ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Thursday, December 5, 2013

EQ7 Meets EQ52 and Other News

Wow, it is a steep learning curve becoming a Northcott Fabric Designer! Two posts ago I told you about my attempts at dyeing a second set of fabrics identical to the ones I shipped to Northcott for scanning/photographing so I would have fabric to work with when creating something from this line. Little did I know that the quilts designed to promote lines of fabric are designed virtually with photos of the fabric, and not with real fabric. The production schedule is just so tight that there is no time to deal with real fabric. The patterns that goes on the promotional cards that are shown to the fabric shops, must have a picture of the pattern on them, and those promotional cards are printed before the fabric is even produced. This is where EQ7 gets to meet EQ52. Yes, I am going to have to learn to use Electric Quilt 7. Do you think the fact that the initials "EQ" for Electric Quilt are the same as my initials means we will be a match made in heaven? I sure hope so. I can't wait until the line is finalized and I can share it here. It won't be long now.

In the mean time, I've been clearing out "stuff", in preparation for my husband's retirement on December 13, and in preparation for the many bolts of fabric that will arrive here when my line is produced. I think I have mentioned here before that our house is small. I haven't gotten to cleaning up my web code yet. I'm hoping to have an improved website up soon, but I'm a few weeks behind on that.

I've also created another 12" x 24" piece for the European exhibition on Nature. Here it is below. I am not completely happy with this one, but I am going to wait until more of the panels are made before I decide whether to change it or make something new.

I'm moving on to the third panel (third in order of making, and not in order of hanging). It will be inspired by a photo I took of hostas about to blossom.

I've pulled out my palette below. Today I did some experiments using hand-dyed purple organza to add the bits of purple over the unfurling blossom. I think it looks better than using the purple cotton because the organza is a bit transparent and you can see just a bit of the green showing through.  I also have a piece of fabric (lower left below) that is an interesting mix of green and purple that I might resort to. Still deciding which green to use. I think it will be the spring green at left and top.

I am starting to become a bit panicked about the lack of Steam a Seam Lite available on the market. As you may have heard, there was a problem at the factory that produces the backing paper. After a couple of months the company re-issued Steam a Seam products, but there were problems with the new backing paper. They are trying to resolve the problem and will not re-issue Steam a Seam until the problem is solved. I couldn't believe my good luck when a very helpful person at NJefferson in Vancouver found one last bolt of Steam a Seam Lite in their warehouse. I can limp on for a while longer. I'm concerned for classes I have coming up in the new year, and this is not enough Steam a Seam for three classes! 

I might have to resort to using Pellon Lite EZ-Steam II. It will definitely be fine for my Collage Tree class, but a challenge for my In Full Bloom class. On the other hand, those who have never used Steam a Seam might not feel the challenge ... perhaps I am just set in my way of working. Given that Pellon's EZ Steam is the only other fusible on the market that has the repositionable, pressure-sensitive adhesive, I think this is the next best choice. Building a tree or flower requires a lot of little pieces, and the design clings together so much better with these fusibles than with all others.

Keeping my fingers crossed that there is Steam a Seam by the time I teach my first hosta class in March. However, I think all the back orders will not be filled by them. I think I'll need to make the EZ Steam work.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

International Exhibition Group: My Other Big Project

During my exhibition and workshops at the Quilt en Sud Textile Art and Patchwork Biennial in France this past spring, I received an email from Textile Artist Jane Rollason, who lives part-time in the UK and part-time in France. The email invited me to become a member of an international exhibition group. At first I hesitated because I am pretty focused on what I want to do, and if the themes or challenges involve creating work outside my realm, I feel it is not a good use of my time. However, the theme of this show is going to be NATURE. Right up my alley! It means I can still continue with the series I had in mind. I still hesitated because of my busy teaching schedule, but then I thought about my goal of seeing more of the world through international teaching. Jane plans to pitch the exhibition to the large shows in Europe. Each of us must submit six works by September 2014. One can be any size; the remaining five pieces must be one of the following: 24"x24", 12"x24" or 24"x12". OK, I'm not great at working to size, but I think I can do this. At this moment we don't have a name for the group, and I am not completely sure of the final list of members. So whatever happens, this will be time well spent because I get to do the work I want to do. The only parameters are size. I am planning a review or retrospective of sorts of all my hosta styles. Maybe four pieces that are 12" wide and 24" long, that can hang side by side. Not a diptych, not a triptych, but a group of four. Does anyone know the word for that? So here is my first piece, created this week, a hosta unfurling. A piece I've always wanted to make. It is 12"x24".

