Thursday, January 29, 2009

Katie Pasquini Masopust on Design

A couple of Mondays ago I took an amazing workshop with Katie Pasquini Masopust, a world renowned quilt artist who wins top awards from every quilt show that hands out ribbons. And if that wasn't enough, one of her quilts was named one of the 100 quilts of the 20th Century - there was this whole PBS documentary. And despite all that, she's laid back and cool. Her class totally changed my entire approach to design.

The workshop was put on by the Flying Geese Quilters Guild. Katie's name on their schedule of presenters (along with Joe the Quilter's) was one of the reasons I joined this particular guild. And not only were the guild members I hadn't met super nice at the class, people I had met previously actually remembered me . . . and seemingly not in a bad way. How nice is that?

In my review of Joe's class, I said,
The workshop took place at Material Possessions Quilt Shop, which is HUGE. I suspect it has as good if not better selection of quilting fabric as G Street Fabrics in Rockville, Maryland.
Apparently, I totally jinxed them, or they were hit by economic bad times like everyone else, because they have now reduced the size of their store by at least a third. Think global, sew local: support your local quilt shop! Nonetheless the classrooms remained spacious, well-lit, well-equipped, and well-organized.

On to the workshop itself.

In some ways, this workshop was like a super condensed version of the six-week class I took with Jeanne Benson at the Smithsonian. For example, rather than laboring over color for weeks on end, Katie passed out a one page handout with half the page dedicated to nine common color schemes and a color wheel. Additionally, she had prepared sets of solid color fabrics for fusing and separated the fabric into plastic sleeves by color scheme. So at the step in each exercise when we moved from line drawing to color, each student grabbed a set of fabric and tried to use all the fabrics in that set. No decision making, just grab a set and go. For each exercise we had to use a different set.

But it should be no surprise that our color work was elided. The name of the workshop was "Composition" - color was just a means to an end. Similarly, we didn't ponder the details of line, shape, value, movement, size, and pattern, like I did with Jeanne, but all of those subjects were touched upon along the way. So it makes sense that the other half of the handout was dedicated to nine common compositions. Katie defined "composition" as the way you arrange the shapes that make up your quilt and the way your eye travels around the surface of the completed quilt. Her primary goal was to give us tools to work through our quilt designs before we start the quilts so we don't finish our quilts and say, "Oh, now I see, I should have done . . ." Additionally, she wanted us to see the potential for abstraction from naturalistic inspiration. This will all make more sense if I walk you through the exercises.

Exercise 1
In the first exercise, we selected a photograph from a pile which Katie had ripped out of magazines and developed a design attempting to take a small step from "reality" towards abstraction.

First, we determined which of the nine most common compositions matched the composition of our photograph. I determined my photo's composition was symmetrical. Specifically, I think it's glide symmetry, but this isn't a Ruth B. McDowell workshop. Then we made a line drawing of the image emphasizing the composition. I drew every piece of the sculpture including the spheres. At that point we paused to share our drawings with the group. Katie took one look at mine and said, "Simplify!" After our constructive criticism session, we went back to our tables and redrew our composition, then copied it. One copy was for the base to which we would fuse fabric. The other copy was to make patterns to cut out the fabric. I'm not a big pattern fan, so I didn't make two copies. Then we picked our fabric set. I picked a set of violet and yellow fabrics in a complementary color scheme. There were seven values of each hue in the packet. I used every one.

In our critique session at the end of the day Katie noted that with "weird" color schemes, like complementary and split complementary, your can make the contrast less jarring by using the full range of values in each hue. I think that's certainly true in this example. If I only used the bright yellow that makes up the rectangles of the door with the dark violet of the second or third to bottom lozenge, it would be harder to look at. Along the bottom where there are just big chunks of each color you can see how contrasty it is.

Katie noted that the high value of the yellow rectangles in the door made her want to move inside and see what was there. It gave the image a sense of depth.

I had the opportunity to do this exercise twice. I picked the following photo and determined its composition was horizontal.

I picked a monochromatic color scheme in seven values of green. I used all of the fabrics.

During the critique session at the end of the day I wondered whether the green was too naturalistic of a choice. For example, Olle Baertling, a Swedish modern artist didn't like to use blue and green in his paintings because no matter what your intent the viewer would always see earth and sky or earth and water. Katie felt my pueblo design did not seem too naturalistic in part because she lives in New Mexico, the indigenous habitat of pueblos, and they sure ain't green. But also, looking at the design apart from the photo, Katie said it looks like an abstract collection of squares. Katie noted that monochromatic color schemes are cohesive and peaceful, and if you use the full spectrum of values you get an elegant result.

When I showed my designs to my husband when I got home he immediately asked if he could take this design and put it up on his office wall at school. He has NEVER had that kind of reaction to anything I've made quite possibly ever. So I might have to make this into a quilt for him.

Exercise 2
The second exercise required us to select another photograph and develop a design a few steps further toward abstraction.

In step 1 we made four small line drawings, one only using rectangles, one using only circles, one using only triangles, and one using rectangles, circles, and triangles.

