Category Archives: Artist Statements

A statement from the artist about a specific work of art.

Using the Language of Art

When I was an art teacher in the public school system,
my students from kindergarten through high school
used the language of art.

The poster many art teachers have in their classroom studios.

The Elements and Principles of Design are the foundation of a visual language.  Think of the elements like car parts: wheels, body, doors, wipers,  lights, etc…  Elements are words used to describe the “parts” of work of art. The principles of design describe the how those parts make a whole. Car parts can make a station wagon, a truck or a sports car.  Lines, colors and shapes can make a landscape, a still life or a portrait.  Remember the elements and principles are used by artists to speak in a common visual language. 

I was inspired to write this post after reading a resource article on the SAQA website. The writer frames the elements and principles as if they are “rules” to be followed.  Below is a quote from the article. 

I finally understood, also, that I didn’t have to understand those “rules” I had been given. Those rules are not rules that have to be followed. The rules didn’t come first–the art did. The rules are simply our very human attempt to explain what works, what pleases us, most of the time. And as we have seen in the discussion of this subject, we are all different and what pleases me may not please you.

A visual vocabulary list helps artists describe and evaluate verbally or in writing what they see. The elements of design are not rules, they are tools. Whether you are looking at a project on your design wall or sharing a completed work at a gallery artists need to be able to identify the parts of a composition. 

For example in the composition show above (“Tom” 34″ x 24″ 2016) the elements of color, line, share, value and texture are at work. I used a two primary colors, yellow and deep blue, to catch the viewer’s eye. The circular lines of stitching provide a frame for the figure. Small slivers of cloth make a wall of texture at the edge of the composition. In the process of enhancing the digital image I exaggerated the changes in values to create a spotlight effect. 

I strongly encourage you to make a habit (if you don’t already), to start looking for the elements , like lines in composition; before you identify the subject. For example the trees in picture of a winter landscape are vertical lines and the place where the sky meets the hilltop is a horizontal line.


Visual vocabulary is a tool.
Use it!

Until next time…….

You can see my work……. 
International Quilt Festival – Chicago, Illinois: April 2017 

Under The Western Sun
Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum, Golden CO
April 27 – July 25 2017

National Quilt Museum, Paducah Kentucky
June – September 2017

Sacred Threads
Herndon VA
 July 7 – 23 2017 and Traveling through out the country!

Southern Utah Museum of Art
Cedar City Utah 
June 30 – August 26 2017

Interpretations: Conversations
Visions Art Museum
San Diego, CA
October 21 2017 – January 7 2018


“Quilting Arts” February /March 2017,Turmoil (page 21-27)


Being a “Juried Artist Member”

It’s taken almost a year but I am finally ready to submit a portfolio for consideration as a juried artist member of  SAQA. 

 Last year when I returned from the SAQA‘s conference in Portland I was inspired. I wanted to be a real artist like the speakers I had heard or the amazing people I had met. I wanted to be a bigger part of the art quilt world.

During the conference I met with a SAQA mentor for 20 minutes to discuss the process of becoming a juried artist member or JAM.  That short conversation changed my life as an artist over the past year.  I committed myself to taking my work as an art quilter to the next level.

conference 2015

The first thing my mentor said to me was ” it’s all about the work!” The required resume and artist statements are the last consideration.  To submit a  JAM portfolio, an artist needs to present a body of work with a singular point of view in a distinct visual voice.  After returning to Mesquite I wrote several big ideas I wanted to work on which I call  my visual problems. 

Creating visual problems was a starting point for me when I was an art teacher working on curriculum.  A good visual problem must be interesting, complex and challenging enough to sustain investigation overtime. It’s a problem that has many solutions. In the end I decided my problem would be how to make a portrait of an inner life.


After working for a couple of months I believed I was creating two distinct series. One centered on meditation. These would be portraits which would speak to my own practice of quieting my mind and addressing stress. The other series was old photographs of deceased family members. In these portraits I was working to express an emotional subtext that is shared in families.


