Tag Archives: Elizabeth Barton

Why Do You Take Classes?

In the week since I wrote about the Map Play class I took with Valerie Goodwin, I read two posts about art classes. The first by Jane Davies responds to a student’s comments that she wanted to play and have fun at a workshop and then had a meltdown when she was asked to dig deeper.

From Jane Davies’ blog.

Making art IS about play and it IS fun, but that is not all it is, usually. If you are always playing and having fun, with no angst or frustration, and you are also generating images that really speak to you, that you find compelling, then that is just GREAT! Congratulations. Most of us also have moments of frustration and occasional meltdowns or at least self-doubt. Learning how to navigate these skillfully is part of the process.

The second, Chris’ Quilting Universe post, Am I Addicted to Taking Classes?, reviews all the quilt related classes Chris has taken and the work that resulted from them. She has taken a wide variety of classes, ranging from year long master classes to online multi-lessons to one shot workshops.

Do you take classes to learn a process or leave with a product? Do you want to learn to make art like that made by the instructor? Do you want a two hour class at a quilt show or a five day immersive course? Do you want a deep dive into one teacher’s methods or a potpourri of many teachers’ approaches?

A further permutation is in-person versus online classes, and a distinction between live online and prerecorded. An additional nuance with any online class is the amount of interaction possible with the teacher and other students. I have taken classes where I had access to videos with no interaction, to videos with a class blog, and to videos with some sort of proprietary discussion forum. Some classes use Facebook.

These are very different animals, and I believe one’s expectations should reflect the differences. For example, I took a three hour Zoom class on sewing paper collage with David Owen Hastings. I learned a well explained technique that required a minimal amount of supplies. All interactions occurred during the class, with no subsequent followup.

I love using the curved bits from monoprints.

I also took Elizabeth Barton’s year long master class that required a deep commitment to developing designs and executing them each month. While the students could and did comment on each others work, the main focus of the class was improving our designs through Elizabeth’s critiques, which were copious. Each month we developed sketches in response to a theme, chose one to turn into a quilt, and then made the quilt.

“Mean Streets” was made in Elizabeth Barton’s master class

Right now I’m taking a year long set of mixed media classes called Wanderlust. The classes are loosely organized around basic art supplies like gesso, acrylic paint, modeling paste, etc., but each instructor pretty much presents her own thing. (I have yet to see a male instructor.) While I have learned a lot about materials and techniques, I find some of the instruction to be overly focused on “playing and having fun” and what I call greeting card art. To me the missing element is learning to evaluate your work. With so many instructors and students, comments on anyone’s work is pretty much limited to “great,” “nice,” “how sweet,” etc. It’s hit or miss whether the instructor comments on student work.

“An Octopus’ Garden” made for a modeling paste segment of Wanderlust

Such an approach is great if your goal is to play. I have to say I had hoped for less overlap of techniques and more building on previous techniques. Again, that’s probably not doable with so many instructors. I have learned there are as many ways to glue paper as there are teachers.

This week I’ve reflected on all the quilt/art related classes I’ve taken thanks to Jane and Chris, and decided that the ones I benefited most from were process related, with a critique/feedback component. The absolute worst class I ever took was on paper and cloth marbling. All the students shared one container for marbling and we were to take turns. Let’s just say there were some interpersonal issues. I figured the two fat quarters I marbled cost $25 each, and they were ugly. I won’t try to name the best class I ever took as there are too many candidates.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with art classes, both in person and online. Do you have any recommendations for outstanding classes/teachers?


Filed under Art quilts, collage, Commentary, mixed media, Techniques

I Really Have Been Sewing

Recent posts to the contrary, I have been giving my sewing machine a workout between a fantasy, glittery collage piece and assignments for my “Mod Meets Improv” online class.

The fantasy piece evolved from the latest bunch of sparkly scraps from the theatrical costume shop, plus some donated fabric (the birds) that was going begging.

The Costume Shop Jungle

Much of the fabric was leftover from dresses for “Dreamgirls.”

The green fabric was tricky to work with as it shreds easily. I hope to give my jungle a pillowcase finish and then outline quilt some of the birds and flowers.

My online class, taught by Elizabeth Barton, has pushed me to develop several quilt designs on paper. The class title may say improv, but if it’s a class with Elizabeth you know you’ll be designing on paper first. Some of the homework has been a bit basic for me, but the feedback has been helpful, as always.

