Designing an Art Quilt Series: Part 1


Iqaluit: Serenity thread painting by Bridget O'FlahertyNova Scotia: Peggy's Cove thread painting by Bridget O'FlahertyManitoba: Wood Bison thread painted art by Bridget O'Flaherty
Designing an Art Quilt Series

I have been asked about my process and thought I would share with you how I approach a series. I will be completing this in multiple posts. Part 1 – Planning and Research, Part 2 design and layout, Part 3 Marketing. Who knows, there may be more. Let me know if you would like to hear about anything specific.

Quilt Art Design

Without having a process it can be overwhelming and be intimidating for a new artist. Maybe you have always wanted to try, but you are not sure where to begin? I have a tip for you, there are no “right” ways to do it. Design can be approached many different ways.

Dragonfly SketchPlanning and Research

Like any work, even in quilt art – planning is actually a huge part of the process.  I start with an idea of what I am interested in tackling. Sometimes it’s an image or subject that I have seen that really strikes me. Sometimes I am working with a client and need to meet their wish list. For this blog, I’m not going to talk about commissions, just the original design. When it comes to a series, there needs to be planning on a bigger scale.

How I did it Then

When I began the Canada Quilts Series back in 2000, I had a grand idea: A large venue showcasing large fibre artworks at The Mississippi Valley Textile Museum. There were 75 feet of walls, but I didn’t have a solid idea when I booked the show. I will be honest here, I was flying by the seat of my pants. At 27 years old eager and energetic, I had never mounted a show of this magnitude before. I wanted to get my name out there and this was my opportunity. It was the best way at the time, it had high risks (not completing the show, making crappy quilts or no one shows up – all went through my head) but high rewards as well. In the end, it was a game changer for me. People still connect with me about the show – it was almost 20 years ago!

How I do it Now

Today, I do not wing it. It worked then, but I think that was luck and I had good supports in place to help pull it off. Now I am a planner. I prefer to work more methodically. Don’t get me wrong, the art is still imperative, but the project has many layers and I need to work on that first. Focusing on what speaks to me as an issue, I begin with a concept and look for inspiration. I take photos while on drives or walks, on vacation, wherever I can. I am always thinking of designs and always see potential thread paintings.  Brainstorming ideas helps and I write them all down using Google Keep for lists if I need a fresh idea.

Planning session

The Plan

I will actually look at the project as a plan.

  • Who am I showing to
  • What do they want to see
  • Why do they want to see it

I create a mission and goal for the exhibit and outline the values I want to stay true to.

After I have figured that out, I turn to the logistics. Where will I display, when will I do it? I will often work a this part of the process alongside the creating of the works.

Once I have landed on a topic I want to explore, I will collect ideas for the individual quilts and consider many things. I want to find topics that interest me, but I really want to find the topics that will speak to my audience. The planning and design are the heavy lifting in my opinion. I spend a long time working out the ideas for the overall concept of the series. Then I work one at a time. I can’t fit the ideas for every quilt in an entire series in my head all at the same time, so I plan out 3-4 of them and get started.

The final part of the planning is how will I execute – this is an exercise in time mapping – I work out a reasonable time frame for each piece and put that into my schedule so I am able to complete the series and keep working at other parts of my business as I go.

Images copyright to Pauline Donaldson

photo by Pauline Donalson

My Next Series

Right now I am really excited about endangered species – well not excited – interested in highlighting the urgency for protection. I am passionate about protecting wildlife and nature. Bringing a focus to species at risk is near and dear to my heart. Where to start though? There are over 200 species at risk in Ontario alone.

So let’s talk about my first piece. The Rapids Clubtail Dragonfly. I chose this insect because it is found locally. Well, it’s hopefully found locally. Being endangered means that there are few of them. This year there were no sightings! So I have my subject, now I need to research. Where does it live, what is the habitat when sighted, what is the size, colours, variations and striking features? For this, I actually enlisted the help of a local biologist Pauline Donaldson. She was happy to help bringing the plight of this creature to light and sent me all kinds of great information and photos for me to study.

Researching to find images that are striking to me, I gather all of the information I can. I do not look at other artists who have worked in the subject. I do not use images that are copyrighted. If I need to use an image i.e, it is the perfect setting and I can’t get my own, or find an open source – I ask permission. More often I move on to another image, I would rather have clear use of it rather than muddy the water with another artists work. (Just my two cents on copyright).

What’s Next?

Stayed tuned for my next blog post Designing an Art Quilt Series Part 2 where I talk about the drawing, layout and execution of my pieces.