Tag Archives: Jane Davies

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

Progress on Mini Collages

As my fellow classmates keep noting, my Jane Davies Mini Collage class is indeed fun and agony. The class’s purpose is to push us to explore, to notice, to consider relationships among shapes. As Jane put it, “…we are not trying to ‘finish’ the pieces, or make them ‘better’; we are not trying to retain the compositional integrity of the original collage… we are simply adding line and pattern as contrasting kinds of elements. Adding a few more elements to each piece to SEE WHAT HAPPENS.”

Here’s Jane’s comments on one of my first batch of marked up collages.

REALLY nice work, Joanna, but in your next batch do try to do LESS. Middle left, for example: you could have just ONE group of blue dots, not two. JUST the pink line (and you have to go over it a couple of times to make it really opaque), not the green one. Bottom left is totally overstated. You have some really fun and clever marks, but too many for them to have real impact. For example, the teeny dots in the two rectangular shapes: let the dots define the left edge of the shape rather than adding a line to do that work. Do you see what I mean? Do more with less.

You can see that Jane’s comments were spot on.

My next two batches were much more restrained, and Jane’s comments were sparser – mostly consisting of “good work.”

The top two are halves of the same collage.
I call the bottom row the mummy and the election sign.

The tricky part of adding marks is to enhance, deepen, change the collage shapes; but not decorate them. It’s all too easy to add dashes or scallops around a shape’s edge, and Posca markers are addictive. After my first batch I realized that my mark making was based on quilting designs. I felt I had to cover the entire surface with a line or some sort of mark. In subsequent batches I fought that tendency. Now I’m making more minis and will mark them up once I get the matte medium off my fingers.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.


Filed under In Process, Techniques

Mini Collage Cropping Exercise

This week my Jane Davies class didn’t involve paint or paste, just cropping our collages. My fingernails thank me. Here’s what I posted to my class.

I’m showing only a few of the many cropping variations I tried. Some collages just didn’t look well cropped; others didn’t need it in my opinion. I felt that my collages with a mix of simple and complex shapes made for more interesting crops.

I used the cropping tools I’ve marked for cutting fabric motifs, which is why my photos show numbers and tick marks on the mat board edges. The reverse sides are too mucked up to use.

The collage below worked for close cropping. I ended up cropping out most of the white space.

The following group begins with the original collage, then works through five croppings. I like the lower right one the least as I’m drawn to diagonals and the lines in that one are mostly vertical. You can see how day and night affect the temperature of my lighting.

The next group also begins with the original collage. I find the first cropping to be least interesting, probably because it’s so close to the original.

Finally, I wondered what would happen if I extended the negative space to allow for highly angled cropping. I kept trying crops that didn’t work because I ran off the edges of my collages. (And some of those were my favorites.) The following two crops add more white space beyond the original collage edges. I think this could be useful if I wanted to base a larger composition on one of these crops. I would extend some of the shapes into the white area.

I can see using several of my collages as the basis for larger work, a great ready-made starting point for further what-ifs, and maybe the basis for a series.


Filed under In Process, Techniques

Paper, Scissors, But No Rock

In parallel with my fabric activities, I have been taking another Jane Davies online course called Mini Collage. Both activities call on color theory and experimentation with color adjacency, but with Jane’s class I get to mix all my own colors rather than choose from my scrap bins.

I won’t bore you with photos of my painted papers. Suffice it to say we were to mix white and black paint with hues, and develop a range of color values. Some of my fellow classmates painted hundreds of papers in glorious colors. Mine were more modest. Many of us had trouble with streaks in our painted surfaces. Some (not me) painted over our papers to get rid of the streaks.

Once I had a large pile of painted papers I cut out shapes and positioned them so they would relate to each other in an interesting fashion. I was to balance light and dark neutrals, brights, and lighter colors in my arrangements. We were encouraged to do several. Here’s my personal best.

I have problems with light neutrals, probably because I hate beige.

Next, I got to actually glue paper down, in many, many three (no more, no less) shape collages on 4.5 by 6 inch pieces of bristol board. The instructions said to do at least 20 and more was better.

