Friday, March 9, 2012

Nancy Crow Workshop Report

Finally - I have a little time to write about the workshop.  Where to start?  It was amazing, wonderful, inspiring, motivating, fantastic.  How's that for a start?  The title of the workshop is "Strip Piecing and Restructuring."  The process was well defined and structured enough to teach the techniques while allowing for plenty of creativity on the artists' part.  There was also plenty of fun and camaraderie, shared dinners, games of dominoes, late night giggles.  Practicing with others saying " I am an aritist, I am an ARTIST!"

Everyone was very conscious and considerate of each other's work and privacy and agreed not to blog or post others' work without their express permission.  So I will only show my own work here.  If I find that any others have blogged about their own I will link back to them.

The general process taught in this lesson involves "making fabric" by free-hand cutting selvage-to-selvage strips of fabric of various colors and values, then sewing them back together.  We started with simpler assignments and progressed into more complex striping then re-cutting and re-sewing.  The lessons covered the many properties of color (warm/cool, values, etc.) as well as design and composition.  Figure/ground theory is at the core of Nancy's composition theory, more so than other artists I think.  Although I felt good about understanding the theory from my architecture school days, I found it very challenging to achieve with the strips of fabric as my "pallete."   By the end of the week we were to achieve one major piece using these techniques as well as the concept of "units."  I.e.  the concept that repetition and variation are what help the eye to understand something.  (The opposite of the very technical term, "mish-mash" which is what some of us produced in the first exercise!)
Here is my first exercise, done on Monday evening, reviewed on Tuesday. My lines were inconsistent, (some wonky, some not) and the composition very "controlled."  Funny, I THOUGHT I was being improvisational.  I definitely adhered too strictly to the dictum to use brights, or use neutrals, or use contrast...  In retrospect,  it is pretty much of a mish-mash.  Learning experience. I used several of the neutral parts in my final piece, and will probably find ways to reuse a lot of the other parts.

I was one of only two people who were there, or studying with Nancy, for the first time.  Some have been going for 8-10 years, on and off.  So there was a little bit of a learning curve for me in figuring out how literal I should be about the assignments.  I tend to be very rigid at following the "rules."  One discussion was about the fact that there are very few truly "bright" colors, they are what we think of as "acid" or almost neon.  So I was confused when I was the only one using those bright colors in the assigned fabric which was to include "brights."  I learned that all colors and relationships are relative.  For an assignment to use "light and dark values" I thought it was obvious that I'd use almost-blacks and almost-whites.  The other students produced much more elegant fabrics by combining fabrics that were light and dark in relation to each other... but not in extreme...

Our next assignment was to "make fabric" and we were given a list of different recipes to use as a basis for our creations.
Here are some of my "made fabrics."  
The next assignment was to work on cutting up and restructuring the fabrics we had made, with the eventual goal of combining them in groups to create units.  Compositionally we were to use create figure/ground studies which used the concept of repetition or units to create cohesiveness.

I created some really ugly units that featured big splotches of orange. (What IS IT with the orange, anyway??)   It took me all day to create three of them, while others were coming up with dozens!  Finally I gave them up and decided to use my light/neutral fabrics to create a background for whatever units I ended up using as my figures. I started with cutting the selected pieces into a variety strips of 1", 1 1/2" and 2." Then I started stripping back together the different size pieces linearly.  It took me MUCH MUCH longer than I'd anticipated to create a fabric this size, and I had to make some extra to get to this point. I was only about 20 minutes from being able to strip them all together, but ran out of time in the end.

Nonetheless, the reception was pretty favorable for the "background" as a piece in it's own right.  No one argued that the ugly orange units should be done away with!

I could go on and on, about what I learned at this workshop, but I will try to be brief!  The things I loved MOST were:

Learning from a true master
Learning from so many very skilled students - some who are masters and internationally acclaimed in their own right.
Learning how other artists approach the design process.
Learning how different architecture is from art.

Things I can't wait to spend the next year practicing:
Colors, everything about colors!
Selecting and working within a palette, which can eventually become part of your "voice."
Figure/ground, and line vs. shape
Sewing lines
Making units
Using printed, patterned fabric to make interesting fabrics and units.

If only I could just SEW!  I can't WAIT to get my new space cleaned up and furnished!


  1. How wonderful. Thank you so much for sharing your pictures, thoughts and observations. I just got around to catching up on your blog. It is very helpful to read all about your experiences as I get ready for the same workshop next month. I am amazed at all you accomplished and will continue reading to see how your progress. Congratulations on your success!

  2. Hi,
    What I especially loved about your post was how very honest you were about the entire process. I am taking a class with her and also my friend Mary Keasler(previous commenter) in June. You have helped me to start thinking with a little insight into the process!

  3. this is amazing work Sharon. How lucky you are to have been able to take this class.

    1. Hi Janice - Thanks for checking out my blog, and your compliment. I've been too busy to check my own blog lately, so I just found your comment this morning. The Crow workshop was certainly an amazing experience. I think I could explore the ideas from that one week for years and not be "done."