Thursday, 2 February 2017

Two weeks with Nancy Crow

I spent the first two weeks of 2017 in New Zealand doing master classes on design and composition with American teacher Nancy Crow. It was the most wonderful two weeks of sewing, taking in new information and concentration that it took me the next two weeks to recover.

Below is a photo of me with my Australian classmates and Nancy.

Julie, Me (Linda), Nancy Crow and Wendy

There were 18 students from New Zealand and Australia and we stayed on site at the beautiful Silverstream Retreat. It was a short walk to our classroom and the dining room where we had all our delicious meals. We were certainly well fed.

Classes with Nancy Crow were all that I had heard they would be and more. It is not often that you get a chance to study with such a passionate and dedicated teacher who teaches classical art concepts in quilt design.

The first week the class was called Improvisations- Let's Experiment part 2. Many people in the class had done Nancy's classes before but for us new students it was a huge learning curve.

The class was supposed to start at 9am but Nancy was always there at 8.30 putting notes up for us to copy into our books. Pages and pages of notes about what our focus should be and definitions of colour and design and assorted exercises we had to do. We had to write quickly as well because those notes would only stay up for a half an hour.

After writing down the notes we had to start designing and only had one day to design and sew our first composition.
We all had our own work station of two tables and a large cutting mat and iron and ironing board and two large design boards. Here is a photo of me at my design board on the second week.

Me at my design board
My work station

We had to cut out various size strips and shapes out of black fabric and then start pinning them up to make a composition of about 20" x 20". We had to freehand cut with no rulers and no sketches on paper either.

My first composition
After you had quickly pinned up your black fabric design onto the white design board you had to start cutting out white pieces to fit in the spaces and sew it together by the end of the day.
What a way to start the two weeks, it was such a daunting way to design and sew. I somehow got it done. This first design was supposed to be the basis of our work for the rest of the week.

The next day after writing up more notes, we had to do a design at least 4 times the size but in black and white. We had to make a pattern in black fabric first and then sew it together using black, white and grey and we had a day and a half to make it.

My design pinned to the design board.
I somehow got it done by putting my head down and getting on with it.

Here is my grey-scale composition sewn together, I don't particularly like it but the idea was that you didn't have time to think much, you had to work quickly so the design started coming from inside of you. Nancy says that you have to make a lot of duds before the good stuff starts coming out. Even so she thought my composition was strong.

Week 1 grey-scale
Then we had two days to make the design again in colour. That is where I had a problem. We had to use only black, white and only 5 values of colour. We had to sort our fabrics in light, light medium, medium, medium dark and dark. I took over a hundred yards of fabric and so many of my colours had to go back into the suitcase. We used our phone cameras on black and white to see the values and if your fabric did not sit exactly into those values it couldn't be used.

Even Nancy agreed that I didn't have much left to work with. I didn't have any colours that were in each value group. So I might have had only a medium and light green and no other values etc. It made it very difficult and I had to really work hard to make it work! It was so hard but I learnt so much about colour and value.

Colour study pinned to design wall.
The photo above is where I left it at 1.30 in the morning after going through so much trouble trying to get it where I was happy.

After not much sleep I got up the next morning and sewed it together and managed to have it done in time for the critique session on Friday afternoon.

Me with final colour study week 1
At the end of each week you had to pin up all your work and Nancy would critique it. She was always brutally honest and we learnt so much from the experience.

Week 2 was called Lines, Shapes and Figure Ground Composition part 2. We thought week one was hard but week 2 was even harder. In this class we really concentrated on value and colour.

We were given design exercises with the idea of getting ideas and finding your voice. We were supposed to complete 9 configurations with various criteria. The first one was to make a design that had a linear curve and two lines but no figures could touch each other and one figure must touch the edge.

That was the easy one; number 7 was to make a composition that had 6 lines, 3 narrow curves, 4 shapes and 3 curvilinear lines. I am not sure now if it was this design below or if this was another one. Anyway, they got really complicated and we only had a day and a half to complete them. I think I got six done before she made us go onto the next thing.

For the last exercise we had to make a composition in black and white and make it again in white and black and use flat blacks and white and glowing black and whites and then start with colour.

We made it once and then had to repeat it in the opposite values. That means if it was a dark in the first composition it had to be a light value in the next one. We had to make 6 in all and it was exhausting work but once again we learnt so much about colour.

Finally on the last Friday we had to take it in turns to set up our work for the two weeks and be critiqued. I was so tired I could hardly stand but I was still sad that it was over.

When Nancy was not advising or answering questions she was watching and analysing us as well. I actually like a person to tell you straight out what she thinks. Too many people say that things are good or OK when they really think the opposite. Nancy has strong opinions but she can back them up with years of training, teaching and experience.

Me with my two weeks work

So what did Nancy think of me? She said that I didn't complain and had a strong work ethic. She thought my compositions were strong but the widths of my lines were too similar and I have to work hard at making them different widths. She also said that my colours were too greyed and depressing and she wants me to work with clear colours. She wants me to stop doing all the work that I have done in the past and spend a year working on abstract, contemporary design to find my voice.

So that is what I am going to do, it's only a year out of my life and I was wanting a change anyway. I wonder how many duds I will make before a good one comes out?

Nancy Crow is thinking about coming back to teach in two years time and if she does I will book in again for sure. Next time I will be more prepared and hopefully will have better choice of fabric to work with.

Bye for now,


jude's page said...

Wow, amazing, glad you enjoyed it, I would not know where to start, it's way out of my comfort zone, but will enjoy seeing where it takes you.

Linda Steele said...

I was way out of my comfort zone, Jude, but I've been comfortable for too long now.

Robbie said...

I know a few who have taken Nancy's workshop and hear pros and cons on it. You certainly can't be thin skinned for sure!
It sounds as if you are open or ready to make some changes and have grasped some good info and direction from the class! How wonderful. Personally, I love your black and white exercises!

Linda Steele said...

Thank you Robbie, I really liked working in the black and white, it's a great way to work on design without the interference of colour

crazynewbie said...

I think you must be ready to move out of your comfort zone Linda. How exciting, albeit daunting! Looking forward to seeing the direction this will lead you.

Linda Steele said...

You've got it right, Claire, exciting and daunting at the same time

Cyra said...

I absolutely love your adventure into abstracts. It can be daunting, but it seems you tackled it like a pro. I shall be following your year of 'finding your voice'. What a great adventure.

Linda Steele said...

Thank you Cyra, I almost feel like a beginner again.

Linda Crouch said...

I think you are so brave to participate in this class. Well done. I look forward to seeing what you can produce in the coming months. No pressure!!!!

Linda Steele said...

Thanks Linda, I was close to not even telling anyone about my grand plan of trying something new, but in the end I thought it doesn't really matter if I fail and everyone knows. Not the end of the world!

Gina E. said...

Struth!! I wouldn't have lasted 5 minutes!

Linda Steele said...

It was challenging Gina, but luckily I was prepared because I had heard about the workload before signing up.

Sharon said...

While I am not a quilter Linda, I do do some embroidery and cross stitch - while having a clean up and putting things back in their right places I discovered that I had so many threads of the same colour palette if not the same colour... Which suggested to me that I am comfortable in a certain colour range but not others... Not many yellows, lime greens, bright blues etc in my collection... So I can only imagine having to work in another colour range and away from your usual style it would have been a significant earth moving, outside of your comfort zone experience for you... Good on you for your bravery and tenacity... I look forward to watching you in your abstract year...

Sharon - Gina's friend

Linda Steele said...

Thanks for your comment Sharon. I wasn't sure if people would be interested in reading about me trying something different so thanks for your vote of confidence.