Thursday, December 11, 2008

Flags by Colour

Via Dear Ada I found Flags by Colours by Shahee Ilyas. The page describes the work:
Using a list of countries generated by The World Factbook database, flags of countries fetched from Wikipedia (as of 26th May 2007) are analysed by a custom made python script to calculate the proportions of colours on each of them. That is then translated on to a piechart using another python script. The proportions of colours on all unique flags are used to finally generate a piechart of proportions of colours for all the flags combined.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Value: Markers

Since I'm not much of a painter, I've continued my value studies with the Munsell Student Color Set using my Prismacolor markers.
Prismacolor makes three different gradient grey color marker sets: french grey, cool grey, and warm grey. I have the french grey set. The cool greys clearly have a blue tint. Looking at the samples on my monitor I don't see as much of a specific color tint in the warm greys - maybe red, but if so it's very subtle. The french grey set clearly has a yellow tint - so at this low chroma it appears most like taupe. Though without any other color in context, the yellow is barely noticeable.

Like the value scale Deb Menz uses in her book, the Prismacolor grey scale is based on the percentage of black that is mixed with white. So the lightest marker is 10% and the darkest non-black marker is 90% and there are nine markers in the grey scale, plus black. As you might be able to tell, my 50% marker has seen better days. I should really buy a replacement.

One difference between opaque paint and the ink in Prismacolor markers is that you can build up layers of ink in such a way that the value and chroma change. These last two images are samples I made layering the 10% French grey and 20% French grey respectively. I found that by the fourth layer of the 10% French grey, the value matches the 20% French grey. So you can layer the 10% French grey to create two values between 10% and 20%.
I found that by the third layer of the 20% French grey, the value matches the 30% French grey. So you can layer the 20% French grey to create one value between 20% and 30%. Alternatively, if you want to make sure an area of grey is all one value, if you layer it at least four times it will be uniformly one value. This corrects the striped appearance I often get filling in blocks of color. I suppose I should do this test on every marker to see how dark it gets and how many layers I need to do to even out the color.
I also need to line up my other value indicies to see what Munsell values apply to which Prismacolor values and what Menz values apply to which Prismacolor values.

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Monday, November 24, 2008

Seeing Red

This value scale is from Art History by Marilyn Stokstad, which I'm reading with a couple of friends to make up for our failure to take art history in college. This value scale and some other basic tools to describe art are included in the Starter Kit section of the introductory material. For no particular reason that I can discern, values are divided into seven gradations including white and black at either end.

Stokstad's value variation in red uses the highest chroma colors from almost every value row on the 5R chart. For some reason it skips value 7/. From right to left: 5R 8/4, 5R 6/12, 5R 5/14, 5R 4/14, 5R 3/4.

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Sunday, November 23, 2008

How to Manage Daily Inspiration

I'm charmed by the design boards Lobster & Swan makes to record the things that inspire her each day, which I found via Design*Sponge. Really, I'm a sucker for anything date-stamped. These collages remind me of On Kawara's Today Series, which you can go see as part of The Panza Collection exhibit at The Hirshhorn Museum.

I clip pages from magazines that inspire me, but I don't keep them in any sort of order. They float around like leaves in my studio, fluttering in the wind from the ceiling fan. I wonder if I should follow Lobster & Swan's lead. Or file them by subject matter. Though it's rarely the subject matter that I find inspiring. Maybe file by whatever it is I find most inspiring about the image. But how many things have I filed away and never looked at again? I've seen people fill their walls with inspirational images. I did that to cover the ghastly wood paneling in my workspace in Indiana. Now my walls are white and seem to have been filled by bookcases and shelves.

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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Quilt News

I will post this over at the other, more frequently read, nominally "group" blog as well, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention these great quilt events here.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art is showing Gee's Bend: The Architecture of the Quilt through December 14, 2008. In conjunction with that exhibit the same museum is showing Quilt Stories: The Ella King Torrey Collection of African American Quilts and Other Recent Quilt Acquisitions. The PMA is a great museum. I saw this particular Gee's Bend show at The Walters Museum in Baltimore. It's a definite must-see.

