Friday, September 07, 2007

working in a series and other digressions

Well, this is one way to dress up a boring picture. I couldn't bear to post without an image and my batteries died when I was at the studio today -- just as I was about to photograph a piece in progress - otherwise known as "the monster on the wall." But no matter, I have taken that piece apart, off the wall, and put it away. It will emerge again when it is ready, and will look very different from the 17 past permutations - none of which really worked well enough for me to go finish them. I am home, the batteries are in the charger, the new batteries are in the camera - and now there is nothing but empty wall. One happy note: I have finished a piece I am very happy with it. It is on the floor, waiting for me to find enough fabric for a backing and sew them together so they are large enough to cover the back of this piece. Oh, dear. Question 1: does it matter to YOU if you put a pink and purple backing on a green and blue piece? Or do you feel the back has to somehow harmonize with or connect to the front, even though nobody sees it? This finished piece seems to be the second in a series; same motif in each piece, although each piece is differently sized and colored. The piece I took apart was a conscious attempt to make another in this series with a lot of the fabric I have printed. But conscious attempts don't work for me. The first piece went together easily - 1-2-3 (or so I am remembering it) and has a strong, direct rhythm. The piece I took apart today just never worked; I think I was trying to hard to achieve something specific -- like trying to make somebody like you when nothing on earth you could do would change the other person's feelings. Question 2: Working in a series. Many of you do, and do it well. LizzieB did it with her discharge pieces and circles; Virginia Spiegel's most recent group is clearly a series based on her outdoor adventure; Sonji's bundles are a major series - and on and on. For those of you who work in a series -- is this your intent? Do you ever feel you are forcing the issue or does everything flow naturally? For those who don't work in a series -- why not? I look forward to your comments.

21 comments:

Deb said...

As to backs. I been reduced to picking through my hand dyes and piecing together backs large enough for the things I'm doing now. Because I pillowcase my pieces, theres always a sliver of a glimmer of the back somewhere around the edge so there does have to be some kind of relationship colorwise with what's going on up front. In the past I have bought chucks of upholstery remnents from JoAnns on the cheap just to use on backs because they were big enough but with size they brought weight so it's back to the scrap heap.

BUT !Just yesterday I found a mill outlet that sells 100% cotton that is 120 inches wide for 2.99 a yard. I scrubbed it last night and will do some dyeing today to see just what it is that I have found. Worst case scenario - Baby's Got Some Backs!

About working in a series. I think I just get taken over by a notion, be it design or color or texture, that has so many different ways of being expressed that just one or two won't get it out of your system UNLESS you are the type of artist who commits things to paper. I find that mocking up fiber work on paper kills a series faster than Raid on roaches. I am coming up on the end of my "Mob Series" pieces, I think there are eight or ten that will get completed and few that will fall to the UFO bin. A new notion has taken root and is taking me in a new direction away from whole cloth dyepainted work.

juanita said...

I have worked in a series that was a conscisous effort on my part and find I do not like working this way. There is to much though on my part about how to be different yet retain some cohesiveness. I tend to work on themes, ie flowers, my ones that resemble petunias and my ones that are between a tulip and a poppy, and my round flowers. but I never make any one of those in any of the (series_ one behind the other because I find I am also to influenced by what I just finished.
As to backs of quilts, I tend to put on them what every size piece of fabric I have that fits. (I also buy fabric specifically to use for backs. Patterned fabric that I like but woruld never use in my work.) Long years ago when I was entering more traditional quilts shows and actually won a ribbon for the quilt, but got the comment from one of the judges that the backing fabric did not go with the front of the quilts. In which case I shrugged. No one since then asked why I put a piece of fabric with clock faces on a quilt that featured a large sun face and mariner's compasses. Not even the buyer.

Gerrie said...

I find it very boring to work in a series. I just want to move on to something else. I have sort of tried. I took a class from Mrs Mel on working in a series and I actually made 4 pieces that were related.

I buy interesting fabric on sale, usually in big prints that I use for backs. I try to color coordinate.

TALL GIRL said...

I'm with Gerrie about working in a series. It bores me to tears! If I wanted all my work to look the same, I would go back to my day job.

As for backs, I use my hand-dyed, printed rejects or sale fabrics. I generally try to color or theme coordinate. I like the back of the work to be as interesting as the front. And fortunately for me, a recent piece hung from the ceiling, in a gallery in Finland in the center of the room. Thank goodness it was finished well and the back was interesting!

Shelina said...

My backs do go with the fronts. They don't have to match exactly, but they do have to coordinate, so that if someone does flip it over, they are pleasantly and not unpleasantly surprised.

I'm not an art quilter, but I would imagine that the point of making a series is for convenience - since you already have the fabric out and the ideas in your head, you might as well run with that - and you can keep making continuous improvements to see where that leads you. You can make a big piece, and then cut it up and individualize each little piece. Other than that I hate making more than one of anything - I'd rather make something fresh and new.