Initially I had cropped back a photo to the composition below (the entire photo, not just the section within the black lines)..

I went ahead and drafted the pattern. That was a few weeks ago, but just as I was about to start the piece it occured to me that I could do better with the composition. I got out my cardboard viewfinder and brought the spiral in closer. The new composition was contained within the black marker frame in the photo above.

Here is the final design. I didn't like that the spiral in the first version was so centred. I also wanted the piece to be a little more abstract, so zooming in closer and not depicting the edges of the hosta leaf help to achieve that goal. I am much happier with the final design and am glad I took the time to re-draft the pattern.

Looking at the design now, it very much reminds me of the Golden Ratio. 

The Golden Ratio looks at what proportions are naturally the most visually appealing. It has been used in design, architecture, and mathematics for hundreds of years. It even corresponds to what we find most attractive in people's facial features and body types, and it is displayed throughout nature, in the spiralling of seashells, sunflower centres, and leaf growth. To be a more perfect Golden Ratio, however, the rectangle I placed my design in would need to be wider. In fact the ratio of height to width should be 0.618, whereas mine is 0.5. But hey, I have parameters I need to follow for the show. Still I think the final design is more appealing than the initial one. 

Stay tuned as I create more works in this series in the next several months. I am finally back in studio mode, and it feels good!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Blog Guest and Meet Roxanne Lessa

Today I'm a guest on the blog of textile artist, Roxanne Lessa. Roxanne and I started chatting on-line a few weeks ago about a subject that came up in an on-line group we both belong to. We had been familiar with each other's work prior to this, but until that chat were unaware of our admiration for each other's work. Roxanne works with a wider variety of subject matter than I do, but it is her piece depicting the Amazonia plant that stands out in my mind. We all know about my love of foliage! While I've chosen very monochromatic subjects, she has masterfully dealt with foliage containing many colours. I love the richness of this piece. Be sure to visit her website to see more of her botanicals, landscapes, and other subjects. The piece below was also featured in the book Art Quilt Portfolio: The Natural World. Roxanne lives in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Roxanne also shares another interest with me. She is currently conducting private art coaching. She can help with your creative goals. Many of you remember that I studied with Creativity Coach, Eric Maisel, although I decided not to pursue coaching at this time. 

You can read her post about me, and about her private coaching, on her blog.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Designing for Northcott Fabrics and New Patterns

I will admit that it was never a goal or dream of mine to be a fabric designer, except for my one-of-a-kind hand-dyed fabrics. I'm not even sure I would consider those fabrics "designed" either. Often they are the result of serendipity and many years of experience working with Procion MX Dyes and knowing the colour properties and what different colours can do together. But then this past summer I received an email from Deborah Edwards at Northcott Fabrics. She had seen my work pinned all over Pinterest and was thinking of running a new line of fabrics called "Artisan Spirit". She invited me to become a designer for Northcott. I had to think about it for two weeks. What sort of time commitment would this entail? Would I be under a lot of pressure during my peak teaching seasons? What would be the return? After asking a lot of questions, I said YES. It couldn't have happened at a more perfect time for me. I have a lighter teaching season from November 2013 to February 2014 so I have time to invest in learning the ropes here. Once I learn them things should be more straightforward. More on that in a minute. I have to believe that this line canl be successful (i.e. the fabric will sell well). Northcott and I are hoping it will be as popular as their Stonehenge line.

