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?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

condensing the rainbow

OK--many of you may be familiar with my iconic quilt--rainbows of summer. It was large and square and included a sweep of the colors of the rainbow. What a statement of joy and fullness it offered. Is it a landscape? A seascape? One of those quilts that "just happened". Well, it didn't just happen but the decisions I made seemed inevitable when I was done.

So it was with some trepidation that I took on the task of making the quilt only half as wide. How could I get that complete sweep of color while maintaining the integrity of the piece. Certainly I wasn't going to make the individual wedges of fabric smaller. That would have lost the splashes of color and fabrics of the quilt.

No, I had to figure out the proportions of each color. The fabrics would have to be more important--more significant--since they had to do more work carrying the color progressions. This would be hard.

As always I told myself--make what I know. So I piece the row of yellow. So intense. So lonely on the design board, isn't it?

Then I study the quilt and make the green--a bright green with lots of yellows. This I know.

The bright teal though is harder. It must have some of the green. Hints of the blue. Just that right intensity. I cut lots of fabric and make a test sample. Is this the right shade? What will it look like as the whole?

I tweak the colors and sew. Yes, there are 12 blocks in each row. How long it seems to take. When will I finish.

More sewing. Again one row at a time. Slowly. I stop and think. Ponder the right colors. Pull out the fabrics and then do a test. Or two. Or three. It goes on and on. This takes months. Literally.

When will I ever finish? I had promised it for November. But that month has already passed. And so I work as hard as I can. But still it involves so much concentration that I can only do a bit every day. Then I sit and look at it. Wonder what comes next.

Even the sewing it together is long and precise. Sew the seams. Add the binding. Hand finish. Isn't it amazing how different it looks when it is sewn together?

 I work all week-end. The customer needs it by the holidays. Finally it is done. No time for a good image. Just this snapshot from my point and shoot. Yes it is straight but I just pin it up and take from an angle. That is OK.

 How empty my design board looks as I wrap it and place it in its box to ship to its new owner. What will she think? Does it capture the rainbow? And for me--what next? I have an extra wall for displaying quilts at the Baltimore Craft Show this February. And a customer who may want four related quilts about the rainbow. Would this be a good project?

And you--how do you start a quilt? Do you sometimes feel they will never get done? And can you indeed condense the rainbow?

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

the frolic of birch

Sometimes one just has to take that small breather. A short break. A walk around the South End of Boston just before the CraftBoston show opened on Sunday. For me, it was the last day of the last craft show for the year. The weather was lovely. Warm for December. And I had been inside for too long.

I love looking at these majestic brick buildings with grand staircases. Ornate iron fences around small front gardens. Such care in the planting and arrangements of these miniature spaces. Some with lights wrapped around the fences. Others with carefully chosen greens. The urn with the chili peppers. Simple and elegant. What fun I had looking at all these variations. Imagining the characters of Henry James.

And then I noticed them. The simple branches of birch against the greens. Distinctive. Sure. Almost like oversized candles. What a great idea. So complete. So modern. So seasonal.  Don't you just love it?

And then I saw this was a theme. Another vase of greens. This time with just one accent of the birch. Interesting how adding more greens so changed the look.

The tree made of birch wrapped with lights. Simple. I could even make this if I wanted to.

The reindeer. Sweet. That must have taken a long time. But how clever.

And the star. Another great construct. Not sure if I would ever make this one either.  Wouldn't it be fun to see it at night.

Now will I go out and gather some birch branches and decorate our house? Not sure. I do have quilts to make. Though it might not be a bad idea. We do have plenty of birch. A simple arrangement might look so festive. So many possibilities. Hmmm. I do know my little frolic was just what I needed. Refreshing. Do you have such frolics? What do you do? And do you have any ideas for using birch as decorations?

Monday, December 3, 2012

the conundrum of eggplant

Recently I have been thinking a lot about of all things--eggplant. Aubergine.

No, not recipes for eggplant--although I did have the most marvelous sandwich of eggplant and avocado and cheese with just the right tangy sauce when I was in DC--delish!!! But I digress. I am thinking about the color--eggplant. That dark rich purple color of the European eggplant. More red than blue with sometimes just the hint of dark brown. So sumptuous. So rich and festive. We all know it--but do we understand it?

The color. So dark. Intense. Almost royal. But not quite that blue.  What is it composed of? I search on the web and discover that it is more red than blue on the RGB scale. Sometimes with just a hint of green. You can check it out here.

I snap a picture of the fabric that I call eggplant. Is it too red? Or is it just the flash?

Should I tame it with browns and greys? Or let the colors glow in their own warmth? I arrange the color progression for the placemats. Yes, there are accents here. Just a hint of reds and pinks? Have you noticed how calmed the color can be on the walls? Just a hint of green and brown added to make it all the more sophisticated.

But no I want a bit of pizazz. A statement. A bit of life and warmth to the placemats. What do you think?

And the table runner with the skinny strips. How will the colors combine? Isn't it in making a color progression that one finally understands the essence of the shades? I don't want it just eggplant--that is not how I work. Instead I add bits of this and that. What will be the overall effect? Will the color dominate? What fun this is? So much to play with? Is it too busy for the elegance of eggplant? Or when the whole is seen does it all blend together?

Have you noticed that making a color progression can really define the color in ways that a simple swatch doesn't? How just changing one or two fabrics in the progression can change the nature of the quilt? Is this why I love doing them so much?

Oh--so much to do. What fun I am having? I could make another with a bit more browns and greys. Or are there other colors I need. After all, I am doing CraftBoston this coming week-end and I do want to have a great selection. What do you think? For more info on CraftBoston you can go here: and if you want a discount on tickets do e-mail me.