Year End Thoughts On My Master Class

I signed up for Elizabeth Barton’s master class at the end of 2015 on a whim after I saw she had a last minute cancellation. I had taken her working in series online class so I was familiar with her style. Would I do it again? Yes.

The class was valuable to me though I don’t agree with everything said about my work. A lot I did agree with. I made nine pieces I most likely wouldn’t have made without the class and several sketches that have promise for future work. I learned a lot from Elizabeth’s critiques of my class mates’ work. She can really put her finger on the soft spots and make specific suggestions for improvements. Each class member had a different style and I was so glad no attempts were made to change those styles. I’ve observed in some workshops that students will emulate the teacher’s work. Elizabeth never showed us hers.

Why did I decide to invest in the class?

A little background. I began my art quilt journey in 2011 and was pretty much self-guided. I did give myself a workshop with Rosalie Dace as a retirement gift, and jumped off a cliff into original design. Here’s the never quilted piece I made. I did alter it a bit and sew it together once I got home, but I got stuck on how to FMQ a 36 by 48 inch piece. It resides in my big black trunk waiting for my FMQ skills to improve.

img_0728Probably I would have done better to take that class in 2013, when I knew more about what I wanted to do.

Around 2015 I joined an art quilt critique group, and realized how helpful the knowledgeable input of others could be. That group has since become more focused on art quilt beginners, who are at a different stage than me. Others have looked at my work and made helpful suggestions, but I’ve had no regular review of my work in progress.

So, back to the master class. Mentally I was ready for knowledgeable review of my work. I wasn’t going to dissolve into tears if someone pointed out a flaw and I needed a more disciplined approach to improving my work. What I hadn’t realized was the time it would take to develop ideas in a disciplined way. Typically I work on two or three projects at the same time, and flit among them depending on my inspiration and whim. Some are finished quickly, while others lurk behind the door to my sewing room (on the piece of flannel there) for months.

I also didn’t realize how different it is to have someone review my work from its inception in a sketch. I learned that a keen eye at this stage can save a lot of trouble later on. Elizabeth kindly pointed out black holes in the middle of my sketches, blah ideas, tweaks that could make the piece sparkle, and how boys would see boobs in my half circles.

Elizabeth asked us to answer some questions about our experience. Here are excerpts from my evaluation:

This year I’ve been forced to do what I knew I needed to do, but kept avoiding – develop ideas in sketch form first. I love physically playing with fabrics, so composing on the fly was addictive. The problem was that identifying design weaknesses came much later in the development process, so making changes was harder.

I came into the class with a fair ability to sort values and identify where value changes were needed. I also had few problems with nonrepresentational use of color. Much of this was based on intuition. The class has helped me be able to say, that’s right/not right, BECAUSE…  I’ve gained a more disciplined approach to my work, though I’ll still continue to have my play times.

Before this class my work was either abstract or fairly representational, with no middle ground. When I worked from a photo I did some rearrangement of elements, but didn’t really leave the photo behind. During the class I worked to extrapolate elements from photos, without creating a recognizable rendering of the photo.

I feel my two major weaknesses are difficulties with proportion and balance in compositions and not thinking things through.  Proportion is often critical in abstract works as the viewer has little identifiable subject matter to focus on so the relationships among the shapes are important. Proportions aren’t camouflaged by other pictorial elements.

I tend to go with one of the first few design possibilities rather than try other approaches in my excitement over what I think is the perfect design. Later, sometimes after I’ve made the piece, I realize I should have done things differently.

Lessons learned: slow down, but keep going.

While we gave Elizabeth evaluations of our progress, she didn’t give each of us an overall evaluation. The closest she got for me was, “Great work JMM!!!  it’s been a pleasure….” at the end of her last set of comments. Well, that was nice, and certainly epitomizes Elizabeth’s use of punctuation.

My resolve is to continue a more disciplined approach to my work, and develop sketches of some kind (pencil, collage, etc.) to work out my design beforehand. It’s funny that I would draft layouts and colors for my traditional quilts but felt such planning would impede my art quilts. I think there’s a strong bias toward improv inspiration in art quilting, that working directly with your fabric on the design wall is the way to proceed. It’s certainly one way to proceed, but may not be the most effective.

As always, the advice is out there; but you have to be in a receptive frame of mind to embrace it. It took me five years, but now I’m ready.



Filed under Art quilts, Commentary, Completed Projects

9 responses to “Year End Thoughts On My Master Class

  1. Pingback: Word of the Year for 2017 | Deep in the Heart of Textiles

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and evaluation of the class. As you might know, I also follow Barton’s blog and am a fan of her 2 books. I learned a lot about medallion design from her. 🙂 I am most envious that you have experienced high-quality critique from a strong teacher, even where you didn’t agree with it. (When you don’t, I assume, it helps you articulate why not and think through your process more carefully.) I’d love to have a teacher or group to provide feedback like that. My local small group is of the “ooh, that’s pretty!” type. I’m not sure where to find that kind of interaction. Maybe we need a small online group of people who can offer that…

    • You assume correctly as to what happened when I disagreed with Elizabeth’s comments. In some cases I realized that I hadn’t gotten across my intent, which was helpful by itself. Yes, informed critique of in progress work from a design perspective is hard to come by. A friend is trying to get a very small group of artists in several media together to do that, but the problem is finding the right mix of people in terms of their artistic development. Yes, online might work, but it would require a basic level of trust among participants before it even began. Otherwise participants might feel constrained about being honest (but gentle.)

  3. sandy

    Don’t you find that the translation from sketch to actual fabric is stark? Oftentimes, I will sketch out an idea (necessary for me to do the math), but when I actually start putting the work together, it doesn’t look anything like the picture I had in my head when I first sketched out the idea. That’s when my work truly gets changed from initial idea, to what I wind up with in the end. I’ve always worked like this. Even when starting with a purchased pattern, I start deviating from it as soon as the fabric planning stage starts.

    • I guess the key is that you’re happy with your results even if they aren’t like your sketch. In some cases the sketch showed me what I didn’t want to do, so I was glad I didn’t waste fabric on the idea. Sometimes I sketched with colored pencils or crayons so I could start planning the color. In one case I used tissue paper, which was great for working out the transparent effects. Indeed, sometimes the finished products bore no resemblance to my sketch. Yet other work was definitely like the sketch. We were encouraged to show values in even our pencil sketches to make fabric selection work better. Some of my class mates even wrote the names of the colors they wanted to use on their sketches. Others drew a few lines and called it done.

  4. Your thoughtful synopsis of the benefits you received from this class is so helpful! It gives me excellent things to think about in my own work. Thanks.

  5. I wonder if the other people who went through this experience with you gained as much. It seems to me that you really, really embraced the whole undertaking–it would’ve been awfully easy to bail out part way through, when it was so much work!

    • I think others benefited a lot as well, based on their comments. I decided to “do the work” as a current phrase puts it because I knew the course would be a waste of money otherwise. I’m at the point where I want to take my work to another level and the only way is to buckle down.

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