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.
My second quilt pattern has just been published in issue 179 of Down Under Quilts! Even though I submitted my first two patterns to different magazines a few months apart, they ended up coming out within a week of each other.
Interstellar was inspired by Sunday sketch #23, which featured strips and squares cascading down the page.
Translating a design into a pattern isn’t always easy. I don’t usually think about how each Sunday sketch could be made as a quilt until after I’ve finished the design – sometimes the construction ends up being fairly simple, while other times it’s more complicated or even too difficult to contemplate.
As I thought about how to make this design into a pattern, I realised that following my sketch faithfully would require too many partial seams and fabric pieces of different sizes. I’m sure there are many advanced quilters out there who’d relish the challenge, but I’m not one of them. So instead, I refined the design to minimise the number of fabric pieces and make the piecing a bit simpler. It might still look complicated, but the pattern actually comes together really quickly and easily.
Depending on the colour scheme and gradation, it could be a waterfall (blues and whites), a comet tail (bright whites on a dark background), a burst of fireworks (saturated colours against a night sky) or even unicorn barf (a rainbow of bright colours against a light background):
Interstellar is perfect for solids or patterned fabrics, and an ideal way to use up some of your scraps. Issue 179 of Down Under Quilts is on sale now!
I’m great with deadlines, but usually only if someone else sets them. When it comes to getting stuff done, I respond much better to external demands than to my own self-imposed pressure. Which might explain why I haven’t updated this blog in awhile, and why I don’t sew nearly as much as I’d like to….
Lately I’ve made time to sketch quilt designs, and it’s been a real boost to my creative energy. I switch between a Rhodia dot pad and a Moleskine squared notebook. I use a fountain pen or a ballpoint pen. I doodle and faff until I hit on some idea or design that I feel like completing. Some days I end up with lots to like; other days, not so much.
So to solve the problem of what to do with this blog, and to give myself an incentive to keep sketching, I’m going to start a weekly series: Sunday sketch. I’ll upload pics of my designs from the previous week, alone or with a brief commentary. If any of the designs ever progresses to a quilt pattern or an actual quilt, I’ll post that too.
First up: an effort from the past few weeks. I haven’t experimented much with half-rectangle triangles or flying geese yet (despite having BlocLoc rulers specific for both), but I like the idea of combining them in a single colour. I chose blue because I had a blue pencil handy, but I can picture this in another colour, or in scrappy and low-volume fabrics.