Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Working in a Series

I know I promised this yesterday but I forgot.  I'm old, gimme a break, so here goes:

I don't consciously work in a series, prefer instead to just do doodly do, doodly do, what I must muddly must until I bust bodily bust as Kurt Vonnegut would say.  In other words, I take off on whatever interests me at the moment-  perhaps a subject, perhaps a color, perhaps a phrase from this morning's newspaper.  I start pulling fabrics by the bundles off the shelves and stacking them together, editing and adding as I go until I have a pallet to work from.  Usually there is some 'key' fabric that pushes the thought process forward and the beginning bunch of fabrics orbits around one or two that I know I need to use.  So, here are a series- see if you find the thread that goes through them all.  I have also jotted down the other series titles that each is in.

Redwork, Animals, Broiderie Perse, Memorial Quilts
Journal Quilts, Autobiographical, Floor Quilts, Travel
Italian Quilts, Broiderie Perse, Autobiographical, Hand Paints

I have no formula, I don't use templates or patterns and instead build off a central thought, then add as it occurs to me.  'Quilting by the Seat of Your Pants' was the title of an old workshop I developed, and that about says it all.  I make it up as I go along.  I may or may not have a 'vision' as so many of you call it, but usually just let it fall where it may.  If it needs more up-close interest I add embroidery or embellishments or more fabric in smaller doses.  If it needs more back-across-the-room interest, I simplify or add stronger contrasts in larger pieces.  A quilt needs three viewing points, first with a nose up against it and bifocles down , second from a normal 4' or 5' back, then the Big Impact view from across the room.  These are the quilts, btw, that get the first choice hanging spot in shows because they excite the eye the minute you walk in the door.  

Image Transfers, Vintage Fabrics, Autobiographical, Linen
Animals, Vintage Fabrics
Broiderie Perse, Hand Painted, Vintage Fabrics, Floor Quilts

But I am supposed to be writing about series work.  Series for me develop themselves.  In fact most of my quilts belong in several different series that I have worked on for years.  A series doesn't have to be all about the same thing.  It doesn't have to be the same techniques or colors, or the same size.  In fact I don't see why it has to even be the same artist but that another point we can talk about another time.  What it does mean is that the works have SOMETHING in common with each other and the 'something' can be anything that is strong enough to notice.  For example, Jeanne Williamson has gotten hundreds of pieces out of her construction fence series, which I think is probably still an active theme for her, a simple subject that has captivated her for several years now and continues to beg for further explorations.  At last count Judy Becker had done over 350 small 12" squares, each new design rendered 4 times in different colors and with a different simple piecing design.  And her original intent was to make 100-  obviously this series is interesting enough to keep Judy still working with enthusiasm and fresh interest.

Vintage Fabrics, Hand Painted, Autobigraphical
Vintage Fabrics, Image Transfers, Story Telling
Vintage Fabrics, Image transfers, Autobiographical

Other artists I know may make 2 pieces that are somehow related and fully exhaust their exploration, and that's fine.  One should never force oneself to keep to a task just because it's there, only to pursue it if it needs more attention.  I wonder about artists who set themselves up by announcing they are going to make a 'series of 20' ahead of the time to work it all out, as it may be something that never approaches that number.  And that is setting oneself up for failure, because every time you see the finished quilts your guilt will kick in that it's an unfinished series.  Instead, after ever quilt, declare the series complete, then if you want to add more it's fine and there is no guilt.  We set ourselves up for small failures in so many ways.

Vintage Fabrics, Story Telling, Image Transfers
Image Transfers, Hand Embroidered
Image Transfers, Redwork, Hand Painted, Autobiographical

I always used to suggest in my classes to go home and take snapshots of all your quilts, then lay them on a table and arrange them by some sort of similarity.  When they are all in neat related columns, write down which are in each series, then look for other relationships-  reflip the pictures into new columns and name the series that they also fit into.  Write these down.  Do it again.  You won't be able to use all the quilts every time, but when you study them as JUST PICTURES you should be able to be detached enough to see other relationships.

Basically ALL your quilts are your own ONE series, but we'll ignore that for now.  You will see that you revisit the same subjects over and over.  You tend to repeatedly use the same colors.  You will use the same techniques or the same type of quilting over and over.  These are your artistic arsenal and it's fine, but are you growing?  If your personal pallet tends to watery colors, maybe it's time to try firey colors for the next one.  If you do landscape after landscape, change it up and do it vertically.  Little changes can refresh your point of view and it will always fit into your life series just because it's yours. 
Redwork, Hand Painted, Vintage Fabrics
Vintage Fabrics, Hand Painted, Broiderie Perse

And don't forget to take the snapshots and look at them objectively and see how many ways they can fit into more than just one of your series.

And oh yeah, these quilts all belong to the Toile Fabric Series!  I*LOVE*TOILE!

This morning I got a lovely note from Irene MacWilliam commenting on working in a series and directing me to her site where she shows her AMAZING 'Events of the Year' quilts that she has assembled since 1986. This is more of a life-time project than a simple series, so go look and admire her work! Thanks, Irene. Good luck with 2008, we can't wait to see it too.

1 comment :

Louise in SW Saskatchewan said...

wow! What a great suggestion re: taking photos of all your quilts and lookign at them to see if you are working in series without knowing it......

another thing to add to my list of things needing to be done.

I think one of my series may be "challenge" quilts....... cuz that seems to be a phasse I went thru at one point ggggg

What do we do with those?