ELAINE QUEHL, Quilt Artist, Teacher, Dyer, Designer

Saturday, June 29, 2013

A Week in Class: Pencil, Pen and Ink Explorations

This past week I had the pleasure of taking a 5-day class. As an instructor at the Haliburton School of the Arts, I get an incredible discount on one course per year. I try to fit this class in each summer, so only a week and a half after returning from France I was on my way to Haliburton. My selection this year was "Pencil, Pen and Ink Explorations" with Marta Scythes, who has been a popular instructor at the College for about 30 years. I can see why: her passion for her subject is obvious. I know how tired I feel when I've taught for two full weeks, but Marta is teaching something like six weeks in the Summer Arts Program (four of them are consecutive weeks)!

An additional benefit of studying in Haliburton is getting away from the city and enjoying a week in cottage country. I know I've mentioned this before, but I literally feel my heart rate and breathing slowing when I round the corner and see this sight:
It is one of the first lakes you spot as you head into Haliburton coming west from Ottawa.

The Haliburton School of the Arts is part of Sir Sanford Fleming College, and is situated in a state-of-the-art facility in the woods.  I love the red front door, where the words, "Within these walls the walls within disappear", are inscribed.

Having taken two formal classical drawing classes at the Ottawa School of Art this past fall and winter, I was looking for something to further my drawing skills, but I was attracted to this class because from the description it sounded like the skills learned would assist with a daily drawing practice, something I've inspired to for a long time.

Pen and ink were the most used tools in this class. There were a lot of play exercises, as you can see from this page in my sketchbook. Of course value, along with instruction on composition and design, were a big part of the class. We did value scales and drawings to show atmospheric or aerial perspective.

When you are drawing with pencil it is easy to shade. With pen, you have to shade using lines. So part of the class was learning various ways to use lines and squiggles and scribbles and dots to shade with.  This is just a small sampling. I did note how much zendoodling draws upon the field of pen and ink. Zendoodling has taken some of this information and made it accessible to a wider audience.

One exercise was to do a small landscape showing the value changes resulting from atmospheric perspective. Then design a border that enhances it.

An additional assignment was to create a drawing and use one of the shading methods to create an image ranging from dark on one side to light on the other. The reverse was to be done with the background. I think this still needs a bit more work to soften the background transition to white in the lower right corner.

We had to do some blind contour drawings of the person next to us. My subject is "Andrew", one of my young classmates. Blind contour drawing involves looking only at your subject, but not at your paper or pencil. It is supposed to force you to actually see your subject. The resulting drawings look a little funny, but we all agreed that everyone's contained the essence of the person it depicted. Our instructor says these are a great way to begin a drawing, helping you actually see and feel the essence of your subject.

After a few blind contours, we had to draw the person by memory, without looking at our drawing. The point of this was to show us how part of our memory of an image can be muscle memory.

We had a live model for half a day and tried some gesture drawings. I LOVE doing these, as you are simply using charcoal or conte to capture the "gesture" or movement of the figure. These are very fast studies and loosely done. It seems to be one of those rare times I can loosen up with my drawings.

We were given an assignment to create a pen and ink design of our initials, and to include a creature in the design. We were to base this on celtic lettering. I don't really care that much for celtic lettering so I deliberately tried to make mine look non-celtic, although spirals are a very celtic motif. I quickly saw that my initials lend themselves well to spirals, and the curl in the Q could become a cat tail.

Our final assignment was to create a creature, either realistic or fantasy, using pen and ink, keeping Fibonacci design proportions in mind, and to design a border to enhance it. I am not big on borders so I tried to keep mine simple. 

I used a photograph my husband took in Italy last year as my reference material:

I'm really excited about incorporating these drawing methods into a more regular drawing routine. I hope that it is something that I can take with me on the road. I'm excited about improving my drawing skills for two reasons. It is a pleasant and enjoyable diversion from the quilts I live and breathe as my career, but I truly believe that drawing (and the seeing skills required to draw) will help improve my art quilts.

The other thing I'm excited about is learning more about Fibonacci numbers, or the golden mean. You have probably heard about the 'rule of thirds', which is a simplified version of the golden mean. I knew that pine cones, sunflowers and seashells all displayed the fibonacci numbers, but I had no idea how much of nature is permeated by fibonacci numbers/proportions. Tree growth, leaf growth, flower petals, and even human DNA reveal fibonacci proportions. I will blog about that in future when I've had more time to read up and research the topic in more depth. Nature sure is amazing!

I feel as though Haliburton is my home away from home.  I'll be back to teach The Art Quilt, July 22-26; Flowers and Foliage, July 29-August 2, and Dyeing to Quilt, October 21-25. That's an entire month of my year spent in Haliburton. 

