There’s a reason I don’t draw, at least not with pencil and paper. Or paint, or anything of that ilk, if we are going down that path. I just can’t do it. Seriously. I’ve tried. I have an undergraduate and two graduate degrees in art, and spent a serious chunk of my professional life as an art professor, but I simply cannot draw.

Okay, when I say I tried, I mean I have taken the requisite classes, but it never really interested me. Though that may be more a symptom of my profound inability to draw. You see, I do not see things in my head. Ever. Never ever. Well, except when I dream.

This was a revelation to my wife. She just assumed everyone saw images in their head, could call up visual recollections. And I just figured the notion of “picturing something” was a metaphor for remembering it. So, perhaps my inability to see with my mind impedes the process that goes from eye to hand to paper. I know there are blind artists who can draw from memory, so that path from mind to hand to paper may still exist. Obviously my eyes work, but there just seems to be a barrier somewhere in that brain. I am a rather good mark-maker, but simply cannot do the representation rendering thing. It just doesn’t work.

And I think that goes a long way toward explaining my mistrust of technique. Not that I don’t believe in technique, but that I am wary of when it is confused for excellence. Back in my professor days I taught that good art depended on three things: concept, aesthetics, and technique. I’m not sure where, or if, I learned that, but it always just seemed a self evident truth. Students tended to one of two camps: the aestheticians and the technicians. A few were both. But it was the rare undergrad who actually got all three down, even just once in a while, but when they did the clouds parted and choruses of angels sang.

Now that I find myself in the quilting world, I so often see technique valorized above all else, concept is so often ignored entirely. I am all for good technique; I work hard with every quilt to improve my skills, as I hope we all do. But there is more to this form than just doing things correctly, no matter how excellently. I think that is why I keep coming back to Vicoria’s Double Edged Love and Lisa’s quilting for it. To me that is a genuinely transcendent quilt, one that not only addresses all three aspects of good art, but smacks them around and makes them ask for mercy.


And I know that not every quilt is going to do that; that is just the nature of making. But I am going to keep looking for it, and perhaps I will be the only one at the quilt shows just shrugging at the masterful technique in search of the quilts that do more. Because, you know, some of the most technically skilled painters around are the forgers…

Oh, and that drawing. Last night, after I helped Bee with her homework — during which she drew a picture of me if I were a girl with “the thing you (meaning me) love spelled in my hair” (m-a-t-i-l-d-a) — she pleaded with me to draw a picture of her. Here’s the thing: my drawings really don’t get much better than that, unless I am doing an abstract. Bee (and eventually Babbit I assume) is about the only person in the world who can get me to draw, and even she can only induce me to put pencil to paper a couple of times a year. Trust me; it’s better that way…


(PS: Bee added the red scribbles on her knees, because she is learning to ride her bicycle without training wheels this week. Sometimes she can be so profoundly self-aware…)

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3 Responses to Technique…

  1. 1
    Kevin says:

    This is the best thing I’ve read all day. Thanks Thomas!

    (I do like you’re rendering of Bee though)

  2. 2
    Adrianne says:

    Wow – the fact that you don’t see images in your mind is so interesting to me. So much of my memory is visual that I find that quite hard to imagine. How do you design your quilts and fabrics? For me, the process of designing a quilt first involves creating an image in my mind, and then translating it to a sketch (paper or CAD) and then into fabric. I’m not necessarily very good at getting the picture out of my mind and into the real world but I don’t know how I would go about it in the absence of the image to start with.

    I hope you don’t mind these questions – I’m genuinely really curious. I know that not everyone perceives the world the same way as I do, but having no visual recollections just seems so totally different.

  3. 3
    Leanne says:

    Thank you for sharing this. I had no idea that some folks cannot see things in their head. Besides having a great visual memory, when I read a good (maybe even not so good) fiction book at some point I stop having a conscious feeling of reading words and start to see it in images in my head, not exactly like a movie but very similar, hard to describe. This kind of memory and ability is great some of the time, but also can be difficult when the memory is sad or scary.

    I don’t draw either, but I am learning to be expressive with fibre arts, especially quilting.

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