Saturday, July 30, 2011

Cleaning the studio

I had to laugh at some of the comments left by readers of my post yesterday, assuming that my studio is now neat and organized, just because I said I'd spent a couple of days puttering around.  First, I spent most of the time braiding cords, not actually cleaning.  But more important, the messiness of my studio is legendary, and it would take a couple of hundred days of puttering around to actually achieve organization.  That will not happen in my lifetime.

Once I spent the better part of three months trying to clean and organize my studio, and did make major improvements, but then I realized that (a) the place was still not ready for the Fine Studios Magazine photographic team, and (b) I hadn't made any art in three months.  I came to the conclusion -- not sure if this is reason or rationalization -- that cleaning the studio can be one of the higher forms of procrastination.  If you say you haven't made art in three months because you've been cleaning your studio, people approve, whereas if you say you haven't made art in three months because you've been playing Spider Solitaire, they don't.

I clean on a need-to-know basis.  If I need the whole work table or design wall panel to assemble a very large quilt, I'll clear it off.  I do a great deal of cleaning and organizing in the course of searching for something I need, but when I find it, I go back to work.

Fortunately I must have the kind of brain that thrives on chaos.  I think some of this is genetic, but it was certainly exacerbated by my first career, as a newspaper journalist, in which you had to do your work in a large room full of ringing telephones, people wandering in and out, a dozen conversations going on within earshot.  I learned quickly to tune out distractions and focus on my work.

My first (messy) desk at my first real job.  The typewriter was manual; the balloon and the vacant look were temporary.  PS -- some years later I married the cute guy sitting behind me.

I've always thought that an empty desk was the sign of an empty mind, and eked out a successful career from piles of papers stacked on the desk, the bookcases and occasionally the floor.  Not as bad as some offices I've seen, and probably my studio is not as bad as some others.  But certainly not ready for the magazine.

In a sense, that brain vibe is probably related to much of my work.  Although I admire spare, minimalist compositions by other people, my own work tends more toward the termite end of the spectrum.  (Termite art = that which is composed of a bazillion tiny bits, put together in an obsessive manner.) 

I would love to have a beautifully organized, clean studio with everything in its place and all horizontal surfaces empty, ready for making art.  I'm just not willing to spend the time to get mine that way (and unless my studio were to miraculously triple in size, or I were to throw out much of my stuff, it's physically impossible).  So I've decided to grin and bear it.  And just writing this has made me feel a lot more energetic than I was earlier in the week.  Time to go downstairs and see if I can make some art instead of just braiding cords.

Photo du jour

open

Friday, July 29, 2011

Getting antsy

I have been sewing nonstop since returning from my workshop and Quilt National opening weekend, the end of May.  Since then I have completed nine quilts (one of them from scratch, eight from my long-unfinished pile) and two tops (both from scratch).  And almost as time-consuming as piecing and quilting them, I sank all the thread ends and sewed on facings.

Monday I had everything photographed, a huge accomplishment because now I have lots of work to enter in shows if opportunities arise.  Tuesday I made the sleeves for all the new quilts and have started sewing them on.  It's time to start something new.

In the normal course of events I know what to do after I finish a project; I usually have a to-do list of work in process, or ideas that are waiting to be started.  And I do have several things on that list, but none that are shovel-ready.  I had two ideas that I thought would be very good, but after piecing those two tops earlier this month, I realized they weren't as great as I had anticipated.  The only idea that I am still really excited about is still not resolved in my head enough to start on.

It's too hot to be outside, which ups the crankiness quotient.  So when all else fails, clean the studio.  I'm not going nuts over this task, but I have been puttering around for the last couple of days, getting some things in order.  I found a bag with an old sheet, labeled "frayed on edge; use for quilt bags" and so I made three nice long bags, big enough to hold a 60-inch pool noodle with a big quilt or two rolled around it. 

After finishing nine quilts in the last eight weeks, I had left a trail of skinny strips of fabric behind me, the edges that were trimmed off after quilting and before facing; I also came across a box of scraps that included lots more skinny strips.

So I braided them into lanyards, a perfectly mindless task that goes well with watching trash TV and jumping up during the commercials to do the laundry.  Excellent for antsy folks with short attention spans and a reluctance to throw things away that might conceivably become useful.  So now I have a dozen or so sturdy cords that will be great for tying up the rolls of quilts that will fit into my new bags. 

