Author Archives: dahlia

Doodles, painting, and the year of me, me, me!

I am having a lot of fun exploring.

The angry goat prince painting is done:

Angry Goat Prince (2012) 14″ x 18″

Today I managed to develop a doodle while playing with the toddler:

Untitled doodle (2012)

I am going to see how it works on a thermofax screen, and finish filling the page.

I know that a lot of people choose a word for the year ahead, to summarize what they want to accomplish. The best I can come up with is that this is the year of Dahlia. The year that I find my unique path to make art, that I listen to my inner voice every step of the way. The year I capitalize on my strengths, both in the studio and out. The year I laugh at my weaknesses, adjust for them, and let them go. Be the most and best Dahlia I can possibly be.

Balance & Goals

I’ve long since learned, between health issues, work, and small kids in the house, that having firm studio goals becomes a stress, not an enjoyment.

Generally I just keep a running list of the possible next tasks, and choose what to tackle when I can do something.

I am trying something a little new, now. Jotting down a rough ratio that will hopefully keep my studio goals balanced:

4 doodling/drawing pages
1 doodling on fabric
2 exploring ideas in sketchbook
1 dyeing or fabric painting session
1 thermofax screen designed
4 blog, etc. updates
2 art critiques
1 colour study

Each time I complete one, I put an X beside it. When they all have the right number of X’s, I clear them out and start over again.

At the moment, there is nothing on here that involves making finished quilts. That will come soon, I hope. For now I am enjoying taking a step back, exploring the various steps to a finished quilt, and determining how I can best use my own voice throughout.

This is fun 🙂


Knowing it can often be hard to “work small” when you first learn something, and knowing that I didn’t want to invest in a larger sketchbook yet, the other day I treated myself to a 50% off canvas when I took the girls to the craft store. I figured I can paint, and repaint, and repaint it, until I get a handle on how I want to play with ideas. All for just $10.

I managed to do some more doodling after dinner, and in doing so made a great little Angry Goat Prince. So that is what I am first painting.

It only took an hour and a half to get the outlines and base layers of paint down, and start to add some patterning. It might have gone even faster, had it not been 11 pm after a long day.

I’m curious to see where this leads – whether I manage to finish it, or whether I experiment to the point of breaking it, then give up and start on something different.

I have also taken the first steps in painting in a sketchbook – I do have one larger sketchbook that was only half filled during a course, but the pages don’t handle wet media so well. So I either need to gesso them or accept much waviness. I suspect I will choose the former, but I will finish the first page before deciding.


I am often amazed by how quickly I can take big steps in the studio.

I wanted to change the fabrics I work with, use ones that look more painterly. I envisioned it would take several weeks of experimenting to find a good approach. I started with a good long list of techniques to try for the next month or two. Then I chose the first technique based on gut feeling & supplies, and was thrilled with the resultant fabrics for a first attempt. So I can throw away the rest of the technique list, and move onto the next big step.

There is a big gap in my process, I think, of playing with ideas and experimenting, before I make a work of art. My next big step is to figure out what techniques/approaches work for me, to flesh out and explore ideas in a sketchbook.

I would like to take the Creative Sketchbook course through Design Matters, but given that I’ve allocated/spent my 2012 workshop budget already (talented, I am!), I will need to rely on library books and other free resources. My other limitations are to mostly use supplies on hand (luckily I am pretty well stocked).

I suspect this big step won’t be the 24 hour kind, but regardless it should be fun, and hopefully relatively quick too. It would be good to have my process sorted before I start the Abstraction workshop with Lisa Call in February.

Jump Start on the New Year

I’d almost forgotten that today was Saturday, which generally means a few hours in the studio for me. It was a welcome reprieve after the week of festivities.

I decided to get a head start on my January work: messy play.

I used the same technique on all of these fabrics. I started with lightly dyed fabrics, and applied colour vie paint with a thermofax screen (this initial paint application, when wet, acts as a resist for more paint). Then I used other colours of the same paint to prepare a monoprint on glass, and applied the screenprinted fabric to it.

This is the first time I’d tried this approach, and I am thrilled. I can see room for improvement, as I work with it further, but I am impressed with how easy it is to create complex fabrics this way.

Happy New Year!


Once I am all ready for Christmas, I start thinking about the new year. I love the beginning of a new year. I’m not generally the type to party the night away on New Year’s Eve; instead I am happily dealing with the loose ends of the old year, so I can start anew on New Year’s Day.

Apparently this sentiment also applies in the studio. I have spent the past few weeks finishing projects: the sea creature quilt for my little girl’s room, and the eight small quilts that were in progress.

I am ready to start anew. It is not lost on me that January is named for the Roman god Janus, who could look forward and back at the same time, given that he had two faces. I might not have two faces, but the end of one year and the beginning of the next provides a good vantage point for reviewing the past and using it to inform the future.