 Over the last year, I have sent my mentor photographs of my work in progress. This process has helped me immensely. There has been nothing more important to my artistic growth as having critical feedback. I credit these conversations not only to helping put together a cohesive body of work, but also for helping me successfully submit work to national  and regional shows.

Now I am putting the last touches on my submission. I am formatting my digital images to the specifications outlined by the committee. This is a skill every artist who submits online needs to master. You need the highest quality images, in focus, neutral backgrounds, show the edges of your work, and eliminate distortion.  I put some real effort into reaching out to a professional photographer to learn some of the skills I needed. This paid off big time!

Next I wrote my artist’s statement. This another area where my mentor helped me. She provided a tip sheet:

First of all remember this is one way you can tell your audience what you create,why you create it  and a few words of how you make your work (technique and process) .

Focus on the art, the work. Also, keep in mind that you are not writing something for all time. Relax. Introduce your work to other people, people you like and respect.

  • Write in the first person, not in the third person.
    The artist’s statement should be no longer than one-half page.
    Don’t mix a bio with your artist statement.
Hint: In general, write for an audience who has not seen your work. Be careful of using “art speak” language. It can be helpful to ask two people to read your statement and tell you what it means to them. Better yet, ask one person who is familiar with your work and another who is not.

I had to provide a resume. Like everything else in a formal submission, pay close attention to the directions. This is something that I think creative people sometimes struggle to understand why a strict format makes a big difference in the decision making process, but it does. My resume was fairly easy to put together since I had been keeping a spreadsheet which provided a list of exhibits.

There are couple things I will do to the future. Keep an updated spreadsheet with the exhibit name, year, juror(s) , title of entry, the exhibit/venue link . When I put my resume together I did not have a juror’s name and had to search the web to find information about the show. When I update my spreadsheet I will also update my resume on my website and in a word document. It’s a must for a serious artist.

Until next time……..


Explaining the “Art” quilt


Being a “art quilter” is a tricky business because art quilters are creative pioneers exploring new territory in the arts. 

“As a crafts person, I am obligated to be the last in the line of makers who carry my craft forward. I am the lineage. As an artist, I am the frontier of my craft, the first in line, and therefore, obligated to move my tradition, my craft, into new territory.” Maria Shell

Although art quilters use many of the tools that traditional quilters use, the objective is make a aesthetic item that does not serve a functional purpose . An art quilt  is a aesthetic not functional item. The art quilt is most often layered and stitched using needle and thread. however an art quilter is free to stitch together layers with anything from wire to bag ties. It is freedom to explore that makes an art quilter a creative pioneer who has left familiar quilt territory far behind.

Detail from art quilt paper, ink, fabric, dyes and painted batting


A quilt is a functional item with a rich tradition. It is a craft.  Many people who make quilts gather together in guilds where they share their passion. Guilds are places where both the novice and the expert are welcomed. One of the functions of the art guild is to promote and maintain the standards of their craft. Guilds provide a valuable resource within the quilt community by keeping the craft tradition alive.

Often, guilds are not places where the creative pioneer is embraced. That is why creative explorers seek out groups like SAQA, SDA or form critique groups where they can find fellow travelers.

Photo from Life Magazine 1950 Quilt Guild.

Photo from Life Magazine
1950 Quilt Guild.

Most art quilters began their journey in a traditional guild. They learned the craft of putting together cotton cloth using a pattern to make a layered and stitched quilt. At some point they may have wandered off into making a picture using these same techniques or they may have thrown the pattern away to make a abstract pattern. What ever happened the art quilter moves from the craft territory into the art world.

There are some clear cut differences in the cultures of the art quilter and the traditional quilter. For me the difference is most clear at a quilt show. I have written about this in a previous post called “Here Comes the Judge” and “I am not a quilter-really!” At the time I wrote those posts I was unhappy with the display at that venue and I was in a rookie stage of being an art quilter.

At a quilt show the quilt is judged by expert in field.  There are prizes awarded for 1st place, best in a category  and best in show. Many quilt shows are put on by guilds which allow every member to enter a quilt.  The judge uses a set of standards and benchmarks that reward superior craftsmanship. Next the judge considers the aesthetic choices the quilter made like the color pallette and the pattern.

