Monday, October 19, 2009

COMPOSITIONAL CONVERSATION: Stage Nine - Gayle Vickery Pritchard

COMPOSITIONAL CONVERSATION is back from a 'week off' and what a fun return! Gayle Vickery Pritchard is our artist this week and she, like several of our previous artists, has really put herself into this project. Now how in the world did she do it? Read on and find out.

Journal Entry

10-13-09 Compositional Conversation Comments by Gayle

Although I received the package a week ago, knowing I wasn't going to work on it until this week, I refrained from opening the quilt to look at it. I didn't want to start thinking about it until I was ready to work on it. I did clear space on one wall of my small studio to create a mental workplace. I also printed out the eight stages to date on Sunday to look at the choices people had made, study the orientation, and think about what I liked and didn't like about each stage.

After looking at the pictures of the various stages, my trusty inner voice came into play. Last night I dreamed about the work, and woke up to make notes in my journal. (See photo). As a life long journal keeper, I think when I am problem-solving, it continues into my sleep state, as I often wake up with fresh ideas and solutions. That is what happened to me last night, so I went with it, as I have learned to trust this part of myself over the years.

I still had one errand to do this morning before I could begin working, so once again, I refrained from hanging the quilt on my work wall. All the way to the post office, my mind began the conversation started in my sleep. Like many of the artists in this process, I thought I might begin by dismantling or playing around with the composition, trying this and that, gradually putting it back together. When I got home, I hung the piece up, having already decided that I needed to begin working on it as I would any of my own pieces. As I wrote in my journal, I was going to "meet the piece where it is now and talk." This is what I proceeded to do.

I liked the horizontal orientation, and hung it that way on my wall. As I do in my own work, I grabbed a marking tool, and began making marks. I had thought about doing some discharge, but the tests I did on the background fabrics gave questionable results.

Discharge Results

Marking on my work allows me to vent my pent-up feelings of anticipation as I begin work, and to "enter" the piece to work. I generally begin my own work this way, even though the marks and the narrative text often end up hidden in the final composition.

Although I liked the color, especially the new blue, I felt the vertical yellow area with the black strip beside it in the previous incarnation of the piece broke the piece into two distinct pieces. I also felt the yellow area was too wide, so in the end, I just removed it, and everything that was attached to it. This left the previous grayed-out blue background fabric that had been covered with the brighter blue. I decided just to work with it, and focus on integrating the right side with the left side. I drew over some of my previous marks with a black fabric pen, but did not heat set it, so those marks, too, would be removable.

This detail shows some of the marks made by Gayle.

After moving the printed fabric shapes around, and cutting some of the scraps into more oval shapes, I cut out the shapes I had dreamed about, quasi-"X" shapes with soft corners that reminded me of some of the shapes of the reverse appliqued African kuba cloths I have around my house. I allowed extra seam allowances on the edges, so they are cut a bit larger than they would be finished. I added these because I really wanted some more already-placed geometric shapes, and cut through some of the fabrics to create more "X" shapes for reverse applique.

Finally, I added some black and white commercial fabrics to direct the eye and create more of a focal point in the piece. Had I had more of the hand manipulated fabric that had previously been cut into the boomerang shape, I would have cut more of the oval shapes, but there wasn't any more, so I didn't. I added some more black fabric pen markings around those, as well, which I also did not heat set.

Detail showing additional marks and commercial printed fabric.

When starting a piece, my process is often to mark the piece, enter the space, and interact with the surface. Compositional Conversations was no different. My only thought was whether to make my marks removable or permanent. Since my own work is collage, I never worry about what is underneath anything else. If I don't like it somehow, I can cover it up later, but it will still be a part of the piece. I don't agonize over my own work, I just do it, place something, respond, keep working in the moment.

The biggest challenge for me was working with all solid fabrics cut into geometric shapes. Beautiful as they are, my own work is always about something, usually my expression of very tangible events in my life. It was fun responding to the beauty of the colors as they talked with each other on my wall. Although I admit to some trepidation about how others might respond to my removed pieces, marks on the surface and cut holes, I decided in the end that working in my own voice was the only honest way to approach this piece.

Thank you Gayle for an interesting commentary and insight into a way of working I am not familiar with.

MINI ARTIST PROFILE - Gayle Vickery Pritchard

Gayle standing next to I Hear Voices In My Head

Gayle Vickery Pritchard is a well-known fiber artist whose career has spanned some 25 years. In addition, she is an independent curator, lecturer, teacher and publisher writer. Gayle studied art at the College of Wooster, Paul Valery University in France, the Surface Desighn Symposium in Columbus, Ohio, and the Cleveland Institute of Art. Her work has been widely exhibited in galleries and museums across the United States and in Denmark, Japan, and Australia. Highlight exhibitions include the Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio Designer Craftsmen and Visions, an international fiber exhibition in San Diego. Commissions include the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Quilt, the Smithsonian Craft Archives, and the opening of the Peter Lewis Building, desined by Frank Gehry, in Cleveland, Ohio. She is featured in the 1997 Encyclopedia of Living Artists, and was named Teacher of the Year finalist by Professional Quilter Magazine. Her work has been widely published, including these books: Quilts of the Ohio Western Reserve (Ricky Clark, Ohio University Press), Crafting Personal Shrines (Carol Owne, Lark Books) and The Art Quilt (Robert Shaw, Hugh Lauter Levin). In addition to numerous magazine articles, Pritchard is the author of the newly released book, Uncommon Threads: Ohio's Art Quilt Revolution (Ohio University Press, December 2006). She is currently completing a second book, a biography of artist Susan Shie of Wooster, Ohio.