For the most part Northcott will be producing lines of fabric based on my hand-dyed fabrics. In addition, however, there will be printed fabrics based on elements from my quilts. In the last few months we've gone through a couple of ideas, which involved me doing a fair bit of dyeing to try to produce a line that would work and reflect the correct season when the fabric will be released. The other challenge for me, seat of the pants dyer that I am, is that I want a second set of fabrics almost identical to the set I am handing over to Northcott for photographing, scanning, etc. That second set is what I will use to make things from this line of fabric.

This meant having to keep records of sorts. I would write down what I did on a piece of paper, but when all the fabrics came out of the dye baths, I couldn't always tell which was which. This was compounded by the fact that some of my favorite dye colours have changed lately (OK the purists will be saying "told you so", you should have only used pure dye colours and done all your own colour mixing, but alas I love the complexity of already mixed colours when they split). So it meant getting used to the new chartreuse and the new avocado, and the new dark green, etc. Then one day I dyed some fabrics, stacked my containers on my dryer to batch, and a few hours later all the containers had toppled to the floor due to the vibration of the dryer, which had clothes drying inside. Well don't ask what my floor looked like! But the fabrics were gorgeous and I can't reproduce them exactly because I don't know exactly how long they batched! So you can see the challenges here!

I eventually settled on the plan of writing the dye colours and amounts used on the selvedge of the fabric with a pigma pen. For example, in the photo below, "D chartreuse" stands for "Dharma chartreuse" (purchased from Dharma Trading company). The fact that no other information is present means I used only one colour at full strength. The challenge here is that I need to make notations while the fabric is dry, or the ink runs, so I have to plan it all before I even wet the fabric.

We've reached the day though where I can share the news. Northcott loved the fabric line, and are rushing it through, so that it will hopefully be released in January 2014. That means it won't probably hit the stores until August, just in time for autumn.  And the palette? All I can say at this point is that it is inspired by my quilt below, Losses 1. Look at all those yummy gold-greens, poison greens, etc!

And one of the things I'm really proud of is that Northcott Fabrics is a Canadian company!

So now I'm thinking about a pattern I can publish using the above colours.

The other part of the relationship with Northcott is that they will become the distributor for my patterns. Those of you who are pattern designers know what a benefit it is to have a distributor so you don't have to do all the marketing and selling yourself! The one thing that made me hesitate though, was that I wasn't really planning to publish patterns. I do have a few patterns that I use in conjunction with teaching, but I don't sell them anywhere else. Publishing and selling patterns means having to write clear and fool-proof instructions. So that's another challenge I'll be taking up this winter. 

The deal with Northcott comes perhaps at a perfect time for another reason. During the last few months I decided I would create two hosta patterns to use for teaching. I've already booked my first hosta class for March, and will take bookings for hosta classes effective March 2014. The wonderful thing is that the patterns can be made with greens contained in the line of fabric with Northcott. One of my concerns was always that people would want me to provide the hand-dyed fabrics for a hosta class, and how would I keep up with all that dyeing? Now at least there will be fabrics out there readily available.

This week I've been in the studio and have built these two small hosta quilts from the two new patterns I've drafted. I've tried to keep the designs fairly simple for people who have never tried this method before. I'm not sure they will stay on these backgrounds, but I haven't fused them yet so I still have time to change my mind.  

This is pattern one. Interesting how the green looks so much darker on a spring-like background

and so much brighter and lighter on a dark and dramatic background.

Pattern 2

In addition, I'm planning a series of floral quilts, to replace the patterns I've been using in my "In Full Bloom" class. I intend to publish these as well and hope there will be fabric lines with Northcott down the line. Here is my new poppy, that I designed this summer and finished this fall.

Peekaboo and I have lots of work to do this winter. She's training to be my studio assistant :-))

I'll write soon about my other major winter project.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Clarification to Last Post: Cropping Photos/Composition

One of the topics I discussed in my last post on photography, about was cropping photos to get a better composition. Unfortunately the link I provided to my blog post of June 3, 2012, where I showed examples of this, did not work. I have corrected it so it works now, and you can access it at the link just mentioned. But I have also just come across this example.

