Sunday, September 23, 2012

WIS* - Defining My Theme

*Working In a Series
The first week of my Working in a Series workshop with Lisa Call is complete.  I have been eagerly awaiting this and couldn't wait to jump in with both feet.    I had two general ideas for possible themes and was having a very hard time making up my mind.  The choice was between strip piecing a la Nancy Crow and map quilts somewhat a la Valerie Goodwin.  Jillian, my coach, had strongly urged maps, partly because of the potential for entering Sheila Xs' show, and partly because of the more emotional expression that is involved.  I was leaning the other way, and ended up going with the strip piecing.  There were two main reasons.  First, when I understood how narrowly we needed to define the series, I knew I didn't have enough ideas to narrow the maps to where it would be a good working concept.  Second, of the eight class members, two others were doing maps/aerial view ideas.

It seems whenever I think I have something unique to do, there are a dozen or a hundred others doing it.  Why am I always just a day late and a dollar short?!   Not that I have to have the  monopoly on maps, but I don't want to seem like I'm jumping on a bandwagon just when everyone else does.   However, I am also starting to realize that its not the idea, it's the execution that matters.

So I decided on the strip piecing, then with Lisa's help the parameters were narrowed enough to give me a place to start from, and work from.  An overall size, based on the golden rectangle, and a color palette were defined/selected.  I also limited the sizes of strips to be cut, basically to small, medium, and large.  Here is the original palette I selected.  I say original, because about 5-6 more snuck in there when I wasn't looking.

Full Palette
I wanted to make sure that I had a good range of values, but also that the colors would "go" together such that when the series is seen as a whole, there is a sense of cohesion.

Here are some of the images that inspired my series definition:

Paul Klee: Fire Evening

Elin Larimer, Pajama Party IV

Gunta Stolzl, Tapestry

This horrendous thing was my very fast attempt to intuitively create a "maquette" for the series.  I tried to be too intuitive and quick and did NOT in any way intend to put a big green E in the middle of it.  But there you have it.  Fail.   

I just couldn't leave it as it was with the E.  This is not really any better, but it at least doesn't scream at me.

Friday, September 21, 2012


I always feel guilty for posting boring blog posts full of words.  Art blogs without any pictures of art can be pretty boring.  I haven't been doing too much art, though.  I have been doing little catch-up things here  
and there.  

Here are all my little oddballs above the mantle-less mantle.

Here's what collected back on the design wall after I cleared it off last weekend.  The rectangle is my proposed size of works for the Series workshop.  It is a golden rectangle proportion, but it just doesn't look so harmonious to me right now.  I'm hoping it will grow on me.

I finished quilting the Art Deco FFFC piece last weekend, and plan to face it tomorrow.  The intuitive piecing piece is ready for a sandwich and some practice quilting.  The Carol Taylor piece needs more yarn applique around the edges, and then in circles.  The other red, white, blue and black blocks are what I have been doing to practice curved piecing.  I cut enough for sixteen of these babies, and I'm sick of them already.  It takes me about an hour to do each one.  Worth it? 

This picture is the view behind me.  I've used some cute little magnetic clips to hang smaller pieces on the steel column.  I should probably treat that one by Shanna and Barbara with a little more respect, maybe even a frame?

This morning I worked on trying to fashion a 3D petunia bud.  I'm not overly pleased with it.  If Jo will add the fuzzy thread, maybe that will help.

Tonight I worked on a hanging sleeve for the Log Cabins quilt.  
I realized I need to put sleeves on my UFO list, too!

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Small Group Comments

Last night the Grateful Threads had a get together to look at the pink petunia progress (PPP) and talk about our current work.  I can't believe we haven't  met since June and I still didn't have a single thing finished to show.  The moving excuse is getting old!  I am behind on the Petunias now.  Everyone had been saying they didn't start, but then when a meeting got scheduled, work was done. It's starting to be really interesting!   I have not cut out any fabric, but I started identifying which fabrics will go where, and how many values of each fabric, etc.  It was good to see what others had done, now I know I'm generally on the right track and I'm excited to proceed.