Also in quilt related news, Dear Ada shared some pieces from Sherri Lynn Wood's collection of Passage Quilts. These quilts commemorate and honor personal relationships, milestones, and rites of passage. You can read more about these quilts in the November/December 2008 issue of FiberArts. Ms. Wood conducts workshops for people "in transition." Quilting has been used as a means of working one's way through a tough time quite possibly since its inception. One incredibly moving example is Coralee's Mourning Quilt, a simple three-strip quilt with words and designs made with simple embroidery.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Textile Museum & TxtStyles/Fashioning Identity

On the Washington, D.C., segment of my East Coast Tour I went to the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian to see the TxtStyles/Fashioning Identity exhibit, which is on through December 28, 2008, and the Textile Museum. Despite having lived in D.C. for a couple of years I had never been to either of these museums.

While the Textile Museum is relatively small and out of the way, it is entirely worth the trip for its permanent exhibit The Textile Learning Center alone, and even more so if you fancy the current exhibition.

In hindsight I encountered these exhibits in exactly the wrong order. I should have started in The Textile Learning Center on the second floor of the Textile Museum. The exhibit The Finishing Touch: Accessories from the Bolivian Highlands, on through February 1, 2009, uses the vocabulary defined in The Textile Learning Center in its signage and in the organization of the pieces. The two exhibits are close enough to one another that it would be easy to go back to the TLC to refresh your memory. Having learned and applied your textile vocabulary on the second floor, you'd be ready for the main current exhibit Timbuktu to Tibet: Rugs and Textiles of the Hajji Babas, on through March 8, 2009.

Finally, while my first stop was the National Museum of African Art at the Smithsonian to see the TxtStyles/Fashioning Identity exhibit, I think you could get a lot more out of it if you had the knowledge base from the Textile Museum under your belt.

The brochure accompanying TxtStyles/Fashioning Identity exhibit was one of the most thorough I've found. It included all of the text from the signage in the exhibit down to the descriptions of every artifact. I love taking notes and drawing sketches in exhibits and this brochure had plenty of room for both and enough information that I could concentrate on sketching and noting my own impressions rather than copying down information from signage. Oh, how I would love every museum exhibit to have a brochure like this! Mind you, its dimensions were that of a vinyl record, so not exactly the easiest to carry around all day, but worth the effort.

From the children's guide to the exhibit:
TxtStyles/Fashioning Identity examines African garments, textiles, and adornments as communicators of coded messages. Messages of the age, gender, status, individual character, and group identity are transmitted in the colors, symbols, beads, costly materials, and patterns that decorate these textiles.
This theme ties in nicely with my interest in quilts with secret information behind them.

My favorite pieces in the TxtStyles/Fashioning Identity exhibit included the Man's tunic (jibbeh) from the Mahdiyya State in Sudan created in the late 19th century out of cotton, silk, wool, cotton batting, and dye. The tunic was pieced with floral and paisley commercially printed cotton, giving it the appearance of a traditional western quilt. The signage noted that armor for a man and his horse in the Mahdi Army was most often quilted in cotton. Silk might have been included in this piece because it is thought to deflect bad fortune. It is more customarily used in textiles related to wedding and birth ceremonies.

In addition to materials with special meanings, like undyed white wool having protective properties, the exhibit described a number of patterns with their own meanings. For example, the Woman's wrapper (haik) made by the Kabyle peoples of Algeria in the late 19th century out of wool, cotton, and dye depicted triangles and diamonds, both of which are protective motifs. Lozenge shapes ward off the evil eye. More specifically, the oyokoman pattern of yellow an green warp dtripes in a red field is identified with the Asante rulling clan and Ghanaian nationalism. Can you imagine a textile being associated with a U.S. political party?

I was also inspired by the textile techniques on display. A Woman's wrapper made by the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria in the mid-20th century out of cotton and indigo dye used adire (ah-deer-ray), a Yoruba resist dye technique. The blue background was covered with an orthogonal array of circles called "tops." Tops are a popular pattern made by twisting a comb into a cloth laden with starch resist to make textured circles. They look like very finely drawn spirals.