Here is a photograph of end-of-season Hosta foliage, taken outside the retirement residence where my father lives. They are beautifully back-lit in the late-afternoon sun. I didn't spend a lot of time photographing that day, but just shot a few quick pictures.

It was only much later, when I was reviewing all my photos of end-of-season hostas, that I noticed the wonderful composition right in the middle of the photo. I've outlined it with black marker below.

I cropped away the rest of the photo to bring this composition closer. Because the photo was crisp and clear (taken at a high resolution and in good lighting, with a steady hand), I was able to retain a fair bit of clarity in the cropped section.  I felt this composition had a lot of movement. Your eye comes in at the upper left, moves on a diagonal to the lower right leaf, curls up the tip of that leaf to the leaf in the middle, and then over to the background green leaf on the right. Almost a bit of an S composition. I also loved the dramatic hi-lights and shadows. Contrast is a  BIG attraction to me, and I've spent the last seven years studying value. The hosta leaf has been the perfect subject to conduct this study on. I never tire of them. 

Here is the final piece, hanging at the show in Houston, with its First-Place Ribbon. Thanks to Susan Brubaker Knapp for the photograph. When I first made the green leaf on the upper right side, I felt the contrast was too strong, but I continued to build the piece and assessed it when all the leaves were in place. Now I don't find it too strong. The lesson? Exaggerate!!! You will also notice that the focus is entirely on the major leaves, with all the leaves and stalks in the background eliminated. I am started to appreciate the concept of simplicity. 

In my next blog post I'll share some of the recent opportunities that have come my way, what I'm working on, and why I've been relatively quiet the last few months.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Photography ... Capturing Inspiration

On October 22, a reader named Caroline left a comment regarding the blog posts I made about my recent teaching trip to the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia, Canada. Caroline's question was "how do you get these photos to look so awesome"? Thank you Caroline, I am honoured and thrilled that you like my photographs. It is my mission to capture beauty where I see it. I thought it might be a good idea to write a blog post about how I approach photography.

1. I take A LOT of pictures. For every lovely picture you see on my blog, I've probably taken at least 20 (and sometimes more) that I wouldn't even think of showing you. In other words, I only share the best. That means I take a lot of crappy photos too. I'm talking blurry, poorly lit, wrong colour and simply poor composition!  Here are a few examples:

The photo of this deer was taken early morning. There wasn`t enough light and so it is blurry. I tried flash but that left a glare coming from the deer`s eyes. In addition, the composition is bad. The deer`s head is almost dead centre in the photo. Had the photo been clear and well-lit, I could have cropped the photo and created a better composition. I would estimate that at least 90% of the photos you ever see on my blog, and that I use for inspiration for an art quilt, have had some sort of cropping done to them to improve the composition.

I loved the moss and lichen growing on this stump in the forest. The lighting wasn`t good enough and my hand wasn`t steady enough, so the photo is blurry. I should have adjusted the manual features of my camera and I should have brought a tripod.

The photo of a flour paste resist that Barb made in my Dyeing to Quilt class is not a great photo. It does not do justice to the subtle beauty of this piece of fabric. Could once again be a lighting issue.

So, my conclusion is that just because you take some crappy photos, doesn`t mean you should not keep taking photos. It is worth all the work for the one or two stunners you might get. Mastering any medium requires practice. 

2.  I am using a 14 Megapixel Canon Rebel T3i  DSLR camera. I have it set on the highest image quality. It captures a lot of fine detail so I can crop very close and not lose too much image quality. If you go back to my blog post of June 3, 2012, you will see what I mean about cropping compositions from within a photo, getting rid of extraneous stuff and honing in on a stunning design. 

3. Having said no. 2 above, I do have to tell you that several students in my Flowers and Foliage class this past summer took their inspiration photos using their Blackberry phones. I was amazed at the quality of these photos, and I would imagine many smart phones these days would give good images.

4. I use a polarizing filter on my camera on days that are bright and sunny.  It helps to cut back on the glare, avoiding that over-exposed look I used to get, and makes blue skies look really blue and wonderful.

