Category Archives: Learning from the Masters

Learning from the Masters

From Sketchbook to Art Quilt

(You’re gonna want to scroll down for this one.) So what does all this stuff about sketching have to do with quilting? It prepares you for the single moment that inspiration strikes. I want to make a quilt of a house, a bird, a cup of coffee. I want to make a bow-tie quilt, log cabin. I can’t wait to use that new fabric. Now you have a rich repository from which to draw images from. You’ve “filled the well” as Julia Cameron would say in her seminal work, The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity [10th Anniversary Edition] .

Here’s one path from sketch to original art quilt. I started with several thumbnail sketches, not really sure how I wanted to capture this gorgeous valley.

First Thumbnail

First Thumbnail

Second Thumbnail

Second Thumbnail

Third Thumbnail

Third Thumbnail

Fourth Thumbnail

Fourth Thumbnail

I went with thumbnail #3, as I loved the vertical composition and the feeling I was at the top of the peak looking down. I captured the image on muslin using watercolor crayons, and here it is being auditioned for a border to serve as a frame:

Final Piece:  Which Border?

Final Piece: Which Border?

And here it is on my design wall ready to be quilted:

Art Quilt on Design Wall

Art Quilt on Design Wall

All the preparation in my sketchbooks readied me for this quilt. Funny, it didn’t feel like preparation. It felt more like time was flying by, being the in flow, capturing the images and moments that held meaning for me. Truly, the best part of being an artist. Dreaming, sketching, and quilting.

I love my job, don’t you?

Note of interest: The tiny building in the background (best seen in Thumbnail #1) burned to the ground months after I did this sketch. It was a local restaurant that held many memories for me and neighbors in my community. Now it has been immortalized in a work of art. See what I mean by capturing meaning? I had no idea of the unfortunate event that would come, nor do you ever know all the layers a work of art potentially holds. Until you actually create it.

Art a Key to Happy Life for the Aging

Thanks to Alyson over at ArtBizBlog for the heads up on this great NPR story on Aging Artists. I was intrigued enough to read the more detailed summary of the study, and was delighted at the attitude of these artists, who struggled financially but were elated with life and their art.

“Art is what makes me live.”
—93-year-old visual artist

I have always been involved with the aging in some way. In college, I was involved in the now-famous study of centenarians when I worked in the Gerontology office. I transcribed interviews with people ages 100 years and over, and found them to be persistent when life threw them curveballs. They simply didn’t let obstacles stop them. One woman had lived to see Halley’s Comet twice, outlived three husbands and all of her children, and was still vibrant.

When I homeschooled my boys, we volunteered with Meals on Wheels in our community. And I live in a community where we are by far the younger generation. I’m often referred to as a “young mom.” Yahoo – I’ll take it.

How do you see yourself and your art as you age?

Cool Tools for Your Blog

I’ve got an article in the upcoming issue of Professional Quilter magazine called Developing Your Blog as a Marketing Tool. I love blogging. I get to write daily posts that let readers know a little about me and my work and connect with people not only in my own community, but across the globe. However, developing a blog can be frustrating. There is no how-to manual on how to do it, and help is often scattered.

Current issue of Professional Quilter

So, I read lots of other blogs and learn from them. I especially enjoy educator blogs. Teachers are angels who devote their time to our precious babes, and teachers’ blogs are fantastic. I used to homeschool my kids and I would have loved to have known about the blogging world back then.

Here are two of my favorite teacher blogs, not only for their subject matter, but because of how much they have taught me about blogging:

Cool Cat Teacher is a middle school teacher in the tiny town of Camilla, GA. She is a techno wiz and explains a lot of the blogging world and the web. If you have kids, don’t miss her post on 11 Steps for Online Supervision of Your Child. I have learned enormously from her blog and look forward to her posts.

Cogs for Blogs is a brand new blog but beautiful in its simplicity. I wish it had been around when I began blogging, because in one place, Lenva has collected instructions for many of the tools I offer on my blog that took me months of searching for how to do them right. What kinds of stuff? Linking to my email, doing a Slideshare, changing your blog header, along with others. It’s a site targeted toward teachers, but don’t let that stop you. You can learn from it as well.

So, watch for my article, and in the meantime, trick out your own blog.

I’m On Mary Lou’s Blogroll!

Mary Lou and Cherries Too Blog

I feel like I’ve arrived. Mary Lou Weidman has added me to her blogroll. Wow. I’m so honored. Mary Lou is one of my all-time favorite quilters, not only for her courageous use of bold colors, but also for her gracious and optimistic attitude.