The idea of textiles as communication devices is also developed in The Textile Museum's special exhibit Timbuktu to Tibet: Rugs and Textiles of the Hajji Babas. From The Bulletin of The Textile Museum:
As social currency, textiles reveal a great deal about an individual's wealth, social status, occupation, and religious and ethnic associations, as well as a culture's values, codes, and social order.
The main theme of the exhibit is comparing textiles made by nomadic peoples to those made by settled peoples.

One story from the signage in the exhibition particularly resonated with me. In the Kuba and Shivran provinces of eastern Azerbaijan, many towns an d villages became known for producing rugs with specific designs or styles. The region came under Russian rule in the 19th century. As part of a program to "improve" local handicrafts (kustar), Russian authorities set about recording and "tidying up" traditional carpet designs. The state-sanitized designs were then redistributed throughout the villages of the region, making it difficult to know if the current design names bear any relation to where a particular rug was made. This faux-folk art is identifiable by its use of repeated colors.

This seems like a very similar process of homogenization as took place in the early 20th century in American quilt making that I've discussed elsewhere. To paraphrase myself, antique American quilts do not conform to the forms and techniques commonly accepted as "traditional" quilting today. The rules enforced by present day "quilt police" seem to have coalesced in the patterns and kits made available in the 20th century, much like the state-sanitized carpet designs distributed by the Russians in late 19th Century. What is commonly accepted as "traditional" quilting is really a set of patterns and techniques created by the quilting-industrial complex. These "traditional" patterns and techniques can be traced back to their owners, purveyors of 20th century quilt patterns and kits, like the patterns in Azeri rugs can be traced back to the state-sanitized patterns distributed in the late 19th century. But both of these sets of patterns are disconnected from their geographically and culturally specific origins. Additionally, this idea of making quilts or rugs based on centrally distributed patterns destroys the creative process in which women improvisationally created without patterns or techniques beyond those they shared with one another on an interpersonal level.

On a less historical note, I found the descriptions of the artifacts in The Textile Museum's special exhibit Timbuktu to Tibet: Rugs and Textiles of the Hajji Babas fascinating in their own right. For example, "An excess of details repeated from a prototype result in overcrowding." And, "A narrow field and multiple borders suggests a window looking into deep space lending a contemplative quality." Something about these descriptions strikes me as more subjective than I've seen in other museum signage. This is an exhibit of artifacts "drawn from the collections of past and present members of America's oldest rug and textile collecting society, the Hajji Baba Club." So I wonder if the owner's personal assessments made it into the signage or if the curators took more of an appraiser's eye towards the objects. While I don't find this type of signage particularly helpful in learning about the object, I do find it helpful in learning what appraisers think of when they look at these sorts of objects. As someone contemplating entering quilts into competition, these peeks at what might be going on in the minds of the judges is always fascinating.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Discussions of Value: A Comparison of Resources

To further my remedial review of value after my first failed exercise from The Munsell Student Color Set, I reviewed the sections on value in all of the other books I have that address color: Interaction of Color by Josef Albers; Your First Quilt Book by Carol Doak; Color for the Terrified Quilter: Plain Talk, Simple Lessons, 11 Projects by Ionne McCauley and Sharon Pederson; and Deb Menz's Color Works: The Crafter's Guide to Color.
The above picture shows one value exercise in Interaction of Color by Josef Albers. Interaction of Color is like The Munsell Student Color Set in that it is intended as a companion to class exercises. Interaction of Color is probably an advanced seminar on color where The Munsell Student Color Set is an introductory course. If I could ever get through The Munsell Student Color Set, I would love to work my way through Interaction of Color.
The above picture shows the entire value discussion in Your First Quilt Book by Carol Doak. Considering the broad scope of this book, that's actually a pretty hefty word count for a discussion of value. The book dedicates all of eight pages to color-related issues. So for one of those pages to be solely dedicated to value is pretty good. The patterns in the book are also fairly easy to break down into at least light, medium, and dark values, which for beginning quilters is fairly sufficient. Most of the diagrams in the book are black and white, which probably doesn't appeal to buyers like full color graphics might, but the benefit of grayscale diagrams is that they give you a lot more sense of value placement than potentially confusing pictures using actual fabric. If you're looking for an introductory quilt book, I highly recommend Your First Quilt Book by Carol Doak. If you're looking for an in depth discussion of value, this is probably not the one. But it certainly introduces value in terms of fabric choices clearly. It also describes the universal quilters' value tool: The Ruby Beholder. Essentially an easily marketable substitute for a piece of red cellophane, a Ruby Beholder is a transparent piece of red plastic quilters look through to filter out the colors of fabric in order to determine color. Of course, if you love red fabric, the Ruby Beholder is of limited, ahem, value. They have green versions out there as well, just for red fabric lovers.
The above picture shows almost the entire value discussion in Color for the Terrified Quilter: Plain Talk, Simple Lessons, 11 Projects by Ionne McCauley and Sharon Pederson. Considering the relatively narrow scope of this book, I am disappointed in the lack of attention paid to value. Essentially it includes two paragraphs and two exercises, one organizing fabrics into a value scale and another addressing relative value. All of the pictures are full color, which I think might confuse folks. Also, the exercises only use one hue. Arranging a value scale within one hue isn't really the problem. Trying to compare values among varied hues is the real challenge most quilters face. This book doesn't even broach the subject.
This is one of my favorite depictions of value from Deb Menz's Color Works: The Crafter's Guide to Color. Not only does Menz dedicate part of her chapter on describing color to the subject of value, she dedicates a whole chapter to understanding value. Most importantly, she uses color and grayscale images to illustrate value differences among different colors. She even has a diagram depicting the twelves hues on her color wheel with their values. Genius!

