Category Archives: Tips N Techniques

Composition in 2-value notan.

Positive and Negative Space in Art Quilting

Effectively using positive and negative space is key to creating compelling art quilt compositions.

Positive space is the area of the composition that is happening, or of interest

Negative space is the area around the positive space, and the area that is NOT happening, often referred to as “The Resting Space”

You can’t have one without the other, and both serve attention.

Manage Positive & Negative Space in Art

Negative space doesn’t have to be boring to be effective. It is possible to focus the eye and draw attention to the positive space, but not waste the negative space.

In my portrait quilts, I often create the figure, then audition it on several backgrounds to see what works best.  White space worked well for my tribute to Malala, but something with more color and visual texture was needed to offset the solid mass of the figure in Busy Signal.

Portrait of Malala wearing a red scarf. Negative space is created with a white background. A Islamic floral border of blue and red flowers with green leaves. The center text is a quote by Malala Yousafzai, "With guns you can kill terrorists, with education you can kill terrorism.

Malala, by Lea McComas, 30″ x 50″, 2019.

Mottled and textural print fills the negative space to contrast with the bold figure irepresented with solid spaces.

Busy Signal, 25 in x 36
2017.

Auditions for Negative Space

Selecting appropriate fabric for negative space in your art is a skill that can be practiced in isolation. As with any skill: repetition builds proficiency.  I suggest you do the following exercise in a deliberate and thoughtful manner.  This experience will increase your knowledge base and make the process easier in the future.  

  1. Select a small motif. Begin with something simple, but repeat this process with more complex motifs.
  2. Select a group of fabrics to audition. Look for connections to the motif, i.e. color scheme, shape, line, texture.
  3. Place the motif on each of the fabrics and take a photo reference.
  4. Make notes about the effect and the appeal of each combination.
  5. Also, not the kinds of contrast that are at work: color, value, pattern, line.
a simple seashell motif is auditioned on a variety of fabrics.

Auditions with simple motif.

options to fill negative space with complex motif

Auditions with complex motif.

Notan: Light-Dark Harmony

Notan is a Japanese terms that means light-dark harmony.  This is a way of looking at positive and negative space in terms of value.

The concept is that a composition works well when the light and dark spaces appear in balanced proportions and they work together to create interesting shapes. The light areas should group together and the same for dark areas. Notan commonly done in 2 values, can also work with 3 or 4 values.

Easy Notan Exploration

A simple exploration of this concept is to create mirror image compositions.  The photos below show the process with a simple tree drawing, and black and white fabrics.

  1. Begin with a simple drawing. Add lines to indicate where the design can be cut into 2 halves.
  2. Transfer the drawing to paperbacked fusible and iron to black fabric
  3. Cut the design in half and then cut the tree from the background.
  4. Fuse the back pieces onto white fabric as shown.
simple tree drawing for notan exploration

Explore notan using a simple design.

Mirror image tree with 2-value notan.

Mirror image tree with 2-value notan.

Here is another version of this experiment using 3-value notan.

tree drawing is used to create various versions of a 3-value notan

Mirror image tree composition created with 3-value notan.

Evaluate Positive & Negative Space Using Notan

The concept of notan can be used evaluate or develop a pictorial composition that is balanced and pleasing.  Here is a 5-step process:

  1. Open an image in a photo-editing program

    A close up portrait of an older couple. The woman leans down to kiss the cheek of the man. He is leaning back, eyes closed, and skin is pale. ©2019, Lea McComas, The Long Goodbye, fabric and thread, 44 x 33 inches, $5200. Artist statement:There is a gentle tenderness between two souls that have traveled life's journey together.

    The Long Goodbye

  2. Grayscale the image

    Composition in grayscale.

    Composition in grayscale.

  3. Posterize at 2 levels.

    Composition posterized in 2 values.

    Composition posterized in 2 values.

  4. Change mottled areas to white, or black.

    Composition in 2-value notan.

    Composition in 2-value notang.

  5. Evaluate the interaction of black and white shapes.  If the interplay between black and white; positive and negative space is interesting, this is an indication that the composition is appealing.  

Managing positive and negative space is no guarantee that you will create a masterpiece.  Consider this just one of the ingredients in the recipe for success.

Learn More in My  Color & Composition Class

Interested in learning more? Every month I lead a Color and Composition class where we explore a color scheme, color concept, and a composition concept.  We meet online  the 4th Saturday of every month 1:00-3:00 PM MDT. To join us, sign up through the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum.

Subscribe to this blog for future summary updates on topics covered in the Color & Composition class.

