Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Classes...No "it's lovely dear"!

I"ve discovered that something I really like to do is research for upcoming classes.  I just don't know how some teachers teach the same thing for years and years.  When I taught at a university having three sections of the same class nearly did me in!!! Everybody else said "oh thank goodness, less prep" and I was thinking "how on earth will I get through the boredom of repeating the same material over and over?"!!!

Of course performing artists  (I suppose in some way a teacher is a performing artist come to think of it!!), do find a way to give each performance a little different flavor and meaning, but I bet even some of them were composing their grocery lists while they played a sublime Chopin nocturne!!!

Anyway this last week I've been working on three new Power Point Presentations - how I love being able to be So Visual in the classroom - for my upcoming Master Class on Cape Cod.

In my Abstract Art for Quiltmakers online class (which starts again this Friday by the way - do check out the website academyofquilting.com,   we examine the work and the processes used by female abstract artists of the 20th and 21st century.   From that study I was able to come up with a LOT of different ways one could design a quilt...and it's so much fun trying them out.  This is a great class and very popular, by the way.

So for my Cape Cod Master Class (June 8-12) (if interested contact Linda Gallagher at ambasatrvl@aol.com - Linda has organized a great venue, 5 day class with lunch provided, and she has all the info re accommodation, travel etc), having "dealt with" the almost unknown female abstract artists, I thought it would be really interesting  to see what the men had done and what we could learn from them.  There are some amazing inspirations out there!  So that was a wonderful lecture to put together and I plan to show you how to analyze and derive ideas from their work.

  But did I stop there?  NO!!!  I was having some much fun, I've also put together two other assignments, one about the hidden order, the structure beneath a design which is a) vital and b) completely ignored (as far as I can see) by most people, teachers included.  The third thing we'll do that week is look at the best ways of working from a photograph - using all the knowledge we've gained during the week.

I'm hoping by the end of the week on Cape Cod and by the end of the 6 week online class , students will have a huge amount of knowledge, a great many quilt designs, and at least 3 quilt tops cut and pinned ready to finish. Actually for the online class, they should have 5 quilt tops!

One of the most vital things for making progress in any endeavor, is helpful, supportive, honest and clear-sighted critiquing.  A lot of teachers I've noticed  find it easy to get away with "oh that's lovely dear, now onto the next thing".  Well that sort of teaching approach has never helped me - I always want to know what's right and what's wrong, how can I improve, what solutions could I consider in improving the work. As my piano,  square  and French teachers are discovering!!

Obviously you don't want to be destroyed!!!  Everyone needs encouragement to continue trying, but you also need some pointers, some direction.  How can you fix a problem if you can't even articulate it?  I really think education took a step backward when the idea of letting the student discover everything for himself became universal.  Now there are situations where that is the Ideal response - situations where you know the student has the knowledge to analyze, find the difficulties and fix them, but  expecting people to find an answer without that knowledge basis is an avenue fraught with frustration.  There are a few highly motivated people who can do it - yes - but in my experience those folk usually are applying analytical skills they obtained in a different field - which is great.  I'm all for transfer of skills from one area to another.  But for most people who want to get to the top of  the mountain, helping them achieve their goal by pointing out the trail, the list of equipment you need, and the right way to climb over the rocks etc, etc etc is the better way.

I'm really looking forward to trying out some of my ideas.  And the online classes inspire me to real life classes and vice versa.  And then they inspire books!  (Inspired to Design, and Working in a Series, both published by C&T, came from my online classes).

And now back to my research....if you have been, thanks for reading!  I look forward to seeing you in class - online with the academy of quilting or in Real Life on Cape Cod (ambasatrvl@aol.com).  Elizabeth

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Looking Into Space...

Traditional paintings (prior to the late 19th Century) usually portrayed a sense of depth or 3-dimensionality –  foreground, middle ground and background.  Once cameras were invented, painters began to explore ideas other than the reproduction (however beautiful) of a specific person or scene.  Many painters chose to flatten the space in the picture as they wanted to emphasize the idea that a painting was just that: a painting.  It does seem ironic that after the struggles of painters in the Middle Ages and Renaissance to develop depth in their work, just a few centuries later artists would be eschewing such pictorial ideas!!  In fact, some of them even pushing in the other direction with reverse perspective such as David Hockney has played with.

Most traditional quilt patterns don’t involve ideas of depth: their abstract designs were well ahead of abstraction in the fine art world!  (Which, of course, the Whitney eventually realized with their show of the Gees Bend Quilts a few years ago!).   So for art quilt designers today there is a choice – shallow space or deep?  Do we want to convey the illusion of deep space or not?  If we do, there are a number of devices by which this can be done.

  People ask me about perspective; I personally rarely use it to indicate space – but I do, however, think it’s important not to get perspective wrong unintentionally.  Quilts that have a lot of perspective drawing are of a much more controlled style than I am interested in.    If you look at books on linear perspective drawing, all the illustrations look like blueprints rather than art. However I do think it’s worthwhile to read a couple of articles or books on the subject and work a few examples, so you have a sense of the different kinds of perspective (one point, two point etc), how it’s indicated in a reproduction, where the horizon or eyeline is  and what effect that might have upon various 3D objects in your design.

