday, February 2, 2015

Reality versus Actuality: the battle of the classes!

In the old days to talk about the battle of the classes meant the serfs versus the nobs...... then the middle class rose and we were all middle class!! For a we're going back to serfs and nobs (them what have the loot!)....however, that's not what this post is about!

Instead, I'm reflecting upon a recent internet discussion on whether or not teaching art quilts is becoming less popular - or rather, whether taking such classes is becoming less popular.  Last May  I was at QSDS (Quilt Surface Design Symposium) - one of the very first of such venues started by Nancy Crow in the Art Quilt Year Dot.  Back in those days you practically had to stand in line overnight a year before to get into a class. Therefore I was quite surprised to note that the week I was teaching there were only 5 classes, of which only two had actually "made" the other three had very limited enrollment and probably (I really don't know for sure but it was suggested on the contract) the three teachers of the small classes accepted a reduced fee.  I also saw a similar thing at another classic venue later in the year.

There are a number of factors for this - most discussed already at length on the 'net....but one thing I think is that in so many ways we're now living our lives on the internet.  Let's face it traveling is NO Fun.   When I as a respectable prim old lady  coming through the "pre-check" lane still have to put up with hands down my pants (I'm not kidding!), the under wiring of my bra thoroughly examined, the bandages on my broken ankle removed,  my hands scoured for gun powder residue and my little "spot remover" pen taken away (!!), then you know it's getting bad.  Furthermore, much of this is either unnecessary or ineffective or both.

So there's the discomfort, and the expense of the real classes.  And the time involved - people say where are the young folk??  The poor sods are working every minute of the day, Americans work longer hours and take less time off than any other so-called civilized country!

Online classes, however, are burgeoning.  They're inexpensive, do not require travel, or vacation time.  You can "attend" whenever it suits you and they're surprisingly congenial.  I've been teaching online now for several years, first with Quilt University and currently with and there are numerous other venues.  I also have a year long master class involving monthly assignments and a lot of critiquing that I run myself.

I've discovered that I really think of the people in the classes - especially those who pop up again and again (thank you!) -  as friends, I feel I know them.  And they get to know each other.  And it's lovely just to go online and see what everyone is doing...and they can ask and I can answer questions a lot more easily than in a Real classroom. And I believe in real (though short and to the point) critiques - this is how we learn.  Because these are done on the internet, you can read and cogitate instead of having to react straight away as you would in a real life class.  Much more comfortable, and more effective because you can think through the suggestions that are made.

So I don't think taking classes is becoming less popular - but WHERE they are taken has changed.  In the same way that where we shop has changed, where we "borrow" our library books has changed.

And talking about online classes....I just happen to have one starting this Friday!!
It's called Inspired to Design and it's with  It's a really great intro to designing your own quilts based on photographs - your own - or others.  I say others because I do not advocate simply copying a photo -  not very creative and also there can be copyright problems.  But using a photo as a starting point for a design, and then adding in what you feel you want to emphasize, is just fine.  And creative.  So, if you'd like to be Inspired to Design.....then check out the class!
I promise you won't need to get your underwires examined!!

And, if you have been, thanks for reading!!  As always.....Elizabeth

A quilt cut up!

First...the cut up quilt!

Here's the original version:

It was a good quilt but a little bit too wide  - well over 5 ft which made shipping difficult and expensive...also I never really cared for the far right hand hand.

So I cut it up!!!  This must be about the twentieth quilt I've cut up one way or another, it may show that I'm slow to make up my mind, or that I'm inordinately reckless!!

Eniow.....(I'm trying to get this good looking word adopted by Spell Check - so far Spell Check is winning!)...eniow  here are the results:

and......just a little fellow:.....(15 x 21)....(different camera, different lightly).

So tell me what you think....I'm wondering about slicing a bit more off the bottom of the big one!!!

And then I think I've got a couple more rolled up that could probably use a bit of a trim....hmmm...will have to get them out and see.....

off for a bit of cogitation with me cuppa tea!

If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth