I first started my weekly Sunday sketches because I wanted something to blog about regularly, but my limited quilting output didn’t provide nearly enough content. I also wanted an excuse to draw more. Sketching quilt designs and posting them each week seemed like a good way to achieve both goals.
Armed with drawing supplies and my Instagram account, I got to work. Fifty-four Sundays later, I’ve now completed just over a year of quilt design sketches! Even though I was intent on staying motivated, I’m still a little surprised that I managed to post weekly without fail. I can’t think of another activity that’s held my interest (and self-discipline) for so long.
Here’s what I learned along the way.
1. Make it a habit.
In Sunday sketch #3, I wrote about Twyla Tharp’s book, The Creative Habit, and how she argues that “the best creativity is the result of good work habits”. Rather than relying on some innate gift, most creative individuals combine routine and hard work to produce results.
I’m not going to claim that sketching is hard work, but establishing a routine certainly helped me. Knowing that I needed a post every Sunday pushed me to draw a little each week – even if it was just for an hour or so. Even at my laziest, it seemed easier (mentally, at least) to get it done than to break my new habit.
2. Don’t overthink it.
When I sit down to sketch, I just doodle and see where it goes. The only goal is to spend time sketching – if I end up with a complete quilt design at the end of it, that’s an added bonus.
There’s no need for fancy equipment… I’ve drawn most Sunday sketches on a Rhodia dot pad with some type of gel pen. I tried a Moleskine squared notebook but I prefer the smoother, whiter paper of the Rhodia pad. I’ve tried lots of different pens; at the moment, I’m really enjoying using a Uni-ball Signo gel pen in black.
Sometimes I use Microsoft Excel or Adobe Illustrator, but they have their drawbacks. Excel is best for designs that are based on squares, rectangles or stripes, but I find it too difficult to use with other shapes. Illustrator has a lot more functionality, but I’m still a beginner and sometimes the learning curve is just too steep when I want to get a design down quickly. I might try Electric Quilt one of these days, but for now I’m happy with my pen and paper.
3. Enjoy the process.
One of my favourite things as a kid was getting new school supplies. Let’s face it, one of my favourite things as an adult is getting new school supplies! I love new paper and pens, so any activity that involves both is going to be fun for me.
I run my own business from home, so it can be hard to take a mental break from work sometimes. Sitting down to sketch not only exercised my creativity but calmed my brain, giving me some mental space to think about stuff other than work.
I found that developing a creative habit helped me to become more creative. Every now and then I’d hit on an interesting design idea and finish a few good sketches in one day. Rather than giving me an excuse to skip sketching for awhile, that actually got me more motivated to sketch. I had plenty more ideas that I wanted to try out.
4. Celebrate progress.
I can see some signs of how my sketching has progressed over the past year. Although I still use a lot of the same themes (regularity, order, repetition, overlapping) and I gravitate towards the same basic units (triangles, squares, rectangles), I think my designs have become a little more sophisticated. Having said that, I still can’t draw (or think in) curves and I still shy away from improv!
Perhaps creativity is somewhat limited by ability, because I tend to sketch designs that could be made relatively easily by a basic or intermediate quilter (in other words, by someone with my level of ability). Usually I try to explain in broad terms how each design could be translated into a quilt pattern, but sometimes even I can’t figure it out.
I didn’t have any particular goals in mind when I started the Sunday sketches – apart from posting weekly. The unintended – but totally awesome – consequences include two published magazine patterns (Wildwood and Interstellar), with one more in the pipeline, and new quilty friends around the world.
5. Celebrate a complete lack of progress.
Occasionally, I’m just not feeling it, and I’ll doodle and daydream and not complete a single sketch. Other times, I’ll draw a lovely design and then realise it has swastikas in it. They don’t all work.
The great thing about developing a creative habit is that I don’t have to stress about what to do next when things go wrong, or I’m bored, or if I don’t feel like it… there’s always a simple solution: give myself a break for awhile, then get the sketchbook out and try again.
6. Share your work.
I knew I’d have a much better chance of maintaining my weekly schedule if I made myself accountable – and the easiest way to do that was by sharing my work online.
Then I called the first Sunday sketch ‘#1’ to make it clear – to myself and others – that it was the first in a regular series. Skipping a week – and messing up that numbering – is not an option!