There were some interesting discussions too.  One member had just sold one of her major works, through a placement by Allied Arts of Whatcom County.  She's sold a number of other works in the past year as well, which was very exciting to know about.  We talked about selling via art shows versus quilt shows.  Art shows/galleries are so much better for sales of art quilts.  I mentioned that our town has surprisingly few galleries, considering how "arty" we all think we are. Jo suggested that the best options were restaurants and hotels.  Where people might see and buy art work.  In other words finding your own placements.  I was thinking about medical offices - since I had three different appointments last week.  One of my doctors just branched out on her own, and the walls are looking a little bit bare.  It would be fun to put together some available works then send out postcards to medical and dental offices... if I had any available work.

The other interesting discussion was about working in a series. We were discussing Rob Appel, who was the featured speaker at our guild last week.  His current work is the Endangered Species quilts, which are really pretty cool.     Here's one example - you can buy patterns on his website if you are inclined to cut out a lot of really small pieces of fabric:

But he also showed his earlier "Seascapes" quilts, and there are eighteen of them.  And they all look the same....!  He only showed about ten, but still...   they got old really quickly.

So, I don't want to bash Rob, he was a great speaker and he's doing some really cool stuff, and he's donating some of his profits to benefit endangered species. And he was just learning to quilt.  And they are way better than anything I'm learning on.  But the comments that came up last night were, "See, that's what working in a series is like.... boring!  Who wants to do the same thing over and over....?"  This led to more discussions of when it might be interesting to try something again... Jo might be interested in redoing her mountain quilt, and we talked a little bit about how in some cases there are some things that you might like to try again.  But I realized I'm in much more of a minority than I thought.

  After Lisa's lecture I was completely sold on Working in a Series being the only way to develop a career.  I still am. Her comment about taking classes being a distraction was right on for me.  Something sounds good - I sign up - bingo! Another UFO that I have little interest in.  The more I look around at artists and serious art quilters I admire, the blogs I read,  and the people who post on the SAQA list,  people who are serious about this as a career are working in series, or at least developing a clear voice.

When I joined the guild I realized quickly I was pretty far on the left side of the Traditional Quilt - Art Quilt spectrum.  The first quilt I completed was my own design, invented as I went along.  No pattern.  It didn't occur to me that a pattern would really be needed unless you were doing something very complicated.  So  I started to identify more with the "art quilters," going to the more "arty" classes.  I was thrilled when Jo invited me to be part of the G. T., and still am, it's so wonderful to have that interaction, and input and critique... (or it would be if I had something to show them!)  But now I realize with things like Filmstrip, and the Nancy-Crow-esque series I want to do, I'm moving even further over on that spectrum.    I can't imagine what they are going to think if I ever get that monster quilted!

Goings On

I've been too busy to post much, but mostly for good things.  To catch up... after I posted my two options for series choices below, I found out that two of the eight members of the class are already doing series based on aerial photos or maps, so I decided not to go that route and to go with the geometric abstract concept.  That's where my heart was anyway.  My mentor/advisor had urged the map direction but I don't think I was ever on board with it.  I DO want to do maps, especially to go back to the series I started in Valerie's class.  See I called it a series.  Before it was just going to be a group of three related pieces.  :)

So I committed to doing the abstract series, and here are the three pictures I posted as my inspiration:
Ellin Larimer, Pajama Party IV
Gunta Stolzl, Textile
Paul Klee, Fire Evening
The Klee piece is the one that really pulls me in.  I love the colors.  I love the depth, the way the blocks seem to come forward off the page, and the way the title so perfectly describes it.  I don't want to over-complicate things, and I'm afraid if I look too much at Larimer, I will.  I watched a video interview of Agnes Martin, that Lisa recommended this morning, and it was very emotional.  She spent her career of over 50 years trying to shut out ideas, to open and empty her mind in order to let the inspiration come through.  She talked about how artists "today" (this was 1997) have too many ideas, and the let all the ideas over-run the inspiration.  Good words to remember.  But the most touching point to me was when she turned to the interviewer and asked, "Are you doing what you were meant to be doing?"  I think those were her words. But the look on her face was indescribable.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Series Theme

Our assignment on Sunday was to decide on the theme for our 8-week series.  As I have been for months I was torn between two ideas, the "map thing" and the strip piecing thing.  As I logged on to the class website this morning, I see that two of my 7 classmates have posted their themes.  And they are both related to aerial views/maps!    That pretty much cinched it for me - I will  not do the map thing - partly because I don't want to be comparing myself to them constantly, and I don't want to turn this into "the map series" class.