I am struggling with getting my papers to lie smoothly, despite copious amounts of matte medium and lots of finger smoothing. I’ve done five so far. I did find that I could smooth out wrinkles with my iron.

Some of my classmates have done 30 already, and theirs are so much more interesting than mine. It’s all part of the learning process, right? I know, I know. Comparison is the thief of joy.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Fridays.


Filed under In Process, Techniques

I Become A Color Whisperer

After years of avoiding color theory practice (the practice means you have to make a color wheel) I finally broke down and signed up for Jane Davies’ downloadable class, “Unlocking The Secrets of Color.

I have to say that color theory seems much more relevant for mixing paint colors than for quilting. When I want to make a quilt I go through my fabrics and decide which of the already dyed/printed colors I want to work with. When it comes to painting there’s usually no such already determined color starting point. You could work only with colors directly out of the tubes but that would get old fast. The tricky part is to figure out what colors you want for your painting before you actually see the color. Needless to say, there’s lots of trial and error.

The class begins with paint mixing to create a 12 part color wheel from blue/red/yellow. Then you move on painting grids using only colors on your color wheel. I won’t subject you to photos of my efforts, but will note that getting an evenly graduated color wheel is harder than you’d think.

Other lessons involve one color collages; and painting value scales with black, then white, to create graduated analogous colors. The class moves on to paintings/collages of one color and analogous colors, and finally a series of abstract landscapes (cool/warm) and color moods.

The right side is my one color collaged painting; the left is my analogous colors one. There’s a photo of an Eleanor McCain quilt underneath the paint.
Abstract landscapes in warm tones.
Abstract landscapes in cool tones.
Mixed tones. You can see some of the original painting on the top one. I reused my failures.
It sure is a lot faster to paint a landscape than make one in fabric. The top painting is an experiment in combining cool tones with cool/warm ones.

The landscapes assignment was designed to help you learn how much warm tone you can/should put in a predominantly cool toned piece, and vice versa. It’s a personal decision, but even a touch of a contrast adds interest, I think.

My take away from this class is that I need to whisper more and shout less in my color choices. I like the ring-a-ding-ding of bold colors and color contrasts, but for my artistic development I need to cultivate the quieter side. It goes along with trying colors you don’t much like. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.


Filed under Techniques

More Practice

You’ll think I don’t have much left to show you from Sketchbook Practice when I say all only lessons 5 and 6 work remains. Ha!

In lesson 5 we returned to work we began earlier, starting with small pieces of paper we crisscrossed with lines in black and a black wash. Our assignment was to add one thing to each to connect the black and wash lines.

Here are my original black lines and washes.
All mine include a collaged bit, but on some I got busy with paint and markers. Definitely more than one thing.
P elected to add just one color, which was the assignment.

Then, we were to return to one of the line and shape thumbnail drawings we made earlier and make a collage/drawing based on it.

P made some circular shapes and added collage.
I also added collage, then threw in gouache paint, markers, and printing. I also changed the orientation of the thumbnail.

In lesson 6 we got to go technicolor and work with grids. First, we made open and closed grids from collage/paint/etc. Then, we were to make scribble paintings with paint and cut those paintings into pieces and make open (spaces between elements) and closed (all elements touch each other) grids from them.

My scribble paintings.
My closed grid
My open grid with painted lines added.
P’s closed grid with bits glued on top.
P’s open grid with paint and collage between pieces.

As a grand finale we were to make drawings or paintings with an underlying grid structure, but made up of elements other than squares and rectangles. We could use canvas or good paper rather than the cheap drawing paper we used for our practice. P went on to do so. Since so much of quilting involves grids I decided to pass on this assignment.

P used stencils and collage paper as well as paint.

By now I’m sure you can see how differently two people approach the same activity. My work is denser, uses a more saturated palette, and heavier lines than P’s. P’s work uses a brighter, lighter palette; is airier; and often uses broken lines.

I think both of us found the class worthwhile, even though there was no instructor feedback (we knew that going in.) If you’re willing to use a lot of paper you can’t help but learn something by doing the lessons. I’ve shown only a small sample of the work we created. For me, the class brought home that you really need to explore possibilities with an open mind and set aside concern about finished compositions.

