Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Working on Autopilot

I've made four flimsies in the last three weeks or so, which for me is nothing short of phenomenal.

Usually I wrestle with fabric selection, struggle with size and placement, and agonize over the amount of negative space. Every single item in my word or art quilts is thought about in tremendous, sometimes agonizing, detail.

So I found it amusing last week when this quilt,
which I made with absolutely no thought or care whatsoever, drew many more comments than this one,

where I agonized over the fabric selections in each of the twelve toned blocks, and struggled with the layout.

My son and I were chatting on line, and I sent him photos of each quilt. About the Petals quilt, he said, "That's Art" and "I want it."

I laughed, and said, "that's funny, because I barely paid any attention while I was making it." That sank in, and then I said, "Maybe there's something to that."

Actually, there is.

When I was drawing and painting, one of the things that was to be avoided at all costs was having the piece look "overworked." What does overworked mean?  In a portrait, for example, you wanted the finished piece to look the person was about to move, to step out of the frame and come alive.

 An overworked portrait can make the sitter look more like a concrete sculpture than a living, breathing person. (You can practically feel this kid's shirt, touch his skin and expect him to talk back to you.)

I remember seeing an oil painting of white roses in a vase which were so exquisitely painted they looked like porcelain. They were beautiful, but they didn't look REAL. The petals didn't look thin or light. The petals didn't look like they'd move if you touched them, there was something about them that was heavy and permanent, instead of light and fragile, like real rose petals.

It's a fine line.

I've seen tons of quilts that I think are overdone, overworked and overquilted. They don't float my boat, but that's just me. It's one of the reasons why scrap quilts are so appealing. They aren't predictable, and their inherent whimsical structure makes them almost universally successful.

Something that's overworked has no magic, no verve, no lightness, and for me, no life. It's a big reason why I believe in leaving "the evidence of my hand" in all my quilts. Things that are made by machine don't have that sense of life. They are "too perfect," and static.

So how did the Petals quilt go so right? It had a number of things in its favor - the limited color palette and the finite number of blocks I had to work with, to start. Because I had made a rule for myself that I would NOT make more blocks I could by definition not make the quilt "perfect" by adding more to emphasize the pink ring or to remove the "irregular" blocks that didn't have quite the right shape. The hand cut curves helped too. Cutting those curves by hand meant I couldn't get them all to look exactly the same way, and that helped keep the pattern slightly out of kilter. Any art teacher will tell you a diagonal line creates tension and the more visual tension that's created in a piece, the more interest it will tend to have. The hot/cold color contrast also contributed.  But the biggest thing?

from searchquotes.com

The biggest thing was I left it alone. It was looking good, so I left it there. I didn't overwork it. I didn't TRY to make it PERFECT.

So how to you learn this? I can't teach you. You have to learn on your own, and you learn by paying attention every step in the process. And knowing when to walk away.

*You can click on the photos, and then double click to enlarge for more detail.


Mystic Quilter said...

What an interesting , thought provoking post - bravo Lynne, thank you.

Gale Bulkley said...

The inclusion of the pale green and the near whites gives this flimsy some sparkle and adds a lot to the visual interest of the piece. It's beautiful.

sharon said...

great advice Lynne - overworked quilts can look flat and boring. The petals quilt is beautiful.

Quiltdivajulie said...

Love this post - absolutely love it. Bravo!,,,,

Ruth said...

Thank you Lynn for the insight; as usual, it makes a lot of sense. Keep on sharing your thoughts.

Unknown said...

Sometimes the 'not overthininking' it taps the other part, the subconscious, the innate. Congrats on getting so many done, Lynne!

Unknown said...

so true so true.....this is just happening to me and you said it so well. Debbie

Just Ducky said...

done is better than perfect, according to Sheryl Sandbert.

Quilter Kathy said...

Ahhh.... thanks once again for the food for thought, and the inspiration you provide all of us!
I am totally envious of your 'light' fabric collection... must give that some serious thought.
Love your words about why scrap quilts are so appealing... that resonates with me for sure!

Purple Boots and Pigtails said...

Great post...I've filed it in my brain with all the other things you have taught me, like:
What the quilt wants the quilt gets... nothing more, nothing less.
Trust your gut.
Jump in, cut it up.

Thanks for another great lesson!

PS.... those typewriters.... oh my!