I have all of Mary Lou’s books, and I’ll be adding her newest to my library as soon as it comes out. Mary Lou has a fabulous website with all kinds of eye candy, and her blog is as inspirational and cheery as she is.

Mary Lou is visiting my guild, the East Cobb Quilter’s Guild, in August, and you can be sure I’ll be in her class. Who would want to miss just being around someone so fun who creates such original and whimsical quilts?

Making Something Beautiful from Nothing

Eat Pray Love

One of my Christmas gifts to myself is the memoir Eat. Pray. Love. by Elizabeth Gilbert. I’m finding it more entertaining than spiritually uplifting, but one of Elizabeth’s experiences resonated with me and I haven’t been able to forget it. During her stay in Italy, she experiences the Italian notion of l’arte d’arrangiarsi – the art of making something out of nothing. She says,


“The art of turning a few simple ingredients into a feast or a few gathered friends into a festival. Anyone with a talent for happiness can do this, not only the rich.”

Then Robert Glenn’s weekly newsletter appeared in my email inbox this morning talking of making and selling art in tough economic times. I think it’s even more important to make art when times are tough, as it uplifts both the artist and the public. Some of Norman Rockwell’s most beloved art came was inspired by a speech by Franklin Roosevelt during hard times in World War II. People remember the paintings much more than they remember the speech.

Four Freedoms

I’m inspired to create beautiful works of art during tough economic times, making something from nothing. From humble beginnings of old ripped jeans, sketch paper, and fabric scraps, I made prayer journals:

Prayer Journals

A tiny expression of beauty, not necessarily for materials that went into the journals, but for what will grace their pages.

Learning from the Masters: Faith Ringgold

Sunflower Quilting Bee

In my last installment of the “Learning from the Masters” series, I’m profiling Faith Ringgold. One of the first decorating steps I did in my studio when we moved to our current home was to put prints of Faith’s work on the wall above my sewing machine. Faith’s color-infused work speaks to me in a way few others do. Her painted and pieced quilts are well-known and in galleries across the globe.

I attended a lecture Faith held at the High Museum of Art years ago, and I was intrigued and surprised by what she had to say. The two most memorable ideas were:

  • aging is good for an artist because it allows you to persist in your work
  • after seeing the works of the Gee’s Bend quilters, she wished she had ignored her mother’s advice of “matching seams are a must”

Faith also talked of her struggle to be recognized in her community, saying no local museum had bought her work, so she donated a piece. It seems that biblical adage, “a prophet is not recognized in her own hometown” applies to many walks of life.

Things I’ve learned from Faith Ringgold:

  • originality is recognized over technical precision. Faith was painting and writing on quilts before anyone else, and she was recognized for it early on
  • all artists struggle with being recognized and accepted
  • working in a series gives importance and context to your work. Faith’s series range from her personal struggles with weight, to race relations, and works of the great masters in the Louvre, just to name a few
  • work big. Large pieces of art demand your attention

I hope you’ve enjoyed this series and learned some great tips from the masters of the quilting world, as I have. I’d appreciate hearing from you if you’ve found these posts useful and interesting. Again, here’s the schedule in case you missed any:

Monday: Sunday at the High

Tuesday: Gwen Marston

Wednesday: Ruth McDowell

Thursday: Deidre Scherer

Friday: Faith Ringgold

Learning from the Masters: Deidre Scherer

Images in Fabric and Thread
The third artist in my “Learning from the Masters” series is Deidre Scherer. Deidre is not a quilter, but an artist who works in fabric and thread. She creates beautifully expressive portraits of our aging seniors, but uses no batting or bindings. In fact, she celebrates the raw edge, both in her stitching and the outside edges of her work.

I first became familiar with Ms. Scherer’s work after seeing her on Simply Quilts, when Alex Anderson introduced her as the cover artist of When I Am an Old Woman I Shall Wear Purple. I had seen the book many times in bookstores, but I never realized the cover illustration was done in fabric and thread. I was floored that such a realistic and expressive portrait could be done in fiber.

When I Am an Old Woman

Things I’ve learned from Deidre Scherer:

  • you can create impressive results with simple materials. Deidre uses everyday calicoes and common cotton threads
  • the difference between craft and art is in the artist. Deidre cuts directly into the fabric for the portrait pieces. No tracing, no patterns, just practice, practice, practice
  • you can learn much from working in a series. Deidre had worked on a variety of subject matters early in her career, but really dedicated her work later to the subject of the elderly. Not only did her art improve, she received much acclaim after doing so
  • don’t be afraid to be unique in your art. Deidre doesn’t use batting, fusible web, or bindings. She celebrates the unfinished look of her raw edge pieces

Will I be copying Ms. Scherer’s work? No. What I will do is take the lessons I’ve learned in studying her art and apply them to my own work. I create my own artistic style based on the influences of artists I admire.