This past year, particularly in the past six months, I have accomplished much in the studio. I have created several pieces in my Life Studies series; in doing so, I have improved my skills and clarified what most appeals to me in these works.

There are three quilts in the series that I am truly thrilled with. Looking at these together, I can see several common elements: strong lines, strong emotion, high contrast, complexity, and vibrant, warm colors.

Life Study #9 (2011) 9″x9″

Life Study #15 (2011) 9″x9″

Life Study #16 (2011) 9″x9″

I didn’t see this, until I looked at all the pieces together. Now I have this understanding, I can see that it will change my upcoming work significantly.

I have been exploring more with surface design; screen printing, using resists, and over dyeing.

I have also made drawing a regular practice, and I have just started down an exciting new path combining doodling and surface design. I don’t know quite where it will lead yet, but I can’t wait to figure it out next year.

I aim to start 2012 with a month or two of very messy play, creating a good stack of fabrics and fine tuning my dyeing and painting techniques.

I will be starting work on my Life on Mars series, with both imaginary plants and animals, and those that are so bizarre they might as well be from another planet.

I will be drawing regularly still, improving my abilities there.

More indecision/decisions

I feel ready to tackle some more complex ideas. Working on these simple designs is very useful for exploring various principles, and seeing their effects. Yet I am not so satisfied with that right now, and I want to do more.

I feel the need to create, create, create some more. Develop 20, 30, 40 scenes, and hopefully at the end have a better grasp of what I want to do, and how I want to do it. But how to do it? Part of me is drawn to the idea of acrylic on canvas, and just keep painting on top. It seems like a good way to get ideas down. Though I am already out of space, and I don’t want to buy more paint. So sketchbook it is. I’m tempted to choose a sentence (current contender is “Life on Mars”), and illustrate it in all the ways I can think of.

In my spare time. While I finish the sea creatures quilt. And clean the studio. And finish the Life Studies quilts I have on the go. And finish the Painted Pictorial Quilts course – which is fantastic, it will be so helpful with what I want to do. At least I am having fun 🙂

I tried making my bewildered guys with higher contrast, and some shading. I like them:

Life Study #11 (2011) 9″x9″

The Fall "I don’t wanna’s", and making decisions

I don’t know quite what it is about Fall that derails me. The abrupt changes in weather, the first colds for us all, the inevitable last-minute sewing for Halloween, when minds get changed. Even though I’m still accomplishing something in the studio most days, it feels much slower and less productive than usual. And my heart just isn’t in it.

For instance, these guys were finished a week ago, and yet I haven’t taken the few minutes to post them.

Life Study #10 (2011) 8″x8″

Once I had these guys all complete, I realized I must have miscalculated when it came to the final trimming and sewing, and they looked very misbalanced (I blame lack of sleep). It gave me the perfect opportunity to add the moon, and to try a technique I had wanted to, for a while. The moon is fusible webbing painted with acrylic paint, which gives it a lacy uneven look which is perfect to give that lunar quality.

As I was finishing up this piece, I got to pondering the sizes of my small works. To date they have been 9″ x 9″. However, this size is often a challenge, given that the natural width of a bolt of fabric gives me initial pieces of 11″ x 11″. When I cut stencils, my source material is 12″ square, but I can’t cut close to the edges. In short, it would make far more sense to work to 8″ square. However doing so leaves me with the first 15 or so works in the series as larger than the rest. I ultimately decided I was ok with that.

It could be that decisions like this are part of what holds me back in the studio. Also the ambiguity lately. It has been very helpful to spend a few weeks focusing more on art principles, and drawing, doodling, sketching, and designing. And while I have assimilated those into my regular studio time easily enough, I feel a lot of uncertainty over the right balance between practice & exploration of ideas (whether on paper or digitally), and turning those ideas into finished quilts.

I generally need to remind myself that I am doing this for me, and me alone. And so what do I want?

• to have fun
• to learn all I can, and never stop learning
• to challenge myself
• to continue making works in this series

Life Study #9

After having a Thanksgiving weekend so hot we could swim in a lake up north, it’s a little hard to take the cold, dreary days we’ve had since.

My mind is spinning lately, trying to consolidate what I’ve learned over the past few months into a solid plan for studio practice. I think I am getting there. Gradually. More sketching out of ideas, more exploring with paint before I move on to working with fabric.

I discovered this week that I can use the thin flexible cutting mats from the dollar store to make stencils, and cut them with the eCraft. This will be fun.

This is by far my favourite of the 3 creatures designs. It makes me happy every time I look at it:

Life Study #9 (2011) 9″x9″

Life Study #8

Another iteration of these lovely creatures, with a high contrast between the figures and ground, and with twice the layers of batting in the trapunto, to give them a lot of depth.

I need to fine tune my lighting for these photos; this one shows the depth better because it is lit from the side, but it wasn’t lit enough and is therefore a little blurry.

Life Study #8 (2011) 9″x9″