Twelve Great Examples of Art Quilt Techniques
We have amazing talent among our TAFA members and they serve as a source of great inspiration for our textile and fiber art community. I thought it would be interesting to take a look at some of the techniques that our art quilters use in designing their textiles. A great way to start exploring this talent is to go to our tag for Art Quilts and click on the ones that catch your eye. The featured images might not necessarily show a quilt, but that member has been tagged because she (or he!) does work in that field.
I found it really hard to narrow down my choices as there really are so many quilts that I love on the site! Still, I chose some that would illustrate key techniques that we can talk about. Click on the images below to visit their member profiles.
An art quilt can be any size and may use many different elements to pull it together. But, for our purposes, we define an art quilt as a textile that has a top, a middle layer of batting, and a backing. Beyond those common denominators, what happens next is up for grabs and defined by each personal relationship that the maker develops with the surface. Materials, colors, surface design techniques, subject matter and everything else that happens in the piece is purely subjective and has no rules. That is why these are called “art”!
Where things are placed on the surface invites the eye to come in and then move around. Choices might involve simple lines or chaotic energy, but good composition in any art medium creates interest.
Uta Lenk did a series of lines and how they move. The lines are playing together and show great movement, inviting you to follow them along. The color choices she used also help create that illusion of movement. She dyes all of her own fabric.
Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry has carved a reputation for herself as a master in this field and one of her signatures is her use of color. You see one of Caryl’s quilts and know that it is hers immediately if you are familiar with her work. She started out dyeing her own fabrics and then moved into designing fabric lines for Benartex that uses her color palettes, often brilliantly vibrant.
Composition, of course, is also a driving force in Caryl’s quilts.
Black and White
The absence of color can also create striking moods or statements. There actually is no absence of color as even in a black and white design, you can have a huge scale of grey-scale tones. Caryl actually has a great exercise to help find values in your color scale where you xerox various colored fabrics into a black and white print out to find how those colors contrast or work with each other in value.
Catherine Timm uses this technique expertly in many of her quilts. Notice the little patch of red that she uses on this one, making that element pop out against a busy background.
Creating depth with fabric can be a challenge. Often architectural quilts or landscapes can look flat and uninviting. Catherine’s forest scene above achieves depth perception expertly with great use of shadows and textures. Ann Harwell also does quite a few landscapes and complex architectural structures like this one, an excellent example of a successful work showing depth.
Depth perception goes hand in hand with the ability to create believable shadows. Joan Sowada does this effectively with a minimal use of fabric choices. Her portraits and scenes are broken down to a few important values that will tell the story. Look at the boy’s back leg (the one pushing the swing). She basically chose three fabrics to create the shadows and because those curve with the shape of the leg, they also capture movement and strength.
Again, the elements above really shape the success of a good landscape design. I think that many art quilters try to “copy” the feel that an oil painting might have and over compensate with using too many tiny pieces of fabric to try capture that same feel. Some do this with great success, but my feeling is that a fabric landscape has a different feel from an oil painting and should feel comfortable in that “skin”. Barbara Lardon’s landscapes have this feeling of comfort. Many of her subjects have to do with farming and rural scenes from where she lives in Wisconsin. There is a huge genre in the primitive/folk art arena that addresses similar topics in a cutesy way, but her quilts are elegant, smooth and inviting.
There are so many wonderful processes being used to combine photography with other surface techniques. Barbara McKie’s quilts are a stunning example of mixing photography into commercial or hand dyed fabrics along with quilting to complement or contrast with the imagery in the photo.
The bird and fence are her photo while the sky was hand painted. Works beautifully!
Unfortunately, the quilt community has some pretty awful internal divisions, based pretty much on art quilters dismissing traditional quilters as “not real artists” and the traditional quilters retaliating with “that’s not a real quilt”. It’s a shame because most art quilters start out by falling in love with traditional quilts, making a few and then finding themselves pulled out towards more self expression. I think that the main problem for our community has to do with the price point or value that is associated with the finished products. Traditional quilters rarely get paid fair wages for their labor, compete with China and India as box stores bring in inexpensive replicas of American quilt designs, so they find themselves protective of both their heritage and skills. For example, a traditional quilter’s quilting is evaluated by how many stitches per inch they can get (the more the better!) while an art quilter could care less about that, boldly stitching big fat stitches in yarn if that is the look they want to include. Meanwhile, art quilters want recognition in the fine art field, not because they want distance from the “craft”, but because they want the same financial compensation that an oil painter might get in those circles.
There is room for both and we all need to constantly educate and look for ways in which we can build bridges within our community. Some do that by incorporating traditional quilt designs as a reference within an art quilt, lovely marriage of aesthetics! Then, there are the cultural quilts in other parts of the world and they, too, play a part in how the art quilt scene has developed.
Leslie Rinchen-Wongmo is one such example. She studied the art of silk Thangka making by apprenticing with Tibetan Buddhist monks in India. She now teaches these skills through workshops which also have spiritual and healing components to the actual practical knowledge of making a Tibetan quilt.
Art quilters like to think out of the box. A quilt does not have to be a square or a rectangle. Therese May’s quilts are not square and the actual shape of the quilt adds a great deal of interest to the overall design. She also makes great use of words, both script and blocked, in her quilts, inviting the viewer to participate in her messages of healing and inspiration.
The techniques art quilters use to create their textiles are endless. I picked three examples that I think offer some added information that is different from the ones above.
Rose Hughes teaches many of the design elements that I mentioned above. She has written several books about her technique and also makes great use of color and composition. Rose tends to work with hand dyed silks that she then couches and embellishes with beads and other focal pieces. Make sure to follow her blog as she is always sharing new tips and exercises for developing design skills.
Kathryn Harmer Fox uses her painting skills on fabric and then reinforces her images with intense quilting. This creates great textures within the fabric. Her people, animals, and nature scenes are just wonderful, filled with activity, warmth and emotion.
Mary Pal has developed her own technique using cheese cloth to create powerful portraits, a great example of both shadowing and depth. All of that texture and movement happening in the cheesecloth is set off beautifully by simple, bold areas of “blank” spaces, normally a single color.
I hope this overview excites you about all of the possibilities that can be done in this exciting field! When you find a technique that captures your imagination, dig into it and learn more about how it’s done. We don’t want you to copy what that artist is doing, but rather have new doors open up for you where you can find the skills to bring your own ideas to fruition. Many of our members teach or have written books on their specialties, so don’t hesitate to connect with them, to ask them questions, to follow them wherever they are on social media and to develop relationships with them.
We’d also love to hear about what you do, if you quilt or work with textiles, use any special art quilt techniques, what design elements drive you… Do you have any favorite artists or traditions that have a special impact for you? Feel free to share in the comments section. You can follow our posts by signing up to receive them by email in the sidebar, too.
Revised 01/7/2015 with new site links.
About Rachel Biel
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