Many art quilters make a pilgrimage to the Crow barn outside Reynoldsburg, Ohio, to study with Nancy Crow for a week or two. Work by Crow and some of her students, as featured in an exhibit called Color Improvisations 2 that’s now touring, will give you an idea of Crow’s style. I’ve not had the nerve, or cash, for the experience, but I think Julie Fei-Fan Balzer’s blog posts give me a good idea of what’s involved.
Julie is a whirling dervish of a multi-media artist. She paints, does art journaling, hosts the “Make It Artsy” show on PBS Create TV, designs stencils, shows how to make your own stamps, blogs copiously about her work and her trips, and has taken up quilting. She leans toward the modern style, no surprise.
Julie has graciously given me permission to reblog her two posts about her experiences. Please check out all her posts at Balzer Designs. Her week one post is below. You can also check out her five lessons from the Crow Barn here, and her “rear view mirror” view in her podcast. (It’s at the beginning.)
Now I’ll turn this over to Julie.
June 04, 2018
Two Weeks at the Crow Barn: Day-by-Day (part one)
I’m back from The Crow Barn! Each night after class, I wrote down a few thoughts about the day. So, here is my day-by-day recap of the first week:
- Set-up from 4-6pm. I set up my space and then looked around.
- Everyone seemed to know each other. I felt very out of place.
- Looking at other people’s set ups: I need to go to Walmart after set up to buy: bed lifts to raise my cutting table and a small folding table for my sewing machine.
- Surprise! Class started tonight with notes we need to copy. BUT, I left my notebook in the hotel room…not off to a great start.
- At Walmart, I bought the bed lifts, a folding table, and I found some under bed storage containers that will be perfect for my fabric!
- We spent the first hour-and-a-half of class copying Nancy’s handwritten notes, which she posted to the walls of the classroom.
- We were given our assignment.
- Nancy circulates through the room asking if you want to talk or “pass.”
- I am surprised and delighted to receive a compliment: good eye for composition
- I struggle to understand some of the concepts and terminology but work quickly nonetheless.
- I am enjoying the process of figuring out how to piece the designs I’m imagining.
- I finished the assignment before lunch. Everyone else is very far behind.
- Nancy gave me an extra challenge because I finished early. She said that I wasn’t exaggerating things enough. So, she challenged me to take one of each “sketch” and more completely exaggerate it.
- The feedback I received after doing this was: better, but you could still exaggerate more! She told me to relax and let go. I find this hilarious because I’m usually completely insane and out of the box, but maybe not with quilting?
- Nancy said that most people have a lot of trouble with exaggerating and I might not be able to get there yet. Need to keep doing it and practicing.
- She gave me the next assignment and I started to work on it while everyone else was finishing up assignment #1.
- The hardest part was the lines to create the frame — hard to keep them straight.
- I really like my composition. My classmates were very complimentary. They noted that I didn’t do a lot of thinking or hesitating. I just jumped in. I think that’s why I’m faster than others. I just make decisions and don’t dither around. Even Nancy commented (on my earlier work) that I just plowed ahead and didn’t give myself any obstacles. It’s a learned skill after years of creating and the secret to my productivity.
- Really really tired today. Burning the midnight oil at night, after class, to do the work for my job and the lack of sleep is killing me. Brain hurts. Body hurts. Need sleep.
- Spent hours and hours today refining my design. Very proud of how it turned out. I never would have pushed myself so hard at home. Very proud!
- However, I am in the hot mess phase now that color is being introduced.
- I chose the most difficult color combination under the theory that this is class and I have an expert here to help me when I fail!
- Fail, fail, fail. The switch to color is making me crazy. It’s so hard!
- I tried piecing together little bits at one point today. Nancy literally gives it the thumbs down.
- I think that I may have cut every piece of this composition from 4-5 different colors. Sigh.
- I decide that I have to stop screwing around with the colors and need to just start sewing. I start with some of the easy areas. Ugh.
- Didn’t finish.
- I think that only one person in the class finished stitching her piece together.
- I ran into sewing issues. Major sewing issues. I just don’t know enough about piecing to get some of these curves. It’s frustrating.
- Scrimping on fabric has screwed me multiple times. Each time I end up having to add more fabric. Sigh.
- Nancy insists that we clean off our design walls. We can pin the fabric and then come back Monday from 7am-9am and sew. Should I? Will I? I would like to finish, but 7am?!
- Today is the day off.