This is really pathetic, isn't it?  I sure hope I figure out what to do next and get back to working on grown-up projects.  Also it would be nice if the temperature got below 90.  No hopes for either one in the immediate future, I'm afraid.

Photo du jour

secret message

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The bottom line on modern quilting

Ever notice that occasionally you manage to one-up your kids on some aspect of trendy hipness?  Once in the last decade, for instance, we saw a new movie before our son the movie nut did.  Just last week we went to a hot new restaurant within days of its opening.  And now and then we utter a word or phrase that old people aren't supposed to know, and we even use it correctly in the sentence.  First the young people are surprised, and then they're impressed.  You can almost see the wheels turning in their heads as our reputations creak up a notch or two.  Heck, it's more fun than taking everybody out for dinner!

I've recently been made aware of a new thing called "modern quilting," and in the interest of perhaps surprising and impressing a young person at some future date by using the term correctly in a sentence, I'm trying to understand exactly what it is.  So I seized upon a recent post in Generation Q Magazine for more clues.  This post was a profile of Julie Herman, a young woman with a quilt business, selling patterns and stuff.  Her blog is engaging and her quilts are cheerful.

But we're looking for meaning, so here's the applicable part of the post:

"What modern means to Julie:  For me modern quilting is learning as many ways to do what’s possible and then choosing what’s best for you. Don’t make something because someone told you to or it's popular. Make it because it’s something you love and it’s your happy medium.”

That didn't provide much definition, so I went to Julie's website to check out her quilts.  And was surprised.  Remember, we established from previous clues that modern quilters want to break the rules.  But Julie's quilts don't break any rules that I ever heard of; they're simple, geometric, block-to-block, most based on traditional patterns, all the pieces cut with rulers and perfectly matched at the points and corners.  As far as I can see, they're made with impeccable technique, perfectly flat and beautifully bound.  And you can buy the pattern and make one almost exactly like hers.

She has an excellent eye for color, and sometimes puts together unconventional combinations (orange, aqua and gray looked particularly nice) or uses black to offset brights and lights. 

So what makes this modern quilting, other than the fact that Julie is 28?

After I wrote about modern quilting last week, one of my friends said in an email that she didn't understand what it is either.  "Didn't we already do this in the 60's & 70's??? ... There's a Modern Quilt Guild chapter in Portland (and there is one in Anchorage). From what I've seen in their blogs (show n tell), the quilts are pretty basic."

But as I think about it more, I realize that the modern quilting movement has much less to do with quilts than with quilting. In other words, the social aspect of the craft rather than the craft itself. This is not new, of course -- the quilting bee is one of the iconic images of early America -- but even at the quilting bee, don't you suppose the younger women liked to sneak off and talk about something different than their moms were gabbing about in the big room?


I think this New and Different Movement that's New and Different, but on closer examination proves to be neither New nor Different, boils down to We Don't Want to Hang Out With Old Ladies.  And I can sympathize with thet.

I'm delighted to see younger people enjoy the tradition and art form that I am so heavily invested in.  And much as we old people may think we're far wiser than young people, and have so much to teach them, I understand why it might be more fun for them to learn from one another, even if we might have a few more hard-won tricks of the trade to impart. 

Much as we love having younger people show up at our guilds and give us a jolt of energy, I understand why they might be turned off by our company.  Way too much talk about health problems and visiting the grandchildren, not enough interest in the challenges of starting a career and looking for love (been there, done that). 

My local fiber art group used to have a stitch-and-bitch in the mornings, and the most faithful participant was a twenty-something young woman who craved the companionship (she was self-employed and spent most of her time alone) and loved the craft.  Sometimes after the meeting broke up I would apologize to her, because the conversation had been so awful.  Now the same group has a young man on our board, and I apologize to him for the same reasons.  I know these younger people, especially the guys, must be rolling their eyes as much as threading their needles.

We like to think of ourselves as friendly and inclusive, but are we really?  I was chatting with a friend who attended a workshop at one of the big fiber art get-togethers earlier this summer.  She said it was populated by a core group of people who come every year, love seeing one another, and totally ignore everybody else on premises to the point of open rudeness.  And if a gray-haired woman feels this way, how do you think a twenty-something or a guy would take it?  No wonder they want a Movement of their own.