The top row are practice pieces: floating 4 patches, curved piece grid, and half square triangles in a complementary color scheme. In the bottom row are some of my better colored pencil designs. The one on the left follows the lines of the traditional rail fence. The middle design is based on outside stairs I saw from our Airbnb in Quebec.

I’m now working on an original mod/improv design that has lots of negative space, in white of course. I’d forgotten how you need to press towards the darker fabric when you work with white fabric. Otherwise, the darker color shows and when the darker color is red, it really shows.

The class has been fine, but I’m sorry more students aren’t active in the online forum. It’s a great chance to get feedback and see what other students are up to. You can watch a video of work done in previous classes.

I’m linking to Nina Marie’s Off The Wall Friday.


Filed under Art quilts, In Process, Modern Quilting

September At The Lost and Found

…edges, that is. Our master class theme of the month is lost and found edges.

My submission: This month’s sketches were done in pencil and crayon. I was drawn to moody landscapes from photos.

Sketches 1 and 3 feature snowy scenes where edges come and go as tree trunks, buildings, and roads cross snowy fields bisected by fencing. Sketch 1 shows overlapping fencing while sketch 3 shows the scene through the fence. The color schemes could be in grays and blues, or changed to something quite unrelated to snow.

Sketches 2a and 2b are meant to show a mysterious, somewhat menacing nighttime urban scene where street lights cast strange shadows; and a light in back of fencing (?) casts faint stripes of light on the buildings, sidewalk and street. The values would be darker than I put in my sketch, but I found it hard to color over gray. I was thinking about de Chirico’s architectural paintings as I sketched.

Elizabeth’s response:


Sketch 1

Snow scenes are perfect for lost edges, as the snow drifts over objects and light values spread from one thing to another…also at the beginning and end of the day, the trees and their shadows become one object….the bottom of the fence  dissolves into shadow
In the sketch above, the one thing I’m not sure of is the building on the left…it adds a lot of weight to the left and I think distracts from the beauty of the man made geometry of the fence versus the natural relaxed geometry of overlapping branches.  Just put  your hand over the bld and I think you’ll see that you don’t need it.
As with anything using perspective, be sure you have the angles right….


Sketch 3

I do love the color scheme…BUT we shouldn’t be thinking color till the shapes and values are worked out.  Remember that rounded things like tree trunks with a side light gradate gently from almost white to very dark.  I like the idea of the landscape beyond, but keep it very soft…your highest contrast of values is actually in the background at present so I’d soften that dark line and also slightly darken the road/river…so that you can keep the real dark and light in the trees.  Also at present you do have some very dark values…but they’re towards the edges of  the piece – my eye keeps going down to the LH corner for example…
I like the line quality – the little squiggly branches…remember to lose them too!


I like de Chirico’s mysterious empty spaces too…and lighted windows onto an empty dark street definitely is evocative…but I wouldn’t have the door quite so central.  At present it’s a black hole right in the middle….put it a little to one side, and further up or down…and then connect it with shadows to the base of the building.  With a night time scene you have lots of opportunity for deep shadows hiding edges…go for it!!

Conclusion – I’m going with the urban street scene, but it’s developing s-l-o-w-l-y. Here’s as far as I’ve gotten.

mean-streets-startI need to work out the direction of the shadows, which means figuring out the light sources.


Filed under Art quilts, In Process

Get In Line

March madness is upon me with my master class project. This month it’s all about the line. We were to reimagine quilts we had already made as lines rather than shapes. Well, that was my understanding of the assignment, though some of the other students did their own thing.

From my photos I pulled two of my quilts I thought had possibilities and added a crayon drawing I had made in kindergarten. Here are the inspirations, my drawings, and parts of Elizabeth’s comments.

MARCH JMM sketch 1 origin MARCH JMM sketch 1 resized

“[I]t’s a lot more intriguing and sophisticated than the quilt . . . – which is fun, bright and cheerful…but not mysterious!  I think the idea . . . might work better if it’s bigger . . . . it almost looks like it’s a new alphabet and that there is a message encoded in the different swirls.”
MARCH JMM sketch 2 origin resized MARCH JMM sketch 2 resized

“I like the delicacy of the linear sketch, but I don’t think this one is as interesting as the other two . . . however you’ve developed a couple of interesting ideas here which don’t appear in the quilt above.  There’s a 3D effect that is completely lost in the solidity of the triangles above..created by the illusion of diagonal blocks – and that’s very nice. Also the contrast of broken and solid lines is good and interesting…and brings out the beauty of the Stitch, sometimes forgotten in art quilts these days.”