In step 2 we picked our favorite from the four drawings in step 1 and determined to which of the nine most common compositions it conformed. I chose the combination of rectangles, circles, and triangles and determined that it most conformed to a diagonal composition. Then I drew my selected design again and tried to emphasize the diagonal composition.

In step 3 we redrew the drawing from step 2 with an eye towards improving it. I simplified my rectangles to three squares and drew them with a ruler. I laid my paper over the previous drawing to align my triangles along the curve without a continuous line.

In step 4 we redrew the drawing from step 3 with an eye towards simplifying it. I reduced the number of triangles, removed the skinny vertical rectangles, and reduced the number of circles.

At this point we were to pick our favorite design from steps 2, 3, and 4 and execute it in color. I picked the design from step 4 but redrew it to reduce the circles to one large circle (I traced the color wheel) and to divide the background into three triangles. I selected a split complementary color scheme with seven values of red, one value of blue-green, and one value of yellow-green. I used all of the fabrics.

Reworking the image basically nine times really changed my perception of it. I definitely felt like I worked out a lot of design issues by processing it so relentlessly.

During the end of the day critique I wondered whether it was derivative of Jane Sassaman. Katie reassured me that she knows Jane Sassaman and my design is no Jane Sassaman. But she didn't mean that in a Dan Quayle/JFK way. She really loved my design and suggested I should concentrate on it by working in a series. She thought I handled the weird split complementary colors very well. Yay me! This design in my favorite of those I generated at the workshop, right down to the crazy colors.

Exercise 3
For our final exercise, we selected one of the designs we made for exercises 1 and 2 and cropped to focus on one part of it, which would then be the subject of a new design. I picked the first design I executed for exercise 1 and cropped it like the photo below.

I made a line drawing at a larger scale of the cropped portion of my design. I selected an analogous color scheme of five values of yellow, one value of yellow-orange, and one value of orange. It's a little hard to see in the picture, but I divided the background with the orange in the middle and the yellow-orange on either side.

I didn't have much time to complete this exercise (lots of folks didn't get to this exercise at all), but the time pressure forced me to work faster which, I felt, generated simplicity and elegance. I do think I had this Josef Albers work in my head when I threw mine together.
Sorry for getting my head in the way. I took these late an night. But you get the idea.

In discussing the analogous color scheme Katie suggested using up to four adjacent hues. Analogous colors closely relate to one another and are really just a bare step from monochromatic, so try to use the full value range, particularly of the outside hues.

Katie had some general words of wisdom. She suggested using an unnatural or unexpected color scheme. In competitions it makes the judges take notice because it is different from all the rest, it's unpredictable, it makes people ask questions.

She warned that if you make something like this based on someone else's photo, you may run into copyright issues. So make your own photos the basis of your work. If you are inspired by the subject matter, like ferns, go take your own pictures of the subject matter.

If you're having trouble moving from realistic to abstraction try turning your inspiration photo upside down. Or when you've finished a drawing, turn it - you have four possible tops. Find a focal point, redo it in a different way, and inset it into the quilt.

A concept she referred to without directly instructing was transparency, which appears frequently in her work. The few pointers she shared were that one aspect of successful transparency is continuous line. The continuity of the line is more important than accuracy in color mixing.

Later that day Katie presented her Quilts and Quilt Trips lecture to the guild. She was the first guild lecturer I've seen who showed other quilter's work. It was like she is a quilt fan and wanted to share all of her favorites. It just felt incredibly generous. Here's a list of some of the quilters she mentioned:

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Megan Wisniewski said...

Hi Sarah, I really enjoyed this review of a class by Katie. I am with C&T and we published her newest book Design Explorations for the Creative Quilter. It looks like this class is similar to the instruction in the book. I would love to link your posting to our blog
Would that be ok with you?
Thanks, Megan Wisniewski

Thalia said...


I love the workshop. I love what you did. I really, really do. I am inspired by your color and shape explorations! And the piece you worked out - with the circle and many red triangles - I love it. It's amazing.

Sarah said...

Having recently thoroughly looked through KPM's most recent two books: Color and Composition for the Creative Quilter: Improve Any Quilt with Easy-to-Follow Lessons and Design Explorations for the Creative Quilter: Easy-to-Follow Lessons for Dynamic Art Quilts, I think the exercises in this workshop stem from the former.

Maggie said...

Hi Sarah,
taking classes with Katie is indeed life altering.
she is the best instructor I have had. I posted some photos on my blog
I have her new book but haven't taken the time to work through the exercises. I will now.
I got to go shopping with her for knitting yarn and then dinner at a Japanese restaurant when she was here in Toronto. she is a barrel of laughs too.
I'd love to do a 5 day workshop with her someday

Sarah said...

Hi, Maggie! Thank you for your comment.

I loved your pictures of the three-day color workshop with KPM. What an amazing class! It looks like you worked through a lot of the exercises in Color and Composition for the Creative Quilter in class with Katie.

Definitely check out the exercises in Katie's latest book Design Explorations for the Creative Quilter. These exercises compliment the exercises in her previous book quite nicely.

I hope to take a five-day workshop with KPM as well. Maybe we'll both be able to attend her Alegre Retreat at the Gateway Canyon Resorts in Colorado in 2010. Looks like sign ups start June 15th.