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Monday, October 27, 2008

Color Theory: Value

After my abysmal showing at Exercise 1.3, I thought I should back up and take a closer look at value.

If you click on any of these images you should be able to see a larger version of the image in which the values for each Munsell chip are labeled in hot pink. The first value scale accompanied by Munsell chips is from Color Works: The Crafter's Guide to Color by Deb Menz, which was recommended in a quilt guild lecture on color theory by Robin Edmundson.

The first thing I notice when I look at this picture is that the grays of the Munsell chips seem to have a yellow cast to them compared to the color of the Menz grays. The Munsell chips are actual chips of opaque paint which has a different color gamut than the printers ink used to make the Menz book.

This scale is from the same book as the first example, Color Works: The Crafter's Guide to Color by Deb Menz. The back of the book has a number of handy pull out color tools including a gray scale. It's printed on glossy card stock, which might explain the differences between the arrangement of the Munsell chips on this scale and the first scale.

Note the unequal distribution of Munsell chips along the Menz value scale. Particularly at the high end of the value scale there seem to be a lot more grays in the Menz scale than the Munsell chips. Menz creates her value scale according to the percentage of black that has been mixed with white, from 0% (white) to 100% (black). In the value scale at left you can see the numbers along the left side of the value scale which indicate the percentage of black that has been mixed with white to form that particular gray. This gives us 11 different values.

On the Munsell Hue/Value/Chroma chart we have 9 rectangles and only 8 repositionable chips as representative samples for N 1/ (black) cannot be achieved in matte finish. Munsell created his gray scale based on ten visually equal steps between black and white. Because human perception of lightness is not uniform, a gray reflecting 50 percent of the light falling on it does not appear halfway between black and white. On the Munsell value scale, the middle gray, N 5/, reflects only 19.77% of the light. This is because people are much more sensitive to value differences between dark colors than they are to value differences between light colors.

For this reason, the steps in the Munsell value scale have a geometric relationship to one another. Munsell would argue that Menz's gray scale does not appear uniform because the percentage of black that has been mixed with white increases in equal increments.

This value scale is from Art History by Marilyn Stokstad, which I'm reading with a couple of friends to make up for our failure to take art history in college. This value scale and some other basic tools to describe art are included in the Starter Kit section of the introductory material. For no particular reason that I can discern, values are divided into seven gradations including white and black at either end. Their correspondence, or lack there of, to Munsell value chips are apparent from the super out of focus picture.

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Friday, October 24, 2008

Munsell Exercise 1.3: Determining Values of Colors - Checking My Work

It's times like these where doing these exercises in a class would be both harrowing and helpful. I'm relieved I'm not being graded on my ability to determine the values of colors. But I would really like some feedback both on my technique and how to double check myself. Following, please find my thoughts on how to check the assessment of value of a color using an image editing program.