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diptych of 2 native American men on horseback crossing a river. On left panel the man turns to look at the viewer. On the the right panel, the man is riding away from the viewer.

Create Depth with Atmospheric Perspective

Art quilters can create the illusion of depth with atmospheric perspective when they apply four key color concepts in pictorial quilts.  Creating depth with atmospheric perspective was one of the topics I discussed in my monthly Color & Composition class.  Read on for a summary of that part of the discussion.  If you are intrigued,  information about future Color & Composition class sessions is at the bottom.

The Illusion of Depth in Art

There are two types of perspective that can be employed in your art quilts to create the illusion of depth in a pictorial work such as landscape or seascape. The first is linear perspective; the use of 1 or 2 vanishing point with lines in the composition converging on those points.  This is the most commonly recognized and used method for creating that illusion of depth.  Raphael’s painting, School of Athens, is a great example.  Notice that the architectural lines lead to a single vanishing point in the center of the composition.

Inspiration for Women's Work

School of Athens by Raphael, 1509-1511.

A second method is to create the illusion of depth with atmospheric perspective.  This method relies on manipulation of color to create the illusion of depth.  Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata, by Jan van Eyck provides an example of this.  Compare the elements in the foreground with those that appear to be far in the distance.

An illusion of depth using atmospheric perspective is evidenced in this painting of 2 priests in brown cloaks kneeling on the ground among rock outcroppings with city visible in the distance.

Jan van Eyck, Saint Francis of Assisi Receiving the Stigmata, 1430

Keys to Create Depth with Atmospheric Perspective

With the great masters as our inspiration, let’s shift our focus to art quilting and the selection of fabrics for landscape quilts.  There are 4 key considerations.

Texture

Represent the textures of items that are close to the viewer such as plants, rocks, clothing, furniture.  Less textural detail should be visible in elements that appear in the mid-ground,  and eliminate textural detail in the background. Quilters also have the option of adding texture with stitching and surface embellishments.

An illusion of depth using atmospheric perspective is evidenced in these three sets of fabrics show heavy medium and light texture in three colors: gray, red-violet, green

Fabric selection based on texture and depth.

Value & Value Range 

Moving from foreground to background, the value range should narrow.  Render elements in the foreground  with a broad value range from very light to very dark. Reduce the value range to make elements appear further away by eliminating the lightest and darkest values.  Also, shift the value range to the lighter end of the value scale because darker values are lost to a greater degree than lighter values. 

2 grayscales, fingers show use of values used in atmospheric perspective. Light to dark used in foreground. light to medium dark used in background.

Value range for atmospheric perspective

An illusion of depth using atmospheric perspective is evidenced in this art quilt of park bend on outcropping overlooking receding ridges of tree covered hills in a snowstorm.

Winterscape

Clarity

Elements become less defined as they move to the distance.This is related to texture.  Texture would be how you represent the surface of a object, Clarity focuses on the shapes of objects The edges of your shapes will soften and become more blob-like as those objects move to the distance.  Below is a simple seascape composition that I created as a class sample.  In the detail view of the palm trees, notice how the outline of the palm fronds is simplified in the tree on the right.  Id I were to add a third tree further in the distance, the palm fronds would have gentle curving edges in contrast to the jagged edges of the foreground and mid-ground trees.

beach scene in fabric with two palm trees on the left and an island at the horizon on the right.

Beach scene

An illusion of depth using atmospheric perspective is evidenced in the tops of two palm trees showing greater clarity in the foreground tree

beach scene detail of palm tree tops

Temperature

Warm colors advance and cool colors recede.  When selecting fabrics for a composition, make note of the colors that will appear in the foreground, mid-ground, and background. For colors that repeat at various distances, selected warmer versions to appear closer, and cooler versions to appear in the distance.   For example, the color red in the foreground could be a warmer red-orange, while red in the distance could be a cooler red-violet.  Look below at Crossing Over.  The water in the foreground is a mix of blue and blue-green, but is rendered in blue-violet in the background.  The foliage on the distant back is green near the water’s edge and blue-green on the more distant hills.

diptych of 2 native American men on horseback crossing a river. On left panel the man turns to look at the viewer. On the the right panel, the man is riding away from the viewer.

Crossing Over, diptych by Lea McComas

Water detail in Crossing Over shows atmospheric perspective as foreground in in blue-green to blue, and back ground is done in blue-violet.

Water detail in Crossing Over

Figure & background detail of Crossing Over shows foliage in front in green colors with background foliage in blue green. Warm reds and blues in clothing of figure pop forward in the composition.

