Thursday, April 30, 2009

Different flows

Other layouts on the design wall before choosing the linear one shown in a few posts ago

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Excruciating piecing

Here's an improvisational composition with black and white from the two-week Improvisations workshop. The composition came together quickly. But figuring out the negative spaces and piecing it all together was excruciatingly s-l-o-w.

The next exercise: repeat this in 30 to 40 colors. That's when I asked if I could proceed with it in color without finishing the piecing of the black and white. That's when she read me the riot act. No, I must finish the black and white first. And she wanted every exercise finished for the final presentation.

Later she came back to ask if I could do it in color without sewing together the black and white. Yes, I can pin it up. Well, she named a later time and would check back to see where I was with the piecing then. I was done and started with the color version.

Slowpoke me. I tried to catch up with everyone else. I'd hurriedly translated it into color then called Nancy over for a critique. Oh, I didn't get it. She wanted the colors to create a sense of depth. Oh, okay. Adjusted the colors, got Nancy's okay, and sewed it up. Used another approach but still another excruciatingly s-l-o-w piecing process with technical difficulties. Nancy loved this piece. I can't step back and say it's a good piece. I prefer the black and white study. Though I love this improvisational process, I remember the excruciating piecing. Twice.

The colored composition lost freshness and spontaneity. Due to the different approaches in piecing, there were some good things happening in the black and white that didn't happen in the color. The way the lines broke and shifted over adds interest.

We weren't allowed to make a pattern to repeat the shapes. Everything was cut freehand. The curves and shapes became studied and stale. The negative spaces distorted, sometimes through technical glitches.

Here are Robert Genn's thoughts on maintaining freshness when repeating a composition.

If I were to use this approach, I would do a black and white study cut without piecing. Out of fabric. Or even out of paper. Make it smaller. I may suffer piecing a colored composition. But I just don't want to go through the whole excruciating piecing twice.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A studio habit

In February and March, I had only a couple of hours each weeknight to make strip-pieced ribbons. Usually I'd get into my studio about 9pm. I would even claim 15 minutes as mine.

It was easy to focus once there. Without a clock, the television served my time keeper. When the 11 o'clock news came on, it was time to finish up. If David Letterman came on, I had to hustle to get to bed by midnight. Two hours often turned into three.

There were gazillions other things I could've done instead, but I claimed that time for me in my studio. If I didn't, detritus would take over my life. Time would be given over to things that didn't matter as much.

Many of these things are still waiting. And new ones too. Taken singly, each is light and small, but cumulatively weighs heavily on me. This is not an easy choice. However, I am glad to have achieved my short term goal: to show that, even without a finished quilt, I did work on and developed techniques and ideas from the last workshop.

Now it has been two and half weeks since I've returned from the Barn. I made a self-imposed deadline to clean up and re-organize my studio yet again. At least I am there.

I want to keep up this habit: to carve out studio time. To paraphrase a comment on The Painter's Key "quilting isn't the hard part, it is sitting down to quilt."

Friday, April 24, 2009

Redirect the flow

Here's the result of another workshop exercise.
After unpacking and pressing, it was up on my design wall. The vertical straight edge on the right side interrupted the flow. That escaped notice at the workshop.

I shifted the far right module to the far left. Flows better now.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Figure & ground

The first few lessons in Improvisations are about creating figure and ground. Also known as positive and negative spaces. Nancy recommended Notan: The Dark-Light Principle of Design for further study. This is not an unfamiliar concept to me but she delved deeper. Like I said before, she's my guide into the quilt as art.

Here's my first study. Like in the strip-piecing class last fall, we start using only black and white.
Then she let us use a color with black. First a large bold study. This is the most successful one of these three. It's roughly 48x42.
Then from the remnants, a small busy study. It's about 7.5" x 11.5". I may cut it up more to make it even busier.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Final big composition

Here's my final exercise as shown at the final presentation:
Out of time, I hurriedly composed & basted it. Nancy preferred this composition over the first draft (see previous post).

I didn't press the seams. They sure do stand out. More work to do. I'll rearrange the blocks to minimize the horizontal seams. The column of rectangular blocks on the left blend in more than the column on the right. I'm not sure which I like more - maybe the more definite one. I may reintroduce the first set of blocks - might work as a thin column or as a base.

As it stands, this is approximately 48x48 - no where near the six to eight foot size Nancy wanted for the final composition.

I think she wants us to think BIG. Aim for that size then edit. It's usually downward. The other option – make more blocks to maintain or increase size – is usually not viable during the workshop. We run short on time and materials.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Dilemma & choices, part 3

I have great respect for Nancy for teaching and sharing her knowledge. Because she willingly expresses her viewpoints, she deepens my understanding of art. She's an interpreter -she translates art into quilting.

