Monday, February 7, 2011

Taking Hold of Uncertainty

" is always ahead of execution, knowledge of materials is your contact with reality, and uncertainty is a virtue." Art and Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland

I've been following these words as I work on a challenge for an art quilt exhibit I'm participating in.

Our group of artists agreed to pick a photograph, which each of us would interpret in her own way.

It made me think of women quilters back in the 19th century, spurring each other on to greater heights of inventiveness, as they watched their neighbors take the same old shirt fabric and use it in entirely different ways.

We chose a photograph taken by Maura McEvoy, a stunningly simple shot of a mandarin orange and two dominos, sitting in a raku fired bowl on a deep teal colored linen background.

My first thought was to get as far away as  possible from the photograph and create a quilt that looked nothing like it. Then I careened back with an almost comical desire to imitate the photograph in a very literal way. 

Frustrated by opposing impulses, I decided to channel my imaginary 19th century ladies.

It seems to me that these women were the early forerunners of color theorists like Josef Albers, employing an understanding that colors appear differently, according to the colors  around them. The use of color in a pattern created the spirit of the quilt.

Although I'm no slave to pattern (I usually want to break it as soon as I begin), I wanted the blues of my piece to pulsate around the squares, suggesting the delicate cracked bowl with the bright orange mandarin and the ochre colored dominos.

One week and many stitched together scraps later, I've begun to enjoy the process; stepping into the unknown, unsure of where the next stitch will take me and also not knowing exactly where the final stitch might reside.

Thinking of my ladies, both the real and the imaginary, I'm discovering the loveliness of uncertainty.


  1. What a great project.
    There's definitely something about those colors that makes my eyes so very happy....and hearing you describe the way the 19th c. ladies are surrounding you also makes me smile...all those invisible helpers are surely going to bring you a stunning experience... you are beautifully on your way.

    Art and Fear...such a great book ;-)

  2. I really enjoyed your piece before seeing the inspiration. With seeing it I am now totally taken by your process and your historical lady helpers. Wonderful post!

  3. Why thank you madam!--there is something so generative about imagining those ladies putting their imaginations to work.

    Thank you Lynn--:)

    Beth--it's interesting isn't it, to work backwards in understanding a piece?

  4. Beautiful piece and a great background story about the creation of it. I love the idea of your imaginary ladies and the sense of community inspired by them and your "real" ladies. When and where is the show? Would love to see this piece in person.

  5. Ye Dianne, I like the intersection between imaginary community and real community (although who's to say that on some level, aren't they both real?). The exhibit is at the Davis Art Center in October. I'll let you know more when we get the postcards together:)

  6. the loveliness of uncertainty...that's a tremendous blessing Hannah...embracing mystery and watching it unfold. What a great project and point of departure photo. I'm looking forward to seeing your completed quilt...I do hope you will share it with all of us:)

  7. I read ART and FEAR some time ago and the quote is a reminder for me right now-- as I am struggling with a new series and feeling very uncertain. your quilt project is wonderful.

  8. Laura--you're so right and it's a daily challenge isn't it? About the quilt--I just found the most gorgeous marigold to add which will bring out the orange in the middle.

    Donna, Me too. In fact, when I found that a friend of mine was teaching it in a class, I picked it up and started from the beginning bc so much of what they say is easy to forget in the thick of the process.

  9. Winter Orange is a stunner Hannah. I can totally see the connection to the inspiration picture and am inspired by what you created myself.

  10. Winter Orange is breathtaking, Hannah!

  11. Seth and Stacey, I am honored by your comments!