Monday, July 15, 2013

Guiding Principles

I am cutting it off. The only logical solution, really.

Thanks for all the input and comments. Some of you got what I was after, some did not. The more I looked at it, the more I realized the basic flaw in the blue house part of the composition was that the blue house was just too dominant, too big and too much of a distraction from what were my favorite parts of the piece.  Suggestions for adding things like vines and paint and layers of stuff were well-intentioned, but those things would not solve the underlying problem, and would probably only make it worse. I appreciate those of you who said to cut it off. I knew that was the best route to take and it was nice to hear support for that. The suggestion to put it aside and deal with it later was sound. I had already done that. This was the "later."

Less is more. Really it is. I keep forgetting, I guess. So I am making myself a list of rules—no, I won't call them rules. They are "guiding principles." You can ignore them in your own work, or argue with them if you like, but I think defining my own principles is a good way to remember what I already really knew.

Composition is the first and most important element. Once you are well into a piece it is hard to change the composition. Spend the time at the beginning to work it out and save yourself some grief later. Composition, composition, composition.

Color is important, value is even more important. Exciting art has deep darks and sparkling lights. Too often we are bogged down in the middle tones and that is the way to boring work.

Be true to your materials. Fabric art should look like fabric. Paint should look like paint. Paper should look like paper, etc. etc.  Fabric cannot do all that paint can do. Paint cannot do what fabric does. Let the materials speak and listen.

Doing more is usually not the answer. Less is more. Simple is good. No amount of paint, glitz, buttons, beads, embroidery will fix a bad design. Embellishment should be part of a plan, not a band-aid.

Know your strengths and work with them. Just because other people love to make grand, immense work, doesn't mean I have to. Smaller and more focused is my place of greater strength. Large is not my best way of working.

Be authentic. Let your own style evolve by paying attention to what works best for you, what feels most honest and the feedback you get from trusted colleagues. Being inspired by the work of others helps you define yourself, but copying others just masks your own voice. Know the difference.

Filter what you hear from others. Advice is nice, but consider the source. Praise is lovely, but realize that most of your friends tell you what you want to hear. Questions are often more illuminating than answers.

Don't let the work become too precious. Always be willing to throw something away that isn't working. Or cut it up. Or give to the cat to sleep on. Some things are just practice. Not everything needs to see the light of day. But before you do any of these things analyze it and learn from it.
Base your analysis in sound practice. Go back to the elements and principles of design and ignore the theories of the proponents of "winging it."
Don't be lazy. "Good enough" is lazy if you can work a little harder and actually make it better. Do it right.

This is a start. I'm sure I will remember or discover others. Maybe I need to print them and post them in my studio. Do you have rules or guiding principles you try to incorporate into your work? I'd love to hear about them.


  1. I have to admit that I had forgotten about the blue house and hadn't read your last post. When I saw the cut-off version on FB, I really, really liked it and now that I see and remember the blue house it just doesn't work for me anymore. There is something so hopeful about looking out over those rooftops to the church domes in the sun. The house was nice, but foreground is so obvious (in hind sight). The newly cropped idea of passing by the foreground and putting the focus on the distance is a little unexpected and therefore wonderful. I'm in total agreement that you should chop this one off.

    It should be no surprise that I am in agreement with your guiding principles. My favorites are be true to your materials, be authentic, and don't let the work become precious. I could live by those rules! There's always room for improvement is another.

  2. Keeping it simple is surely hard, but you seem to be doing a good job of it. I like to look at the domes, but with big blue there, I was always pulled back to it and to its little balcony and flowers and windows and... .

    You principles are good. We should all make a list of what is important for our own work and review it regularly. Great idea.

  3. I like your guiding principles. I might have to adopt some of them myself.

  4. Wonderful guide posts.

  5. Good choice! And what color sky did you choose for the other piece?

  6. These are true words of wisdom and this one speaks to me in particular:

    "Don't let the work become too precious. Always be willing to throw something away that isn't working. Or cut it up. Or give to the cat to sleep on. Some things are just practice. Not everything needs to see the light of day. But before you do any of these things analyze it and learn from it."

  7. very nice thoughts. agree. thanks for your blog. i have been enjoying it for years... :)

  8. Anonymous7:11 AM

    your work is amazing. Love your solution of cutting it off. looks great now. Thanks for sharing your process.

  9. Great choice... now it truly sings!

  10. Hi Terry,
    You are brave! I have a big piece (just the top so far), and the composition will be greatly improved by chopping it into about 1/3 the original size. I have decided to do it, but other projects are needing to be done first. I loved the blue house on your quilt, but I agree the piece is stronger without it. Hope you find a way to use it in another project!

  11. Your post was spot one, again today. Thanks for your Guiding Principle list all really good ideas and I would like to use them as my own stepping-off point, do you mind?

  12. I've learned the hard way about number 1 (composition composition composition) and it's something I still struggle with but probably makes the most difference in how I feel about my work. The cut off piece looks great; What does the remaining "bottom" look like? Any plans for that?

  13. When I decided to get "serious" about art quilts, I made a list of things to "embrace" and "avoid". On the Embrace side were: sophistication, interesting work, subtlety, calm, elegance, relaxed. On the Avoid side were: cliche, trite, predictable, unrefined, frantic, uptight. I think this list said so much about the kind of quilts I'd been making compared to the kind I was seeing elsewhere that I admired. I aspired to a higher level of composition and design, and achieved that bit by bit, though not always. Every now and then, one comes out that everyone likes but bugs me, and it is usually because in retrospect, it strikes me as having attributes from my avoid list. It's important to keep our work interesting, but not always easy. By making that big editing cut (something I have not gotten brave enough to do), you've achieved an interesting perspective and lightened the work immensely. Also lets the viewer really enjoy that wonderful quilting in the sky. Good list that you came up with. I'd advise printing and posting in your studio as I did my list. We forget more quickly than we'd like to think.

  14. Your cropped work looks wonderful. I especially like the quilting in the sky.