- I’ve been thinking about why I was so unhappy at the end of the week after being very happy at the beginning and I’ve come to an important conclusion: I designed my quilt to be black and white, Therefore it didn’t work in another color scheme. If I wanted it to be color, I would have had to design it IN color. I think Nancy’s method doesn’t necessarily work for me. Good to know.
So, there you have it! Week one in the books! I’ll be sharing more from The Crow Barn tomorrow!
Here’s week two.
June 11, 2018
Two Weeks at the Crow Barn: Day-by-Day (part two)
As promised, here is the day-by-day accounting of week two at The Crow Barn:
- Presentation Day!
- The presentations were fascinating. I had ideas about each of the women in class after last week, but after seeing their personal work, I have a different or more complete picture.
- Last year, Nancy assigned homework to students and told them not to come back if they didn’t do it. The homework was amazing — in volume and dedication.
- I have no idea what the rest of this week will hold.
- Wow! I can actually see that I learned something last week! I created this week’s composition focusing on the white space instead of the black lines. (Not pictured, by the way. The photo above is just me getting started with a blank slate.)
- Actually, I learned a few things last week:
- My ambition/imagination and my physical skills don’t match.
- Simple is actually more difficult in some ways.
- The rules of art are the same in quilting as in painting: variety of line weights, value changes, tension, etc.
- Think about the white space as much as the black lines.
- Be dedicated in refining and don’t get lazy.
- Nancy looked at my composition and accused me of being lazy in one area — she was right. I was being lazy. I was surprised that it showed. I shouldn’t have been.
- I got done with everything before dinner, so I got to go home early!
- Fascinating day. Today we worked in greyscale and my brain is blowing up. Value is both confusing and elucidating.
- My thought: If you can get the values right, then the switch to color will be easy (famous last words?)
- I’m still struggling with the sewing. I have ripped out so many seams and I can’t get anything to line up. Sigh.
- I’ve been drawing graphs and charts to try to figure out how to stitch it together.
- I know that I said I’d never go in at 7am, but I’m setting my alarm for 6am and planning to be there early tomorrow to sew, sew, sew!
- Sew, sew, sew! Today was a massive day of stitching. I definitely got better as I went along — proof that practice works.
- I accidentally cut off the entire lower right corner of the quilt top when I tried to square it up. Sigh. Need more practice.
- Understanding color value is kicking my behind and I love it! I’m struggling to be able to do it by eye instead of relying on the black and white filter in my phone. It’s not easy. Must practice.
- I’m starting to see a theme here: practice. It’s true in quilting. It’s true in art journaling. It’s true in everything.
- Starting to feel like my time here is coming to an end way too soon! I didn’t understand it when other students talked about crying when they left The Crow Barn. I don’t think I’ll cry, but I get it!
- I’m so tired. So tired. Feel light headed, but pushing through it. Must. Finish. Quilt.
- I’m over the moon when I get the okay to start stitching my colored pieces together. The question is: can I finish this one?
- There’s one problem area in my quilt where the colors are just so-so and so Nancy says just stitch other parts and come back to it. Good advice. Don’t obsess, just work.
- This is my second day-in-a-row of showing up to sew at 7am. Who am I? I hate mornings!
- Everyone is asking, “Do you think you’ll come back?” That’s a tough question.
- I’ve definitely learned A LOT.
- And enjoyed myself.
- And Nancy probably won’t teach for much longer.
- BUT, this is really expensive.
- And two weeks is a long time away from home.
- And I have to work to pay my rent.
- And I don’t think you get the real benefit of the class unless you really practice between classes.
- And quilting is not my main focus.
- Over the past two weeks I have become more and more convinced that you really need a large design wall to do any kind of successful art quilting.
- I did it! I finished stitching my quilt top together! Had a lot of trouble squaring it up…ending up cutting off a lot more than I meant to in an effort to straighten things out. Sigh. I need to practice.
- Everyone who wanted to had an opportunity to present their work from the last two weeks for 5 minutes.
- Nancy asked me two questions:
- She asked me if Brother had sent me (I had mentioned that I wanted to work on bettering my sewing skills now that I’m demo-ing sewing machines for Brother on HSN). The answer is no. I sent myself.
- She asked if I felt like people were watching me and waiting for me to fail. The answer is no. I actually found everyone in class to be really warm and kind and generous.
- I’m sure that I’ll have lots more thoughts as I process it all in the next few hours/days/weeks. At the moment I’m just so tired. I’m going to bed!
In the next week or two, I’ll be sharing a podcast with some thoughts about the workshop, after I’ve had some time to process it all. It’s still percolating at the moment. See you then!