Thursday night Annette accused me of getting into a fight with her over the colors of my final composition. What fight? There was no shouting. Just expressions of differing viewpoints. Okay, so I may not always agree with her, but I like to hear what she says.

It's a classic student's dilemma: whether or not to yield your own opinion in favor of the instructor's. In the process of going along with the instructor, you may learn something new. But ultimately, the work is yours – your decisions, your mark, your eye, and your convictions. How else can the work be truly yours?

Here are the three sets of blocks that make up my final composition. First, brown and blue. Colors are flat she said.

Second, blue, green and fuchsia. Colors are flat and combination is especially depressing.

Then finally, blue, green, fuchsia, yellow, pinkish cream, and another brown. She liked these - colors are rich.

She expressed disappointment because she thought I have better color sense and I could do better. I am a colorist but not every color combination will be successful. But then not every color combination needs to wow! For this exercise my intent was to start with a subtle two-color combo and build up from there.

This is my first draft on the design wall when I asked her for feedback. She didn't like the arrangement – the separation of areas. She said I could sew it up but it was only okay. She recognized it as an exercise I needed to work through. You know, I wasn't really happy with the arrangement either. Not so much the separation into blocks of areas, but the proportions.

Friday morning I worked on it more – a failed attempt to integrate the second and third sets. Worked on the proportions and arrangements. Then ran out of time. For the final presentation I basted blocks together and left seams unpressed. Didn't have time to add the first set of blocks. Oops - didn't have time for a photo either. I'll post one later.

I was about done with the final presentation, when Nancy pressed me to talk about my color choices for this. She's not afraid to retread murky waters. I like that about her. So I related my intentions for this piece and the story of our disagreements.

She thought it looked better. So did I. You see there is more than one way to skin a cat.

This piece is not done. I'll work on it more. One of my classmates said don't back the first set of blocks. But don't be surprised if those blocks worm their way back in.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Dilemma & choices, part 2

Saturday Karen and I went to the fabulous Kimono as Art exhibition in Canton (see previous post). In outer Canton we found a Thai restaurant for an early dinner. Good thing she likes to drive because by the time we got back to Pickerington, she has driven for seven hours. We were ready for dessert so we stopped at Panera (at Taylor Square) near the hotel and my roommate, Annette, joined us.

It was close to closing time. But the staff said no problem. They'd be there cleaning up anyway. We can sit and visit with each other as long as we like. Very true. They didn't disturb us, we didn't notice them, nor they did shoo us out. How refreshing to be treated that way in a restaurant.

I am generally leery of chains, but I recommend this place. Annette and I frequented this locale just about every morning for breakfast instead of partaking of the free hotel breakfast buffet. The staff is friendly and on the ball and the menu is broad. The food - I've had breakfast sandwich, egg soufflé, bagel, and bear claw - is good. We were back again at Panera for brunch the next morning - great salad and sandwich combo.

When Nancy announced the studio weekend hours, I was torn between r&r with Karen and working at the studio. When a good friend drives three hours one way to visit with me for the weekend, I'd be a cad not to spend time with her.

Initially we planned on Friday night too. But that's a busy night for her massage business and that would mean lost customers and income. An idea was hatched.

After a week of hunching over a cutting table and a sewing machine, my classmates and I could all use a massage. Nancy has been unsuccessful in getting a masseuse from town to come to the studio. After getting the go ahead from both Nancy and Karen, I got a list of those interested.

Sunday was such a beautiful morning. Karen and I first took time for Tai Chi on the east deck at the Barn. She and I separately studied Tai Chi, Wu style. She has been a practitioner for many years whereas I have discovered it only in the last couple of years. It's been a great aid at this workshop. Doing it helps me relax and focus. And breathe deeply.

Then we got down to business. While I was upstairs working on my exercises, Karen was downstairs giving massages. I was happy to get more work done. Karen was happy to provide her services. And classmates and I were happy and much relaxed after a terrific massage. Win-win all round.

If you're in the Detroit area, look up my friend for a great massage. Otherwise, check my schedule. She might be back when I'm at the Barn again.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Saturday, after Karen arrived from Michigan, I briefly showed her around the studio before we took off to Canton, OH for the exhibit Kimono as Art: the Landscapes of Itchiku Kubota at the Canton Museum of Art.

It's a two hour drive and we reached our destination at a quarter after 4 - only 45 minutes left before they closed. Where did the time go?

When we approached the ticket desk, she said they weren't selling any more tickets because it had been a very busy day. She asked us to return another time. We told her we drove from Columbus and would be unable to return. And I had tried phoning to inquire about a cut off time for admissions, but all I could get was the voice mail system.