Art quilters enter the majority of  shows by submitting images. Often these shows have a central theme or idea. Prizes are not awarded. In my SAQA regional show “Above and Beyond” the theme is vast area of creative possibilities open to the art quilter and fiber artist. The judges look through digital images  and then select art quilts that best reflect the theme and will make a cohesive and pleasing display for the audience.

Revolutions Quilt National Dairy Barn

I am a creative pioneer and an art quilter so I can keep exploring.

Until next time…..




3 tricks to being your own critic





1. a person who expresses an unfavorable opinion of something.
2.a person who judges the merits of literary, artistic, or musical works, especially one who does so professionally

Which critic are you?
I hate what I made or deeper thinker who analyzes the merits of your artwork.

When I moved here to Mesquite Nevada I left an important group of people in Colorado; my critique group. Our group of 10 – 15 people met once a month and looked at each other’s work. After a period of time we were able to understand each others style, struggles and ambitions.

Image Source:

Image Source:

The process was a simple one. The group of artists sat around a table at a local library . We raised our hands if we brought work to present. Our available time was divided equally. Some meetings we would have 10 minutes allotted , some meetings 20.

Work was presented on a display board. Each artist spoke briefly and asked the group for feedback on a specific issue. (Is there enough contrast? I think the composition is not working? etc…) After a minute of observation the group members provided suggestions. The artist listened and provided clarification if needed. You could take suggestions or not.

At the end  of the critique session the group always helped me return to my studio with ideas for a new approach to a visual problem or with an affirmation of what I was doing.

There is a romantic notion that an artist’s struggles alone in there studio working diligently until inspiration comes down from above and they create a masterpiece! If only that were true. For most of us we need feedback to get over the inevitable problems with our composition, our subject or technique.

Being isolated can be a challenge for an artist. In the digital age, an artist can take a picture using a cell phone and send it off to a friend for feedback. This helps if you know someone who is available to pick us a text.  One of my friends is a recently retired art teacher who I can use to get quick remote feedback.

Cell-Phone-Critic Email is also a great method of reaching out. I may not see my critique group, but I can always shoot someone and email. The advantage of email is that one tends to get a more thoughtful response. You can also take advantage of people who are not available until after work or who are not cell phone addicted.

I belong to several artist facebook groups. Some of them are designed to share events and information; but others are more wide open. I have used these sites to reach out to other artists for feedback. There are also online critique groups that post digital images on blogs and help isolated artist have a virtual community to help with evaluation.

So what do you do when you are alone in the studio and you need feedback?

Image source

Image source

Evaluation is key to success in any field. For artists getting better is more complicated than achieving a level of skill. Skills can be learned and mastered over time. So can the process of evaluation.

These are four basic sequential steps I used in my classroom to help my  students learn an  evaluation process:

First describe everything seen in concrete simple terms. Next analyze the composition using the elements (line, shape, form, texture, color, value and space) and principles (balance, contrast, unity movement, rhythm, pattern, emphasis) of design. Using visual clues from the art and the title (if available) , interpret artist’s intention in making the art object.  Keeping in mind the artist’s intention, evaluate success or failure  using the evidence gathered  to justify your opinion. Studio-Poster-web

A systematic evaluation process is good practice for any artist. Make a page in your sketchbook or journal with four columns: Describe, Elements/Principles, Message, Did it work? Have a conversation with yourself: “What am I seeing.” “What’s my goal”  Write down a list of words, phrases or questions and post them on wall of your studio to reference.

In the end you need to find a process that helps the evaluation process become engrained in your studio practice.

Here’s my three tricks to quick evaluation when I get stuck!

Trick Number 1: TIME Leave the studio. Work on something else for a couple of hours. Leave the project up on a wall for days or even a few weeks before trying to work through an evaluation process. 

Trick Number 2: DESCRIBE (out loud or in writing) the color scheme, the center of interest (emphasis) and a visual pathway (movement)  in your composition.  If you can’t describe these features easily this is something that needs to be addressed.