I was leaning toward strip piecing anyway.   I'll be updating my workshop page to that effect, but before I delete the analysis of pros and cons that I had written, I'll preserve it here...

General Theme/Idea:   I’m still waffling about this choice.  I have two competing ideas; abstract, non-representational geometric “strip piecing and restructuring,” or quilts inspired by or based on maps and aerial photographs.  I have taken workshops on both ideas in the past.  

Pros and Cons?  Strip Piecing:
PRO: I will be returning to study with Nancy Crow in March and doing the strip piecing type series would give me a body of work in that “genre” or style to show and have critiqued by her.  
CON: the workshops next year are moving on from that focus to Lines Curves, Circles, and Improvisation   – do I want to be “stuck in the past?”
PRO: Why care about that, as long as I feel inspired and excited about working in that way, which I do, currently.  
CON: I’m very interested in exploring meaning in art, and other than things like form, shape, color, value, etc. the totally abstract pieces don’t carry meaning for me.  
PRO:  Maybe doing a series that “only” addresses form, shape, color, value, balance, and composition is MORE than enough to study in this first attempt at a series!  
CON:  If I focus on this, I probably will not also be able to enter a piece in the “Perspectives” exhibition. (See below).
Pros and Cons, Map Series:
PRO: This is something I’ve thought about for a long time.  My architectural background could bring a unique viewpoint to the series.  I’m very enthused about it.
CON: It’s a very generalized theme and I am not sure how I would narrow it down to something do-able for this class.  There are many different branches I could follow, and I’m not sure how to chose just one right now.  They are things like using plans of existing buildings and cities, using aerial photos, using places from my memories or dreams, creating imaginary places…  
PRO: I have never seriously submitted a piece for a show, and would like to enter one in a show that focuses on this concept, and which is due November 10th. 
CON: I’m not sure what sort of techniques I would use for this series.  Fused applique, painting, phototransfers all seem appropriate, but other than fusing, are not something I have a lot of practice in.  I want to move away from fusing, at least right now, I think.  I like the boundaries set by piecing and solids.
My specific focus in this theme (use sentences/bullet points – whatever you need to share your idea with clarity): After our lecture last night (Sunday) and perusal of some of the additional reference materials,  I think I have  a better idea of how specific the series idea needs to be.  This morning (Monday) I went to some books and websites of favorite art quilters and thought specifically about what makes their work obviously theirs, and within that clear voice, what amount of variation is possible. 
My medium for this seriesFabric. Mostly cotton, mostly commercial fabric, mostly solid colors, although I am open to including some hand dyed, mottled, batik, or interesting printed fabric if it seems warranted.  
My definition of “done” for each composition (how far I will take each piece before moving on):   I will be satisfied with fully pieced quilt tops.   I hope that I will be able to take at least one piece to completion, including backing, quilting and binding, but I don’t want to get bogged down and spend too much time on quilting or on the other hand have to rush through design just to get to quilting.  So: No quilting = Okay. 
Other restrictions I have set for my series (such as technique/materials, size):  If I do the strip piecing series, my technique will be machine piecing and quilting.  If I work with maps I think it would need to include some applique.   I think I would like to keep the size of the pieces consistent (?)  I would like to have a select color palette, especially with the strip piecing series.  The way Elin Larimer used a controlled palette in her Pajama Party series (scroll to second group) really inspires me. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Free Writing Exercise #1

I thought I would share the results of my first Free Writing assignment in Lisa's class.  The prompt was, "Working in a series means...."  We were to write for 15 minutes without editing or correcting.

Working in a series means deciding which doors to open and which ones to close.   In researching this class, somewhere I ran across a comment from Lisa about “deciding which doors to close.”  The number of ideas and the different techniques and options and possibilities are limitless and overwhelming.  If you never at least temporarily close some doors, you will end up randomly bouncing from one idea to the next never getting good at anything and never fully exploring anything.     I learned in architecture school that the most common rookie mistake is trying to cram every idea you’ve ever had into the first building you design.  The most successful buildings and art works are successful, in my opinion, because they have been pared down to the essence of the idea.

Working in a series does not mean locking all the other doors and throwing away the key, it just means learning to FOCUS on one aspect at a time.  I looked at Lisa’s Structures series which has been underway for about ten years, I think.  I noticed that there are some groups of pieces that are very similar to each other, but very different from other groups.  Assuming the numbers are assigned in chronological order, she explores one idea, then maybe tries another, then goes back to the first one, having been informed about some other aspect of the concept in the second work.

