There is a huge upsurge of creativity going on now, helped by many magazines and cyber groups as well as art retreat sorts of weekends. It pains me though, to see a lot of energy expended on a kind of generic "look" that is popular in the arts/crafts movement. which, alas, so often end up as a lovely decoration as opposed to a personal expression. If a work of art attracts me it's usually because the hand and heart of the artist is evident. It can be revealed by narrative content, or a quirky choice of materials, or a certain edginess that keeps the viewer off balance and therefore interested. The artist has to be willing to take risks, look into herself and not worry too much about style. Once you have that confidence, more formal matters of composition, colour, structure, balance, rhythm all come with practice and experience.


Simply put, the elements of art are those tools used to create an image. They include line, form, space. shape, scale, colour, and texture.

Let's elaborate on each of these.

Line: The obvious characteristic is that line can define the contours of an object. Beyond that, line can indicate movement and direction. It can suggest a mood; for instance a nervous irregular line creates tension, a smooth undulating line a calming rhythm. Straight geometrics connote rigidity, line of various thickness can inject variety. Horizontal and vertical line suggest man made interior, flowing organic line, landscape.

Form: Describes the volume of an object. A single shape on a background will read as

a flat object. Variety of colour and texture within the shape, will create an illusion of three dimension....thus form.

Space: Within a composition, the appearance of depth and structure can be achieved with various techniques. The simplest is overlapping of shapes where it becomes obvious that one thing sits BEHIND another. Developing an environment by means of PERSPECTIVE will also define a deep space. This can be done through geometric shapes as in defining the interior of a room, and also through colour changes. "Hot" colours tend to come forward, "cool" colours recede. Highly saturated colours become more greyed as they recede into space. This phenomenon is called aerial perspective.

Shape/Scale: A composition is in fact just an arrangement of shapes. HOW they are arranged can make the difference between a generic pattern, and a truly interesting field for the eye to peruse. An arrangement of similar or identical shapes, evenly placed around the rectangle makes for a tedious, repetitive journey for the eye. VARIETY of sizes, ASYMMETRICAL placement , ALTERATION of scale make for a much more appealing composition and can introduce rhythm, movement and expression to a work.

Colour: More than any other element, colour can set the tone, mood and tension level of a work. Jewel toned colour is exciting and playful. Harmonized colours such as reds/oranges/yellow are universally appealing. Contasting colour like those in the red/green axis create tension. Subdued toned down colour can create a soft mood.

Now we have an understanding of the tools of art making, we can learn to apply those tools to create a truly personal and interesting composition.


At once you are faced with the dreaded "blank canvas" as you start a new art quilt. The first decision of course, is what the image is going to depict. In this case we are giving ourselves a break, and choosing the old standby a still life....just so we don't have to angst too much about what it all means!

Things to keep in mind:

Line...thickness, regularity, direction, lyrical, geometric. Line can be used to unify a composition as in making a horizontal to suggest a horizon line in a landscape. Line also can infer a direction, create agitation or calm.

Colour....pure, modified, juxtaposition, contrasts, hue. Colur can set a mood...somber or lively. Contrasts in tone and hue helps achieve depth in a composition.

Pattern..small overall, large bold, creating depth. Large bold prints are a good source of shapes when cut out of context. As in defining eyes, nose with stems of a plant.

Texture, via quilting, via pattern, via folding, crimping, pleating. Remeber fabric will do things that no other medium does. So take advantage of that rather than trying to force the fabric to behave like paint, or paper.

Shapes Don't be afraid to be arbitrary when looking at the overall composition. If an object is not showing up for instance, make an arbitrary shape behind it in a very much darker or lighter fabric to make the object pop.

What makes it personal?


Subject matter


What engages the viewer?

Hidden elements ( subtlety)

relating to subject

humour, puns

absence of cliches....make the viewer work.

What Makes a GOOD Composition- Pamela Allen instructor

This class is an ongoing exploration of ART QUILTING and all its trials and challenges . Many quilt artists come from the genre of more traditional work and are thus very skilled in the technical aspects of quilt making. However when crossing the line into art, other considerations come to the fore...such as style, content, formal elements, composition. These characteristics are more ephemeral and difficult to define. It requires time and practice to reach that confidence of knowing what is good and what is not so good. This workshop is devoted to the fundamental challenge of what makes a pleasing composition. Exercises are designed to explore separate facets of composition over the weekend through small quilt designs done quickly and spontaneously. The class will touch upon the formal elements of a composition, the expressive capabilities of colour, the narrative possibilities of an image.

Materials list:

Basic hand sewing needs. You will NOT need a sewing machine for this workshop.

Sharp scissors....very important as all our "drawing" of shapes will be done with scissors.

Embroidery floss

Darning or embroidery needles

Fabrics: A VARIETY of cottons, specialty fabrics such as silk, velvets, corduroy, polyester (YES!) and rayons. , plains and patterned, commercial or recycled.

You will also need fabrics in black, white and any mixture thereof....eg. Small or large B&W prints, B&W lace etc. Our quilts w ill be quite small so you won't need a VAST stash of fabrics. I'm hoping we can share amongst ourselves as well.

Glue stick, or any quick drying fabric adhesive. Fusible web is NOT recommended.

Please assemble four or five quilt sandwiches ahead of time. A back, batting and a top preferably spray basted together...or adhered in some other way.. This will save time in class. The sizes can be varied so you aren't bored with the same format all weekend.. The colour of the top doesn't matter except one should be either black or white. Something around 16" max. not too small that you become picky picky , and not too big that you are overwhelmed. You may want to plan the size to later fit a standard frame if you enjoy mounting your work that way.

General description:

Black and White

Using only black and white plains and patterns explore the importance of SHAPE,


Limited Colour Pallette

Working with COLOUR. Students will use a limited pallette to keep the choices down... 2 colours plus black and white. We will explore the impact colour has on the "feeling" and expressiveness of the work. Manipulating contrasts can develop structure and depth also. Again, to keep the choices and angst to a minimum the class will be given a simple subject that all can work on. Having learned about big bold shapes without colour, the class will be able to come up with a really nice colour composition in the afternoon.


The subject for the morning will be a portrait with colour and symbolism revealing the sitter's character. The idea of achieving a likeness realistically will be totally abandoned on favour of capturing the essence of the figure through symbols, colour and narrative. By using fabric collage method and anything goes embellishment. this should be fun, as there are all kinds of possibilities for the class. (Maybe portraits of each other with a questionnaire that each fills out about their favorite colour, food, place, event etc which then must be incorporated into the work).


The student uses all the things learned over the course of the weekend to make a small quilt of HER choice. Perhaps even Trading card size...but something THE STUDENT chooses to do. This could be an abstract or figurative composition.