“So how on earth did she ever become a fiber artist?” you might ask. “For Pete’s sake, the woman could hardly thread a needle at first. She inquired of 2000 art quilters online what a fat square was. Her first show entry came back with a judge’s score of 0 out of 5 for her pathetic binding. And the coup de gras was her $30.00 church basement sewing machine that needed duct tape over the dogs to free motion quilt! A truly unlikely candidate for the exacting enterprise of art quilts, if you ask me.”
The biggest thing in my favor when first switching to fiber as my medium was ignorance.
More than that, ignorance coated with arrogance that “ it can’t be that difficult”. I arrived on the scene having worked for more than twenty years as a full time artist. First exclusively a painter, but moving over time, to printmaking, assemblage art and paper collage. It was that last adventure with paper that made me question why I couldn’t do the same in a more permanent medium like fabric.
Does this look like an art quilt to you? Well there you go! So did I.
Now I want to explain these two adjectives I applied to myself just then. First ignorance. This describes a complete lack of knowledge of the materials and how to use them. I knew nothing about the tyranny of stitches per inch. I knew nothing about never using corduroy next to silk. I completely ignored the sin of having knots on the back of my quilts. After all nobody ever looked on the back of my paintings! Finally I knew nothing of the unseemliness of entering every show in the universe. I became known as a show slut, long before I could make a proper mitered corner!
Furthermore I didn’t know anyone. Luckily I happened across extremely helpful email lists very early on. The BIG one. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org. Everyone there took pity on me and soon got me on the right path with basic techniques and advice about planet Artquilt. Not only that, but anyone who was anyone in the art quilt world seemed to be on that list. I soon discovered that unlike the so called “fine art” world I was used to dealing with (they think they are so exclusive) the quilt art world had many many venues, festivals and quilt shows that I could try for (see the show slut section above) Also I received very kind and good advice about pulling in my horns concerning the rules of the judging. Segue into the second adjective. Arrogance.
Normally that word is quite derogatory. And I confess it was accurate enough at the beginning because I was quite a brat about the fore mentioned rules. I continued for many years to flout them- knotty backs, folded over “bindings”, wonky edges. Finally I slapped myself and agreed that maybe there WAS some reason for rules. My quilts started looking better. I got 3 out of 5 on my bindings one time! I actually won some awards. Recently an award-winning quilt of mine came back with the judge saying there was nothing I needed to do to improve my workmanship! I had arrived!
There was another side to the arrogance though. I was not really arrogant, I was confident. I had a good art education and twenty years experience. So I never had a problem with the formal considerations like good composition and attention to principles and elements of art. I no longer wracked my brains about what the subject matter would be. I rely on every day events in my life, which seem to resonate with others. I think that is why I got into a lot of shows. After all you really can only see the imagery on a slide or jpg. What they saw was what they got. Who knew the back was all lumpy, bumpy and knotty in the beginning. And as I said, I actually got better as I went along. Last year was stellar for me, achieving a long time goal of getting into Quilt National.
What next? This year I am turning my attention to the business side of being an artist. That means the dreaded “M” word. Marketing!
To be continued…
Pamela Allen (B.F.A. Queens University), an award winning winning fiber artist, exhibits regularly in Canada, the U.S and abroad. Pamela has taught as an adjunct instructor in the Fine Art department at Queens University (Kingston) as well as leading workshops for fabric art in Canada and the U.S. To see more of Pamela’s art go to her website at www.pamelart.com, at ETSY, or ARTFUL HOME