EmPrint said...

Speaking for my own work, it bothers me if the back doesn't harmonize with the front. I've tried it both ways and when the back is just any old scrap, I get a jolt when I turn the piece from front to back. Call me compulsive.

I usually work in a series when I can't get everything said in one piece. Right now I'm working on a series of domestic icons or kitchen icons. Not sure yet which direction it will take. After half a century of housekeeping I have a lot to say!! LOL

Karen said...

I think I am almost obsessive about getting a back that goes with the front somehow. Silly isn't it considering that it does not show!
As for working in a series, Yes. I end up doing similar work until I can rid it from my being.Some of it works and some of it just ends up in a reject pile I show no one.

Linda Branch Dunn said...

To my mind, the back is part of the whole. There's two sides to everything and that includes a work of art. The hidden part informs the seen. How a you finish and present something takes work, choice, so you might as well make those choices count, yes? And so, put the wild back on it, if you want, but to a purpose: a joke, or contrast, not just an accident.

lizzieb said...

I think working in a series is about exploring an idea and following it where it will go. It can be an idea, a technique, a color combination or whatever but you just keep following it. sometimes I had to work hard on my life circles pieces...the feeling of "oh what am I going to do now?" and "are they all looking alike?" But by following through, I learned a lot about composition and balance. Contrary to some comments, I don't feel that the work in a series needs to look a lot alike. Following an idea all the way is quite a challenge for an artist...it is so easy for us to jump around from one thing to another. Look at the wonderful art that captures a tree throughout the year...a chance to really look at the changes that is goes through.

laura said...

As with Emprint and LizzieB, my series tend to develop on their own: one idea leads to another. A theme might be carried forward and sometimes the compositional devices do too. I don't think conxciously about this, it just happens. When I see work by other artists where one piece greatly resembles lots of others, my first thought is "why are they repeating themselves?". Then I look again to see if there's a subtle shift I missed. Sometimes there are changes one piece to the next and sometimes I think the artist found something that worked and is sticking with it.

Russ Little said...

I have two thoughts about quilt backs. First, if I'm planning to do heavy machine quilting I will often opt for a solid colored back in a color that relates to the front. I then select a bobbin thread that either coordinates or strongly contrasts. In this way the back becomes something that's all about texture, fine lines, and shadow. Another approach I enjoy is to piece the back out of whatever scraps happen to be at hand, then overdye the whole thing in some color that relates to the front. Taking this approach to the extreme I've ended up with "backs" that I liked so much they turned into "fronts", which can be irritating if what you're trying to do is finish one piece, not start a second one!

Regarding working in a series. This is a timely question for me because I feel like I'm only now getting to the point where I want to intentionally produce a series. I feel strongly that a series should be about giving myself permission to explore a theme or a form to which I'm are strongly attracted without feeling that every piece I produce has to be complete unlike everything that preceded it. However, forcing it and making myself miserable just isn't worth it. For example, I am fairly certain that I will never produce a series of Warhol soup cans, fabulous though they might be.

Susie Monday said...

Great post questions and thoughtful responses, Rayna. Here's my take on the queries:

Fabric for the back. I try to make it fit somehow, thematically or related or contrasting color. Now that I am doing more of my quilting all the way through all three layers (thanks to the new-to-me Bernina that solved many of my tension issues) I like the use of a solid with a slightly contrasting bobbin thread, like Russ said, I think it makes the back interesting. I also use some vintage fabrics that I think will never end up on the front, but that I still like -- floral bark cloth and the like

SERIES
Yes, I work in series and my solution to any real or perceived boredom is to work on several series all at the same time, or rather out of sequence. I have series that I have worked on for 10 years now -- saints and angels. Some for 6 or so, the Guadalupe altars. My kitchen altars are a subset, Then I have the newer (maybe a year old) El Cielo nature altars, and newest, Desert series, actually an art cloth installation series. So I come and go between all of these, but its important to me to develop a body of work that has a visual and content relationship within. I just dont feel like I am getting anywhere unless I revisit the same images, themes, forms and content, with each pass being a spiral into something a bit deeper, a bit riskier, or maybe sometimes, for comfort, even somewhat meditatively repetitive.

Michele said...

I end up working in series even if I don't want to. Right now I am experimenting further with knitting on my art quilts. I have lots of ideas, but never enough time to get everything done. I don't find series boring, since they are all my own ideas. I find it much harder to do a challenge or a commission, since those are often someone else's ideas.

Rayna said...

I am blown away by the variety of responses on both questions - but especially about working in a series.
I find that for me, a series evolves with an underlying theme - but not always sequentially. Most often it emerges subconsciously after making some pieces that have nothing to do with the subject I am processing.
Trying too hard and being self-conscious just doesn't work for me. I envy those of you who can work in a series, finish what you want to say, and go on to something completely different. But whatever works, right?

Sandy said...

#1- I always feel like the back should somehow 'relate', not necessarily match, the front. But I do that with my underwear too.

