Friday, June 19, 2015

The analytical approach to spontaneity

I like the idea of improv - but ...with pencil and paper...
I'm not one of those that would happily cut up great wodges of fabric and rush to the design wall and back, frenziedly pinning and unpinning..
Even less would I want to cut up millions of pieces, sew them madly together, then cut them back up and race back and forth to the wall and then sit staring gloomily at them for hours waiting for inspiration to Strike!
 Though I have tried it....and, like the head banging against the brick wall, it sure was lovely when I stopped.
But I have found  that I can happily improv on paper...sketch after sketch, just black and white, giving myself a few rules each time...
Rules? you say, Rules??? But the Great never use rules!!  oh no??  think about improv humor, think about improv in music - they're all about structure....

The first steps in improv in music?  "play only the black keys, designate one key as the "home key" and keep returning to it, set up a basic rhythm...and repeat"  You're playing in a pentatonic scale - only 5 things vary - so repetitions occur basically with or without you thinking much about it since you are limiting yourself.
Second step: play only white keys - now there are 8 things that can vary - but again the advice is to have a "home key" to which you return.

Painter, Amy Sillman says that improv comedy in which she's trained to try to improve her painting, isn't so much a comedic form as a responsive one.  Responsive to the verbal and the body language of the other performers.   The product is language - with which we are skilled..   we know what words go together to make coherent sentences, and how to make associations from one word (or sentence) to another.   The performers also learn to make connections and is a learned verbal art form, well practiced in the classroom before being taken out on the stage.

 So rules....or perhaps "guidelines" would be a better word...are very helpful in improv, because without some structure and some limitations there would be chaos.   The improv performers are not only skilled in awareness of the audience and each other, but also they solicit the structure, the initial "shapes, lines and colors" from the volunteers.  They observe the "values and  the textures" as the ideas are suggested to them.
And then they juggle them, bouncing the ideas from one to another, flipping them forward and back, making associations, turning  them inside out.  Just as two musicians improvising together might begin with a specific melody (or pentatonic pattern), then begin to augment, to repeat, to reverse, to speed up or slow down, to embellish etc .

And so I shall go back down to my paper and pencils again and give myself a starting point and a few guidelines and when I have 20 such improvs....and only then will I decide which I should translate into fiber,  for our craft of quilting is slow and laborious.  A little akin to the sculptor who works a small model in clay, but then later has it cast large in bronze.   Would the sculptor begin with large chunks of bronze pouring  them at random into moulds?

Allow yourself an analytical approach to spontaneity and I think you'll have more fun, and will be more creative and less frustrated.

And of course, when thoroughly stumped, one can always go and make a nice cuppa tea.....
And, if you have been, thanks for reading!

I look forward to reading your comments...what is your creative process?  Do you give yourself any guidelines, any structure and, if not, how do you fare?  


Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Master Class on Cape Cod

This was the first time I'd taught a LIVE master class...and how wonderful to be working with so many talented people!!

I gave three short talks accompanied by Power Point presentations to introduce the issues and topics I wanted to address...then gave an assignment and the students set to work!

Silence prevailed in the large airy room as cogitation commenced in all quarters.

Sketches were mounted onto design boards and we went round as a group for evaluation and critique....noting strong points, indicated weaknesses - and why - and possible ways to fix them.

Then the construction of several tops took place...obviously there wasn't time to complete whole quilts as a new presentation and assignment occurred every 8 hours!   Though there was overnight thinking and catch up time.

We also had a quilt show at the local Chamber of commerce, the opening was very well attended and the quilts looked great.  They were hung with "command" strips which I'd never seen before...but I was quite impressed...when we took the quilts down there wasn't a mark on the wall.  Much easier than rods and nails.

Here are some pictures from the quilt show:

and a few of the many designs that were made - I think everyone went home  with at least a dozen excellent designs, and some had many more......they won't need to take another workshop until this time next year!!

It was such a good experience that there may be another Live Master Class in my future...meanwhile I'm going to expand some of the assignments into online classes for the - don't look right away takes me months to put these classes together!
And of course I have a waiting list for my online Master Class.  Email me if you're interested.

and now...for a nice cuppa tea...if you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Cape Cod Cogitations


And here I am on Cape Cod enjoying the gorgeous smell of lilacs - getting my fill because they don't  grow in the South.  I'm having a few days off to admire the scenery and regroup before teaching the Live Master Class next week.  Reading some books about art...if you're not doing it - read about it, think about it, nay....Cogitate!!!  It's so enriching to read and reread books about art.   A favorite writer is Marie Roberts who said:     

"Intense feeling alone is not enough to make a work of art” 

Would that it were so!!  And yet how many  still hang onto magical thinking.  How many contestants in those (un)reality shows on tv, when asked why they should get the prize, state "because I want it SO much!"  Oh yes, but does wanting it So Very MUch mean that it will happen?  I always wanted to be able to speak and understand a foreign language, but how far d'you think I got just wanting?  And I Wanted As Hard As I Possibly Could!

Just wanting to create a wonderful symphony, an amazing novel, or a fabulous painting, or an award winning art quilt actually isn't quite enough!  However passionately you feel about it. And, however passionately you feel about the topic you wish to portray. As any writer will tell you, there's significant planning (look at J K Rowling who planned out the whole Harry Potter series before she began writing) and then hard grind.

An experience many of us have had is that the quilt just doesn't turn out as we hoped and imagined.  So what is actually happening when you feel that you can  see the quilt in your head but it doesn't come out right when you try to build it on the wall?  If I see a word in my head, or even a whole sentence (!) I can usually write it down.   If I see a row of triangles, I can draw them.  So what about that fabulous idea?   Well, for one thing, I actually don't see it clearly, rather I feel it;  I feel the emotion of it, but I don't see the actuality of it.  The feeling has to be translated into the elements that we have in quilting, viz: light/dark, color, texture, shapes and lines.  We don't have a little pot of emotion we can spoon out on the quilt.  The dye companies don't make "joy" or "melancholy" that you can brush on, or stitch on.  Imagine if you could though??   "3 yards of gaiety and a pound of wonder, please!"

Now the great musician can draw her bow across the violin strings and we can feel happiness and wonder in ourselves.   But if I drew that bow...I'm sure that wonder would not be the emotion my listeners would experience!  We need to know how to translate feeling into the elements we do have.   And we need the skill to do it well.  Alas neither is gained overnight, and definitely not achieved without a great deal of effort and thought.  And looking at how others have done it.

So we headed down to Provincetown - called Pee Town by the locals! - to check out some of the art.  And there's a lot of it, some good, some bad, as you might expect.  We were told by a gallery owner that the visitors to Pee Town didn't like fiber, but I did come across this little gem (alas did not get the name of the artist):

 And now to prepare for the class....
 If you have been, thanks for reading!   Elizabeth

PS  Do recommend to us any books about art that  you have found inspiring....the Comment box is open!