In my image editor of choice, GIMP, if I select Curves from the Color menu and look at the Value graph it appears that I have one big spike in value right around the middle and a tiny curved bump in the top quarter, which I'll blame on the non-green or gray portions of the image. This seems to confirm my guess as to the Munsell value of this green.

I have a few different options for turning color images into greyscale images. One option is to desaturate the image. There are three ways to desaturate an image: lightness, luminosity, and average. Desaturating by lightness has the exact same effect as selecting the Hue-Saturation option on the Color Menu and sliding the Saturation toggle to the bottom.

Desaturation by luminosity appears to confirm that the chip and the background are the same value.

Desaturation by the average (I'm guessing the average of lightness and luminosity), as one might expect, results in an image about halfway between the relatively high contrast of the image desaturated by lightness and the very low contrast of the image desaturated by luminosity. Not sure it actually tells me much.

I started with the second example first because this first example is so clearly wrong. When I pull up the Value graph, I get at least two distinct bumps, implying I've got at least two distinct values in this image. If I were correct, there should only be one bump because the value of the blue background and the value of the gray chip should be the same. At least that's my layperson's understanding of the Curves/Value graph in GIMP.
I didn't even bother to run the average desaturation considering even the luminosity desaturation didn't make these two look like the same value.

The original sample for this image included a lot of other colors than the one with which I was trying to work, so I trimmed out the other colors to check it. Just like the previous example, when I pull up the Value graph, I get two distinct spikes, implying I've got at least two distinct values in this image. If I were correct, there should only be one spike because the value of the orange background and the value of the gray chip should be the same.

But, unlike the blue example, this desaturation by luminosity actually looks pretty good. How can my Curve have two spikes, but my desaturation by luminosity looks almost as good as the first example?

Granted, the average looks a lot like the desaturation by lightness, implying that it's more different than it is the same, but it still seems like a closer match that the blue example.

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Still Life

There's a beautiful still life photograph, with some thoughts on still lives, over at my friend's blog.

I have a hard time wrapping my brain around still life as subject. This is the closest I've come to crafting one myself. Unless you count that big painting of oranges in a bowl on a table, but it wasn't really about oranges on a bowl on a table. So I guess this is the closest thing I've come to consciously crafting a still life.

I made this collage in a design class with my first and favorite quilt instructor, Jeanne Benson. I think is was an exercise about shape and balance inspired by the way Baltimore Album quilt makers developed the designs for some of their blocks.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Munsell Exercise 1.3: Determining Values of Colors

In my ongoing exploration of color theory centered on The New Munsell(tm) Student Color Set, I've completed another exercise. This time the goal was to determine the Munsell value for a number of colors. Judging values of colors is always a challenge for me. First of all, I thought this was a grayed color. When compared to a chip of actual gray, it doesn't look grayed at all. The chip is Munsell(tm) value 3/, which was my best guess for the value of this color.

I did this exercise in one lighting situation and then when I went to photograph it in another lighting situation I realized my answers were WAY off for a few of them.

The green in this image - which is a tiny segment of a magazine reproduction of what I suspect is an acrylic painting - I suspect might be Munsell value 5/.

The yellowy-orange color from another tiny segment of the same painting in a magazine might be Munsell value 6/.

Under the six chips, this is a portion of Giorgio Morandi's "Natura Morta" (1954) as reproduced in the September 22, 2008, issue of The New Yorker magazine. If you click on the picture, you can see that I've labeled each chip with its value to indicate what I think the adjacent colors' values are.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

Works in Progress

A number of my favorite fiber arts bloggers post their works in progress regularly. For example, SharonB over at In a Minute Ago posts pictures of each crazy quilt block as she completes it. Vickie over at Field Trips in Fiber posts as a weekly fiber arts things to do list and shows the progress of her embroidery in her Handwork Wednesday posts. Joe the Quilter said during his workshop, the best way for him to get through a creative block is to have a deadline. I wonder if posting pictures of my works in progress will motivate me to complete them, like a deadline might.

