Art and the Scientific Method

Umbrellas

Steps in the Scientific Method

  • Step 1: Ask a question. 
  • Step 2: Do background research. ...
  • Step 3: Construct a hypothesis. ...
  • Step 4: Test your hypothesis by doing an experiment. ...
  • Step 5: Analyze the data and draw a conclusion. ...
  • Step 6: Share your results.

I was recently in a workshop with Betty Busby at Art Quilt Tahoe. The workshop  focused on learning processes to paint/alter fabric.

If I had to describe the experience, I would call it a week of “science camp” for the artist. 

 Participants completed a series of experiments. Like a science lab there were supplies that had been tested and a step by step procedure was demonstrated. Students then attempt to duplicate the experiment. When students completed the process they shared their results.

Although the class created a variety of beautiful cloth, the results were as varied as the individual. This is what I love about art and artists. There is no way to keep unique perspective at bay.

When I returned to my home studio, I began a series of my own experiments. I started, as a true scientist would; with a question.

“Can I replicate the process I learned at this workshop in my studio with different materials?”

I modified my acrylic paint with water to create a similar consistency to fabric paint. Then I repeated  the process I learned in Betty’s class of painting on scrunched cloth, letting the cloth dry and finding a pattern similar to shibori cloth. 

I found that the result, without fabric paint was disappointing. I went back to Step 2. Research. What if I took my cloth and soaked it in soda ash? This would be similar to what one does with dyes. I made another batch of cloth and found the results much improved. 

“If this process works with standard acrylics, then what other water soluble paints will it work with?”

I have a collection of liquid watercolors. These are bright transparent colors and made some beautiful samples. The issue with the set I used is they are washable.

"How do I make washable permanent?"

I tried heat of an iron. That didn’t work. I tried adding soda ash to the water color. Didn’t work either. Then I read an article in the recent quilting arts and found an article about  painting textile medium on the cloth and then watercolor......


My experiments are ongoing. What I know as a teacher is that learning is not replicating. To simply repeat a process is like knowing how to add and subtract but never adding up check at a restaurant. As an artist I apply the knowledge learned in a workshop and take it back to my studio where I change that process to work within my own environment. 

The final step in the scientific method is to share. I share with my local art quilt group and here on my blog. Sharing helps me gather valuable feedback  to take to my studio and make further modifications.


Next time you watch an “how to”video, take a workshop or read an article think about yourself as a scientist.

Go back to your lab (studio) and do a few experiments with the process you learned. 

Until next time....
Margaret

Take a Second Look

Divide

 “ Take a second look. It cost you nothing.” 

Chinese Proverb

I had a quilt that I originally titled “Flag”. As I looked at the finished quilt I had that sinking feeling:

For all my efforts this was not a successful composition. 

Then I took a second look.

Before I started this quilt I had been reading articles about the current wave of art labeled as “craftivism. The term had been coined in 2003. 

Craftivism is a form of activism, typically incorporating elements of anti-capitalism, environmentalism, solidarity, or third-wave feminism, that is centered on practices of craft - or what can traditionally be referred to as "domestic arts"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Craftivism

Several experiences with "craftivism caught my imagination.  The  images of a sea of  hand knit pink pussy hats  after the 2016 election was wonderful . I had seen a museum exhibition where artists were highlighting the damage of  climate change by crocheting reefs. Instagram had numerous post of yarn bombing trees in urban landscapes with large audiences. 

In the art quilt world there were  a growing number of exhibit opportunities exploring social consciousness through visual media. I have two pieces travelling “Guns Loaded Conversations” and “Forced to Flee”.  Both these exhibits required me to research the topic before coming up with a concept.

Although political art is not a focus of my own work, exploring the challenges our country and society faces is interesting to me. Given the trend and my  success incorporating social commentary, I decided to make a quilt called “Flag” which started with some research into historic periods of political unrest. 

The quilt was in a shape of a flag with design elements that would be easily identified. Stripes in red and white, a rectangle along the right side and a color palette of red, white and blue. The central figure placed in the rectangle was taken from  a photograph of my father dressed up in an American soldiers costume when he was a little boy.I choose that image because it was taken in a period of political division.  