Photo du jour

stepped roof

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Photo du jour

cloudy

A new flag

My last flag, attached on a cheesy wood pole to a cheesy plastic bracket on the side of the house, bit the dust several months ago.  The flag itself had gotten faded and torn; then the plastic bracket broke.  For a while I made do with little temporary flags, $1 each at Walmart, stuck into the ground by the sidewalk, but they bit the dust too.






















But today I am in heaven!  My birthday present to myself was a flagpole.  It's a clever design -- instead of raising and lowering the flag, you raise and lower the pole.  The five-foot sections telescope, so you raise one section at a time, then twist a bit and let it settle and lock into place, or do in reverse to get the pole down.

Here's what it looks like in low mode.






















The flag attaches with brackets rather than with a rope.

Then send it skyward!
 


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The long saga of the Blue Planet

Sometimes it takes a l-o-n-g time and a lot of attempts for an idea to turn into reality.  Here's the story of one such idea and how it has taken six years to get there (and the story may not be over yet).

In May 2005 I took a workshop from Nancy Crow called "Improvisational Composition."  One of the exercises was to block off a space four by eight feet, then divide it into two unequal sections.  The large section was to be filled with large shapes, and the small section with small shapes.  We would make our compositions first in black and white, then reproduce them in a wider array of neutral colors.

I had the idea to base my composition on a semicircle.  In my mind, this was the southern hemisphere of a planet -- perhaps the earth -- and it was cracking apart.  Hold that thought.

My first go at this composition was what I called "Black Planet."  I planned to fill in the entire left portion of the planet with small, fine-line piecing.

I loved the composition but it was very ambitious and would take a long time to sew together.  At about this point I decided to fold it up and proceed to the next assignment, rendering the same thing in neutrals.

My second go was "Brown Planet" and it too got to a certain point, but had to be folded up and taken home because the workshop ended before the quilt was sewed together.

I took both Black and Brown Planets home with me but never finished them.  That summer and fall I was busy preparing for a solo show and worked frantically for months to finish everything I needed.  Then I had to decompress from the show, and didn't do much of anything for a while.  I liked both the Planets, but they were so big that it would have been difficult to complete them with the limited design wall space in my home studio.

The following spring I went back to the Barn for a master composition class, and decided that I wanted to keep working with the southern hemisphere composition.

We had an extremely large group in the workshop, and space was limited, so I worked a bit smaller than I had with the Black and Brown Planets.  My first try went together quickly but I thought it was a little crude, a step backward in sophistication from my work the year before.

My second try was better, but there was so much piecing that I didn't get very far.  At this point I decided to stop and work on something else for the remainder of the workshop, rather than slog along to finish the piece.

Because my piecing tends to be intricate, complex and SLOW, I often hit this wall at workshops; the creative part is done and all that's left are hours and hours and hours of sewing.  That seems like a waste of valuable workshop time; better to start something new and do the exciting process of development with the help of the teacher.  You can always sew at home.

I worked on this piece when I got home, and then took it back to the Barn in December of 2006 where I got it almost finished, but then it got packed away and forgotten.

This spring I was back at the Barn for another master class, with the mission to haul a lot of old almost-finished pieces out of their boxes and decide whether they were worth finishing.  Here's Blue Planet up on the wall being contemplated.

I decided it was worth finishing, because I liked the basic composition and it was almost done.  I finished off the ragged top edge, took it home -- this is starting to sound like all the previous Planets, isn't it? -- but this time I quilted it!!

Only six years from idea to finished quilt.  I still like the southern hemisphere design, and reviewing my photos makes me fantasize about finishing Black and Brown, although realistically I don't suppose that will ever happen.  This quilt is a throwback, a pleasant reminder of where I was in 2006.  Since then I've moved in a different direction and probably won't return to the Planets; they were a good idea whose time has passed.  But it's nice to have one make its way to completion.

Blue Planet, 2011

Photo du jour

Aegean ferry

Friday, July 22, 2011

Back to basics

I learned to embroider from my grandmothers while still in single-digit age, and I suspect that most people who enjoy and practice fiber art learned hand stitching at some point along the way.  But like other basic skills picked up early on -- Spanish?  algebra? -- it's easily forgotten if you don't use it.

So last night I led a hand-stitching refresher course for the members of my local textile and fiber art group.  It's summer, we couldn't come up with another program, and an evening of stitch-and-bitch seemed like fun.  And it was.  We started with reminiscences, most of us recalling those napkins and hankies you would buy at the five-and-dime with motifs stamped on for you to embroider.  And all agreed that we didn't want to go back to that kind of stitching.  Instead we did freestyle.