This is a project started in a Sue Spargo class presented by the Bloomington Quilters Guild in the fall of 2007. Lots of applique to reckon with. I could just machine it - maybe using Sue Nickel's buttonhole stitch. I don't have a recipient in mind for this piece, so it gets bumped farther down the to-do list with every baby my friends have.
This is a lone star quilt started in a Jan Krentz class presented by the Indiana Heritage Quilt Show. I'm making it for a friend's baby boy, who is now almost eight months old. I have the fabric for the setting squares and the border and probably even the backing. The next step is to block all the diamonds. But I feel like I need to block the diamonds, cut the setting squares, and finish piecing the top all in one day or all the hard work of blocking those diamonds will be for nothing since they'll just get all wonky again sitting around my studio.
This is a set of New York Beauty blocks finished in a Jacquelyn Chiddister class at Shiisa Quilts. She worked well with students with VERY different levels of experience. I had never foundation pieced before. In addition to covering the class material, she willingly demonstrated all of the neat techniques she uses to create and embellish her beautiful quilts. I even got to pick out my fabrics with her! She has an amazing sense of color and pattern.
This is a precision patchwork block finished in a Julie Higgins class at Shiisa Quilts. I included the AA battery so you can get a sense of just how tiny this block is. Like Jacquelyn Chiddister, Julie Higgins worked well with students with VERY different levels of experience. But where Jacquelyn was happy to sew some beads on seams that didn't quite match, Julie was ready with her seam ripper to unsew and resew until it was just right. But she gave us so many excellent tips and tricks for working with small pieces and getting the points and intersections to line up, I don't remember unsewing even once. While I don't think I'd make a whole quilt of three inch blocks, I do think I'll apply the lessons I learned from Julie to every seam I sew. And the great thing about doing a three inch block: you can actually finish it in a three hour class!
This is an invisible machine applique block started in a Donna Stevens class at Shiisa Quilts. She is an excellent teacher. I’ve never taken a machine applique class before. She gave clear instructions and responded to questions with a wealth of knowledge. We made very helpful samples that will help me refresh my memory of the technique even after the project is complete. In addition to the class material, she demonstrated applique techniques that went beyond the project we worked on. The sample of the project hanging in the shop was done with homespuns, but Donna was very helpful with design decisions in a completely different pallet. This is only about 1/5 sewn down. I imagine the sewing won't take too terribly long. But I just have to sit down and do it.

I envision putting the New York Beauty blocks, the precision pieced block, and the invisible machine applique block together in one quilt top. I got the idea from Design Your Own Quilts by Judy Hopkins (That Patchwork Place, 1998), which my friend R.J. recommended. And now that I see the colors all together I'm tempted to back it with the top from the Joe the Quilter class, though it might be just too darned big. Eh, that's what ginormous borders are for.

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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Joe the Quilter on Creativity

Sunday I took an amazing workshop with Joe Cunningham, a.k.a. Joe the Quilter. For a full review of the workshop qua workshop, please click here. Following please find pictures of the sixteen other 9 1/2" blocks I finished during class and some musings which might be called, "What I Learned about Creativity from Joe."

A guild member asked Joe whether his music influences his quilting, i.e. does his quilt musically. Joe answered that he quilts quiltingly. During the workshop I asked his a version of the same question, basically, does he employ this improvisational style due to his musical background. And the answer is no.

First, pre-20th century quilts by quilters with no documented history of musicality were improvisational. So you don't have to look outside the medium of quilting to ground your process in improvisation.

Second, Joe's relationship to music is in some sense based on virtuosity and external expectations - when he jams with a musician he really respects it is an anxiety ridden experience. But as a male in the female world of quilting, he is an outsider - no one knows what to expect from him. So he feels less anxiety. He finds quilting more freeing than music because of his outsider status. His improvisatory approach to quilting helps him turn off the judgmental part of his brain, which is hyperactive when he plays music.

His design process consists of placing fabric on his floor and taking away things until it pleases him. Joe doesn't have a design wall. But being well over six feet tall, he's probably far enough from the floor to get a fairly similar effect. He also uses a digital camera to view his designs.