Here is the “Learning from the Masters” series schedule for this week, in case you missed a post:

Monday: Sunday at the High

Tuesday: Gwen Marston

Wednesday: Ruth McDowell

Thursday: Deidre Scherer

Friday: Faith Ringgold

I’m archiving these in a category all their own so you can return to them. Who are your influences and what have you learned from them?

Learning from the Masters: Ruth McDowell

Ruth McDowell

Ruth McDowell is the second quilt master I’m profiling this week in my “Learning from the Masters” series.  She is the only quilter whose work I see and consistently say to myself, “I wish I had made that quilt.”

Ruth is well-known for her complex and rich piecing in her art quilts. I admire her vibrant color using commercial fabrics. Many art quilters use only their own hand-dyed fabrics, but Ruth uses the same commercial fabrics you and I can buy in fabric stores.

I’ve learned from Ruth:

  • I can create lush color effects in my quilts using commonly-available fabrics
  • I don’t have to hand-dye my fabrics to be an art quilter
  • Look at unusual sources for fabrics. Cotton quilting fabrics are predictable; you’ll find unusual fabrics that make your quilts stand out by using fabrics from all types of sources
  • It takes a deep commitment to your art to be successful. Ruth has dedicated her life to her pursuit of art quilting

Have you identified the quilting masters you can learn from? Share your inspirations in the comments. Here’s the schedule for the “Learning from the Masters” series in case you’ve missed a post:

Monday: Sunday at the High

Tuesday: Gwen Marston

Wednesday: Ruth McDowell

Thursday: Deidre Scherer

Friday: Faith Ringgold

Learning from the Masters: Gwen Marston

Collaborative Quilting

In my first “Learning from the Master” post, the quilter from whom I’ve learned a great deal is Gwen Marston. First, I admire her attitude, which is perfectionism in quilting is overrated, and you don’t have to suffer to make a beautiful quilt. Gwen learned by copying the masters, Mennonite quilters and Mary Schafer, and she is passing on those lessons in her books and teaching.

Gwen also makes a variety of different quilts, from string quilts, to traditional four-block quilts, to star quilts. She refuses to be “branded” by publishers or anyone else. She makes the eclectic grouping of quilts she enjoys.

From Gwen I’ve learned:

  • How to hand quilt
  • I can make my own quilt my way
  • How to think independently about the quilts I make, to please myself and no one else
  • How to look at antique quilts to get inspiration for current quilts, whether traditional or contemporary
  • How to make easy machine-appliqued bias stems
  • How to make stuffed yo-yos

This is just a sampling of the lessons I’ve learned from Gwen. Check out her website, or even better, her books or classes to see for yourself.

Upcoming master quilters I’ll be posting about:

Wednesday: Ruth McDowell

Thursday: Deidre Scherer

Friday: Faith Ringgold

I’ll be posting photos from my most recent Easy Art Quilt class tomorrow. My little one is sick today so computer time is limited.

Sunday at the High Museum

Impression, Sunrise (Impression, soleil levant), Claude Monet, (1872/1873). Public domain image courtesy of Wikipedia.

I took the day off on Sunday and went to the High Museum of Art to view their Inspiring Impressionism exhibit. It did not disappoint. Displayed were multiple works by Impressionist greats Claude Monet, Edouard Manet, Paul Cezanne, Edgar Degas, Mary Cassett, and the works that inspired them. I listened to the audio tour as I went along and learned how much the Impressionists copied the old masters to learn their craft, eventually building their own styles.

As artists, we often view copying as plagarism, but it can be the highest form of flattery. You are bettering your own talents by copying the greats who do it better than anyone else. Even Leonardo da Vinci copied other painters to learn his craft.

Years ago I attended a writing workshop by Terry Kay, author of To Dance with the White Dog, and he started out as a sportswriter for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. He said he learned his craft by copying, word for word, the columns of great sportswriter Furman Bisher. Eventually, he was able to take what he learned from a master and create his own style of writing.

This week, identify the great masters you can learn from. I have my own personal list, and I’ll share the artists and what I personally learn from them this week. What a great artist date opportunity. Don’t miss it and do the work to learn more about your personal style of artistry and quilting.