Friday, June 21, 2013

A Couple of Days on a Basque Farm

During our last two days in France we had the pleasure of staying at Ttakoinenborda, a real Basque farm. Our entire 2-1/2 weeks in France were spent in the Basque regions of France and Spain. Just who are the Basque people? No one really knows where the Basque people originated, but they are one of the oldest ethnic groups in Europe and lived fairly isolated in the Pyrenees until the French Revolution. Here in Canada there are many people of Basque origin living in Quebec and New Brunswick.

Alain and Marie run a beautiful bed and breakfast on a small farm, raising their own chickens and sheep. The farm house dates to 1680 and is filled with their grandfather's paintings.

We happened to have nice weather on our last two days, and so we ate breakfast along with the other guests at a large table under a canopy in the backyard. 

What an idyllic place to stay! Look how green it is ... and so quiet! The most noise you hear is the beautiful birdsong that you wake to each morning. The air is sweet with the smell of spring.

Sheep come to befriend you.

A funny looking rooster with a lot of attitude struts his stuff. He sure sounds better than the rooster alarm on my cell phone!

He's in charge of a large harem of hens.

A small river runs along the property, with a lovely little bridge.

Peanuts, their 15 year old cat, comes to greet you.

I hope this blog post makes you feel as relaxed as I did while staying at this bucolic location far off the beaten path.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Spain, Part 2 (Getaria and Urdax)

This second post about Spain takes us to Getaria and Urdax. Getaria is a coastal town not too far from San Sebastian. It is right along the Atlantic, and the winding road takes you along the coast. The water was a lovely shade of turquoise and teal on this day.

The old part of town has very narrow streets.

Of course the cathedral dominates.
There is a different feel here. The windows are different from France or Italy. Interesting how they use spindles at the bottom of the windows.

Who is this woman? She is Nike, the Greek goddess of victory.
She sits atop one of the monuments to Elkano, a 15th century Basque explorer who accompanied Magellan when he tried to circumnavigate the globe.

Urdax is an old Basque village with stunningly beautiful old architecture. No words needed. Enjoy.

Spain, Part 1 (The Aldudes Loop)

This blog post takes you across the border between France and Spain via the "Aldudes" loop and through a town called Aldudes. The drive snakes and twists through the Pyrenees mountains, and along some of the access points to "El Camino de Santiaga" trail, an 800 km religious pilgrimage (or extreme sport pilgrimage). Here is the first access point we came across, with a landmark erected.

The first village we stopped at was Roncesvalles. The Collegiate church dominates here, and weary pilgrims doing the Camino trail congregate at this village to eat and drink and often stay overnight. There are modest accommodations available at access points all along the trail.

Our next stop was a village named Agoretta. I hope I have that name correct. Things get confusing here because signs are often posted in Spanish and Basque, and even French. We met this young boy and his guard dogs ;-).

Some really gorgeous old buildings here.

Of course the church, with roses climbing along the wall.

And then suddenly we noticed some beautiful ruins in the woods. Old stone walls covered in moss, a river running alongside, and great big trees covered in moss. We stopped and took lots of photos.

It is only upon further research today that I find this to be the ruins of a munitions factory from mid 1700. It was named Real Fabrica de Municiones de Eugi.  You can read more here and here. Such beauty resulting from a place that prepared the world for destruction.

Sometimes the best travel adventures are the ones you come across by happenstance.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Some Favorite Sites in France

This week I intend to finish blogging about our recent trip to France. This post contains some of my favorite pictures from a variety of locations, mostly small villages in the Atlantic-Pyrenees region of France.

I think the photo below is a classic for Europe! It is common practice to bring dogs everywhere, including to restaurants. North Americans would freak, but I think this really adds to the ambiance, allows dog-owners more freedom, and helps socialize dogs better. All of these dogs were a lot more well behaved than many children I've seen in restaurants. This photo was taken at a restaurant in St. Jean de Luz, during the Quilt en Sud Textile Art and Patchwork Biennial. This is a small and beautiful coastal coastal city where many Europeans come to surf and spend time on the beach.

The village of Irouleguy has some beautiful weathered medieval buildings. 

It also happens to be a wine-growing region.

The village of Sare has, to me, one of the most beautiful churches I saw on my trip.

All around the region you are surrounded by the Pyrenees Mountains. One day we took a train to the top, and here is the beautiful vista we experienced.

What an enchanting town Sauveterre de Bearn is, with a castle, a cathedral and "the bridge of legends". The legend is that a young woman had a stillborn child.  She was accused of killing her child, and was put through a pretty grueling test to prove her innocence. Her hands and feet were bound and she was thrown in the river. Legend has it that she survived the ordeal, thus proving her innocence! 

There was actually a quilt inspired by the Bridge of Legends at Quilt en Sud. It is created by artist Marcelle Orban. 

The Castle.