I used to look at Molli Sparkles’ Sunday Stash (#228 and counting!) and Red Pepper Quilts’ Sunday Stash (#392!!!) posts and be amazed that anyone could maintain a weekly schedule for so many years. I’m still amazed (how does Molli find so much amazing fabric?! how is Rita so productive??) but now I kinda get it – it takes dedication, but it’s definitely achievable if you put your mind to it. Also, Sunday is clearly the day for making things happen 🙂
So, I have no idea if Sunday sketches will still be around in another 3.5 years (it’s kinda scary to think about 2020…), but who knows?! I’ll keep going until I run out of ideas.
The Modern Quilt Guild stirred up controversy recently in a blog post on ‘Understanding Copyright, Derivatives and Design Credit in Quilting’. Now retracted thanks to considerable criticism from its members, the post outlined the MQG’s stance on derivative quilt designs. Unfortunately the post conflated what the MQC would tolerate (at QuiltCon) with what’s allowed under US copyright law. And of course, laws are different around the world; what works in the USA may not work elsewhere, and vice versa.
US copyright law is intentionally imprecise, which means that ‘derivation’ and ‘inspiration’ are often in the eye of the beholder (at least until the courts are involved). There’s an inherent subjectivity involved in determining the difference. How can we tell whether someone has been inspired by another design or designer or has created a derivative of the work? Can we develop guidelines (as the MQG has tried) or must each case be decided on its own merits (as in US law)?
Recently I completed a quilt top based on a block design that I created as part of Blossom Heart Quilts’ My DIY Block Design Challenge. Week 2 of the challenge was all about sketching: using the lessons from Alyce’s ebook to design a quilt block. I started playing around with Excel (yes, Excel) and came up with this design, among others.
(The same design could be made more easily used striped blocks set on point, but I was in the midst of trying to perfect my half-square triangle technique!)
Week 3 of the challenge was all about making. Using fabric that I’d recently added to my stash, I made a block based on the Excel design (which snagged me a prize, yay):
Over time, I made another 3 blocks in coordinating fabrics, with the intention of arranging them into a larger square:
Excel’s fill and background colours don’t have quite the same range as Kona and Moda solids, but you get the idea: each colour would feature three times across the four blocks; each block would have a different background colour; and no colour would extend between adjacent blocks – the continuity across the blocks would come only from the design itself.
I set aside the 4 sewn blocks for a few months while I considered 2 possible arrangements, stressed about wrangling Essex linen alongside Kona solids, and further practiced my HST technique.
In the meantime, in one of my many meanders around Pinterest, I came across a remarkable artwork that immediately caught my eye. (I won’t post a picture for fear of breaching copyright.) An untitled work by German graphic designer Anton Stankowski, it’s a large square separated into quadrants crossed by bold diagonal lines. Unlike my design, the lines extend across vertical pairs of quadrants, and the horizontal quadrant pairs share the same background colour. But like my design, Stankowski uses only 4 colours (his are yellow, light blue, a purplish blue, and black; mine are mustardy yellow, light blue, dark blue and Essex Linen charcoal).
Before stumbling across this image, I had never seen this artwork or heard of Stankowski. But – to my mind, at least – the similarities between the two designs are striking. The fact that I only saw the image long after I’d finished my design reassures me that I didn’t inadvertently derive from Stankowski’s work, but for the same reason, I can’t claim that my design was inspired by it either.
Any similarity between my design and Stankowski’s is pure coincidence: ultimately there are only so many ways you can combine geometric shapes and popular colours. Considering the prevalence of simple shapes and standard block sizes in quilting, it’s no surprise that some of the same designs pop up again and again. Sometimes due to inspiration, sometimes derivation, and sometimes just chance.
I finally pieced together the 4 blocks without difficulty, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out.
Each block comprises an 8 x 8 grid of 3″ (finished) squares and HSTs; the quilt top measures 48.5″ x 48.5″. It’s back on the WIP pile for awhile as I think about how to quilt and bind it.
After months (years?) of thinking about it, I finally took a few sewing courses, bought myself a sewing machine, and have started on my first quilt. And then had to do loads more research online to figure out what the hell I’m doing.
The goals of Geometriquilt are to track my own quilting progress and to feature geometric quilt designs, ideas and inspiration. If you’ve found me, I hope you’ll stick around.