Thursday, December 27, 2012

musings on developing a style

Recently I received an e-mail from a quilt maker who had read my recent article in Quilting Arts magazine.  "How to you develop an individual style?" he asked. "Any tips would be appreciated." Great questions, Michael.

OK--I have actually been thinking about this a lot recently as I developed the quilts with thin strips. After all, even though I was changing the technique and the look of the quilt, I still wanted it to look like an Ann Brauer quilt. What am I known for? What interests me? In short, who am I? And how can I use the new techniques in ways consistent with my work?
This is a concept that has many parts and lots of stories. After all, I have been making quilts for a long time and some of what I do is now so inherent to the quilts and even to who I am that I don't consciously think about it.  Answers though can come in stories. The world as a red wheelbarrow--to reference William Carlos Williams. If you can't get it one way, then circle around and look at it from another angle. That is one of the reasons that I began exploring the thin strips. I felt that I had worried the wedges as much as I could and needed to try looking at it from a different approach.

I am fascinated by the vastness of the sky and the possibilities of the horizon. I remember when I first moved to Boston how confined I felt. The sky was only visible in small sections between the buildings and the trees. That winter amazingly the Charles River froze so solid that it was actually more or less "safe" to walk on it. Now before anyone else tries this--please be warned that there is a danger here--it was probably foolhearty then and it would definitely be STUPID now. But I did it and there was nothing finer than feeling the vast promise of the sunset looking west along that river. Interestingly, when my sister recently moved from the Midwest to Virginia one of her first comments to me was that she missed the sky. See, there must be something essential.

Putting the red sunrise in the middle of the sky as I did in prairie dawn captured the size of the sky as I looked up.

Prairie dawn--quilt--96x96"--Ann Brauer

If you look carefully, you will notice that the red was formed using the wedges that I used throughout the quilt. But it was just a short jump from prairie dawn to capturing the sky. Note how the magenta square floats on the horizon. I loved how the intensity of the color and the contrast of the textures added to the story.

Capturing the sky--quilt--45 x 45"--Ann Brauer

Isn't the same true for desert solitaire?

Desert solitaire--quilt--45 x 45"--Ann Brauer  

And even into the sky?

Into the sky--quilt--45 x 45"--Ann Brauer

One tip I always tell people like Michael is to make the same concept more than once. I am lucky that in order to get juried into the fine craft shows that I need in order to support myself, I am required to submit five slides of my work. Early on I learned that juries want to see consistency in your work. After a while, I know from experience sitting on a jury that your eyes and mind become numb from seeing so many different images projected in front of you and there is a relief when you see a consistent and calm set of slides. Sure you want to put your best foot forward and having five exact duplicates would be too boring. So you do want each image to display a different approach to the same question. Again it is telling the story but from a different point of view.

For me it is easy to create three quilts that are consistent. By four or especially five quilts though my mind tends to wander and there is frequently one oddball. Still I find it a great exercise even if you are not creating work for a jury.

Now I realize that this doesn't answer the question how to keep the same style when changing the technique. Nor does it  discuss how to figure out what you want to do in the first place. Maybe this should be another blog post or two? But this one is getting long. So I hope this helps, Michael. What suggestions do my other readers have? Any thoughts? Or questions?


  1. I think you can always see the style in someone else, and struggle to see it in yourself. And sometimes the style or direction you desire to have, isn't actually the one you make. Something draws you to making in a certain way, or colours. For a long time that for me was a struggle, what I made didn't match my dreams! But what I create has a comfort about it, I know how it works, I return to the idea. That too has worried me, being stuck in a rut, but my ideas expand and change... I'm not a quilter, at all, more an embroiderer, except I stitch on paper. I find myself frequently looking at and following quilters, probably because being an abstract minded person, its the simplicity of shapes, and melding of colours which attracts. I'd say don't only look at the genre you favour, see how other artists interpret similar ideas to yours.

  2. Fascinating post! Thanks so much for sharing your thought and experiences.