We were disappointed. Not even a peek was possible. We resigned ourselves to browsing the gift shop and flipping through the catalog.

While we were in the gift shop, the same woman approached us and asked if we were the ones from Columbus. Much to our delight, she consulted with her superior and they decided to let us in after all! After expressing our gratitude and paying for our tickets we scurried in knowing we only had half an hour left.

I was prepared to be dazzled. Someone told me it brought her to tears. In the first room were about 10 kimonos. Each one a beauty. But I wasn’t dazzled. Then I went into the next room. O M G.

30 beautifully lit larger than life silk kimonos arranged around the room. They hung side by side barely touching. Landscapes on each kimono transitions onto the next. Colors of each kimono oh so subtly changes and melts into the next. Textures relates & morphs from one into the next.

These kimonos depict the seasons from autumn to winter. Kubota planned on a complete series for all four seasons. 75 kimonos total. But he only completed these 30 before he died in 2003.

If I hadn't seen it, I wouldn't have known what I'd missed. But having seen it, I am really really thankful I got that chance. The photos in the catalog were good but doesn't do them justice.

What amazing work. I was dazzled.

Dilemma & choices, part 1

Last fall after the one week Strip Piecing I & II workshop, I spent a few days in Michigan. It was a wonderful reunion with my friend Karen whom I hadn't seen since her return there 11 years ago.

This year with a two-week workshop, much as I would like to, I could not afford to do that again. So Karen decided to come see me for the weekend in between. She insisted. You must realize it is a three hour drive one way for her. What a great friend! It didn't hurt that her cousin is still squatting at her home and she needed a break from him.

Little did I know two things. First: even though the workshop is Mondays through Fridays, Nancy would open the studio during the weekend for us to work. Second: Nancy would read me the riot act: every exercise I started must be completed at the end of the two weeks. (That didn't happen but I came close.)

Lest you get the impression that Nancy is an ogre, listen to this. When Nancy realized I'd planned the weekend with my friend, she advised me to do just that instead of coming into the studio. Thank you, Nancy! My dilemma was how to make everyone, including myself, happy and do it all – workshop exercises and time with my friend.

Friday evening is a busy time for Karen's massage practice, so she wasn't driving down from Michigan until Saturday morning. I could definitely use the studio time, but it wasn't opening until 10am.

I sweetly asked Nancy if she could open the studio earlier, say 7am so I would be able to work until Karen arrived. Thanks to Joan, Jennie and Annette who all said they would start early too, she relented. With plans already made for Saturday, she and her sweet husband, John Stitzlein, juggled and got the studio open at 7am. We were there waiting. Thanks again, Nancy!

I worked for about 5 hours until Karen's arrival.

Monday, April 13, 2009

A splendiferous workshop

I am back from a two-week workshop - Improvisations – Let's Experiment! at the Barn with Nancy Crow. What an invigorating experience!

There were 16 of us - including three women – Chiyo, Yoshi and Ayako – from Japan, a mother and daughter – Myna and Margo – from the Netherlands, and one woman – Debbie – from Washington state who's temporarily living in Shanghai. Rest of us from the states. Despite of or maybe because of all the various personalities, the class really gelled together.

During the second week we indulged in two activities to provide momentary respite from the intensity and demands of the workshop. When anyone spoke the word of the day – i.e. amazing, fabulous, lyrical, and splendiferous – we'd whoop it up with ya-hoos which effectively vented emotions and energy and rejuvenated us.

The other activity was more physical: stand with feet apart, arms outstretched, hand flexed and make like Elvis – swivel hips around first in one direction then the other. The sight alone offered moments of mirth! We even got Nancy swiveling with us! Sorry! No photos were permitted! It was a great way to loosen up those tight waist, hip and back muscles and stretch the tendons to the hand.

The workshop itself was so fabulous! My straight cuts and strip piecing from last fall now look so yesterday. I'm just itching to explore more of what I learned.

But I am really tired now. Partly because I don't sleep well especially in a strange bed. Partly because of the three hour time difference. Partly because I get so wound up I can't sleep. I functioned mostly on adrenalin the first week.

Long hours at the studio: arrived before 8am and left about 10pm. Or so. But never stayed so late that I was shoo'd out. These hours were necessary for this slow poke to get the work done and contributed little my exhaustion. Myna and Margo set their hours from 8am to 8pm and got lots done. They worked a lot faster.

I'll post more about this workshop later. I don't intend to scare anyone off because I really believe Nancy Crow provides the best art education for any art quilter. She's taught me principles and techniques and developed my visual acuity. All these will serve me well no matter what direction my art quilts will go - even if I never piece again.