Saturday, April 14, 2012

Art Process...To Sketch or Not to Sketch?

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)

You can see from the sketch that the bird shapes have changed as well as the center having circles rather than straight lines.  These changes happened more organically as I worked with the actual fabric I was using and making prototypes of the different objects to see which ones I like better; for example, the birds. I noticed that if I spend more time sketching with the intention of copying the sketch into my work, I slow down, erase a lot more, and get the shapes perfect before moving on.  In this case, I was confident enough to proceed without having a perfect composition.  That's partly due to the nature of building the image with fabric.  As you cut each piece, you can adjust and readjust to your heart's content until it looks just right.  I like working that way too.  And then there was the serendipitous magic of finding the orange construction fencing, blowing across the road.  I never thought to put a ladder on this piece, until I found the fencing.  It became my starting point for the color palette and composition, and it was never in my original drawing.  Lesson:  Be open to the forces of the universe!

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.
This one is called Garden Girl and Kite Boy.  It is all about the power of ambivalence.  Read more about it 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!


Kathy N said...

Interesting post...made more interesting by the links to quilts over time...I don't think I was reading your blog 5 years ago. I really like Garden Girl and Kite Boy, but I also liked (not sure liked is the right word) that the abuse victims were hiding on the back of Lunar they were being protected.

kathy york said...

Thanks Kathy! Yep, the moon has a pretty violent history, bombarded by meteors and cosmic trash. And it has protected the earth because it's gravity, attracts the meteors before they hit the earth....How many times has the mother been the moon? protecting her children from the abuse of her husband? and yet, there is still a cost...