A few people had brought hoops, but most of us just worked on the table -- much more conducive to freestyle stitching, in my opinion, because you can see your whole composition and can make long lines or skip around without having to reposition your hoop.  Besides, if you're not making precise little stitches, such as those where you had to perfectly match the stamped motif, you don't really need the control the hoop provides.

We started with the basic straight stitches -- running stitch, stem stitch (aka backstitch), seed stitch, and cross stitch.

Then we did bent stitches, my term for those where the main stitch is pulled off straight and tacked down with another stitch.  We practiced making lines of feathers, pointing in both directions, and then varying the angle of the feather points.  When the angle is 90 degrees, you call it blanket stitch, and we used that to sew down appliques. 

Then chain stitches, which are just like feather stitches except that you put the needle in much closer to where the stitch originated.  Both feather and chain stitches can be detached, which means you tack down the bend with a little stitch rather than with the beginning of the next stitch.  (When you detach the feather stitch, you call it fly stitch.)

You probably know all these stitches, as did most of the people sewing last night, and just need a reminder.  But most of them were unfamiliar with the coral stitch, which is one of my favorites.  It makes a firm line with little knots, much better for stems and outlines than the stem stitch.  In case you don't know this stitch, here's a close-up:

Work from right to left along an imaginary or drawn line.  Come up, lay the thread to the left along the line, and hold it down with your thumb (not shown in the photo, but pretend it's there at the left).  Loop the thread down and around, and take a tiny stitch underneath the laid-down thread.  Pull the thread through the loop to make a little knot, and you're set for the next stitch.  

 

Photo du jour

Lake Superior

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Handwork time

It's funny how quilting seems to go in cycles.  I'm not talking about the cycle of quilting for a while, and then getting interrupted for a while by life.  I'm talking about the natural cycle of making work that has very different phases.  First you piece, then you quilt, then you finish.  Each has its own tools -- the piecing foot, the walking foot or darning foot, and finally the hand needle. 

Sometimes you run through the cycle one quilt at a time, starting and finishing before you move on to another project.  But more often I find myself stuck in one part of the cycle for a long time, whether by choice or by necessity.

When I came home from my workshop at the end of May, I had a couple of weeks of piecing, finishing up seven quilt tops that were almost done.  Because they required so little work, it was exhilarating to crank them out -- a new accomplishment every day or two!  The minute I finished one, I moved on to another.

Then I proceeded to layer and quilt all seven pieces.  Again, momentum was on my side -- the tables were cleared off to make room for big stuff, the roll of batting was out of its box and at the ready, the walking foot was on the machine and I had bought a new supply of backing fabric. 

But then I could put it off no longer, and now I'm in the handwork and finishing part of the cycle.  For two weeks I've been sewing down facings and sinking thread ends.  Two Law & Order marathons have come and gone, and I'm still sewing.  And just when I thought maybe I was getting to the beginning of the end, I got a call that a piece I made a year ago has been accepted into a gallery show and needs to be delivered later this week -- and it doesn't have a sleeve yet.

Again, there's a certain bit of momentum in doing a lot of facings and sleeves at once, much of it having to do with clearing off a large workspace.  But it does get tedious.  I'm itching to do some piecing just for a change of pace, but I have a photo date next week and all of the new quilts have to be ready to go on the wall. 

Will I be a good girl and finish all the handwork?  Or will I be a bad girl and have the last couple of facings invisibly fastened with pins for the photo shoot?  Will the quilts never get sleeves until four days before they have to go to the gallery?  I'm pulled in both directions.   

Photo du jour

sign of the week

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Modern quilting -- what is it?

I wrote last week about a new "blogzine," Generation Q Magazine, that is going to cover "modern quilting."  I'm intrigued by this concept, and wonder exactly what it is.  Last week we learned that in modern quilting there's "more going on than bold, graphic quilts with a lot of solids and wonky cuts."

This week we learn more.  "It’s about quilting that has a more contemporary aesthetic.... It’s for people who are interested in quilting that breaks the rules… we don’t want to be confined by tradition."