She can be contacted at or She keeps a blog at

Gayle with For Sadie Jane

We invite you to leave comments for Gayle and the other artists who has contributed to this project.


  1. WOW! how playful and unexpected!...great work Gayle. ~ ALicia

  2. Thanks, Alicia. It was a lot of fun, and made me want to get busy on a new piece! It's really hard to work on a piece, and NOT resolve the composition.

  3. Holy cow, Gayle, you really did it up, didn't you? This incarnation make me smile and even giggle a little, it's so fun and lively and active. Why do I feel like I'm being watched by a little upside-down man? ;)

    Pretty soon, the pieces that have been added previously will be so small that new elements will want to be added by the upcoming artists, I suspect.

    Well done!!

    An odd thing is happening for me with this work. The longer it is since I've had my hands on it, the more emotionally distant I become from it. While I still feel quite connected to the project itself, the piece is so very different from when I had it that it is beginning to feel like someone else's art. This is, I feel, a natural progression in the life of this project and while it gives me an exciting sense of moving on, it's also a little sad, too- I no longer see myself in the piece.

    Can't wait to see where the Conversations leads next time!

  4. Gayle,

    I can certainly see your voice in this version of our conversation - it is fun and whimsical and has a lot of movement. And I learned something I didn't know; that fabric markers were removable if not heat set.(how do you remove them-inquiring minds want to know...)

    It is funny that most of the participants have commented on how hard it is to jump in and work on the composition and not resolve it. It occurred to me that it is equally as hard to critique it as it changes so much between conversations. Just looking at the past 3, there is a big difference.

    I do like the rounded X shapes floating around the surface. I think I would have made some even bigger to engage the larger shapes. The composition still seems disjointed to me and I long to add line and implied line to have the various shapes talk to one another. I think the striped black & white fabric added to the right hand side shape accentuates that curve very nicely. I do miss the stronger yellow presence. I think working in a primary color palette works on this piece and I long to have more yellow of some hue in the composition.

    I did really enjoy reading about you and seeing your work. Your work has a narrative quality to it, yet not too serious as well as lots and lots of details. I love your quilt forms and your way of working - if it doesn't work, I'll work with it somehow or cover it up but it is still part of the surface. Wonderful.

  5. Well, I certainly think it is hard to know when to stop. You get going on the piece in front of you, and the urge is to resolve it. I agree with many of your observations, and yet felt I needed to stop before passing the piece along. It does seem that the fun I had working on it came through, and that pleases me.

  6. Gayle, I can very much identify with your process, since I am a long time writer/journalist who also receives many insights/ideas as I wake each morning to bring to a work in progress. And like you, I love that part of the process, the entering in and interacting with the space (although I don't use your mark making as a tool for that, I will often start with a single mark and then respond to that.)

    HOW we create is as interesting as WHAT we create and I do think the artists who are entering into this creative project are documenting creative process in a significant and intriguing way. The piece is not actually evolving as much as it seems to be incarnating -- the voice and hand of each artist so very defined and developed that it alters the tone and feeling of the work, almost turning it into a new and separate work rather than a continuation of the previous one.

    So here are the questions now in my mind, which are more about the project itself than the choices each artist is making as the piece travels. How does composing in such a public forum influence your choices? Do you feel any sense of collaboration or community in this project with the other participants?

    It seems important to me that we dig a little deeper into process more than composition, since the composition changes so dramatically from hand to hand. What makes this project different or similar to the way we approach our own work?

    Just some thoughts for discussion, just in case anyone else out there finds this whole process both as fascinating and as frustrating as I do (some part of me wants to control and direct the outcome --obviously that's impossible for any of us, participating or not!) Do any of the rest of you feel this way?

  7. Hi Jeanne, Thank you for your comments. Excellent as always. The process of making art, or the studio experience as I think of it, has always been the motivator that drives me ahead. I actively seek the joyful experience I have when my work is going well and work hard to avoid the experience I have when the work is not going well.

    I just received the images of the next version of our project from Paula Swett which will be posted Monday. I am in awe of how she has interacted with the piece as done by Gayle. Gayle's version was such a strong voice and Paula has dug deep to work with the piece as done by the previous artists. I think it is impressive.

    I am in agreement with you as to the added pressure of working in a public venue and the issue of contributing to an established work or beginning again. Both approaches were written into the original 'guidelines' of the project and both approaches have been used. I hope to be able to address these choices along with the members of the Project Team when we have reached the end.