Figure & background detail of Crossing Over

Create Depth in the Sky

When it comes to the sky, we often forget to create depth using atmospheric perspective. Treat the sky as an element of the composition.  The top of the composition is the foreground, and sky near the horizon line is the background.  Sky should be a warmer, more saturated color at the top of the composition and move to a cooler, less saturated color at the horizon.  A common mistake is to use a solid blue fabric, or a printed sky with cloud fabric.  The problem is that these fabrics present a static representation of the sky that make it appear flat. They fight the illusion of depth, rather than support it.  I suggest a hand-dyed or ombre fabric to support depth using atmospheric perspective.

fabric sample of blue sky with clouds.

Sky with clouds

flat light blue square

Flat sky color

blue square with vibrant color at the top and pale color at the bottom

blue sky ombre

Join our next Color & Composition Session

Interested in learning more? Every month I lead a Color and Composition class where we explore a color scheme, color concept, and a composition concept.  We meet online  the 4th Saturday of every month 1:00-3:00 PM MDT. To join us, sign up through the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum.

Subscribe to this blog for future summary updates on topics covered in the Color & Composition class.

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Color Temperature

Fabric Fever: When Color Temperature is Cause for Concern

In these winter days, especially now, having a fever is cause for concern. Staying home and

Does you fabric have a temperature?

away from others gives me more time with my fabric, where temperature has also been on my mind.  Last year, I started teaching a monthly Zoom class on Color & Composition through the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum and our color focus last month was about temperature.  Here is a bit of what we discussed…

What is Warm? What is Cool?

The exact dividing line between warm & cool colors has been an open topic for centuries.

various versions of color temperature

What is your preference?

Your preference likely depends on your medium: a digital graphic artist lives in a different color world than a fiber art quilter.  Here is what I work with…

my take on color temperature

Here are my play groups for warm and cool colors.

I also think of red and green as temperature neutral.  They can function with either play group, but will be the coolest kids in the warm group, and the hottest kids in the cool group.

color temperature - warm

What’s cool in the warm group?

color temperature - cool

What is warm in this cool group?

How is Temperature a Tool?

It’s a fact that warm colors advance and cool colors recede!  In a composition, we can create a sense of depth using temperature.  Warm colors will seem closer to us and cool colors will fall to the background.  Or do they?  Do we know this because someone told us, or because we have experienced it?  I say, “You don’t really own that knowledge until you test it out.”  

So, I created a series of simple compositions of a box on a background.  These are only  8 x10 inches, easy to make, and keep on hand for future reference.

Warm vs Cool – Round 1

First, here is a box in a warm color sitting on a cool color background. 

Does the box visually pop off the surface?

Now, here is the reverse: a cool color box on a warm color background.

What about this box?

If the concept holds true, the first version should appear to have more depth, and the background should fight for dominance in the second.  What do you think?

Warm vs Cool – Round 2

In my next experiment, I pitted warm and cool colors against each other in the same composition.  Using a temperature neutral color green for the back ground, I put a large and small box together in the composition.  Size will indicate to the viewer that the larger box is closer, but, how does color temperature amplify, or mute that message?  

 

Warm vs Cool in Pictorial Quilts

These examples are very dramatic, but the concept can be used in more subtle ways.  Color temperature is relative.  Even within the “Warm” or “Cool” color play groups, each color will appear warmer, or cooler depending on what color plays next to it.  For example, orange is cooler than yellow, but warmer than red.  Also, blue is cooler than green, but warmer than violet. 

I use this concept in all of my work.  Look through my genre and portrait galleries to see how warm tones advance from the cooler backgrounds.  When more than one person is included in a composition, I employ subtle temperature changes in flesh tones to make one figure more prominent, or appear closer than another. 

Which figure has the warmer complexion?

How does temperature amplify depth in this piece?

Experience is the best teacher

Now, if you really want to own knowledge of this concept, you need to conduct your own experiences.  It can be a simple as cutting out some circles of various sizes and colors, and then experiment with placing those circles on different backgrounds.  You don’t even need to fix them permanently.  Try one version, take a photo, rearrange, and take another photo.

If you try this, share a photo of your experiment with me:  Lea@leamccomas.com

Learn More About Color Concepts

Every month, I teach an online Color & Composition class through the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum.  We meet via Zoom on the 4th Saturday of every month from 1:00-3:00 (Mountain Time zone).  Each meeting is a chance to explore a color concept, a color scheme, and a composition concept.  Come every month, or participate when you can.  The cost is $20/ session. Click this link to join us.

Here is what we’ll be exploring at our next meeting on January 23:

Color Concept: Creating Depth

Color Scheme: Analogous

Composition Concept: Variety & Unity

Sign up for the next Color & Composition class with Lea McComas

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New Color Wheel a Must-Have Design Tool

A Good Color Wheel is an Essential Tool.