The article is framed as a phone conversation between the with-it 34-year-old heroine/writer and her painfully not-with-it mom, who keeps interrupting to wonder when daughter is going to get pregnant, worry that she's hanging out with lesbians and Democrats at the modern quilting guild, and report that at mom's good old-fashioned quilt guild, everybody has either a cane or a wheelchair. (I'm not making this up.)

Daughter eventually despairs at getting Mom to understand.   Finally she wails, "Look, I can’t explain to you what modern quilting is. But remember when you were in high school and the music you listened to started changing? And your parents didn’t understand it, because it wasn’t what they were used to, but you knew it wasn’t just different, it was yours? It was like it was meant for you. It fit you and your life and they way the world had changed since your parents were teenagers. And now you still love to rock out to Jerry Lee Lewis and Bill Haley, but you also love the crooners your parents listened to. You had your own thing, but it was based on what came before, and you embrace them both. It’s like that."


















Bill Haley and His Comets -- breaking the rules by standing on the bass

So if I can parse this explanation, I think that modern quilting is for young people who don't want to have much to do with old people and want to break the rules.  Plato and Socrates would recognize these yearnings, which were already kind of cliches three millenia back.

I'm not sure exactly which rules they want to break, or which traditions they find confining.  Still hoping to find out something a bit more specific, and still wondering whether by any chance anything about my own work and the work of other quilters I admire could be considered modern.  Since this is the internet and not a real quilt guild, the young folks wouldn't even have to find out that we're old. 

In case you don't want to read the blog every day, I'll keep an eye on it and let you know what I discover.


Photo du jour

Here's a closeup of the pink quilt I wrote about yesterday so you can see the quilting.  The parallel lines extend horizontally across the entire quilt.  Occasionally there's a diagonal line that also goes across the entire quilt.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Revisiting the past

We were talking at my support/critique group the other day about revisiting old work.  Some in the room opined that they felt compelled to finish what they start within a relatively short period of time.  If they didn't, they lost the flow and could never return to that work.  So if they didn't know how to resolve a piece, they would have to do SOMETHING pretty quickly, even if they still weren't sure it was the right solution.

Others said they often put a piece aside if they didn't know how to proceed.  I am in that group, so I will be able to expound on this way of thinking more than I can about the other.  In fact, I have been in revisit mode for the last two months, ever since I took a whole box full of unfinished projects to a master class with the objective of finding out which ones were worth completing and if so, how.

Some of the stuff in the box was there because I had hit a wall and didn't know what to do next.  Some was there because I hadn't yet had time to execute what I planned.  Some was there because I wasn't sure whether the piece was good enough to bother with.  Some was there because I'd frankly forgotten about it.

The good news is that I found several projects to finish.  I'd like to show you one of them, because it taught me some lessons.  I started this project several years ago and did a good bit of piecing, ending up with two large pieces that were clearly supposed to fit together along the diagonal in the center.  I had stitched a black strip to one of the pieces, planning to sew it to the other piece.  Here are the two pieces on the wall in May, in their intended orientation.

You can see why I got this far and stuffed the damn thing in a box.  What to do with all those raggedy edges?  I had been trying to end up with a rectangle but had done a bad job of it, especially along the bottom.  I seem to recall that this made my head hurt and I gave up.

So on to the lessons.  The first is never to allow your piecing to be separated from the bits and pieces of matching fabric that you're working from.  Unfortunately I didn't put the rest of the pale pink into the box with the finished pieces, and a good hour of searching last month failed to turn it up.  So already I had painted myself into a corner.

Some of the lessons are more positive.  I realized that some of the factors that had made me despair of finishing Pinkie in the first place had gotten less worrisome during her years in the box.  Lesson: when you think something is awful, put it away and reconsider it later.  (It may still be awful, but often it's not.)

I had started with a big piece of fabric, hand-dyed in a pale pink that was not uniform.  It wasn't mottled, but it did change color from side to side, some places lighter than others.  When I started cutting into the fabric and sewing it back together with a black strip between the pieces, my thought was to keep all the pink pieces in their original orientation.  So if I cut a slice of pale pink off and sewed it back, it would still be next to the matching pale pink, and the finished quilt would have the same gradual, subtle changes in color as the original piece of fabric.  But as the piecing got more complicated, I managed to lose that thought.  Paler pieces ended up next to darker ones, and the color differences became much more prominent. Years ago, I was unhappy with the effect.  But when I looked at the piece again, I decided I liked it. 

