Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Late to the Tea Party

I'm a bit late to reply to your posts (is your tea cold?  Go make a fresh cup... I'll wait....) 
But that is no reflection on how much I appreciated your response to my artistic angst.  And in the meantime, while I was thinking about what you said, you had your own revelation (with help from Dennis) so I am lead to this conclusion:

It is hard to see our own voice in our work with our noses pressed up against it -- but it's there and apparent to others.

Perhaps we should print that out and post it on the walls of our respective work spaces. Really, I suppose the point is to relax and do what we love and our voice emerges.  But you have no idea how much I appreciate your specifying what you see in my pieces that reflect my voice.  And you have mentioned some of the things that really do float around the back of my mind as I am thinking about what to do for a challenge or a piece I'm working on.  (And thank you for reminding me about Kaffe Fassett being drawn to my quilts.  It still makes me very happy when I remember that!)

I like working with subject matter that is ordinary and humble.  My choice of dandelion as our first 12x12 theme was clearly motivated by that.  There's something about finding some meaning in items that people tend to overlook that appeals to me.

I like looking at things up close.  I'm more specifically aware of that in the photos I take -- and how much I love using my macro lens.  Honing in on some part of some small thing to notice its beauty or elegant shape or interesting texture is something I keep in mind when I'm taking photographs.  How silly that I don't specifically think of that with quilt making, but clearly that same impulse is there.  The photo above, which I took this week noticing my paint pan sitting on my desk, is an example of that.) 

And I love texture and pattern that comes from translating an image into fabric.

It is intriguing to me that you respond in terms of story.  It's not something I think about at all, in viewing or in making pieces.  And I think I should -- not as in "I am doing something wrong if I don't" sort of should, but in I think it might add to my own understanding of why I've been moved to do what I'm doing.

I also was struck by something I read in the Quilt National 2011 book.  One of the jurors (I have just looked -- it was Eleanor McCain in her Juror's Statement) talking about what she looked for in pieces as she was jurying them for the exhibit, asked "What about these works of art demands that they be formed from cloth and thread?  Is there a message and meaning that can only be revealed through this medium?  What in the quilt form is important to the art?"  Is that something you have thought abouyt as you've been making your pieces?  I must admit that I've never consciously thought about those questions, or linked the medium to the art content with that linear of a thought.  I'm aware of texture and pattern and developing both of those through the choices I make along the way -- but WHY is this a quilt as opposed to something else seems like it's worth consideration. 

I have written about this before on my own blog, I think, but I read about an artist in another medium who keeps a list of seven adjectives posted in large print on her studio wall. They are the words that describe what she wants her work to be, and when she is working on a piece, she runs through the list to check that what she's doing hits all of her "targets."

I have often thought about what my list would be, but (as is typical) I get distracted and wander off to something else before I finish my list.  So that will be my task for the week.

In any event, thank you pointing me back to myself.

And as for your most recent entry.  Wow.  I love the journal pages you've made and I suspect Nikki is very happy to know that providing you with that book spurred you to a creative burst like that.  (See?  Tell Dennis!  The right journal CAN work wonders!) 

Your beautiful pattern pages make me think, again, that there really IS something useful about that repetitive practice and trial that is at the heart of the City and Guilds process.  Experimenting and sampling can lead to exciting discoveries and it need not be playing with fabric. 

And it does rather demonstrate the truth that our own style/voice will emerge?  You've been doing a repeating symbol all along and didn't even realize it. 

I laughed at Dennis's reaction to the "mess" of paint and surface design work.  In the sketching/watercolor class I've been doing, we had several weeks where we were supposed to apply various substances to pages as backgrounds for drawing and painting. And it felt like such a mess to me!  I didn't like it much although it was interesting to see the different results.  BUT when it comes to applying stuff to fabric?  It doesn't seem like mess at all.  So, apparently, for me it feels messy if I'm working on paper but it's art if it's fabric.  Go figure.

If you had to come up with a list of seven words or phrases to serve as your "target" words for your art, what would they be?

