vase with flowers, 20” x 40”
One of the questions I get asked most often, aside from how do I do those black lines, is how did I find my voice or style. I get this question a lot because I’ve managed to develop a pretty recognizable style in my art quilts and they’re easy to spot as mine but you know it hasn’t always been this way. In fact, I’ve only been working in the style that you all know as mine for 6 years. The first quilt that I ever made with my own hand dyed fabric and the black outlines was in 2011 and it was this tutti frutti triple decker quilt you see here.
I enjoyed making that quilt so much that I jumped right in and did a second one using the same basic techniques that I used for the triple decker quilt. I was having so much fun working in this style that I decided to take a giant leap of faith and submitted both to World of Beauty at the Houston International Quilt Festival in 2012 and both were accepted. When I found out that Tutti Frutti Village (seen here on the right) won an honorable mention ribbon in the art whimsicalcategory I knew I was on to something. Actually, I knew before I got the notice because I felt so good about what I was creating and the drive to continue working in this style using these techniques and this color palette was almost becoming instinctual. And it’s that instinct, that drive to continue using the techniques, colors and materials almost without thinking about it that results in a piece of work that is somehow connected to my previous works, that is the bedrock of having my own artistic visual voice or personal style.
So you’re thinking well good for you, but how does that help me? How do I find my voice? Well to answer that I need to tell you a little more about my story. See I didn’t just wake up one day in 2011 and decide I was going to make the tutti frutti triple decker quilt. There was a lot that happened before then. I left my corporate job in 2002 but I didn’t make the triple decker quilt until 2011 so what was I doing for those 9 years in-between? I was dabbling and experimenting with just about every technique, product and material known
to fiber artists! I tried everything – weaving, batik, silk fusion mixed media, painting, coloring, mark making on fabric, working flat, working 3d, trust me when I say there isn’t a technique that I didn’t experiment with! I even developed a technique of creating textured surface by painting on silk that had been fused to a base which I used to create 3d structures with. At the time I thought I was on to something and that it would become the style that I’d be known for but I never really felt that passionate about the technique so I continued to experiment and play with different techniques. And then in 2010 or thereabouts I started to tire of the “playing” and wanted to focus on something, I just didn’t know what and someone asked me what would turn out to be a very important question: “Sue what do you want to do?” and my reply was that I was tired of playing and wanted to get serious about making art. It was a light bulb moment and from that moment forward I started taking myself, and the creative process more seriously.
I really liked dyeing my own fabric so I embraced that – I took notes about how much dye, fabric, water, soda ash I used. How long the fabric sat in the dye and what kind of fabric it was and where I got it. I kept swatches of the fabric and built a library of swatches that I could refer back to so when I ran out of a color I could dye more. But the most important thing I did – and here it is, this is the key to developing your own personal visual voice/artistic style or whatever you want to call it:
I took it seriously, worked hard to master the techniques I was using, stayed focused and I stopped relying on serendipity for my results.
And that is how I developed my visual voice and why when you look at my body of work there seems to be a connection between all of the pieces regardless of whether or not the subject is related. It’s also why I can even deviate a bit from what’s expected but still
create a piece that looks like mine like I did with my latest piece “vase with flowers” that you see at the beginning of this post or my “inside out” quilt (right) which has a lack of my signature colors in it.