Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Lorraine Torrence on the elements of critique

Lorraine Torrence ticks off design points at the CQA critique session
In mid-September, Lorraine Torrence, beloved and respected designer, textile and quilt artist, teacher, retreat leader and co-founder of Contemporary QuiltArt Association, popped back into Seattle from her new home in Madison, Wisconsin.  During Lorraine's visit, CQA was fortunate to have her lead the group in a spirited, educational critique of  more than a dozen fiber art pieces brought in by members for the September 14 event.

Lorraine prefaced the session by discussing the difference between "critique" and "criticism" in regard to viewing the works of other artists, saying that "People are better critics than inventors." She noted that too often we start our critiques with the words "I like this..." or "I don't like this...," both of which Lorraine calls "useless." She pointed out that, as viewers and critiquers, we cannot judge the content of a piece as that is entirely within the choice of the artist. Instead, we can and should be looking at such things as form, composition, arrangement of elements, balance, contrast, etc.--all the language of the principles of design no matter what the medium. As an example, in doing representational art the artist needs to pay attention to such things as a light source, wind direction, etc.

Ahead of the critique session, Maria Michurina checks out these pieces, by (from left) Barb Fox/Bonny Brewer, Carla DiPietro, Meg Blau and Colleen Wise
"We need to keep the same design principles in mind in studying our own pieces in progress," Lorraine urges. "If you think it's not working, go through a design checklist yourself to see if you can find out why it's not working," she said.

And anyone who's studied with Lorraine is well acquainted with "Lorraine's Law," which everyone agreed should be carved in stone: "Make visual decisions visually!" To illustrate this "law," she described a couple of actions to take. One is to grab small pieces of fabrics and pin them in the areas that seem to be troublesome, substituting different fabrics, shapes or placement until you can work your way to a decision. Another way when, for example, trying to decide on sizes of or even whether to include borders or edges, would be to take a photo of the piece, make a paper mask or cropping "L's" that can be repositioned on the print, and try many alternate approaches.

The multi-unit piece at right is a group quilt. Lorraine said that greater cohesion could have been achieved by each maker responding to the work of each previous maker in sequence, rather than all artists working simultaneously. Tesi Vaara's piece in her "Tiles" series, at left, provided discussion points on borders. (Far left: CQA President Mary Lewis)
Most of the pieces CQA members brought for the critique session were by individual artists, except for one made by two people (sisters!) and one assembled by a single person from units created by a fairly large group. The first piece was judged well integrated as the two halves were produced sequentially. On the second, Lorraine commented that "Group pieces are most successful if each person is responding in turn to the work of the previous artist or artists, rather than each person working independently and simultaneously."

Guest Carol Hill (left) and member Melisse Laing (right) trade thoughts on these works brought for critique. The piece on the left is by Donna DeShazo; the one on the right is by Kathy Cooper.
For one quilt, the artist admitted she had no idea what was "wrong" with it. Between Lorraine and the group, a possible solution was quickly found by folding away some of the background of the piece on both the bottom and the sides so that the main image went off the edges. This lead to another "law" that Lorraine espouses: "Every inch of a quilt needs to have a purpose!"

Kristine Service (right) describes her frequent method of  "working from the center, out" as CQA President Mary Lewis (left) holds up one of Kristine's pieces
At the end of the session, all participants agreed that valuable information about the basics of critique had been received as well as helpful comments about each work--and all in a highly supportive environment. Those bringing in works for the critique included: Colleen Wise, Donna DeShazo, Carla DiPietro, Tesi Vaara, Bonny Brewer, Barb Fox, Meg Blau, Barbara O'Steen, Kathy Cooper and Kristine Service.

For more information about Lorraine Torrence and her work, go to http://www.lorrainetorrence.com/.