Thursday, June 5, 2014

Matching the sofa

Much discussion on the Quiltart list this week about art that matches the sofa, and not surprisingly the consensus is that matching the sofa is bad -- bad decorating, bad decision-making, bad art.  Opinions included remarks like this:

"People who really love art buy what they like and then paint the wall to show the art at its best.  The color of the sofa is immaterial."

"I say do what you want and let the world match their sofas to your art!"

"I personally don't give much thought to how any of my paintings or art quilts will fit in someone's decor.  That isn't a criteria for how or why I create."

"I like what I like, I don't worry if it matches anything in particular."

Of course, matching the sofa is one of the great cliche/metaphors of the art world, shorthand for philistine consumers who don't appreciate genius.  But every time I hear it I think of my own true story.

I don't often do commissions but took one several years ago to make a quilt for a newly remodeled dining room.  The client liked a quilt in my portfolio and wanted me to do pretty much the same thing bigger.  She chose some colors (blues and beige/yellow) and approved a pile of fabrics.  I started piecing.

She called me up a few weeks later and said she had just bought a new sofa to go in front of the quilt wall, with purple in the upholstery, and could I add some purple to the quilt.  And also could I please put in a picture of her dog.

My first reaction, stoked with plenty of self-esteem-building discussions on Quiltart and other artist forums, was to say NO!  How dare you ask!  This would violate my self-esteem, my artistic integrity and everything else I hold dear!  And as for your #@&*! DOG....

My second reaction, after I thought about it for a while, was why not make her happy.  I was only partway in to the intricate piecing, and I had some beautiful purple batiks right in my stash that would go quite nicely with the fabrics we had already agreed upon.  So I incorporated a few purples into the piecing.  Then I searched the web for a line drawing of a labrador retriever, got it the right size for one of the patches, and embroidered it in the same color thread as the patch so you could barely see it.

I thought the quilt looked even better with the bit of purple, and it sure looked great with the new sofa.  (The sofa was actually more purple than is apparent in this photo.)

The clients were so happy with the quilt that they added a $100 tip when they wrote my check.

So I guess the moral of this story is, it's OK to match the sofa if you want to.


  1. I'm glad you chose to make her happy. The quilt looks wonderful. I think commissions are very different to 'just' making art (which may or may not find a buyer). It is best, I think, to treat it as a partnership. The customer is committing up front so of course they want to have an input. If it becomes intolerable then you have no choice but to give them back their deposit (nicely). As regards the dog, well - he is precious. If she had asked you to include a fragment of cloth belonging to her mum or something, I'm sure you wouldn't have hesitated. The dog was precious in the same way. I think your solution to "the dog" was stylish and neat.

  2. Kathy, I couldn't agree more with Karen's statements. Kathy, what you did was kind and generous and I also agree with Karen's thoughts about commissions. Kathy, you did great. Maggie Winfield

  3. After my initial negative rush, I didn't feel at all put upon. I think the addition of purple improved the palette, and it really did make the quilt look fabulous in the room above the sofa. And I regarded the dog as a challenge -- how to put it in without looking cheesy.

    I was really proud of this quilt and I'd take it home with me in a heartbeat if the client got hit by a bus.

  4. I've twice been commissioned to make things in colour combinations that I would not normally use - and as with you here Kathy, been pleasantly surprised by the result. It is not a bad idea to be pushed outside a comfort zone. Good on you for sticking with it and finding a great solution to the dog!