ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Greetings of the Season

Among my family and friends I am known for making a very short shortbread, so many of them have grown to expect a tin of it at Christmas. This week I baked five double batches, my favorites being the chocolate shortbread, maple shortbread, and nut crescents. If you lived closeby, I'd offer you a plate of cookies and a cappucino like the one above that I helped myself to today!

While I mentioned this in my last e-newsletter, I would also like to repeat here in case you aren't a subscriber. At the end of my fourth year having a full-time career as a quilt artist and teacher, I would like to say thank you!!! Thank you for coming to my classes, for purchasing my hand-dyes, for reading my newsletters and blog, and for all the other ways you show support. It really is all about YOU ... without you I wouldn't be here writing this blog, and looking forward to a new year that holds a busy teaching schedule. Thank you for the honour of being able to share my workshops with you!

As a holiday gift, I would like to share something with you. These are the tips that I share in one of my lectures ("From Inspiration to Art Quilt") on how to move into making art quilts and how to make your quilts more artful. I also encourage these habits in students who sign up for my Art Quilt Series. Some of what I say may be familiar to you, or it might be new, or it might be a reminder.

As you've probably heard me say many times, I was never considered creative as a child. That label went to my sister who seemed naturally gifted at drawing and painting. She is now an accountant and the Controller of a small investment company. Not that accountants can't be creative, but my point is that she simply doesn't do much art anymore. I, on the other hand, have had to work very hard at being creative, and I now make my living through a creative profession. The best approach is to never say to yourself "I am not creative", but instead to say, "I'm working on my creativity" because creativity is like a muscle that needs to be developed.

1) Keep yourself inspired and visually stimulated.
a) To keep yourself inspired it is important to embrace newness and change. I find myself more creative after I've been in a new enviroment like after a holiday or trip away from home. But it doesn't have to be an expensive or exotic change. It could simply be a change in the route you take to work. You know how when you travel the same road to work everyday you don't even notice what is around you anymore? Try a different route and notice all the new things along the way. Visit a new park or garden.
b) Look at other art in other media. You are sure to be inspired by the colours, subject matter, and styles of art at galleries and in magazines. I find looking at art regularly helps to train your eye for good composition and design.

2) Keep a sketchbook.
We always think we will remember that brilliant idea we had yesterday, but we have so much on our minds that we won't. Write it down, sketch it out, you don't need to be good at drawing. Once you've recorded the idea you can play with it in your sketchbook. Invest in a set of coloured pencils to play with adding colours to your design.

3) Learn new things
Anytime you learn new things your are exercising your grey matter, and that will be good for your art. Newness is inspiring. Go to classes to learn art quilt methods, and don't forget art classes as well. It is all transferrable.

3) Set goals
I write lists of goals regularly. My list includes prep I need to do for teaching, classes I need to develop, articles I might want to write, fabric I need to dye, shows I want to enter, and very importantly, work I want to experiment with or work I want to finish. Because I tend to leave new work until after everything else is finished, I have a small goal setting group with two other artists who are also keen on getting into the studio and we try to support each other and talk about the obstacles we encounter.

4) PRACTICE! There is nothing that is going to make a bigger difference to your art than practice! The more art you make, the more you learn, the better it gets. It took several years for me to make the move from fairly traditional quilts (even though I seldom followed a pattern exactly) to the point where I was making original work. Don't wait for inspiration to strike. A regular studio practice will take you places. Better that it be 15 minutes a day than not at all.

5) Pay attention to the things you tell yourself! Never allow yourself to put yourself down. You have a right to make a mess and to experiment, and you are learning, so let go of the expectation of perfection. Even the most accomplished artists have to battle negative self-talk on a regular basis. It is all a normal part of the creative process as our anxiety over the outcome of our efforts rises. If you can talk yourself through such times, you will come out ahead of the game.

Besides those five double batches of shortbread, I also baked a batch of peanut butter dog bones for a very special niece that I will meet for the first time this Christmas. Meet Sunny, my sister's new dog. She's 18 months old and I'm told a very calm and well behaved dog. Isn't she beautiful? This was taken a few days ago in Southern Ontario. We have absolutely no snow here in Ottawa.

My very warmest wishes for a Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and just all around wonderful holiday season! Stay tuned in the new year for a blog giveaway as I celebrate one year of blogging, four years of being a full-time career quilter, and nine years of selling my hand-dyed fabrics and teaching. Lots to celebrate.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Lazy Days

Until today, I have not blogged very much in weeks. I have a secret to tell: I have been incredibly lazy the last two weeks! I have been loafing about the house in my flannel pajamas a lot, but I did finish my Christmas shopping, and I did get all my 2011 papers organized and off to my bookkeeper-accountant, who by the way is working out great. Best decision I ever made to deal with the HST headache. Ive also got a few Christmas lunches to go to and will be putting on the Elaine Baker hat in the next few days. I make a mean shortbread.