I should note here that because of holidays and family things, I've not had a lot of studio time.  I've drawn some eggplants to experiment working with purples in the watercolor class for the weekly assignment.  I've pulled out my camera to capture the vibrant fall color in the yard.  

But I'm starting to feel the pull toward something I started a few weeks ago, so getting that done is at the top of my fabric list.

How has the revelation that you actually DO have a repeating symbol affected your thinking about what you're doing this week?


Monday, 28 November 2011


Dear Diane,

I know it is your turn to write so I am sorry to be the person who interupts to shout "me,me,me!" but I just have to tell you this story....

We have talked before ( whether on or off this blog I forget) about sketchbooks and I have long said that I keep a journal for quilting, which has notes, inspirational cuttings and ink doodles in. I have also said that I admire, like to look at and have decided not to pursue making beautiful artists journals with perfect pages. But when it comes to messy painted journals, the type artists make to play and experiment and warm up in, I am firmly on the fence. Love to see them, academically understand how they benefit a process, can never quite seem to do them myself.  I mean, I can splash and stamp paint. Who can't? But I hate the results. They never seem  to link to anything textiley and rather than being inspired by by past efforts I have been disgruntled at the wasted time and products. We have also talked about struggling to establish an individual recognisable style of our own.

So, with all that in the background I went off to the Knit and Stitch show on Saturday. I will blog about that separately over on my own blog but lest just say that save for one exhibit  the gallery was manifestly uninspiring this year. Maybe because of that, what stuck in my mind as I left was messy play sketchbooking. I had leafed through Susan Chapmans book and watched her create more in the Active Studio area.  I had shown Dennis ( yes he came!) work that Ruth Isset had on her work table at the Art Van Go stall ( and was highly amused to watch him instinctively back away from ' the mess', bless him). I had looked at Julia Tristons new book, which I decided not to buy because much of it was what she had taught me on the City and Guilds course, but I enjoyed flipping through it and seeing again the sketchbook she made including stamped pages based on her elephant theme. Another exhibit was Mary Sleigh who unaccountably showed all her collection of African artifacts and none of her ownwork inspired by them.But nevertheless, that evening at home it made me revist her books which include inspiring sketchbooks of paper collages based on african insiprations.

That was Saturday. On Sunday I went out to a garden centre to get a Christmas tree and was kind of contemplating whether I could try again with a messy sketchbook and doing the usual debate/ mental excuse about not having quite the right book. I came home to find a package in the letterbox from Nikki Wheeler. I have no idea why it was there right then as there was no postal delivery on a Sunday and the package fit in the box so no reason it would have been delivered to a neighbour. In the package was a beautiful hand bound sketchbook with just the perfect paper for what I had in mind. And given that you set the group up to play with no expectations it seemed the perfect permission to set to.

So I did just one page. It is inspred by a photo in the Passages book by Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher of body art at a Ghanaian inititiaton ceremony and it is clear to me at least that thoughts about kuba cloth were still there in my subconscious.

 I kind of got into it after a while....

even took some of it into fabric and barkcloth just to see how the household emulsion which I was using (hey, it was to hand and we have lots of it!) behaved on those substrates.

I am conscious as I blog this that in the past I might have dismissed the pages above as unsucessful. I think a lot of it is attitude and the fact that I am currently inspired by tribal body painting seems to free me up because I am  working with a source that is not refined and so my work need not be either at this sketchbook stage.

That was the first part of the breakthrough. The second came when I showed the pages to Dennis. He often has trouble visualising things until they are completed ( which is why he is totally suprised how our house rennovation is turning out!) so I asked him if he saw anything but ' mess' , (his term for any process involving paint!) He said that he could see I was developing designs and, said, for example, " that is your repeating symbol"
Huh? What is? He meant the thin line in the second verticle sample in the last photo.

