Revisiting the Four Elements

Sky, Days 126 to 150 of 2016. Part of the Four Elements series.

Mid-March finds me steadily busy completing my 25 Day pieces for our upcoming Abstract Ecology art show with my talented daughter Maggie Warren. My mind is full of details of rod pockets, fusing on quilt labels, etc. The best Studio Notes I can offer with my cluttered mind today is an article from last spring about my Four Elements series. These  four 25 Day pieces have been on my mind since I am busy getting them ready for the upcoming art show.  The article talks a bit about my thought process behind the designs. At the end of the article I talk about one of my favorite design elements of adding small pieces of fabric into the daily square design for visual interest and texture. I am including a photo of my favorite 25 Day piece in the series that I just completed, Sky. More photos will follow after the show. 



The Four Elements

When I participated in the 100 day project in 2015, I made four 30 inch quilts that encompassed all the daily squares from the entire project sewn in the daily consecutive order.  I display them in my house as one large square with just a few inches of space between them.  I like that style of hanging four pieces together so much that when I contemplated participating in the 100 day project for 2016, I decided I wanted to have four pieces that went together well so I could hang them also as one larger square.

When I was thinking about the number 4 for four pieces, the idea of the Four Elements just popped into my thinking.  I must admit when my children were little we watched the Avatar cartoon series which divided their culture into people with special powers over the four elements:  Earth, Air, Water, and Fire.  I wanted to mix it up and use my own terminology so I decided on Fire, Sky, Water and Earth.  I guess I wanted Sky because it's really hard to think about colors of the Air.  The vision of sky opened up all sorts of colors of the sunrise, sunset, and blue skies. 

Normally, I come up with a design idea and a color idea, and I just let it unfold each day without too much thought of what the final piece will look like all together.  I just let it happen.  My main concern is to have enough variations available in the design and in the colors to make it interesting for me each day in the studio.  However, this time for the Four Elements series I actually got out my colored pencils and graph paper to draw my design ideas with color to see how the 4 pieces would look together when I hung them as a square all together. 

My favorite daily squares of each of the Four Elements series, 2016.  Upper left: Earth Upper right: Water Lower left: Sky Lower right: Fire

This process of seeing all the designs together helped me balance the design elements in all four individual series.  For the Fire series, I used hot colors of reds, oranges and yellows for the flames.  I added blue for contrast and to represent blue flames.  For the design, my only parameter was three radiating lines from the bottom of the square.  For the Sky series I am currently working on, I am using blues for the sky and purples and oranges for the sunrise and sunsets.  The design parameters are horizontal trending lines with one white line in each square to represent clouds.  I knew I needed a different design for the Water series besides horizontal lines.  I decided to go with a diagonal line design in half of the square and a solid color for the other half for the Water series.  For the Earth series, I plan on having a green horizontal line for a base representing the green surface of earth with many colored vertical strips to represent trees and flowers.  I wanted to balance the cool colors of the Sky and Water series equally amongst the Fire and Earth series. So I will have the cool color series diagonal from each other in the 4 square layout.

When I work in a series, I always like to have one or two cohesive elements.  I'm always trying to allow for my art to be spontaneous in the moment each day. One way I have been able to do that in the Fire series and in the current Sky series is by using strips of very small pieces interspersed with the solid strips. I'm finding that is my most exciting part of the design process. I plan to continue this design element through the entire four elements series as one of these cohesive elements.

By making the detailed drawing of the design on the graph paper, I learned that I can have a plan but still keep things spontaneous.  Consider doing some preliminary planning for your next project but allow room for spontaneous inspiration and go with the flow.