  • Text was included as the primary design element.
  • Dominating the upper portion of the  composition is the term xenophobia. Behind the figure a dictionary definition of that term becomes a wallpaper.
  • In the lower portion compassion, tolerance and acceptance are arranged as pattern. In another use of text as pattern
  • I used portion of the sonnet "The New Colossus" to form a subpattern. This poem is featured on plaque at the base of the Statue of Liberty. 
  • At the very of the composition is a quote about how history can be seen as a pattern of repetition. 

Despite the rich surface and complex composition, when “Flag” was hung with a horizontal orientation  the composition was derivative rather than evocative of larger issues.  I entered this in a few exhibitions with no success and put it away.

It was when I looked over a call for entry called “Opposites Attract” that I took a second look at that quilt.  

Flag was a good fit for the theme of opposites because it scrutinized the current political divisions in the United States today.  The surface of the quilt was elaborate. It was painted, stamped, used text, had small scale and large scale pattern. There were layers waiting for a viewer to inspect them closely. Up close a viewer had additional information and a intellectual access point for thinking about the values that hold a country together or tear it apart.

As I took “Flag” off a quilt rack and laid it on the floor, I saw “Flag”  as a long rectangle instead of a wide rectangle. I pinned it on my design wall and took a new photograph using this new orientation. It was that second look that made a big difference. I could now see how by letting the stripes lead the viewer up and into the focal point using this new  orientation, the composition was vastly improved.

I also took a second look at the title. While “Flag” might have described an iconic image, it did not describe the artwork I had created. My work was a visual dialogue about the divisions in America today. 

New photograph. New title. And now “Divide” will be travelling with an exhibition called “Opposites Attract” to venues here and around the world.


Until next time
Margaret

 

Standards of the Craft

Since I began art quilting in earnest in 2015, I have focused on two areas: creating a portfolio and process. I approached my work as a trained fine artist using my skills as a painter.

Today I am can work confidently in my studio adding to a recognizable body of work.  My quilts are travelling the world in gallery shows and are accepted into major quilt exhibitions. 

What I was missing wasn't the understanding of art. It was the understanding of the craft.

 

Standards: a level of quality used as a measure in comparative evaluations

Craft: an activity involving skill

 

Three years ago I purchased a mid arm machine to increase the number of quilts I could produce in my studio. I bought a The Sweet  Sixteen made by Handiquilter. After the purchase I spent  a year learning to use the machine efficiently. 

As I learned I tried to address the problems I had with quilting through a painted surface. I added custom cabinets on either side of my mid arm to allow me to easily slide my quilt and holds its’ weight. I attended some monthly informational meetings  at my local shop where I experiment the tools and techniques used by the long arm community. 

After becoming a more confident quilter I wanted to focus on meeting the higher standard expected at a quilt exhibition

This January I took a three day workshop with a company trainor. It was at the workshop I was exposed to the high standards of the craft of quilting. The first thing I took away from that three day workshop was the need to master a catalogue of motifs.

Motifs are the patterns of stitch used hold the top, batting and backing together. Quilters recognize and have names for specific patterns. The names of the motifs include feathers, ribbon candy, swirl, closed swirl, double circle, loops, triple bump and paisley. Free motion quilters memorize these motifs through hours of practice on the machine. Before starting quilters draw specific designs on both quilt tops and paper. 

Quilters apply these motifs to functional quilts. A single pattern can be applied across the entire surface of the quilt. They can choose different patterns for the blocks and borders. This skill is unique and those that master this skill are sought after and paid. It is a seperate art form.

The top of the quilt displays the motifs used to enhance the surface, while the bottom of the quilt defines level of quality.

Up until that class, I was at a loss to explain why a judge would bother looking at the back of  quilt made to hang on a wall. Now I understand. Looking at the bobbin thread exposed on the back of the quilt is used as a measure in  the comparative evaluations of quilt judges. 

Having control of thread tension is the key to getting a positive evaluation. During those three days I learned the process to adjust thread tension. 

On my machine I adjust by thread tension my turning a dial. I turn the dial to the left if the top thread is too tight and to the right if it is too loose. Since I use a gray thread with gray backing fabric it is easy for me to spot that top thread being pulled to the back. 

