Friday, December 11, 2009

Entering Juried Shows

Getting your name out to the world is important so one way to do that is to enter shows where your art is juried -- not judged. This is an important distinction. Especially in the world of quilts.

As in every industry, there is a tier of juried shows from small, local ones to the big national shows where getting in is tantamount of making your career. The mother of all shows is Quilt National, a biennial event featuring the best of the best, closely followed by Quilt Visions, another biennial event in the alternate years. There many are other prestigious art quilt shows including Quilts=Art=Quilts, Fiber Arts International, Art Quilts Lowell, Art Quilt Elements as well as the many national and international exhibits sponsored by SAQA.

Of course, I knew nothing about any of these shows when I started entering them in 2006. Perhaps that is why I entered so many in the beginning, thinking "its all about the process -- not the result"! I just wanted to see if I could get in. That year, I entered 4 local juried shows and 1 non-juried but judged show. I got into all of the shows and won a 2nd place ribbon. I thought to myself -- good start! This is easy!

So now I have to tell you the story of the first show I was juried into. It was sponsored by the local art quilt group I joined -- FRCQ and was held in Steamboat Springs, CO -- about a 3-1/2 hour drive from Denver. I was so thrilled I told my husband we had to drive to Steamboat and rent a condo for two days so I could attend the opening and see my piece hung with all the other pieces in the show.

When I arrived at the gallery and saw all the other pieces, I hoped the floor would just swallow me up and I could disappear. My piece was the absolute worst piece in the show. Honestly. To this day, I have no idea how it was chosen -- perhaps because the juror liked orange and it was the only orange quilt submitted.

Here's a picture of this piece. It's called Slings and Arrows. I thought this was fabulous when I made it. I simply choose a colorful background and fused on top, all the discarded pieces from another one quilt I was working on (hate to waste anything!) and voila! A piece of art!

What I didn't think about was composition (where IS that focal point, anyway?), craftsmanship (yes, NOTHING is set in a straight line), or color theory (what WAS I thinking???)

The worst part was yet to come.

At the opening reception, the artists had to stand in front of their pieces and speak about them. My headache started to get worse. I tried to hide behind other people, hoping they would never get to my piece. And then I started listening to what the artists were saying. I started to hear "art speak" and knew I had nothing interesting to say about my work. I also started to think I had a lot to learn.

I don't remember much from that awful night except when it came to my turn, I mumbled something about working in orange since no one like that color but Bronco fans, getting lots of strange (pitiful) looks and leaving the reception feeling like I was the worst quilt artist in the world.

And it cost us $500 for the weekend! Think of all the fabric and thread I could have purchased for my stash!

But it was a lesson well learned. First of all, I learned quite early that getting into a show does NOT mean you are a good artist. I also learned that if I took this seriously, I would have to begin learning my trade and spending a lot of time in the art world. I learned I needed to acquire the vocabulary of an artist and understand line, marks, meaning, color, and composition. I also learned that I needed to improve my techniques!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The Next 2-3 Years

I can see from my last post (was it really August???) that I've bogged down on my story and so I will cover the next several years quickly so I can get to what i really want to write about -- being a studio artist.

People are always asking me how I got from not owning a sewing machine, to being featured in books and magazines within 3 years. Here's my secret. I approached learning how to be an art quilter by following the same process I used learning to be a business professional -- understand the industry and learn from the experts. I researched who were the leading art quilters in the country, where did they hang out (SAQA), where did they teach (too many to mention but Art Quilt Tahoe, Alegre Retreat, Asilomar, Quilting by the Lake, Quilt Surface Design, Hudson River Valley Art Workshops come to mind), and what techniques were they teaching. I was fortunate to attend several workshops and learned from Susan Shie, Cas Holmes, Mickey Lawler, Patty Hawkins, Leslie Gabrielse, Susan Brooks, and Heather Thomas.

I also did some local research to find out what was happening in Colorado and found the Front Range Contemporary Quilter's group. This group of 250 members included some of the leading art quilters in the country. Lucky me! I volunteered to run some meetings and soon, was in charge of workshops. When you volunteer, you get a chance to know everyone and make your own mark on organizations. This has been, by far, the best investment of my time and energy.

Subscribing to a ton of magazines gave me a feel for what people were talking about, what techniques were being tried, and what suppliers were selling. Here are some of my favorites:

Joining a "critique group" seemed required so I joined one that ended up too far away for me to actively participate. I was invited to join another group in Denver and that suited my needs perfectly. The group is comprised of art quilters who have been involved in their art for more than 15-20 years so they bring a sense of history to our meetings. Their comments, while generally kind, are also to the point -- something to be cherished in the world of being "politically correct". Honesty is just what you need to get better at your art.