Another good lesson is to keep your teabags away from your fabric.  One day I had a cup of tea at the sewing machine and in some clumsy way managed to touch the teabag to the piecing.  Oops!  I decided I'd have to take out that part and repiece it with non-tea-dyed fabric.  But that never happened.  Upon revisiting, I decided the quilt had a distressed look to it and the tea stain fit in just fine.

But how to finish this poor, distressed piece?  My search didn't turn up any more of the original pink, but I did find some other pink, a bit darker but equally distressed in character.  And I noticed that the beige fabric I'd been using for another quilt also seemed to fit with the original pink -- that's a hunk of it in the top photo, on the design wall to the right of the pieced areas.  I had to use the new stuff around the edges to make the quilt rectangular, so it ended up with a "border" on three sides.
 
In the course of finishing this quilt I realized how much I have learned about the niceties of fine-line piecing in the course of making 20-some quilts.  This very early effort deserved a D, and had I not loved the design so much I probably would have turned it into placemats.

The back of the work was just too messy, with thread ends and fraying edges of the black fabric that would probably show through.  I spent a couple of hours with my tiny scissors trying to clean it up, but realized it would take all year to get it perfect.  So I decided to quilt in black and hope that the work would be hung in dim light so nobody would notice.

My final lesson came when I finished quilting and pinned the piece to my design wall to block it.  In my mind the quilt had always been a short, wide horizontal rectangle, but I had to turn it sideways to pin it to the wall.  And in the couple of days that it hung there in my peripheral view, I realized that it really wanted to be vertical!  It's often hard to change the way a piece sits in your head, especially if it's been sitting that way for years, but worth a try.

So here's the finished quilt, tea stain and all (I might put another stain or two on just to make it look deliberate instead of accidental).  Most of the things that bothered me the first time around don't bother me at all this time. 

Photo du jour

tub

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Good news on the obituary page

It's always sad when a good person dies, but it's always heartening to read a good obit.  It's comforting to realize that the accomplishments of a lifetime are summed up accurately, gracefully and in the proper context.  Those of us who are or were practicing journalists always have a fondness for obits, when done well, and one of the best places on the planet to find such stories is the New York Times.

And so it gave me great pleasure to open the paper this morning and find an obit on Ardis James, the collector and lover of quilts who created the Quilt Study Center at the University of Nebraska.  I bet it would give you pleasure to read this story too, so why don't you do so -- but promise to come back so we can talk about it.

I liked the way the obit discussed the quilt study center as a good thing, a place where serious people can do useful work.  Not mentioned was the flap in the Nebraska Legislature when Ardis James and her husband tried to give the money -- and the quilts -- for this institute, and some legislators did their damnedest to refuse it, trotting out the most patronizing and sexist terms in which to denigrate quilts as sissy stuff.  Fortunately calmer heads prevailed and the center became a reality.

I liked the description of the studio art quilt movement, presented as part of the American quilting tradition but given the respect it deserves as something different -- and I liked the way the writer understood the importance of knowing the artist's name, missing from so much of the tradition.

And the way the writer evoked the magic of the old quilts, the old pattern names:  "For Mrs. James, the hypnotic pull of quilts lay in their tangible links to the past, to the land, to makers known and unknown."  I don't think I'm the only one who shares that feeling.

Photo du jour

have a seat

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Escaping from the little room

After I wrote about workshops, Mary Ann posted an intriguing comment:  "Is there anything new under the sun? ... To me the content is the message. But is you are doing strip or freeform piecing ala Nancy Crow, how much can you change the content? Or is it the coloring, the spacing, the stitching, whatever?"

When I read that comment, I thought of something else I read earlier this week.  There's a new "blogzine" called Generation Q Magazine, aimed at "those who love the modern and contemporary vibe in quilting, sewing and crafting."  In the second paragraph of the opening manifesto, the editors announce, "we just knew there was more going on than bold, graphic quilts with a lot of solids and wonky cuts."  Hmmm. I hadn't realized that bold, graphic quilts with a lot of solids are passe.  Guess I'll have to keep reading Generation Q to keep up to date.

So why did the first comment bring to mind the second?  I guess it's because in the minds of a lot of people, apparently, wonky piecing with solid colors and abstract design has become a precious little room of its own, with the name of Nancy Crow firmly inscribed on a plaque over the door.  Some people attach a second plaque, inscribed Gee's Bend, right next to it. 

