Friday, June 11, 2010

My calendar quilt

I have written several times about my interest in daily art, projects where you make a commitment to yourself to make a certain type of art every day (or every week, for those with larger ambitions and/or less time).

My first daily art project was a quilt that has a block for every day in a year. The year was 2001, and I was inspired by a really dumb thing: the title of the old movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. I thought it would be really original to hijack that title and call my piece 2001: A Quilt Odyssey. Of course, it wasn’t original at all – in five minutes on Google I just came up with at least five shows with that title or theme – but it did start me on a wonderful piece of work.

The key to a daily art project, of course, is to set rules for yourself, and to write the rules in your own favor. You want to set the bar high enough so you will be challenged but low enough so you will actually keep on jumping. I did some serious thinking about this quilt in the last days of December, and decided that I would make a five-inch square block for every day. It didn’t have to be made on that day, but it had to document something that happened that day. Eventually I planned to sew the blocks together into a quilt.

On days when I worked in the studio, it was easy to make the block. At night, just before I turned out the light and went upstairs, I would gather up scraps from whatever I had been working on and sew them together till they were five inches square. So the quilt became a diary of the quilts I made that year (I was amazed to count up at the end of the year and realize that I worked on 42 different quilts).

On days when I didn’t sew, I looked for the most striking visual image of what I had done during the day. This was the biggest challenge for me. Since I don’t draw, I struggled with how to represent these days – and even if I had been able to draw, what could I execute in fabric within the confines of a five-inch square? I had to force myself to simplify, simplify, simplify. Turned out to be excellent training for my quest to become an artist.

Here’s one such block: we saw the opera “Daughter of the Regiment,” a frothy comedy where the guys all wore fancy uniforms. My first thought was to depict soldiers (which I couldn’t figure out how to do) but after many sketches, each one simpler than the one before, I came up with the essence of the fancy uniforms.

In a quilt this busy, it was nice to have some recurring blocks for continuity. I made up two blocks for travel days, a highway block and an airplane block. And a beach block for my calm vacation.

I’ll write more about this quilt in subsequent posts.


  1. Kathleen, I quite often read your blog and it's always interesting and often thought-provoking. In this post you say 'since I don't draw...' in a very matter of fact way. Here's a thought: why don't you learn to draw? I learned several years ago from a book by Betty Edwards ('Drawing on the right side of the brain') which I thoroughly recommend. You do the exercises, you get some practice in on a regular basis, and then after a while you can draw. You can't (probably.... although you never know till you try) draw like Picasso, but you can draw. The big plus is that it really trains you to see in a way that photography (which I also use a lot) simply doesn't. Once you've drawn a thing, you really own it.
    You may well be saying if you've got this far in this rather long comment that you don't have the time to spend on learning. But it doesn't have to take up huge chunks of time. A little and often is good, and you are evidently good at making regular daily commitments to projects.
    Just a thought. It dismays me when people say 'oh I could never learn to draw' or 'I have no talent', or 'the art teacher at school told me my work was rubbish'. If you learned to form your letters and write, then you can learn to draw. Really. You can. I did.

  2. I never thought of myself as one to whom "art and fear" went together, but maybe that's true where drawing is concerned. I have thought that maybe I should try to draw, but that has not happened yet, for reasons that I have not tried very hard to understand. Maybe I should think about this more.

    thanks for your comments!