Category Archives: How to…

How to avoid the deadzone in your composition.

I spent my career as an art teacher in the public school system. For years I had piles of student work that I sorted, graded and selected for display. I taught children from kindergarten through high school.

During that time I saw and corrected the same mistakes in compositions.  One of  frequent mistakes was starting to draw in the center of the page and filling in the space from the midpoint out.  I called this little trap "the deadzone”.

A typical children's drawing. Perfectly symmetrical.
A typical children's drawing. Perfectly symmetrical.

A deadzone is placing the center of interest or a point of emphasis in the center of the composition when you are using asymmetrical balance.

To avoid or resolve this problem you need start with an understanding of emphasis and balance.  

Emphasis is defined as an area or object within the artwork that draws attention and becomes a focal point. Subordination is defined as minimizing or toning down other compositional elements in order to bring attention to the focal point.

Symmetrical balance can be described as having equal visual  "weight"  along a central axis. It may also be referred to as formal balance.  In asymmetrical balance used by fine artists, the two sides are not identical,  but the elements are arranged so that there is a visual of balance.

A work of  art by Jenny Beyers. Perfectly balanced from a center point.
A work of art by Jenny Beyers. Perfectly balanced from a center point.

Artists who work with functional forms like houses, jewelry, or  functional quilts use “formal balance” because they have to consider function.

Does it make sense to have an entry to a dwelling in the center of a building? Does a quilt have to fit on a rectangular mattress of a certain size? Of it does and that's why these artists and craftsman consider how how object will be used before they consider how an object looks.

Fine artists like painters or art quilters; do not have to consider functional restrictions. What matters when making a purely creative  nonfunctional; item is the composition. Fine artists often use asymmetrical balance because it keeps the viewers interest longer, allows the artist to lead the viewer to point of emphasis.

Van Gogh
Van Gogh

How to Avoid the Deadzone

Use your camera phone, or a ruler and roughly divide your composition in thirds in both horizontal and vertical directions. The division will look like a tic-tac-toe board.

Find the focal point. It's the place or object you want the viewer to see first.  Ask yourself: Is that focal point in the middle? Hopefully not because that middle is the dreaded dead zone.

Below is one of my quilts called "Namaste".   The focal point is clear.  The hands touch the forehead with a burst of light radiating from that space.  Initially the point where the figures hands met in front of her face was lower. You could see the full circle of light.

After taking a picture, I cropped the top of the quilt several inches to raise the focal point.  In the completed work the focal point is located in the upper third of the composition and off the center line avoiding the "dead zone".


I hope this hint has helped you make more informed design decisions.

until next time........

You can see my work…….
New England Quilt Museum
Lowell, Massachusetts  •  July 11, 2018 -  September 23, 2018
Sacred Threads

Flint Festival of Quilts, Flint MI – September 2017
HeART Gallery, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Toledo, OH – October 18-30, 2017
Grace Episcopal Church, Gainesville GA – November 1 – December 15, 2017


Interpretations: Conversations
Visions Art Museum
San Diego, CA
October 21 2017 – January 7 2018
Under The Western Sun
Handi Quilter
October 4 to December 1
"Art Quilts"
California Heritage Museum
Santa Monica CA

December 8 2017 - March 18 2018
Carnegie Arts Center
Turlock CA
April 4 2018 - May 7 2018

My Simple, No Hand Sewing, Hanging Sleeve.

Traditional quilt shows use a rod and pole display system.


The sleeve for this hanging system is very important to making a pleasing display. A sleeve is a fabric tube sewn on the completed quilt by hand. A sleeve is 4 inches wide placed an inch from the top and sides. The sleeve has enough “give” so the quilt hangs flat.

Art Quilter’s”  use a sleeve with a wood or plexiglass slat. 

The slat has holes at the end that can be wired and hung on any gallery wall. Unlike art in a frame and under glass, art quilts are economical to ship and easily stored. This is an incentive for galleries and museums to display our work. (Check out this SAQA resource about hanging quilts in a traditional gallery) 

I didn’t really understand the importance of the sleeve when I first began making art quilts. For a time I backed my quilts with canvas or other materials. My sleeve was sewn flat to the backing. This works well if you are using small nails at the end of the sleeve, but is a poor choice for any rod system.

After some experimentation, I found a simple way to make a sleeve that does not require hand sewing and can be easily removed.

I use Oly*fun.
It’s a poly fabric used for crafting. Although it comes in many colors, I use black exclusively. You can buy it online or at Walmart or Joannes in 10 yard bolts. It is 60″ wide.
The fabric is super light and cheap.


                             (Be forewarned: you cannot iron this stuff!)

Here’s my process

  1. Set out a rotary cutter, white marking pencil and ruler. Measure the width of the quilt. Cut a 4.5  inch strip.  Cut a 6 inch strip. Roll up extra and keep these on hand for the next project. 
  2. Lay the 6” piece over the top edge of your quilt . (I don’t use a ruler!) Leave an inch on the outer edge. Mark with white pencil and trim to size. Make a 1” line with your with  pencil on all for sides of your 6” piece. It will look like a frame. 


3.Place the 4.5 inch piece so it lines up with the top 1 inch line – not top of the 6″ strip.  Mark and trim this piece so it fits between the side border lines. Pin this piece so it lines up with the top border and sew a quarter inch seam.Line up the bottom of the 4” with the bottom border line. This  will not lay flat! It creates a tunnel.

4. Next I spray adhesive to the back of my quilt and sew along the outside edges (side, top, side). 


You’re done!

Until the 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

The View
St. George Museum of Art
St. George Utah
April 28 – August 16 2017

Untethered Thread
Poway Center for the Arts
Poway, CA
June 1 – June 24, 2017

35th Annual New Legacies
Lincoln Center 
Ft. Collins, CO 
July 5 – August 26

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