Many people think that making art just happens by magic. They think that it comes out effortlessly and fully formed. Unfortunately, this is far from the case. There are hours and days of trial and error, fits and starts. One of my students once said that she was surprised by the emotional highs and lows she went through my the 5 day Abstracting from Nature workshop. She had discovered that the creative process is not always comfortable and sometimes just downright frustrating.
So I thought I would take you through a sequence of design dilemmas that I struggled though in the past two weeks while working on a new quilt idea.
For the past year I have been concentrating on mostly smaller abstract quilts, as a way to play through some new ideas. But I was feeling the urge to work in a larger scale again. I had also been thinking about the opulent and symbolic Dutch still life paintings called “vanitas”. Vanitas paintings portrayed life’s brevity through symbols like watches, skulls, smoking oil lamps, partially consumed food, etc. Since I have always been attracted to divine
decadence in art, over the years I have accumulated my own slightly subversive symbols that often appear in my work… skulls, spiders, dandelions, moths, spiky seeds, dangerous plants.
So this is where my idea started. I imagined a skull sprouting dark leafy plants. The skull became an urn. An urn brings to mind Victorian plants and lavish layers of composition. So these are the subjects that I started with… skull/urn, elephants ears, purple black sweet potato vines, coleus, moths and an egg behind it all.
The scale of the urn determined the size of the leaves. I have pinned the urn to a piece of tracing paper to make it easier to move and hold itself together. Most of the fabrics are hand dyed Cherrywoods.
I made some paper clouds to act as frames, almost like curtains on a stage, and some oversized moths in lovely subdued colors. The Passion Flowers have been in my orphan file for years! Looking good.
The clouds are now in fabric. Then I thought I could fit in some of my favorite dandelions, so I cut them out of paper to test them. The moths had to move.
I made the dandies in fabric and added a spider, for good measure, and some smaller moths.
But the dandelions are floating in space, so how to anchor the dandelions to the ground? By adding a forward layer of leaves and a darker horizon line.
But the whole thing is just too damned busy, too many small scale shapes. So a couple more elephant ears are added and that seems to help… but not enough.
I hated to remove the dandelions before I had another direction to head toward. So I took a picture of the composition and blocked out the dandies in Photoshop. Yes, it is better without them. Rats! Out they go, but now I have some nice leaves and stems already made for another project.
What about adding some more clouds? I pulled out the paper models again. Too curly!!
Back to Photoshop to take out the busy spirals. Nope, try again.
How about a moon to add some nocturnal mystery. I seem to have moths and moons on the brain lately! But it’s working. Less seems to be more in this composition and I’m feeling pretty good about it. And yes, the blue background will go all the way to the top eventually.
A moth to block part of the moon and a bit of tweaking here and there and we are good to go! Now as I begin to embroider each individual character, I can study the piece from my sewing station and make adjustments over the next weeks of stitching.
I hope this gives you a little insight into my collage process. Yes, there are lots of decisions to make, but that is what makes this appliqué technique so satisfying. If you would like to join me on this creative exploration, you are invited to come to one of my 5 day workshops and see what transpires. I hope to see you there!