This is less than half the work I did for the class. I figure it will be useful for collage.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.


Filed under Commentary

Now For Something Completely Different

I sometimes advise fellow quilters to take classes in other media to develop composition and design skills. Finally I took my own advice. I just finished up Jane Davies’ Sketchbook Practice downloadable class, which I took with a friend.

Working in tandem with someone else was a great idea. We exchanged photos of our responses to the numerous assignments and commented on each others’ work. It was amazing to see how differently we approached the prompts. I like to think we learned from each other. I know I did.

Jane described the goal of the class exercises as “inquiry. These are all studies, all experiments. Put them out there like question marks: What happens if I do this? Or that? These questions do not require answers. It’s enough to just put them out there.” The class is meant as play, to push you off balance. Finished compositions aren’t its goal.

That said, I’d like to share with you our joint output over six lessons. Because each lesson has several parts, I’ll save some of our work until my next post.

We began with line exercises to explore how different materials act and how line can express different emotions and feelings. I won’t make you look at our lines, but move onto the circles, which began with black and white and finished with color.

The first piece is P’s. The last are mine.

Again, the first is P’s. The last are mine.

Moving on, we did black and white scribble paintings and then chose interesting bits to cut out. We then pasted those bits on blank paper and extended the bits to fill up the blanks.

Top, P’s work, then mine.

In the paint-collage-line activity we were to combine a collage shape, a line shape, and a painted shape in small studies of the relationships of the shapes to each other and to the paper’s edges.

My pieces are on the left; P’s are on the right.

I’ll conclude this week with a piece by P, a narrative (airy, claustrophobic, etc., circles) that was part of the circles lesson. Mine are too basic to show you, just black circles on white paper, but P went beyond the brief into full color.

Maybe you can see the differences in our work – color palettes, compositions, lines, lightness, heaviness, etc. You can also see who was going for extra credit. Just kidding, P.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.


Filed under Techniques

The Purpose of Aimless Puttering

This post was inspired by one written by Jane Davies, a collage and mixed media artist I admire. She wrote about an exchange with a reader concerning some simple collages made as practice.

“Q:  My main question was if you had a purpose in mind when you created these simplified works, if you save them, and how you view the  time spent creating them.  Are you working towards a goal or just doing them for relaxation?

A:  When I need a break from whatever larger work I’m doing, OR when I’ve been out of the studio for a while and am rusty, the best way to get ideas moving is to keep my hands and eyes DOING something in the studio. Not thinking, but doing. And that takes on many forms. This little exercise I just made up and did a LOT of them. The main point is to do SOMETHING with hands and eyes to generate ideas, see where it goes, keep in practice, jog something loose, get back to some basic ideas, etc. It is not for relaxation, though it might be relaxing.”

Susan Lenz addresses similar points in her article for a regional SAQA newsletter. She makes several helpful specific points about productivity. In response to comments about her seemingly prodigious work output she says, “Productivity is often the result of a habit that took years to adopt. Get yourself a time card. Track your hours. This isn’t about the quality of the work or the amount of money you have in it or might get out of it. It is about the time you spend trying. It is about the hours you actually work.”

[Sidebar: I should note that Lenz is fully supported by her husband who deals with many of the day to day practicalities so she doesn’t have to. Same deal with Susan Carlson. I’m alluding to the kind of support from spouses that women have traditionally supplied male artists. Yet women artists may feel guilty that their art is taking time away from their families and all the duties associated with day to day living. Now that I’m retired and am no longer responsible for a child I’ve given up any pretense of feeling guilty about dereliction of such duties. My husband does these things better than I do and I value his willingness to shop and cook. I still do the dusting as he has asthma.]

But to return to my original points, I think it’s just fine to create without a goal. In fact, it’s fun. Often what I make while messing around ends up in finished work. “All Decked Out” and “Sur La Table” were made with surface design experiments done for the heck of it.