I was perplexed. I could not think of ever using a shape like that as a symbol. So I got out of the cupboard a pile of small quilts I had stashed at random. Journal quilts, spare Twelve quilts, fabric sketches. That shape appeared in in one form or another in every single one of the twenty one quilts! Sometimes more obviously, sometimes less. But there it was in all twenty one! And when I blogged on the Twelve by Twelve blog about contemplating a common design element in my 20/12 quilts that was one thing I had in mind. And I had NO IDEA that I did that.  Dennis was amazed I did not know. He thought I did that deliberately.

I tell you. it gave me goosebumps. Firstly to learn that, without me even realising, the work I thought was totally disparate had apparently a sign that it was made from the same hand. And secondly that I have a husband who knows my art ( and therefore me) better than I know myself.

Of course, with my talent for complication, I now have to ponder how being conscious about that design element might affect my work!

I thought you would want to know and share the goosebumps with me!

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Yes, we have no tomatoes

Dear Diane,

In an attempt to reorder my day to get some time to write this I decided to come to work very early, get my prep out of the way then grab an hour to write. I am therefore currently sitting on the exact seat you sat on in the room which you declared to be hideous. No reader will know what I am talking about but I know you will! I shall shortly move to the dining room to consume a full english breakfast. I thought it important if we were going to talk about tomatoes that I had one infront of me at the time.

So, your crisis. Commenters have already made good points but I would add that maybe you are looking in the wrong place to try to find your true voice. There have been many, many good things about the Twelve by Twelve project but I am not sure that it has been an easy place to work on finding a voice or consistent style. The nature of the way we choose our themes is to pull you from one place to another. New series! New project! New idea! Each piece is a stand alone and so you are not easily going to find a cohesiveness developing there, unless it was in you already.

That said, let me remind you of a special event in your life. Even though you were not actually there when it happened. Remember when I was on the stand at Festival of Quilts and Kaffe Fassett told me that he really liked your quilts. He didn't say he liked just one. He picked out your body of work. Which to me implies that he saw something in all of them.Now I suppose it could have been something different in each one but thats unlikely. I think there is a developing underlying style and I see it in your photography too.

I think it is that you get up close to an object, look closely at it, often looking at only part of it ( like the tomato crate) or take a cross section. In many of your works the object you choose is imbued with a kind of pathos and meaning, often giving a feeling of loss, absence or a tale untold. I am thinking of all those photos you take of empty chairs. The one you took of the garden chairs at retreat for example which is shortly to go on my studio wall I love because those two empty chairs tell me the story of who sat in them one day at retreat, what we talked about in them and the implicit promise that we will one day return together to those empty and waiting chairs. For me, the John Lennon glasses has the same pull. The man is gone but the source of his vision remains and through them he continues to insipre from beyond the grave. ( Pause for spine chills).

Take Labikeet.... Gemma waits for her walk. Why is she waiting? Where is her owner? Will they come to get her?

I know in your theme series the ones that capitvated people most were the chinese lanterns ( again, a cropped picture with a hidden story. Where are they floating? What are they celebrating? That 's the one Kaffe said was the favourite of all 144 quilts) and the cave which physically drew people into it. They peered into it, their noses right up against it, as if to see who was hiding in it.

Not all your challenge quilts have that same quality but maybe thats part the nature of the challenge and part becuase you are in the process of developing a style where as maybe Deborah and Terry are further down that line. I think Deborah also consciously uses repeated symbols and shapes and materials where as you are more varied. I think thats just choice...do you want to narrow down that way or not?

I am glad you raised the issue though as I am in a similar position. Who am I? What am I trying to say? Even if I knew, do I yet have the ability to say it in a visual way? And would I even be satisfied with it if I did say it visually?

Now we are close to having our house refurbishments structurally complete and can start thinking about what art to put on the walls, Dennis is having a hard time comprehending how I can even casually talk about buying quilts made by other people. Why do that when I make them myself? Because, I try to explain, I never think mine are good enough because what I learn with each one is what I could try to do better next time. I don't want to put my practise on my lounge wall when I could have a proper piece of art up there. But, he asks, confused, you have sold quilts. Yeah, but the buyers don't know what is in my head to do next! I wonder whether Jette Clover and Miriam Pet Jacobs and the other artists whose work I have been imagining in my hallway feel the same?