In these minds, anybody who uses solid colors and cuts without a ruler is lumped together as doing the same thing.  I wonder if there's another school of quilt art, one where people use rulers and printed fabrics, and everybody who works that way is considered derivative of one another?

Back to Mary Ann's comment: I agree that the content is the message.  It's hard to discern content from abstract work, but you can get clues from the character of the composition and from the title and artist statement.  I think you can come up with radically different looks and content using "freeform piecing a la Nancy Crow." 

As evidence, I submit work from several artists who have studied with Nancy, and suggest that we're not all doing the same thing, nor are we doing work derivative of Nancy's.  I've also included a little about the content, as revealed in various artist statements.  See what you think.  Have we escaped from the little room and become our own people?

Exhibit A:  Bonnie Bucknam, Crater -- Best in Show, Quilt National '11
-- it's about geology and the landscape

Exhibit B:  Leslie Riley, Broken Fence, in Quilt National '11 --  " I layer the complex relationships of form and color to create a dense image"

Exhibit C:  Uta Lenk, Linienspiel X, in Color Improvisations traveling exhibit -- her quilts are inspired by drawings by her 2-year-old son

Exhibit D:  Terry Jarrard-Dimond, Figure in Brown,  in Color Improvisations traveling exhibit -- she sees the large shapes as entities with personalities, and calls her compositions "interior landscapes" based on life experiences

Exhibit E: Judy Kirpich, Circles, in Quilt National '11 --  it's about "the tension I have felt during the last two years of economic turmoil in our country"

Exhibit F:  Kathleen Loomis, Fault Lines 4, in Quilt National '11 -- it's about  "our society and our environment under extreme tension, starting to come apart, and the fragility of the bonds that hold things in place"





Photo du jour

no waiting

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The whole art critique thing

After I wrote about workshops yesterday, an interesting comment was posted that deserves further discussion. 

K. Crane said, "I don't get the whole art critique thing. I understand asking another artist to help solve a design problem here and there but I don't understand the need to consistently have your work critiqued and certainly not by the same person.  I once went to an SDA meeting and was told to bring something to work on and when I got there the understanding was that everyone's work would be critiqued. I said no. Everyone continued to comment on it anyway."
Ah yes, the whole critique thing.  In theory, critique is a good thing; comments from your peers can reveal strengths and weaknesses in your work, provide useful information on solving problems and help you make decisions.  But in practice, critique often fails to deliver on its potential.  Let me count the ways.

Sometimes the comments are too prescriptive; after all, the result of critique should be that the artist, not the viewer, solves the problem.  Sometimes the comments are snarky and hostile rather than constructive.  Sometimes the critiquers have little ability, so their advice is worthless.  Sometimes the artist gets defensive or hurt if others ask questions or seem not to like the work.  Sometimes the critiquers project their own mindsets and preferences onto everybody else's work.  And unfortunately, sometimes these sins are committed not just by peers but by teachers, who presumably do this for a living and should know better.

Yet I will not condemn critique out of hand.  When it works correctly, it can be helpful on several levels.  It can help you solve small problems -- my dye isn't as brilliant as it should be, what's a good shiny thread for quilting, why are the corners of my quilts so fat and bulky, I'm having trouble piecing curves.  It can help you solve design problems, as K. referenced in her comment.  It can kick the tires on your whole approach, asking questions that you may not have good answers to, or forcing you to reconsider your assumptions.  And it can make you feel good when you have done good work, putting self-doubt to rest.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have been a member of a small critique and support group for at least a dozen years, and have often given those friends credit for much of my development as an artist.  When I was new and struggling, this group helped me navigate the mysteries of entering shows and other tricks of the trade, as well as watched over my shoulder as I made every piece of art in my history. 

But as artists mature it's a challenge to change the way you give and receive critique.  You realize that your objective is not simply to make good art, but to be true to your own vision and your own narrative arc.  As well as your friends and colleagues may know you, they can't get into your head and know where you're going, so perhaps critique becomes less specific, if not altogether irrelevant. 

The kinds of comments I need now are probably questions -- for instance, why I am choosing to finish my partially completed pieces from years past instead of making new work.  No matter how self-contained and accomplished you become, you can always use a bit of kicking the tires.  Presumably you're already doing that yourself, but a bit of help from your friends is always useful.

Photo du jour

found art