MARCH JMM sketch 3 origin resized MARCH JMM sketch 3a resized

“I very much like what you’ve done with the marquee . . .the lines have a lovely wood cut look to them … I’d work a little more with this idea…it is very elegant and I think definitely the most interesting.”

Which one did I choose? You’ll just have to wait.


Filed under Art quilts, In Process

The Year Long Class

In 2015 I went to a 5 day workshop at Empty Spools in Monterey, California. In 2016 I signed up for Elizabeth Barton‘s year long online master class. It is a design class; knowledge of techniques that work for you is assumed. Each month the students get an assignment, and have three items to produce: a sketch or plan, a quilt layout, and a final quilt. We get to see everyone’s work and Elizabeth’s comments.

Our January assignment was value, and we were to submit three black and white sketches, then a blocked out quilt, and finally a completed quilt. We could use a color other than black, such as blue or brown, but all the fabrics had to be in that color family.

Based on Elizabeth’s recommendation, I went with the following sketch. It’s based on a photo taken outside the Dairy Barn in Athens, Ohio, by my friend Judy.


JAN JMM Sketch 3I blocked my quilt out as:

JAN JMM Blocked QuiltElizabeth’s comments were that the leaf on the right needed more shading and that I needed to make sure the two leaves weren’t the same size. The space ratio needed to be more one third/two third to focus attention on the dominant leaf.

I revised to those ends, and tried to add still more shading with my quilting. From the back this piece looks like I covered almost every inch with thread.

JAN JMM FinalI’m not thrilled with the end product. It feels more like an exercise than a work of passion. It may be the still life type subject matter. However, my purpose was to learn more about design and how to realize my intentions. This may bring me to a word for the year – focus. As in, I need to create work with more of it and focus more while creating the work.

Oh, Elizabeth said it was elegant and showed “a great grasp of values.” She also said “You don’t need to have Great Big World Shattering Messages each time. Showing Beauty is enough.” Well, I’m good with that.

I’ll let you know what the coming months bring with this class. I know others have taken it, but don’t know how they felt at the end.


Filed under Art quilts, Commentary, In Process

Serious Design

EBarton_Petergate“Petergate” by Elizabeth Barton

Elizabeth Barton’s “Inspired to Design” isn’t for the faint of heart.  Outside of a brief description of how to dye fabric gradients, the book contains no patterns or construction techniques. It’s filled with ways to sharpen your analytical ability to design original quilts.  Most of the book concerns everything that happens before you even bring your rotary cutter near your fabric.  Barton’s bottom line – if your design is weak, no amount of sewing/embellishing/quilting can save it.  You can follow Barton’s art quilt thoughts at her blog.

Here are some thoughts I took away from this book:

Re: using photos for design inspiration – The design shouldn’t be a direct copy, but a translation, filtered through how you see and feel something.

Re: strong designs – “…you don’t want to make a quilt that rambles along like an old house that has had bits added on over the centuries. …All the beads in the world won’t transform a poorly structured design into something elegant and meaningful.”

Re: critiquing your design sketches – first let them mature a few days on the design wall.  Intuition goes just so far; it may tell you something’s wrong but not why or how to fix it.  Principles for evaluating your designs: unity and harmony, variety and tension, balance and proportion, repetition, rhythm and movement, and economy. Barton illustrates these principles with her own work.

Re: need for tension or variety in a work – “Without some tension, a work of art is like a meal of white fish in a white sauce with white mashed potatoes and cauliflower, And white bread on the side.”  A quilt with the exact same block in the exact same colors, repeated over and over, lacks tension.

Re: quilting – “You can’t save a weak quilt top with quilting; don’t even try….The quilting should enhance the design, not try to rescue it.”

So the next time I start throwing fabric onto the wall I need to stop, step back, and force myself to design on paper first and evaluate that design.  If I follow this advice, I have a feeling that improv piecing will become an illicit thrill for me.

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Filed under Books