Thursday, October 26, 2017

What Is An "Art Quilt"?

What are "art quilts"?  They are layered and stitched textile "pictures" that are hung on the wall.  They might be abstract or realistic or any other style of design that you might be aware of from the world of painting.  They are like fabric paintings.  The "quilt" part of it is because they are layered:  the designed top layer, a batting/padding of some sort, and a backing fabric, and then those layers are stitched together in some way.  The variety of styles and techniques used to create an art quilt is more complex and varied than paintings usually are.  We call this "surface design" and it runs the gamut from rusting, dyeing, painting and stamping to beading, weaving, embroidering, and pleating.  And that is only a sample of the possibilities available to us.  There are no boundaries.   

And that is why I love being an "art quilter".  I get to play with color, texture, line and shape to make wonderfully rich and fulfilling pieces of art.  I have a muse and I use it to transform materials into abstract representations of experiences and memories.  Just like a painter would.  Only the basic materials used are....well....material!  

Human beings are exposed to material from birth in the form of clothing, blankets, bedclothes, towels, and even furniture.  We are wrapped in it, walk on it, use it to clean, cover windows with it, and have our picnics on it.  Wrapping in a warm towel after a long bath, covering up with an afghan to watch a movie on the couch, or dressing up for a prom are all things we enjoy partly because of the qualities of fabric.  Fabric is part of the fabric of our lives.  It is comforting and offers us security.  We have fond feelings for many of the fabrics in our lives---the first blankie, the favorite pillow, the afghan that grandma made, the comfy socks, and, for me, the Scottish tartans of my heritage.  

Naturally this bodes well for an artist who works in the medium of fabric and textiles, right?  Unfortunately what I have found is that many people can't understand the concept of hanging fabric on the wall as art.  Don't quilts go on a bed or over the back of my couch?  There is a disconnect between the idea of fabric as a functional object that we use and wear and the possibility that it could be enjoyed like a painting to enhance your living or work environment.  It doesn't seem so difficult to me since I have many quilts on my walls and love looking at them as the light changes throughout the day and over the seasons of time.  They are warm, colorful, intricate and remind me of the experiences and memories that influenced their creation.  It seems perfectly natural to me that a quilt should hang on the wall and be appreciated as art.  I make my art out of fabric and then I stitch it like a quilt.  It is art.  They are no more difficult to hang than any painting.  They are lighter, warmer and more textural than most paintings.  If you own one you probably know----they are very pleasant to live with and decorate your walls with.

If you have never been exposed to this form of art you are missing out on what is becoming a more respected and accepted medium by galleries, museums and cultural centers the world over.  I belong to an organization called Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) that is internationally in the game of promoting the art quilt as a legitimate and honored form of art in the venues of the world.  They have exhibitions and publications that help to expose audiences to beautiful works of art that start with fabric and are elevated to a higher level in the hands of artists.  

I consider myself an artist first and foremost.  Textiles, thread, and beads are my tools.  I create abstract pictures inspired by nature.  I am influenced by my home in the Rocky Mountains of Western Montana and the beauty that surrounds me and engulfs me every single day.  Sunlight and shadow, leaf and tree, water and fire.  The joy of working with color and texture to make something beautiful that has meaning to me and to my audience keeps me inspired and productive.  I love what I do and if you love it to, share it with others.  When you see something beautiful that a textile/fiber artist has made share it.  Decorate your home or office with fiber art.  Fiber art goes beautifully with pottery, paintings, sculpture, and wood.  It is a wonderful way to incorporate more of the fabrics and materials that we love and have grown up with into our lives in an aesthetic way.  Wear them, wrap up in them, cover your table with them, and hang them on your bedroom wall! 

I love it when people come to one of my shows and say that they have never seen anything like my work before.  They didn't know anyone was doing this with fabric.  But they love it.  A convert!  I try to get my work out wherever I can to try to educate and expose people to textile art.  Hopefully some day they will remember that they liked it and when they need something for their newly furnished dining room they look for a piece of fiber art.  Or maybe they just want to remember a visit to Montana or the woods they wandered when they were young.  I think fiber art is more expressive and tactile than a painting ever could be.  You want to touch it, you identify with it, you feel comfortable with it.  It is fabric and you have had it around you all your life.  

Monday, October 2, 2017

The Artist in Autumn

As an artist early fall is a very busy time.  Any artist who needs to make money to support their art is working diligently to create things that they hope will sell during the holiday season.  There are studio tours, home shows, group shows, and art fairs going on.  We all hope that people who are shopping for Christmas or Hanukkah gifts will attend our events and purchase our art!  

So, as I am preparing for my upcoming studio tour with The Artists Along The Bitterroot, I am thinking about what people might want to buy and where I should concentrate my efforts.  Small pieces with low price tags are not my most inspired and fulfilling art to create, but they are most likely to sell.  Many artists who do shows with booth set-ups will show their larger, pricier art but also have cards, prints, or other small items to try to make those sales.

For several years I focused my fall efforts on making beaded ornaments that were very popular but for which I could not ask a price that made up for the time, effort, and expenses associated with them.  They took a long time to make and were very beautiful, but if I put a price on them that I really thought they were worth they didn't sell.  

 I love these ornaments and many people who own them hang them year around.  I intentionally did not make most of them "holiday" themed so they could be displayed any time.  They might be too big for actual display on a tree, but in a window or a office wall or wherever there is a small wall space, these are very fun to live with. 

But, time consuming.  If I could sell them for $75 I'd be happy to do more.  But at half that or even less I just burned out feeling I wasn't being rewarded for the effort--and they are a lot of effort.  Maybe sometime I'll pick it up and make more.  Right now I'm looking for the next best thing....

I have goals with my "art walk" that are sometimes conflicting.  I want/need to sell things in order to continue producing and showing my work.  Beads, fabric, sewing/quilting machines and all the other accoutrements necessary to produce my work all cost money to purchase, maintain and store.  But, on the other hand I would love to create larger more dramatic work that might be suitable for the larger more prestigious art and fiber art venues across the country (world), including museums.  Those venues are not always good places to sell work, but when you develop a reputation and are creating high end work that gets into those venues and is "seen", the buyers tend to find you and sales follow.  

Not a year goes by that I don't have my work out in the world at galleries and quilt shows at both local and national levels.  And I have had my work out there in national magazines that have published articles I have written.  I seek to get to the next level with my art.  More venues on a national level.  More recognition in the fiber art world as an artist with work that is respected and admired.   The ability to travel to shows and venues that are recognized as top level in the fiber art world and lecture or teach around the country (world) about my work and process.  I love sharing what I do with others, but I also want others to see what I do as valuable and worthy.  

"Reconnecting" (detail)
There are debates about whether or not a true artist should be concerned about selling their work or if they should just be grateful that it is shown and shared so their message is being told.  I think I will feel successful as an artist when both of those things are true.  Financially I can't do what I do if I don't make any money doing it.  I have to pay for my supplies and tools.  I have to market my work, send it out, take pictures of it, and maintain a presence on-line.  I want to travel to see art, share my art, teach about my art.  The more money I can make with sales of my art, the less I have to worry about the business part.  Because truly being an artist is a business.  If we are good business people we pay taxes, market ourselves and our art, have bank accounts, and purchase goods.  We maintain inventories and records.  We are constantly on the prowl for possible venues for our work and evaluating whether they are right for us.  We have wins, we have losses.  But it is all because we have a passion for what we do.  It is not the business part that makes us continue.  It is the art.  

Stuffed Turkey Thigh/Legs

Disclaimer: This is a cooking post not an art post!  But I will say that there is an art to boning, stuffing and baking this recipe--and it ...