5. I try different settings. While I haven`t gone fully manual, I have moved away from using Intelligent Auto most of the time, preferring to control some settings using the Program mode. In this mode I can select for cloudy day, sunny day, shade, different types of indoor lighting, etc. It is not foolproof by any means, but it gives options.

6. Last, but certainly not least, I think the one thing that has improved my photos over time is simply learning more about composition and design.

So that`s my view on photography. A professional I am not, but don`t sit back thinking you can`t take good photos. Just take more. Practice. Finding your own inspiration and capturing your own themes will make you a unique artist and make your work original.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

First Place

Tonight was the big awards ceremony at the International Quilt Festival, Houston. Facebook has been buzzing with news of who won what and I've received several emails congratulating me. I was surprised and delighted to learn that the award for "Curtain Call 2" is "First Place" in the "Art-Naturescapes" category. I had been told the quilt won an award but the nature of the award was not disclosed until tonight. Someone even sent me a photo of the award announcement (below).

Curtain Call 2

You will find Curtain Call 2 is also featured on page 32 of "International Quilt Festival Quilt Scene" magazine. This magazine covers the show, and will be available for sale at many news stands and on-line at the Interweave Store. You can purchase a digital copy from anywhere in the world, which you can download at your computer.

Red Stool is also hanging at the show. Because the piece has an irregular shape, I was required to sew it to a black background. I made a black quilt and hand-sewed Red Stool to it. I sure hope it is holding up and hanging OK.
Red Stool
Doing a little celebrating tonight :-)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Dyeing to Quilt

Last night I returned from a fabulous week of teaching my five-day Dyeing to Quilt class at the Haliburton School of the Arts. We drove the 4 hours to Haliburton last Saturday, and found there were still colourful leaves on the trees. It is a quite quiet and pretty drive from Ottawa to Haliburton. My husband joined me for the weekend, and he took this picture.

We lucked out! It stopped raining and the sun came out for a while on Sunday. We walked in Haliburton Forest.

We also paid visit to the Wolf Centre. Since my last visit two summers ago, the wolf pack has declined in number, due to an intruder cutting the fence, such that all the male wolves (including the alpha male) escaped. Two were later found shot. Four females remain and an alpha male was brought in from another location. The wolves are protected and studied within an enclosure that is about 15 acres.
This is the new alpha male, Fang.

Last week was study break at the college, and only two classes were running. It was a quiet week, and it turned out that I was the only teacher staying in the teacher cabins. I was basically in the woods by myself during the week. 

Except of course my deer friends, who greeted me outside the cottage, or on the road, each morning.

Here is a picture of Haliburton School of the Arts in the early morning light. It is a state-of-the-art facility, set in the forest.
A closer photo of the blue horse sculpture to the left of the entrance.


I had nine eager dyers in the class.  We began with parfait dyeing.

Some students chose to dye gradations.

We did a little Bomaki Shibori.

Barbara placed her dyes carefully to create this sunset-like piece of fabric.

We wrapped PVC poles and tried some Arashi Shibori, using an immersion dye bath. I absolutely adore this piece of fabric that Candice created.

Some close-ups of arashi shibori.

Jo-Ann tried some stitch resist. Her mokume shibori turned out looking like the wood grain it is supposed to look like.

This is Barb, holding up one of her pieces of fabric created using a flour paste resist.

More flour paste resisted fabric.
Wow, Libbys collection is yummy!

Everyone had a chance to try some soy wax batik.

 With the following results:

We tried dyeing some folded and manipulated fabric. I am dying to do some more of this myself soon! This piece, made by Ruth, is my favorite!

On the last day we had Show and Tell.  Everyone dyed approximately 15 meters of fabric in total. A great stash to see them through the winter.

Barb organized and labelled all her work so she has a record of how she made it. A great idea, I should try this more often!
I had a blast, and am feeling inspired to dye, but in the mean time, I am getting ready to teach session 2 of The Art Quilt tomorrow at The Running Stitch. I am going to be home a lot more in the next couple of months, and will be updating on some of the projects I am working on.