#2- My stuff turns out to be in a series but I never consciously work in a series. When a piece is done I am always surprised to see all the connections to my previous work. Ha! And I thought I was inventing the wheel each time!

In classes I always told students to get snapshots of all their work and then find the connections- how many series does each piece fit into? What is the next piece in each to explore? How do some pieces 'bridge' different series? Do any directions still need to be explored or is it time to close one road off?

Clairan said...

I always choose a back that relates in some way to the piece. Usually it harmonizes, but sometimes the connection is harder to see immediately -- like the opposite of the emotional energy of the piece, or a private joke. After all I'm the one who sees the back . . . .

Rayna said...

Sandy, you are so right about looking at all of your work to see the common elements. It is amazing what emerges.

Sarah Ann Smith said...

Backs and series:

I am SO relieved that I'm not the only one that finds deliberate working in a series boring beyond belief! I may have certain themes that I revisit, like my quilts that stem from mythology, or from nature (and some from both), but egads the tedium.

Also, it feels like intellectual and creative cheating to work in a series in some ways. You do the mental work for one, then do a "knock-off" for another one or two... to me, they aren't nearly as original. I've done my koi quilt, and made two extra koi for smaller pieces, to sell, since the large one will probably never sell at the price I've set (which is not unreasonable for the amount of work in it). But the two smaller ones are just derivatives in a way (well, they will be when they get made).

I just get tired of doing the same old, same old, and I get tired of SEEING same old, same old from artists who work in series. With all respect for them and what works for them, for me as a viewer the works tend to be repetitions, not something new to say. Clearly there are exceptions where there is a lot of exploring going on, but they seem to be the exception, not the rule / regular.

As for backs, yes, I like the backs to coordinate or relate in some way. When I was improving my quilting skills, I preferred print backs, but now that I'm pretty decent at machine quilting, I love the line drawings.

Some day I am going to paint a quilt, quilt it, and then show the "back" as the "front." I now prefer semi-solid hand-dyeds or batiks, and use a bobbin thread that is in the same hue as the needle thread. If I'm doing a treetrunk, I may use 3-5 browns to quilt the trunk, but one or two browns in the bobbin. Then I end up with a totally cool line-drawing on the back. One of the nicest compliments I ever had on a quilt was "which side is the front?" because she liked both sides so much. Cool!

Terry said...

Series happen. Sometimes I think I will do a series of some kind and run out of interest after the 2nd one, sometimes it isn't until I have finished the 4th in a series that I recognize the series as a series.

Backs. I still have a huge stash of fabrics from my days of owning a quilt shop and selling fabrics on the internet and many of those end up as backs. There is usually some attempt at coordination with the front. Some of my favorite backs have been plaids (remember Roberta Horton's wonderful plaids--I have a ton of them) which somehow seem to feel like the structural skeleton of a piece when you turn it over and see all those tidy lines and squares.

Alison Schwabe said...

Am I the ONLY ONE who uses plain cream muslin(USA)/calico(rest of world) on the backs of my WALL pieces? Not coming from a traditional quiltmaking background may have something to do with this. Coming from an embroidery background, however, has influenced me to make sure the finish is A1 - no birds nests, ends all tucked away inside. Fifty years back, when I was a Brownie (the pre-Girl Scouts/Guides equivalent) we had to polish our gold-metal badges, including the back, which we were told was just as important as the front, and could be inspected by Brown Owl any time ...

Each of my series develops as an exploration of some theme or idea, one leading on to the next. Far from being a matter of "convenience" (as suggested by Shelina) a series is a record of of development, of ideas or techniques or both. Nancy Crow and other prominent teachers have urged serious artists with aspriations in the medium of quilted textiles to develop our themes towards a coherent body of work. If you have something to say and the techniques in which to embody that idea, a series will develop. A study of Nancy's own work shows that along with the technical changes/developments, the developpment of her ideas has been carefully documented to this point, and will continue. Her articulate and revealing books and lectures typify a perfectly natural development for any artist in any medium to follow. I don't think it is something that most decide as in 'Today I am going to start a new series' kind of decision making.

Personally I find it very helpful to work in series - for one thing it means I have freedom to single out something and follow that until I feel it has been fully explored. My first series, Ancient Expressions, begun in 1989, explored some connections between Man and his environment and the marks left in/on that environment as a result... and although the last one, #14, was made back in 1993, I have never regarded that series as 'finished'. My recent work has concentrated on the marks aspect in terms of tracks and the passage of time (Timetracks 1 is in QN07) Having just this week returned from a trip to Egypt I am now absolutely certain that Ancient Expressions is not yet finished!

Exuberant Color said...

I'm not sure you need another comment, wow what a lot of things to think about.
My backs have to have some connection colorwise to the front.
I never start out to make a series, the "what if" factor comes into my head sometimes and then I need to make more to see if the next will be better or closer to a vision I have.