Each  time I change threads I test the tension with sample quilt sandwich. I use a sharpie to write down the number of the tension setting and the speed of the machine on the top of the spool of thread.


With this knowledge and simple process of testing and recording the results I have been shocked at the improvement. The back of my quilt just might meet the standards set by those quilt judges.

Until next time...
Margaret


 

It’s Hot Down Here!

In Southern Utah the temperatures run in the triple digits for much of July and August. Although my husband and I escape for a week at a time to Colorado, we have to keep the lawn and garden alive, so when are at home we get out early and hibernate in the afternoon. 

 There is an upside to this season; studio time. I have been very productive this past two months. I have completed five larger quilts and am close to finishing my latest quilt of a pond in the Denver Botanic Gardens.

In addition to large quilts I am working on samples for two classes I am teaching in town. I love these little quilts. They remind me how important it is to understand design concepts and to be able to create a pleasing composition. The more samples I make, the more ideas I generate.


I was making a few still life arrangements when I found that folding small squares of prefused fabric I could cut freehand very whimsical petals and fuse these flowers to a grill matt from Costco. (Yes I happened to get 4 grill matts on sale and decided to try them instead of my small release sheet.) I ended up with a variety of these fun flowers to add to my still life.

Normally I would begin a composition a horizon like or something indicating the edge of a surface (like a table). This is a way to organize the composition and give the viewer a sense of space. After looking at Picasso’s cubist still life “Guitars”  I experimented with eliminating that horizon line and cutting up the background. The result was a more decorative composition.

Landscape 1

While creating some small landscape quilts I started looking at my collection of images on my Pinterest board “Art Quilt Landscapes”. One of my pins made me think of a visual problem:

What happens when you exclusively  use fabric with a stripe of strong directional pattern?

This is an easy way to create the illusion of space because the direction of the stripes lead the viewer’s eye into the composition.

I extended this idea of stripes by fusing together different fabrics The fabric below the horizon line were diagonal heading to a single vanishing point. Above the horizon line I took thin prefused fabrics and fused them into curvy lines across the sky. I add a few Van Gogh star shapes.

Looking at fine art, collecting ideas from other art quilters and using an understanding of design concepts produces a never ending stream of projects to create. It also helps to be sure to play and have fun! 

Until next time.......
Margaret

What’s wrong with this picture?

Image Source:
carolinefrechette.com

Do you ever look at a quilt you might put away that just doesn’t look finished? A quilt that didn’t make it into a show?  Maybe it’s a quilt that is sitting in your studio right now and you don’t know what to do next?

Yesterday I attended a SAQA pod meeting. It’s a group of art quilters from Southern Nevada and Utah who meet on alternate months. As a group we decided to focus on critique. Each meeting several members bring work in progress. 

We divide the hour into equal portions and allow members to provide feedback to a question the artist asks the group.Questions could be open ended; “Is this quilt finished?” or  specific “How should I quilt these shapes?” We end the feedback with the artist stating some take away ideas. A comment(s) that they can use to improve their work.

As a facilitator of this group I encourage members to follow a formal process I used when I was teaching and while getting my masters in art. This method has become second nature to me. I find it invaluable. 

Principles of Design

The first step in the process is to take a minute in silence to look carefully. This might mean getting up close or standing back. Next the observer wants to look for the elements of design used in the composition.  When giving feedback you can reference these elements. “The red organic shape in the upper left corner...”

Next you want to ask yourself how these elements are organized using the principles of design as your organizing idea.”The red organic shape in the corner is the focal point.” Understanding and using the design vocabulary is important to providing feedback that can be used by the artist to improve a composition or to correct a design flaw. 

The last to steps are interpretation and judgment. In my master's program interpretation often identified the work by genre or subject and with a reference to another artist or art movement." The red and grey organic shapes look like a dry riverbed. It reminds me of the carefully arranged stones in a zen garden."

Judgement is the point where the observer gives constructive and  specific suggestions or a clearly articulated summary. “The red shape creates a strong point of emphasis. I would add 3 - 5 smaller and less intense red shapes to create movement through the composition.”


In the future I will be posting some examples of this process on my YouTube channel and will have a workshop outline on my website.


Until next time.....
Margaret