And, the last part of this beginning journey is to enter national competitions. Putting your work out for everyone to see (and judge!) is not easy and this will be the topic of my next posting.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Taking Classes

Soon, I realized there is a parallel universe in quilting -- the universe of Art Quilts. These people didn't seem to care about matching points, following patterns, or making stuff from kits. they were "anything goes", "let's try it" and if the results were less than perfect, who cared!

My kind of people!

So, I began taking classes from the ones who taught and starting learning lots about creative stitchery, painting and other new techniques.

My first teacher was Carol Watkins -- a fiber artist living in Boulder, CO. She taught a 6 week class at the Art Student's League of Denver and I learned about free-hand cutting and piecing, stamping, free motion stitching, and numerous other techniques that fiber artists use to create their art quilts. It opened my eyes up to the possible.

I started making lots of art quilts. Here the first art quilt I made using my own design and the technique of free hand cutting. It's called Moonlit Rockies. I also stitched freehand, following the curves of the pieces.

After it was done, I decided to enter it into a local "shop hop" contest since I had never done this before and low and behold, it won first place! I was shocked! But the best part was, I got a check for $200 as my prize.

This changed everything for me. First of all, it made me think I might have some talent in this new "hobby" of mine. Secondly, I found that the clerks in the local quilt stores started to call me by name (was I getting famous?) and thirdly, I realized there could be a way to pay for all my art supplies -- entering and winning contests.

But it was a much longer time before I actually thought of myself as a real "artist". In 2006, I was still fooling around and thinking my fiber art was just a hobby.

Here's a close up of the machine stitching in this piece.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Beginning

I'm going to start my story by explaining how I got started in this business of being a fiber artist. In 2005 I felt the need to contribute to charity by making things with my hands. I found a group of quilt makers who were making children's quilts for firehouses to keep on their trucks to give to a child in distress. that sounded perfect. I hadn't sewn anything since the early mid 70's when I tried to make a King size quilt. (That story is on my website so I won't repeat it here!).

I appeared at the rec center where the women got together and discovered a whole new world -- rotary cutters & mats, computerized sewing machines, and fabulous fabric! I was hooked immediately and spent many hours making small, "I-Spy" quilts for the charity. Here is one of my earliest quilts.

I made this quilt for the birth of my niece, Sophie. I thought she would like the colors and the images on the quilt. I don't think her Mom liked it though since she had received a store-bought quilt from one of her friends and that was the one Sophie had on her bed.

I've heard stories of this happening before -- most people who don't make things have little appreciation for how much work goes into making something unique. I've heard of quilts being used for dog blankets, truck bed covers, and unprotected table cloths.

From these early pieces, I learned many important basics -- how to
cut with a rotary ruler
measure to 1/8th of an inch
sew sashing so that the corners were perfect
sandwiching the 3 layers of the quilt
machine stitching in the ditch
and finally sewing a binding.

These quilts were simple but I was amazed at how much you had to learn to make even a simple project look great.

After making about 50 of these quilts, I started to think -- is there more???

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why I am Starting This Blog

I have spent my professional life in publishing and always thought "how silly that people are blogging away about their uninteresting lives on the Internet and people are actually reading this drivel." And, who has time to write these things anyway? I'm never going to do this.

As a published author of several books on quilt-making and the business of publishing, I know how hard it is to write -- put thoughts on paper (wow! That's a phrase out of my past!) and tell a story or share a technique or experience. In the old days, (was that 8 or 10 years ago?) people got their information from carefully vetted sources. Now, it's a free-for-all. Who knows who is to trust?

So, with my anti-blogging bias, why have I finally decided to "go with the flow" and blog?

Because I think I have something to say.

This blog will not talk about my pets (I don't have any) or children (I don't have any of these either). It won't talk about my husband (I do have on of those) or my daily activities (that's what Twitter is for). My blog will attempt to share with you my life as an artist and what I am trying to accomplish in the next 10 years. I will share my work in progress and tell you what I am learning, who I am following, and how I am slowly becoming a professional artist.

You may or may not agree with what I say but I will read and respond to your comments should you choose to share your thoughts. I don't know how many "blogs" I will post in a month but I promise to share something at least one a week. There needs to be a set time for this activity in my life because what I really want to do is be at my studio, making art.