Another benefit to - or side effect of - using a design floor instead of a design wall is that if you intend your quilt to be used, then it will most likely be viewed on a flat horizontal surface, not a flat vertical surface like a wall. I've heard from other quilt instructors who are also quilt judges that when judges look at quilts they're usually laid flat on a set of tables, like Joe's design floor. This tends to shift the judges' focus from the center of the quilt to the edges, which they can more easily see up close and get their hands on. And if you think of the quilts you use in every day life, you're probably very familiar with the top edge, but rarely contemplate the rest in much detail.

Another production aspect of Joe's process that impacts his creativity is his quilting. When he hand quilts he uses a standing floor frame and quilts from the outside in rather than from the center out, as one would with a hoop. Only a part of the quilt is visible at any one time.

This combined with the fact that he doesn't mark his quilts makes the overall quilting design less static and predetermined. It also makes finishing quilting more exciting because taking it off the frame reveals the whole quilt for the first time since he started quilting it. Also his frame set up basically limits him to quilting a 6" by 6' strip at a time, so many of his hand quilting motifs fill that space and repeat in rows.

When Joe rents time on a long arm machine, he takes a Jackson Pollack approach to quilting, moving the machine at random over the surface of the quilt. The result is dense all-over squiggles.
It's hard to determine whether this approach to quilting is due to a lack of interest in this stage of the process or developing improvisational techniques with a new tool.

During the workshop he mentioned that he'd like one of the long arm dealers to put his quilt top in one of their floor models so it could be quilted by all the different people test driving the machine. This leans toward lack of interest in the quilting phase. But it might be a step toward communal artistic production without mass production.

Joe calls some of his quilt designs conceptual. For example, for one of a series of quilts appliqueing bias tape to a whole cloth, he limited himself to using only the bias tape he could find at yard sales in one month. He only found four or five rolls of bias tape within those parameters. So it was a pretty spare quilt design. In another example of a conceptual quilt, he picked up a different Eucalyptus leaf off the ground each day and used it as a template for a fabric leaf which he then appliqued onto a whole cloth. This use of chance as a design parameter recurs in his work.

The workshop was essentially an exercise in conceptual design: apply a set of rules that will result in blocks. So what's the approach? It's a lot like Mona Brooks' Abstract Design Warm-Up from page 68 of Drawing with Children. Basically, you start with a piece of fabric approximately the size and shape of the quilt block you desire. We used a square, but I see no reason you couldn't start with a diamond or a triangle or a hexagon - any shape that can be tessellated. Then Joe presented two simple modifications to the block which totally reminded me of the Abstract Design Warm-Up's instructions,
Turn your paper in any direction you want.
Make three straight lines anywhere you want on the paper, but start the line on the edge of the paper and run it off another edge of the paper when you are done.

But where Abstract Design Warm-Up would just have you draw lines, in an exercise like Joe's each line would be cut with a rotary cutter and strips of fabric would be added before the next cut. Each cut is a creative act. Each fabric choice for a strip is a creative act.

The only thing that repeats with each block you make is the set of "rules" Joe set out for us (or that you've set out for yourself). How you execute that set of rules can vary with each block - so each block requires a set of creative decisions. Once you've squared up (or diamonded up or triangled up or tesselated shaped up - which, given the sort of odd shape you get from the improvisatory piecing stage, turns squaring up into another creative decision), the process of laying out the blocks was a heckuva lot more interesting than your usual quilt design as each block was unique. And Joe spent time with each student working through their layout. How rarely do quilt students get to that stage in the process so they can really get some practice?

We didn't know what the end result would be. He didn't show us a sample. Each student interpreted the set of rules differently, and Joe never steered anyone to a particular interpretation. Some people made every block identical. Some people used one fabric as the background fabric for every block, but executed the design prompts differently on each block.

I used the same three fabrics in each block and alternated which was the background to the block. I systematically differed each block based on the size of the corner triangle, the direction of the strip, and the width of the strip.
I was trying to make my blocks as different from one another as I could. This required some thought at the cutting, sewing, and squaring up steps. It wasn't truly just leaving it up to chance . . . which is so very like me.

I even fussy cut some of the strips to feature the design of the fabric.

Updated 10/18/08 to add: Joe blogged about the class and included a picture from the guild meeting of six completed tops from the workshop. It's a great picture that shows how different each quilt turns out even though they all started with the same design prompts.

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