When I first started making art quilts, I sketched a lot. I made all my design decisions before starting. Then I would copy my sketch into fabric.
These two images are from my quilt Lunar One. The front side depicts a geologic map of the moon, marked with interesting looking craters. The backside shows images of people affected by domestic violence. I drew each face before attempting to recreate it in fabric. And, I was very nervous, I didn't think I could draw, and especially not faces! My criterion for success was that the faces be recognizable as the human form, and I surpassed my very low expectations!
If you are curious about the front side, I went to the trouble to download the images from NASA, convert them to slides, project them on my wall, put up the paper, and trace the forms. It is an accurate representation of the real rock units on the moon, with some slight modification of the color palette (which was my entire intention when I started the project). If you would like to see it, follow this link, and scroll down. For some reason, I paired this post with another quilt about pumpkins.
Later in my process, I evolved to make cruder sketches, maybe working out placement of objects, or scale. These images are of my quilt, Vertigo (Quilting Arts Cover, whoo hoo!!). (see more about it, here)
I used this technique, of composing without sketching first, on an older piece, Jay Walk. At least until I got to the quilting part. I then doodled some of the main figures trying to decide what kind of quilting lines I wanted. I frequently sketch quilting lines on tracing paper, laid right on top of the quilt. (Carefully not poking through the paper as I draw). You can read more about Jay Walk by following this link. I can't remember now if I even used the lines in this sketch. But the quilt is gone now, "lost" in the mail. I call it lost, but I think it was stolen. It was mis-delivered on route to the International Quilt Festival in Houston, and not returned to the correct address.
I keep thinking that I will get it back some day, but as time goes by, that hope gets smaller and smaller...
You can read about it's misadventures here.
I have learned other lessons about sketching. For example, the idea that growth is a linear process. It is not. I learned to sketch, and I learned to create without sketching, but sometimes I still go back to sketching first. It pulls me in. It grounds me a bit. Sometimes it is important to just do the sketch, even if I don't end up using it as drawn. It is freeing to be able to let go of the sketch if needed. I have learned to allow myself to change midstream. This next one came after Vertigo, and I find it interesting how similar the actual quilt is to the drawing. I also find it interesting, that I had no clear vision of the quilting lines before starting, as is often the case. And the quilting lines, which are so rich, make the quilt successful in my opinion. And, I was happy to go with the urge to do it, even though it was significantly more difficult than doing a simple quilting motif.
The quilt is called Where Have all the Bluejays Gone? And it was a healing piece for me after my quilt was stolen. It kind of breaks your spirit to be victimized, and then you have to be resilient and recover from your loss. This piece helped me work through that.
In the summer of 2008, I took a class with Pamela Allen. She taught us to compose in a totally different way than I think. It was liberating, expanding, and uncomfortable and unsettling. And it worked. I learned to cut shapes and just place them quickly to build up a picture. No sketching at all! If you compose quickly, it taps into a very authentic version of yourself. And their are no guarantees that it will be pretty in the end, but it is genuine and worthy of being produced. It is powerful.here.
A parting image for you and a confession. I still struggle with sketching. Sometimes I need to do it, sometimes I don't. Sometimes I have an image that I want to make and I don't have a clue how to sketch it at all. Such is the case with my very labor intensive quilt, Little Fish in a Big City. I wanted to make it, and didn't know how to draw it. So, I made it literally, in 3D. Ironically, when I started, I didn't know how to do 3D either, but I picked that to learn instead. Sometimes you can have great success even when you don't know how to draw!