At the end of November my sister and I escaped for a week to the Florida Keys. I was just too lazy to blog about it. I do think it is time to share some photos as you have received enough verbiage from me today and will probably welcome some visual stimulation and some photos of warmer places. I think part of the reason Ive been feeling so lazy the last two weeks is because I let myself put my feet up in Florida. I got lots of sleep, ate too much, loafed on the beach, and even read two books!! This pace seemed to carry over when I returned. I have been getting worried about the fact that I just havent been able to get started in the studio. I am so out of the habit, that I will have to redevelop the habit. Little by little, it is coming back this week. Because I have a break of a few weeks in my teaching schedule, I am starting to do some research on how to work with sheer silk organza. Ive dyed quite a lot of this stuff and have been waiting to get to work on something.

But back to the Florida trip. I am glad we planned this trip, because just weeks before we left, my sisters canine companion, Savannah, died suddenly from an allergic reaction to a wasp. She was gone in minutes. So I think my sister really needed to get away, and we have been trying to coordinate this since she turned 50 almost three years ago.

We flew to Miami, then rented a car to drive out to Islamorada. Since it was low season, we got a great deal on the lovely condos we stayed in.
I booked these because they are right on the water, so if we had a day we didnt feel like going anywhere, we could just hang out at our condo.
This view to the side of the pool relaxed me immediately.

We did make a trip to Key West one day. While there we visited some interesting sites like the Ernest Hemingway Home, the Audubon House & Tropicsl Gardens, the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Gardens and an unusual restaurant called Blue Heaven.

Of course the gardens provided lots of foliage for inspiration.

The Hemingway House was particulary interesting.
Hemingway loved cats, had many in his lifetime, including some that were polydactyl (had extra toes). Many of the 50 or so cats that live at the Hemingway House today are descended from the original cats and carry the polydactyl gene. What I also thought was fun is that visitors to the house are not allowed on the furniture, but the cats are! Check out the mitts on the first two cats!

I made a few other friends too at the Key West Tropical Forest & Botanical Gardens .

Obviously food laws are more relaxed in Key West because these chickens are all around you when you eat at Blue Heaven. In fact Key West is full of chickens, descended from the fighting chickens that were brought there from Cuba. You will even sometimes find them roosting in trees.

I am developing a real obsession for stools, benches and chairs. I photographed this at Blue Heaven as well.

This is Bucko, who lives at the Village Gourmet restaurant in Islamorada. Like in Europe, people in the Keys seem more relaxed about having animals in restaurants.
I think Bucko looks an awful lot like my sisters dearly departed dog Savannah. This is a picture of them taken last fall.
OK, thats three blog posts in one night. I must be getting my groove back! The other thing Ive been doing the past two weeks is reading cookbooks. Over the years, I have completely forgotten how to cook because of my busy schedule and being away from home so much. I have decided I need a new hobby so I dont become too one-track minded. Cooking will be it. The goal is to eat better too.

I apologize that there isnt a single apostrophe in the above post. It has disappeared from my keyboard. This is often caused by a cat walking across my keyboard.

In the Beginning ... Getting your Work Out There!

As I alluded to in my previous post, I am going to talk about how I ended up becoming a career quilter. In so doing, I will also talk a little about the contribution of quiltmaking to my mental health and the importance of sharing your work with the world.

It started innocently enough. The year was 1996, I was emotionally distraught over my mother's Alzheimer's and recent institutionalization at a nursing home. Suffering from anxiety and depression, I sought an activity that would occupy my mind and focus me for a while.

I signed up for a beginner quiltmaking class at my local high school. I do remember thinking that quilting is hard, and way too precise, but I persevered. I think my sanity at the time depended on it. But then something happened. I got hooked on the fabric, I got hooked on the peace I felt while I was creating. I had tried meditation and yoga, but nothing quieted my mind and made the cares of the world go away like quilting.

I had a new hobby ... well perhaps more like an addiction. I joined a guild, some mini groups, went to as many quilt shows as I could, took all the classes I could, and tried a bit of everything one can try in quiltmaking. I was very, very prolific, even though I had a full-time job.

Sometime in the late 1990s or around 2000 I saw my first art quilts. I knew I wanted to do that, but had never been considered creative. I spent the next few years working very hard to come to a place where I was making my own original work. It did not happen overnight.

In 2003 I was invited to be Artist in Residence at our local quilt show. The Marketing folks for the Waterloo Quilt Festival happened to attend our show, saw my work, and I was soon invited to have a solo show at the St. Jacobs Quilt Gallery. Quite frankly, if I hadn't received that little bit of recognition, I don't know when I would have been ready to put my work out there? My solo show was well received, and after that I started entering juried shows.