What ever the answers I am glad I have you to travel the ponderous journey with. Now, If you will excuse me, I must go and blog about another art dillemma over on the Twelve by Twelve blog. Sheesh! It's awonder I ever actually get to even imagine making a quilt, the amount of brain space I have taken up by these internal debates!


Sunday, 13 November 2011

Seeking MY tomatoes

Dear Helen,

I think I am having an existential art crisis.  Again.  (Still.)

Because I know you love hearing about my crises (chipper smile here) I will elucidate.

I have had the good fortune to have seen two big art-filled quilt shows in the last 4 months.  Festival of Quilts in Birmingham, England in August.  International Quilt Festival in Houston, Texas just last weekend. Both shows were exciting, with enough eye candy to give someone a serious stomach ache.

I should be feeling eager to leap into stash of fabric and MAKE SOMETHING.  But I'm not.  Truthfully, I'm in the mood to nap and eat carbohydrates.  Well, THAT's not that uncommon, but the urge is stronger than usual.  Yep, I think I'm a bit overloaded.  But here's the question that pops up:  what would I make?  What DO I make?  What sort of quilting do I want to do? What is my style?

I know.  You are shaking your head and laughing.  You've heard this before.  Just recently (the last post, even?) I was writing about how the important thing is to have fun, having a style or a recognizable body of work isn't important, blah blah blah.  I believe that, actually.

But still.  There I was in Houston, with people rushing over to our exhibit of 288 quilts and exclaiming how impressed they were, how delighted, how they loved seeing our creativity, etc.  I started feeling like an impostor. As I walked around the entire show, I was paying attention to which of the quilts made me think some version of "that's what I want to be doing" or "I wish I could make work like that." At one point I got up and looked at all 24 sets of our quilts, looking specifically at my own pieces to attempt to find some sort of style or specific technique or any thing that would make me say, "There.  THAT'S what I want to do more of and THAT'S what I want to be known for."

And yes, I do know that I said in that earlier post that I didn't care about being known.  I don't really.  BUT I want to have an idea in my own head of what I'm doing, you know?  I'd even like to be able to have some general "look" that I'm aiming for.  But I can't identify it. 

I know I'm drawn to bold color, graphic design and imagery.  I don't love photo-realistic work in fabric, but I'm drawn to the fabric collage illustrative stuff especially when it involves good use of fabric prints. I tend to prefer my own work flat and quilted -- the dimensional, embellished, or sparkly things don't interest me.  But as I looked at my own work, I can't find a direction.

There's a bunch of illustrative/realistic pieces.

There are various abstract pieces ...

I did a fair amount of painting on fabric...

 and I do like doing the fabric collaged images, like my recent tomatoes.

Actually, I LOVE those tomatoes.  I'm really happy with how they turned out.  I'd say that of everything I've made in the last year, that's the piece I feel best about.

But I think I'm feeling sort of depressed about not seeing anything that makes my work diffferent from anyone else's.  How is this work MINE in a way that would make someone going through a show and seeing it think "of course that's Diane's" as opposed to "oh, there's another person doing THAT sort of thing...."   Why couldn't these be anyone's tomatoes?

And I'd like to think I can find a direction to aim for -- not "I want to do work like Nancy Crow" or "I want to be like Ruth McDowell," but some glimmer of "THAT's the type of work I want to explore and make mine" would be nice. 

One of the things that I admire about various quilty friends of ours -- Deborah and Terry come to mind -- is that their work is THEIRS.  You know it when you see it.  And they don't just do the same things over and over again.   

Maybe this comes back to the very ideas we started with -- picking something, working in a series to explore different angles of it, and just seeing where it goes, finding what yields satisfying work, discovering what produces work that I'm proud of.

It's not about technique and which to use. It's about wondering what it is I'm saying with the fabric art I'm doing.  At the moment, I'm feeling disturbed that I don't feel like I'm saying anything, and I don't know where I'm going.

Maybe I'll go have a piece of sourdough french bread.