I’ve worked with a lot of color wheels and have long been in love with my Itten Color Star.  However, after years of use, it is getting a little tattered.  The fabulous thing about the Color Star is that it comes with templates that allow you to isolate a group of colors by scheme.  I’d buy a new one, but they are no longer being manufactured, and finding them online will cost you anywhere from $100-$500.  Crazy, right??

A recurring frustration for me and my students happens when I refer to this tool and how to use the templates in my lectures: Color Theory for Quilters, Pictorial Quilt Primer, and Driving in the Dark; as well as my online class, Successful Pictorial Quilts.  Students see how I use the wheel and the templates, love it, want it, only to find out that is wan’t readily available.

Someone should!  Someone did!!

For years I’ve been saying, “Someone should reinvent this Color Star.”  So, imagine my excitement when my friend, Katie Fowler, did just that.  She designed a new color wheel with templates, even more templates, and has named it Color’s Greatest Hits. There are other significant improvements: 

  • The color blocks are bigger and so are the windows in the templates This gives more color space and less negative space and makes it easier to envision the color scheme.
  • There are more templates.   Katie has added a double-double complement, and an analogous run, for a total of 10 templates, where the Color Star had only 8.  In the past, when I didn’t have what I neededI had fashioned my own supplements out of typing paper.  It wasn’t optimum, so I like  having more options on hand.

Room for Improvement:

There are a couple of features of the old Color Star that I prefer:

  • The peg in the center that allows the viewer to secure the template and spin it to view various color combinations within a color scheme.  It’s possible to do the same with the new color wheel; you just have to steady and turn the template by hand.
  • The templates on the Color Star were black on one side and white on the other.  I find that the white negative space is sometimes easier on the eye.  The new templates are black on both sides.

These are pretty minor issues, and I believe the new version is better overall. It’s my understanding that the  I definitely prefer it to anything else I’ve seen currently on the market.

If you are interested in getting your own Colors Greatest Hits, you can order online directly from Katie’s website. 

Reminder: Have you gotten involved with the Border Wall Quilt Project?  Do it now!

 

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Starring Roles and Supporting Roles

I’ve just posted a new video showing how to use a value scale to select fabrics for various elements of a pictorial composition.  By managing the value range you can make some people or items stand out more than others.   Here is a photo of a self portrait I did with high value contrast

This piece has high value contrast.

This piece has high value contrast.

I’ve done a second version of this with a narrow value range.  I did this by replacing the very lightest and darkest fabrics.  It would seem that I’ve already packed that piece in anticipation of moving to a new house and didn’t take a photo first.  You can see it, however, in my latest video.

Value Finding Tools Part3: Starring and Supporting Roles

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Placed on hold

Three months ago, my husband and I found, what we believe is our dream home.  We put

Sample 1. I seem to be be wandering aimlessly

Sample 1. I seem to be be wandering aimlessly

in an offer, it was accepted, and …that’s when things got complicated.  Without going into the details, we are still waiting for some issues to be settled.

It was hard to go to the studio to get into a new creative project when I was poised and ready to pack everything up and move with 3 days notice.  But, one week led to another, and the delays continue.  It was like making a phone call and being placed on hold where a voice breaks in periodically, not to help, but to tell you “your business is important so please wait longer.”

Desperate to make art, I decided to temp the fates.  A local guild opened up a workshop with a visiting artist and I was able to grab a space.   The workshop was about working intuitively and quickly.  These are not my strengths.  I need time to process and mull things

Sample 2. feels like a shrine

Sample 2. feels like a shrine

over, so my productivity was

disappointing at the workshop, but I brought home the “beginnings” and left them laying on the work table for another week.  I touched them, look for inspiration on Facebook, moved them around and eventually, began to find my way.  It is exciting when the process builds momentum.  Like falling dominoes, a chain reaction happens.  One thing leads to another.  The photos show my progress.

Sample 3. Going in circles

Sample 3. Going in circles

The rewarding aspect of this process is that it allowed me to work in a series without making a major commitment.  The big take away, for me, was creating a background fabric by fusing squares of one fabric onto another. I used some hand dyed fabrics I created in a previous workshop.

Sample 5. Squares in the background. Sample 6 from cutout leftovers. Kanji reads: "Creativity"

Sample 5. Squares in the background. Sample 6 from cutout leftovers. Kanji reads: “Creativity”

Sample 7. Playing with a bigger background

Sample 7. Playing with a bigger background

Sample 8. more squares with more contrast

Sample 8. more squares with more contrast

I’m going to find a way to incorporate this into a future “real” project.