Apart from actually using perspective there are a number of tools you can use to indicate depth - and these are the ones that most artists do use.

Overlapping: if we see a picture of an apple in front of a box…we “know” the apple is in front, we don’t think that the apple is behind the box which has an apple-shaped hole cut in it!  The same for a man in front of a wall. or a tree in front of a lake.  Overlapping is one of the major ways by which we judge depth.  Think about it when you’re driving around town!
edgeoflightIn this quilt, “Edge of Light”, I’ve used overlapping to indicate the rows of cottages being in front of the water and the distant hills. I haven’t really used any other devices as my interest was in the way the far group of cottages caught the light, rather than distance or other concerns.

Size:  if we see a tree in the distance, it actually looks much smaller than a man right in front of us standing on our feet!!  we don’t think we have a giant right next to us and a bonsai in the distance…our brains automatically compute – smaller therefore further away. 

In the quilt on the right, Ferrybridge, I don’t mean to indicate that the terrace houses at the bottom of the quilt are larger than the cooling towers at the top, rather that they are a lot nearer – so they are bigger.

This quilt also uses placement on the picture plane to indicate depth – the lower an item is on the quilt, the nearer it is to us, the higher it is, the more we read it as being further away.

That's obvious, because if something is small and far away it's not going to be visible behind everything anyway.  Our brains soon get used to figuring these things out.

Interestingly, it is the brain's experience that does figure it out - it's not built in.  If your brain was deprived of distant views from infancy, it would be much harder for you to see and understand this kind of depth.

Colour can be described in 4 different ways: hue, value, intensity and temperature.  Each of these can be used to indicate distance or closeness.  Things that are further away tend to be bluer (as we are looking at them through all the moisture and dust in the atmosphere), the colours are less intense, the values are lighter, and the temperature is cooler (towards blue, closer things being toward red).  You can see some of these colour changes in the quilt below (Overlook):

The amount of contrast and detail you put into an area can also indicate distance: more contrast, more detail..nearer the foreground – less contrast, less detail…the background.
In Greenhouses, the trees in the front  are more detailed.  The foreground of houses and trees is much more detailed and with a lot more contrast, than the middle ground of darker more amorphous shapes, and the distance of soft hills has very little contrast or detail. 

Of course in real life and in designing life, you wouldn’t just choose or use one device alone to assess distance, usually there are combinations.  And, as you can see from above, you don’t always have to follow all the rules!!
If you want to experiment with designing with space – consider foreground, middle ground and background: 3 distinct levels of space. Starting with the furthest point in the landscape and building forwards..developing more contrast etc.

And, if you have been, thanks for reading! Now for some space!

Monday, March 9, 2015

The Golden Ratio - golden? or merely efficient?

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 Vergil’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 they did, 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 Vergil 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 hooey then?  well....having thoroughly debunked its use in art, the FCP (who is definitely not an LCD!) 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!!!  

....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.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Elements of Design: creating them on fabric....then using them.

My Dyeing to Design online class starts this Friday: March 6th (it's with academy of quilting).
This class is a really broad review of different ways of creating value, color, texture, shape and line.....on fabric...and then how to design a small quilt using those fabrics.

When you're designing a two dimensional art work you only have (believe it or not!) five things, known as elements, to arrange ......and they are value, color, texture, shape and line.
 However juggling five things at once isn't easy.

So I thought it would be fun to write an online class where we look at the elements one by one.
First creating them on fabric - using a variety of different surface design techniques (low water immersion, arashi shibori, screen printing with dye) - and then designing with them.

In the Value lesson, we mix dye concentrate (once mixed you've enough for the whole class...and for several months more experimenting if you wish!) and then make a set of fabrics of 8 or 9 different values - tones - from very light to very dark.  You know how you can never find more than 2 or 3 different values of a single color in commercial fabric?  And if you buy graduated hand dyes, they're in those dinky little packets tied with a ribbon - and Not Cheap!!
It's much better to learn how to do it for yourself!
Then I discuss how to use value in designing a quilt - and you make one too..

In the Color lesson, you can dye many different colors...but then think about choosing a good color scheme for a quilt...and  then make it!

In the Texture lesson, you learn how to make those marvelous arashi shibori patterns on cloth - in an easy way!!  This lesson alone is worth the price of the entire course!!  I used to make this fabric and sell (well not dinky beribboned packets that's not my style!) chunks of it...but now I think it's much more fun to teach people how to do it.

In the Line and Shape lessons, you learn how to create these elements on cloth by screen printing with thickened dye. And then make quilts...

The whole course is designed to make you think about and become familiar with the use of the different elements of design.  It also shows you exactly how to create those elements and then how to use that fabric in a quilt.  So it covers a lot of ground.  It's fun....and educational!!  I love learning and I hope you do too.

Of course I like having fun as well....and best of all, feet up thinking about what I've learned..along with a nice cup of tea.

If you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

P.S. I'm happy to answer any questions...email link on the side bar at the  top of the page.