“All Decked Out”
“Sur La Table”

If I depended on sales of art to support myself I might have a less cavalier attitude toward purposeful work, but the two artists I quote above support themselves through their work yet still feel the need to mess around.

Another way I mess around is to revise old, finished work. If I’m not happy with a piece and would never display it, why shouldn’t I try to make it better. Even if I make it worse, I’ll have learned something in the process. “All Fly Away” is an improv piece that I have been fussing with for a few years. I just couldn’t get it to work. Finally I looked at it as a black and white image and saw why – not enough value contrast and too light in the wrong places. So I darkened the flying triangles with a marker and toned down bright/light areas with paint. It still needs more value contrast, but I’m happy I could diagnose the problem.

“All Fly Away” original
“All Fly Away” revised
“All Fly Away” revised, in black and white

Here’s some recent puttering I’ve done for no reason except I came across scraps while de-cluttering, and took a play break.

“Canyon Out West” was an experiment with fusing raw edge scraps to a background, then FMQing the result. I wouldn’t use the ribbon like this again.
Purple block made from surface design experiments (monoprinting, stenciling, embroidery). I may do more design on it or use it in a pillow.

The overall point of my puttering is to keep doing; to practice, practice, practice. Often I have no end goal in mind. You can talk theory all you want, but trying and failing teach you a lot more. Maybe we should have a show of our interesting failures.

I’m linking to Off The Wall Friday.


Filed under Art quilts, Commentary, Fabric Printing

Mixed Media Roundup, Part 3

I don’t want to keep you in suspense, so I’ll say right now this is the last installment of my mixed media book reviews. I saved techniques books written by Jane Davies and Sherrill Kahn for last. Why? Mostly because I’ve been dipping into their techniques and needed the time for paint to dry.

Though her book Adventures in Mixed Media (2011) focuses on small scale and 3D work, most of the work Davies shows on her website is larger and painted. I concentrated on the fabric chapters – fusion fabric and fiber and paper quilts and cloth collage, and skipped chapters on making books and boxes, ornaments and shrines, and even dolls.

Given the sincerely earnest messages of some mixed media pieces, I appreciated the lightheartedness of the projects shown below. I hope you can read the text on these pages.

Cleavage purse Jane Davies

Jimmy's Closet Jane Davies

But let me feature the technique I’ve been trying out – fabric paper. I’ll show you my attempts in a future post.

Adventures in Mixed Media Jane Davies

Sherrill Kahn spent many years teaching art in schools, and the techniques she presents in Mixed-Media Master Class (2013) reflect that. Most are easy to master and use low cost, often creatively reused materials. Here are some of the items I’ve used to print on fabric based on Kahn’s suggestions.

printing tools

Like Davies, Kahn works on paper as well as fabric, and some of her techniques wouldn’t work well with fabric. She presents lots of ideas, so if you don’t like one, flip forward a few pages and you’re likely to find another that suits. After all, the book’s subtitle is “50+ Surface-Design Techniques for Fabric &  Paper.” Be aware that she uses paint washes a lot to tie together her printing, so you shouldn’t be surprised if your efforts need that touch to make them look good.

Unlike Davies’ book, Kahn’s is organized by types of techniques: resists, textures, rubbings and printmaking.  The descriptions of materials you can use to create surfaces is better than the usual and the most expensive material is probably matte gel medium.

Here’s a sample set of pages.

Kahn sampleHere’s one of the sample fabric projects from Kahn’s book. The techniques used are listed at the lower left. Many of the projects done on paper are more luminous.

Kahn sample project

I’ve tried the following techniques: making fabric cord, Inktense pencils on fabric, crayon resist, masking tape resist, stenciling with oil pastels, wet into wet paint on pole wrapped fabric, rubbings with assorted objects, fun foam prints, rubber band prints, styrofoam plate prints, and hair gel thickened paint. Some of my experiments were better than others, but I may have to buy a copy of this book.

One footnote. I have no idea why the term “mixed media” is hyphenated in one book and not the other. I assume it’s due to the editorial practices of different publishers.



Filed under Art quilts, Books, Fabric Printing, Inspiration, Project Ideas, Techniques