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Golden Mean Calipers Part 2: Crop a Picture

This is my second video on how to use the Golden Mean Calipers.  This week I show you how use them to crop a photo around a focal point so that the outer dimensions are harmonious and the subjects in the composition are well placed. These calipers are available in my web store.  If you find these videos interesting or helpful, subscribe so that you get notified whenever I post a new one.  I’m trying to do this once a week until I run out of things to say—like that could ever happen.

Calipers video part 2

calipers 2

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Golden Mean Calipers Part 1: Establishing Borders

This is my first video about how to use Golden Mean Calipers.  Ever Wonder how wide to make your borders.  You can use this tool to find a width that is in harmony with the size of your blocks.  If you already know the finished width of the borders you need, use the calipers to determine the best way to divide that width into multiple borders and sashing.

I’m not done with the Value Finding Tool Kit.  Watch for more videos using a variety of design tools.  Subscribe to my YouTube Channel: Lea McComas Fiber Art to see them.

Here is the link to this week’s video:

Golden Mean Calipers Part 1: Establishing Borders

Use the calipers to determine the width of your borders

Use the calipers to determine the width of your borders

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Value Finding Part 2: Near & Far

I’ve just posted Value Video Part 2.  Watch this video to learn more about how to use my Value Finding Tool Kit when making pictorial quilts.  This week learn about using the concept of value when building a landscape composition.

Next week I’ll post my first video showing how to use the Golden Mean Calipers.  I hope you are enjoying watching the videos in place of a text blog.  It is certainly more fun for me to share my thoughts via video rather than text, at least for now.

I’m hoping to build a following on my YouTube channel, so if you like the videos, please subscribe to the channel and share it with others who might be interested.

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Using the Golden Mean Calipers


Golden Mean Calipers

Today, I want to share with you a tool that I’ve discovered called the Golden Mean Calipers..  I’ve also seen them labeled “Fibonacci Gauge.” can be a useful design tool in your artistic process. There are a variety of ways this particular tool can be used. Let me illustrate a few.

Finding the Sweet Spot Within Your Composition

A focal point is used to grab the viewer’s eye and engage the viewer in your artwork. Generally, it is best to avoid taking the viewer’s eye to the center, for when it arrives there, it will tend to stop and rest. Placing key elements off center will tend to prolong the viewer’s engagement with the composition. Use the calipers as shown below to determine the best placement of the focal point and other key elements of a composition. In portraits, eyes and mouths are important features for focal points.

Use calipers for cropping the sides of an image.

Use calipers for cropping the sides of an image.

focal point 1

Lay the calipers over a photo print, to determine the best way to crop it.

Focal Point Landscape

Use the calipers to determine the placement of a design element within a larger panel.

Taking Elements Off the Edge

Avoiding the middle also applies when taking lines or elements off the edge of a composition. See how the calipers can be used to determine the most visually pleasing locations for the placement of lines that will carry the viewer’s eye to the edge of a composition.edge 2edge 1

edge 3

Creating Borders with Harmony

This tool is also useful when adding borders to a traditional block quilt. One method is to start with the blocks themselves. Place the outer points of the calipers at the edges of the blocks. This will give you two new measurements that will be in harmony with the blocks. Use the larger measurement for the total width of the border. This area can further be divided by placing the outer points of the calipers on the edges of the border area. This will indicate pleasing widths for and inner and outer border. All measurements indicate finished sizes. Don’t forget to add seam allowances.

Measure the width of your block.

Measure the width of your block.

Create a single border matching the wider measurement of the calipers.

Create a single border matching the wider measurement of the calipers.

Create harmonious smaller borders.

Create harmonious smaller borders.

Divide the border area using the calipers.

Divide the border area using the calipers.

Sometimes, a specific finished size is necessary and this isn’t achieved in the process above. In this case, determine the desired total width of your outer borders, open the calipers to this desired width and then measure the distance between the points to determine the finished widths of an inner border and outer border.

Perfect Facial Proportions.

The Golden Ratio occurs naturally within faces and calipers are useful when creating portrait works, either when drawing the face, or problem solving when a face doesn’t look quite right. See the photos below for ways to check the proportions of the face, and placement of the features.

Placement of mouth between nose and chin

Placement of mouth between nose and chin

face 1

Bring of the nose in relation to forehead and chin.

Placement of eyes

Placement of eyes

If you are interested in learning more about facial proportions and portrait quilting, check out my book, Thread-Painted Portraits: Turn Your Photos into Fiber Art 

AND look for videos on my YouTube Channel Lea McComas Fiber Art.

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