How Do You Work?

What is your thought process when you begin to work on a piece of art?  I have been thinking about mine, particularly as it relates to my piece about “Words”.  I think I work backwards.  I will share how I went about putting “Words” together.  I started with a yard sized piece of rust dyed fabric.  I had a fat quarter of a screened design in turquoise/black that I loved and I loved it with the rusted fabric.  So I started with color.  I love color.  I laid the turquoise/black fat quarter on the rusted piece, then added a discharged black cotton sateen fabric.  I laid out a composition, then left the fabrics there to “study” for about 3 weeks!

I had no real concept in mind, except the colors.  I like to work abstractly and intuitively.  It may not happen that way all the time, but I think most of the time, I just go to my room and start “playing” with cloth, and something happens.  I really don’t know if this is a very “artistic” way to work, but I do get inspiration just playing.

I wanted to see if rusted fabric would discharge so I took a round stencil brush and stamped  with automatic dishwasher detergent and that made little circles on the bottom edge, which I figured I would cut off anyway. It was just an experiment.

After deciding I liked the composition and the colors together, I thought about how can I make these parts relate more to each other?  I used construction fence as a stencil to add a few of those areas on the rusted cotton.  The turquoise/black fat quarter was made by laying construction fence beneath the cloth and rolling dye paint over it.  I had used a soy wax screen with x and o on it to discharge the black sateen, so I decided to screen some more of that design onto the rusted fabric.  Probably somewhere about this time, the idea of the theme came to me, along with the other things to do to it.  Sticks and stones…and words became the theme. (See prior posts)  I stamped “sticks” with a bamboo skewer and left the discharged circles as “stones”; I did use ink to outline them.  To unify it, I wrote  across the whole thing all the way down to the area of the “sticks”.

This seems like a backward way to do it, to me.  I guess I think it should be more “planned”. I like how Linda and Laura Kemshall plan and shared in their book, The Painted Quilt. But everything I do turns out to be a surprise to me, because I don’t plan like that.  I am really curious how others work through their process, so please share!  I am very interested in this subject.  I think because I like color and collage, that is why I don’t really start with a “theme” or subject in mind.  Sometimes an image or an idea to unify it around a theme for me comes later.  Is that normal or unusual?


  1. I mainly work intuitively as you do, Katherine, but sometimes I have a more planned approach (see “Composition in Rust” on my blog) and actually draw up a design first.

  2. for me it is much like daydreaming.


  3. I use both methods, depending on what I’m doing. I am just finishing up a commission quilt that had a specific subject matter, so I brainstormed for a few months before actually beginning it. Even then, some things came to me after starting the project that I added in. But I really love just playing with my fabrics and other materials to see what comes up. I’m ‘brainstorming’ something now that will use some of my stash, and a whole lot of the techniques I have been learning this past 12-15 months! With projects like this, I think color, texture and shape drive me most.
    BTW, I do plan to use the construction fencing on this project that you sent me… I love the overall design of it!

  4. I think I work very much the same way as you do, although I keep trying to plan ahead and work to a theme… it doesn’t seem to work out that way in the end! The planning process becomes the fun part and I lose interest in making the finished object if I have planned it all out in advance. The Kemshalls teach City & Guilds and this is very much the way the C&G course is structured and I struggled with it when I did C&G because we had to plan so much ahead.

  5. Hi everyone, I’m so glad to find out I’m not alone in how I go about making art…I’m in good company!!! I really do like how the Kemshall’s plan and work up designs with color and the like. I can see that giving a great place to start. When I am looking for inspiration, I go through my old doodles (they are never as advanced as what Linda and Laura do), but they give me a jumping off place. Whenever I see a composition of someone else’s work that I like, I will make a rough sketch of it. This too gives me a place to start when I go into my room to “play”. My mind is usually blank…I have no preconceived ideas when I start, but things happen ONCE I start. The composition sketches really help. I think planning works really well if you do realism, but I don’t work in realism. I prefer collage and abstract, so concrete subjects don’t really come to me.

Speak Your Mind