Trick Number 3: TITLE. Even if you are an artist that uses untitled or numbers your work, try to give your work a title that would encompass what you are trying to communicate. You should be easily able to support the title with evidence from your composition. 


Until next time……



My “Business” Trip

As a “full time creative person” my business is fueled by ideas.

The Hirshhorn Museum center plaza fountain

The Hirshhorn Museum center plaza fountain

My business requires creative energy. When I travel I spend time looking for new ideas to inspire projects in my home studio.


On a recent trip to the east coast  trip I wanted spend several days in favorite museums. My first stop was the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington DC.   The Hirshhorn is an easy walk from public transportation and sits along the Washington mall. The building itself is a work of art surrounded by sculpture with a cool fountain at it’s center.  The permanent collection is wonderful and there is always an engaging exhibit to explore.

The work of Iranian born photographer and videographer Shirin Neshat is currently on display at the Hirshhorn.


Before I entered the museum, I knew nothing about Shirin Nashat and now I am a fan.  “Facing History”is visually, emotionally and politically compelling. Her show was divided into multiple galleries some of which contained large scale beautifully printed photographic images and other galleries showed large video presentations.

Turbulent The films presented were like odd poems or strange stories centered around life in Iran. In one gallery there was dual video called Turbulent of a man singing in Farsi with his audience behind him and in the second scene a women (I believe the artist) sings toward the now empty seats.

From the film Fervor by Shirin Neshat.

From the film Fervor by Shirin Neshat.

Most of videos seemed to be a comment on the tension between the roles of men and women in Iran. In “Fervor” the scene is of a man speaking to a large group divided by gender. The crowd includes men in white western shirts and women covered in a traditional hijab.

My western sensibility views the scene is a picture of the cultural repression of women. If I was a women in this culture would I view the scene as picture of  the expression of deeply committed religious people or as repression?

The photographic work gave me something specific to take home to my own studio. Each of the photo’s included an intimate portrait; a person, a pair of hands, feet, a mother and child. The artists transcribes contemporary poetry with ink over the surface of the image. Sometimes the text is obvious. In other portraits the text is subtle like a layer of drawing on the surface.

Shrin Neshat

The idea that images of the people contain the deeper story of their lives really grabbed me. The scale of these portraits which made the visual statement of a life having immense power and beauty.  Shirin Neshat describes her work as deeply personal exploration of her own personal and social anxieties. It seems to me that her body of work is an exploration of identity.

At work in her studio

At work in her studio

For more information about the artist, check out this video lecture from Berkeley.


Paris Rainy Day

Paris Rainy Day

Washington is a wonderful gift to the artist. Galleries and museums are free and in great supply. After the Hirshhorn my husband and I walked across the mall. We ended up in from of the “National Gallery of Art”. Inside we found an exhibit of the impressionist artist Gustave Caillebotte.

I recognized many of the paintings in the exhibit. I have seen many of Caillebotte’s paintings of Paris reproduced as cheap posters and commercial items sold in museum gift shops.  The originals are beautiful and easily understood by a wide audience a window into 19th century Paris.

It was the first painting I saw, as I walked into the gallery; that captured my attention. It was a painting called “The Floor Scrappers”.  The painting was rejected entry in the  1875 Salon de Paris because of it’s common subject matter. The “Floor Scrappers” has a photographic quality and the craftsmanship is superb.

The Floor Scrapers 1875

The Floor Scrapers


While I walked the gallery and I read Caillebotte’s biography. He was a rich man who ended up supporting the impressionist art community. He sold very few of his own paintings because he had no need to support himself through his art. He was not held hostage by money or a desire for fame. He painted the food he saw in local shops and the new architecture of Paris. His eye did not reimagine what he saw. Like a camera, his painting was vehicle to document his life.

My  three big ideas:
1. Dig through my own history for ideas (family photo’s, stories, traditions, history)
2. Explore the culture  I live in (life in my community, how do I live, eat, worship, what does my community value)
3. Be authentic (what interests me, how do I view the world, my inner life)

Can’t wait to get back into the studio!

Until Next Time