Tuesday, April 15, 2014


thinking about the role of constraints in art.

Consider Haiku.
  1. 1.
    a Japanese poem of seventeen syllables, in three lines of five, seven, and five, traditionally evoking images of the natural world.

It is within this structure that the poetic form exists. By constraining the form, the art flourishes.

There are other examples of constraints in art forms that by their very nature, allow the creative process to expand. There are constraints in materials, constraints in space and time, and constraints in color, texture, line - basically any aspect of art can be constrained, both by physics and by a choice of the artist.

Tiny quilts already have several constraints that I have chosen to work with:
Materials: They are made of 100% cotton fabric. I chose this because I like the feel of the cotton and the saturation of the dyes. Since there is no variation in the texture or surface reflectivity, the choice of homogeneous materials places a greater emphasis on color interactions.

Size: They are small. I've chosen to work on a small scale due to (mostly) to time considerations, although storage and cost play a part. I want to be able to work on a design quickly and with a small time commitment. I like doing hand work, so speeding up the process by using a sewing machine is not very interesting to me. 

Method: Working by hand is another constraint. I have done much more intricate appliqué designs using a sewing machine that does not require the 1/8" turnover allowance. Handwork limits my angles and curves somewhat. My shapes are more simple done by hand, but I find the edge more pleasing than what the sewing machine produces. 

I think a lot about color. While I would love to have hundreds of colors to choose from when I design a tiny quilt, that isn't practical from a storage and investment standpoint. So, color choices have become a form of constraint. Rather than bemoan that constraint, I am trying to play with it. I take lots of pictures of color combinations I meet in the world I travel in. I've also been known to pocket paint chip cards from hardware stores. 

Here's a shot of the signage in The Plot, an open space in downtown Norfolk VA. This set of colors has already been carefully vetted by a designer to evoke basic colorations of elements in the park. It's a constrained set of colors, but I find it very inspiring. By whittling down the hundreds of colors available to these seven, the designer has created a palette that has become a jumping off point for many tiny quilt ideas spinning around in this sleepless artist's head.