So, I had this concept of a piece that paid homage to a wonderful place we’d been to on vacation, a place called Hell’s Backbone Grill at the Boulder Mountain Lodge in a tiny town named Boulder, Utah.
And I had the elements I wanted to use:
a picture of the Buddha in residence outside the restaurant
and another of the prayer flags that flew over the garden (from which much of the restaurant’s food is sourced)
sage-y green fabrics in various textures that evoked the color of the greenery in that part of the high desert in Utah
and some sunflower fabrics reminiscent of the flowers which were growing on the property as well.
And I kept fooling around with these elements, and I could not get them into any approximation of a unified whole – as you can see here, in a very preliminary juxtaposition of the various elements I wanted to use.
(Please forgive these first few pictures – I couldn’t find the originals, so these are copied from the PDF’s of the finished assignments I have saved.)
Then I signed up for a Design Principles class with Lisa Call. The format of the class was that we would work though one design principle weekly, making a piece focused on one principle at a time, for practice and critique.
I decided that instead of making a different piece each week, I’d work with these elements I had chosen, using the format of the class to move towards a finished piece. And that’s how, experimenting and reworking it over and over again, I was able to find a composition that worked.
Variety/Contrast was the first principle we worked.
I concluded that there was almost too much variety for me in the first version (above), and decided to ditch the signpost. It’s way outside my usual M.O., and I felt I wasn’t going to be able to make it work for me. So it went, and the flowers came in.
Plenty of variety and contrast here. Still pretty disjointed. I’ve added tea-dyed prayer flags and fussy-cut sunflowers from commercial fabric. There is variety of texture as well; the fabric in the center behind the sunflowers is a really nice nubby wool. Of course most of it is hidden here. Onward!
Emphasis/Dominance/Heirarchy: next design principle we worked. This principle takes into account the focal point of the piece, what images/shapes/colors/elements are more or less dominant in the piece.
Here is the next iteration of my work, resulting from the attempt to place more emphasis on the red and blue of the flags. Clearly the flowers are the major emphasis and I wanted to bring the flags forward. Result: mediocre.
My notes from the assignment say:
My goal is to make the blue and red of the flags less of a solitary spot in the composition; to emphasize them by repetition of color and form.
The addition of the blue and red trim does emphasize the colors in the photo of the flags. It also has the unintended but welcome influence of adding some directional tension to the composition, as it goes in the opposite direction to the flowers. It also emphasizes the straight lines of the background piecing as opposed to the curves of the flowers, arc of flowers, and buddha figure. I feel that it becomes a dominant factor in the composition, after the sunflowers.
Another step. Still definitely not there.
Factors in creating unity: figure/ground relationship; continuity from element to element; use of similarity; use of economy. Next iteration of the piece here.
… and my assignment notes:
I decided the components of the design – the buddha, the photos, the tea-stained prayer flags behind the buddha – all needed more proximity. So they are all abutting or overlapping now. As said, I took out one photograph, as it wasn’t adding to the composition. I returned to using actual prayer flags to repeat the small ones in the photo (now at bottom left) feeling as if they more accurately convey the sense of place I’m trying to convey.
I love how the prayer flags and the sunflowers run parallel to each other, I guess because of the sense of movement they have, and how the original photo of the prayer flags at bottom left is like a little echo of the bigger ones that are so much more noticeable now.
Definitely getting there. I noted in the assignment notes that I was most happy with this version than any others so far. But, there were still more weeks to go/ assignments to do in the class! And I didn’t feel this was at 100% yet.
Rhythm: design principle #5
Rhythm has to do with how your eye moves across a composition. Because you do want the viewer’s eye to move, to keep looking. Rhythm can be regular, flowing, progressive, random, or a combination of any of these.
So my goals in this assignment were:
remake this piece yet once again (-; in order to:
reinforce the motif of the prayer flags
draw more attention to the buddha figure
soften the seam line between the lighter background behind buddha, and green fabric to left of it. in last rendition of this piece that vertical line was prominent. With the addition of the circle I wanted it to be less so.
Here is the updated version of the piece after working through those goals. (The little white dots are the pins holding it all to the design wall.)
There is regular rhythm in the repeated images of the flags, flowing rhythm in the bigger flags crossing from left to upper right, and flowing rhythm in the progression of flowers around the perimeter.
Design elements used to create the rhythm are shapes: the flags, the flowers
Not sure about pattern created? still kind of random – i.e. various elements in various places.
My eye goes to center first – I think the addition of the repeating flags worked here. Then to the flow of the flowers around the edge, because of their size and high contrast with rest of piece.
I’m liking it more – I like the circle framing the buddha, I like the repetition of the flags. It’s feeling more cohesive which is definitely one of my criteria for success. Cohesive and interesting.
The addition of the circle framing the Buddha made a big difference in establishing a focal point in the center that could compete with the high contrast and bold size and colors of the flowers. I felt I was getting really close! There was a week to go.
Balance was the last design principle we worked. Balance can be symmetrical, asymmetrical, radial, crystallographic or imbalanced. There’s also balance of color, shape, size, line, movement in a piece.
Here is the final version of the piece, later when it was completely done, quilted, etc. I made a few more changes after the end of the final class assignment, but the basic composition was there by then.
My notes from this last assignment say:
The balance is asymmetrical. The focal point, the buddha, is just right of center; the small flags pull the balance back towards center. The big line of sunflowers is a strong element on the left side of the piece but the circle and the big prayer flags extend to the right and help balance it.
Ultimately I was happy with this piece as you see it here. Although the final placement of the big prayer flags, as I look at some of the earlier versions, I don’t like as well in the final version. Oh, well!
Participating in the deliberate process established by the class with Lisa, and having to think deeply about each step of the way was instrumental in getting this piece to a format that felt right and finished. Lisa is not teaching as much as she was before; go to the workshop page on her website if you’re interested in taking one of her classes. They’re not cheap. But they’re packed full of value, very worth what you spend on them. I have grown a lot from taking classes with Lisa.
So that’s the story of this piece, which went from a hodge-podge of ideas and elements to a finished unified whole, one design principle at a time – and by the way got accepted into this summer’s 2017 Sacred Threads Show! I couldn’t be happier about that! If you are local to the DC area, I hope you’ll come see the show, which runs from July 7 – 23 in Herndon, VA. Many, many wonderful and thought-provoking pieces of fiber art will be there. Another blog post altogether!