I’m going to have a very hard time deciding which of my two series ideas I want to explore in this class.  I guess we will work on that next week.   In general (outside of a class structure) I don’t think it is a problem, and probably it’s a good thing, to have a couple different series going at once.   Just as one work in a series can inform the next, one series could also inform the other. 

Something else I learned both from school, and from looking at quilt artist’s websites is that the successful artists have a “voice.”  This voice runs through all their work, although it sometimes may be a scream, other times a soft melody.   Artists who constantly bounce around, creating one-off works seldom are published, or chosen for exhibits.  The whole idea of having a “body of work,” is one of the things that presents who you are to the world.   Of course the body of work evolves over time, and might become something totally different.  Picasso started with cubism, and later did the blue series, totally unrelated, but still from the same hand.

One of the first art quilter’s books I read (don’t even remember her name) described the quilters story and her having received many judges comments about not having a voice, wondering what that meant, then finally learning it for herself.

At this point, I’ve spent way more time looking at other art quilters than I have doing my own art.  (It’s easier to browse the web on your lunch hour, than run home to piece for 30 minutes… though both are possible.  Having studied many,  it’s clear to me that you cannot develop a good body of work without following one thread to see where it takes you.     The first part of this class for me will be all about deciding which doors to close, and which to open.    I hope in a year or so to have a good start on maybe both of the series I am considering, and to NOT tinker too much with other options and directions right away.   One of my favorite quotes is one by Goethe that I unearthed from my Bartletts Quotations way before there ever was an internet:  Art is long, life is short, judgment difficult, opportunity transient.
What is the best way to make use of this short life?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Gearing Up

It's been a long time since I've posted to the blog.  It's been a busy time - once the quilt show and holiday socializing was finally over last week I turned my focus to "back to school" mode.   I've taken on a lot, but it doesn't feel like a lot of responsibility or something to dread.  I am excited and feel like a kid filled with anticipation of the first day of school, excited about the new things I'm going to learn and as much or maybe more about the new friends I'm going to meet or reconnect with.  Turns out that Katie from the Nancy Crow workshop is also part of the online class that starts Sunday.  She lives just north and across the border from here, so we may meet up in person one of these days.

On Sunday morning the first assignment from Lisa in Working in a Series arrived. Class officially starts NEXT Sunday but she gave us some little warm up assignments to get us thinking, learning our way around the blog (Wordpress, UGH!) and posting pictures properly.  I'm okay with posting but even with a bright work light my pictures are not coming out properly.  Look at these!  I borrowed Greg's big construction light  why can't I get the lighting right?!

Anyway it's been fun and busy putting up my first assignment - the "About me" page, and checking to see if others have done the same. So far there are only eight of us - two spaces left, and I'm sure it's not too late if anyone is interested.  I am sure it's going to be fantastic for me - I can see that Lisa is really well organized and has her class carefully thought out and prepared.  So the last piece of my assignment is to declutter the studio - I'm glad to have that assignment -it needed it!

I got through the registration process at Whatcom Community College for the Color in Art class. That should be interesting, and I 'm a little more apprehensive about it, because I'm fairly sure I'll be the only "textile artist". Probably the only one over 40 too.  I definitely won't use the word "quilts" around there. Their quarter is very late so class doesn't start until October 2.  I'm also nervous about disappearing from work for three hours, but probably no one will even notice.  I don't want to keep it a secret, I just don't want to advertise it.

The third part of my "back to school" experience is that I have signed up with SAQA for something called the "Visioning Project."  It's not really well described but it is structured as a way for members to publicly post goals, report on them, and receive feedback. Only a few of the participants have checked in so far.   It seems it does not formally kick off until October, and I know that for anyone making a submission to Quilt National, the deadline is Friday so many people are probably tied up with that.  I am looking forward to seeing that process, and trying to hold back from my urge to jump in and comment on everything.  I don't want to be that person.

Anyway, that's it from here. I will be working on the remainder of my assignment from Lisa - the decluttering and organizing. She did mention purchasing any supplies you might need so you are ready, and gosh, I realized I really really needed this stack of all the new Kona Cotton solids from Pink Chalk.