Another important thing that happened was losing my job in 2003. That's really when I started teaching and began my business selling hand-dyed fabrics. After a year of this, I went back to work for another five years. Until my schedule got so full with a job, a part-time teaching job on Saturdays, making and exhibiting quilts, and running the hand-dyed fabric business. Bottom line is that I had to build that business up for five years before I could afford to quit my job.

This brings me to the subject of getting your work out there! That is really what it is all about. If you want to have a career with your quilts it is critical that the world see your work. But even if you dont want to have a career, there are all kinds of reasons to submit your work to shows: 1) the joy of it ... these shows bring joy and wonder, so how wonderful it is it to be a part of them; 2) Better to have your work in a show than on a closet shelf; 3) Validation; 4) Resume building; 5) The desire to win ribbons. I think the main reason I entered shows in the beginning was #1 above, for the sheer joy of being part of a show. I still feel that way, but now that my career is dependent on my quilts, I do it for the exposure and resume building as well. I can't say I've ever done it for the ribbons. Although they are nice, I am just happy to be part of the show.

I am sometimes asked by other local teachers, "how did you get that teaching gig" (so far from home)? It goes back to getting the work out there. If people don't know your work they are not very likely going to invite you to teach for them. So you have to get your work out there, and that means beyond your city or region. Remember that show I mentioned where I was Artist in Residence? At that show I won several ribbons in the art quilt categories. I will say, however, that there werent very many quilts in that category and they were relegated to the back of the room. I decided to branch out from there to enter in shows where art quilts were more celebrated. So I decided to be a little fish in a big pond, rather than a big fish in a small pond.

If you only show at the local fall fair or quilt guild, there is a limit to how many people will see your work, and your career will probably remain local or regional. What if the people who really love your work are not the ones who live in your own area? All the more reason to get your work out in the big wide world where there is a chance that someone who loves your work will see it. And if you want a career, that is really the best way to build it.

Yes, there is the risk that your work will be rejected. My work has been rejected in many places, so I just move on to the next place because my career depends upon it.

Textile Arts as Women's Therapy, Part 2

Today I received a complimentary copy of "Using Textile Arts and Handcrafts in Therapy with Women: Weaving Lives Back Together". You may remember that I blogged about being interviewed for this book back in May in a post called "Textile Arts as Womens Therapy". I am one of several artists that were interviewed for this book, and photos of two of my works also appear in it. You can see which by accessing the link above. The author, Dr. Ann Collier, is an academic at the University of Wisconsin, a clinical psychologist, and a textile artist herself. Her website is called "Dr. Shrinks Fibres".

The book is geared at textile artists who might want to explore personal issues through their art, mental health professionals who might be interested in the theory behind it, as well as teachers of textile arts. Dr. Collier goes on to explain how, in the latter group, she has noticed student issues come to the fore in workshops she has taken, often issues the teacher was unprepared for. What teacher has not heard about the many ways that textile arts have saved a woman's sanity? I certainly have, I've lived it myself, and believe that textiles can do that.

I'm taking this book along with me to read at Christmas. I suspect it will remind me of how and why I got into quiltmaking in the first place (more on that in my next blog post), and how quiltmaking makes a big difference to the mental health of women.

It's kinda cool being part of a scholarly study, especially since I also once tried to tie quiltmaking to my academic studies. In 1999 I wrote a paper about quilts and quiltmaking for my graduate course in Psychoanalysis and Cultural Studies. I used to have a prominent link to it on my website, but I now only include a link through the resume on my website. The research I did may be dated now. I had even tried to work my Masters thesis topic around quiltmaking, the general argument being that it provides a meaning system similar to a religion (my graduate studies were in Religion & Popular Culture). I didn't quite work it out, and got so gob-smacked by the quilting world that I never did finish the thesis. And that is OK; life has a way of taking us to the places we need to go.

If you are interested in the link between textile arts and women's mental health, you will probably find this book of interest.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Study With Me in Italy!!

A wonderful new school, the Abruzzo School of Creative Art, has opened in Introdaqua, Italy, about 2 hours east of Rome. It will focus on textile art, fibre art, art quilts, felting and mixed media art classes. I will be teaching a brand new five-day class, "Fabulous Flowers and Foliage" there June 27- July 3, 2012. They've just started putting together the roster of teachers for 2012. You you can read more about the School on the highlighted link above.

I've also just distributed my latest e-newsletter, which includes information on where I will be teaching in 2012. I am very thankful to have a full schedule in the coming year and to be able to make a living from what I do for another year :-)) If you'd like to sign up to receive my e-newsletter in your mailbox four times a year, you can do so here.