I have a strange relationship to color. That may seem odd for a quilt and fabric designer, but it’s true. Way back in undergrad at Kenyon College I took color theory (it was essential the color theory course Josef Albers developed during his years teaching at Yale). Over the course of fourteen weeks I came to hate color, ColorAid paper, Exacto blades, and rubber cement. Assignment after assignment asking me to perform various transmutations of color seemed to offer a single truth: Every color can go with every other color if you want it to. That felt not so much a theory as a self-evident reality. For the resolute sculptor that I was at the time (not so much a sculptor really, more of an accidental art student who possessed none of the traditional art skills so I had latched onto the discipline that valued simply jamming stuff together) this felt like an exercise in futility. Of course stuff goes together, and depending on the stuff it would do different things…
Little did I know that no other class would have as big an impact on my life in art. If everything goes with everything then I was set free to play, to try things out and see what sprang forth. Yes, I spend weeks, months, and sometimes years working through an idea, but when it comes to making I play. Most of my quilt designs never go beyond the stage of the coloring experiments in The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook; I figure out the construction, the how-to of the piecing, and then the play begins.
The forty-nine quilts for coloring in The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook were designed to be impossible to do wrong. Many of them are rather atypical quilts, though each of them can in fact be made in fabric even if some exotic techniques might be necessary. But that is really the point for me; by stepping away from the expected quilt forms the coloring itself is set free. Instead of making sure the quilts look correct, you can relax into the pleasure of color and see what happens. But here is the thing, when there is no wrong answer what remains, what really matters, is the play itself, yet through that play new ideas will inevitably arrive. Each coloring exercise contains a multitude of possibility; colors are not just applied to the designs, filling areas, but remake and reinvent the designs themselves. Color play doesn’t just finish designs; it re-imagines what the designs might be, finds new relationships, invents new forms, constructs new stories.
That is why I design all of my quilts much like these coloring exercises, as empty outlines that do no more than illustrate the piecing methods, the measurements for cutting. I do not want to prejudge just what my quilts might become; I enforce a pause between designing and coloring to allow me to approach the color (and along with the color the forms themselves) with a different set of eyes. Yes those eyes are still mine, but now they are looking at the shapes rather than creating them. And with that fresh perspective color is set free from ordinary expectations and allowed to roam free, to play, and ultimately find a design’s best expression. Thus, Each of the coloring exercises offers myriad possible lessons, but without the dread and resignation of those precise Color-Aid manipulations I endured some twenty-five years ago.
And of course fun. Hopefully lots of fun…