Art Fundamentals 101 for a quilter
February 21, 2011 6:37 AM   Subscribe

I need Art Fundamentals 101 -- what books should I get? I need to learn more about color (mixing, harmony, schemes), value, composition, and perspective. The trick is that I will not (primarily) be applying what I learn to any particular painting medium but rather to quilt art. What books can help me study me the fundamentals of art?

I am a quilt artist and I am moving from traditional quilting to more abstract and representational work. I am also starting to dye and paint fabric for my work. I don't really do other kinds of art and I don't draw well but I do use watercolors and acrylics in my sketch book when I do studies...

I have no formal training as an artist and because of my schedule (I have young children, my husband travels) it is very difficult for me to take local art classes. I need some good books that explain basic art concepts such as value, composition, shading, perspective and color theory. It would be especially helpful if the books had specific exercises to practice those skills. I have looked on Amazon and at a LBS but there are so many books and I am not sure which ones are worth the $$.

Help me out... what books would help me learn the fundamentals of art theory and practice?
posted by LittleMy to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
This is such a tough question because I have read some real stinkers of art instruction books over the years. At the same time, I have had real life teachers that taught me little (and I go to an art college!) I don't have any general art instruction books though...just several good colour pencil references.

You might want to check out Drawspace which has free and good tutorials on value, composition, shading, perspective and colour theory. You can download the lessons as PDFs.

It's also possible that you could recruit a local artist or art student to teach you. Have fun!
posted by Calzephyr at 6:49 AM on February 21, 2011

Wucius Wong, Principles of Two Dimensional Design and Principles of Color. Or just get his Principles of Form and Design, which collects both books along with Principles of Three-Dimensional Design.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:05 AM on February 21, 2011

Perhaps you could look into art theory for mosaics. Beyond that, what's been interesting to me (in another medium, not specifically addressed in design books when I started) is just looking at what I like and analyzing why I like it. Any art book that deconstructs why a piece of art works or doesn't is helpful.

Also, general color theory books could be very interesting to you if you read them with an active mind (hmmm, so the surrounding colors are important, even fundamental, in how an accent color is perceived -- the Geroneau Quilt from 1954 has that cranberry accent, and I like it in that context, but I don't like the cranberry so much in my current project. What's different? Is there too much of it? Is the background too rich or not rich enough? Is it a texture thing? Is it the reflectivity of the fabric, like in those medieval icons on page 46?)
posted by amtho at 7:09 AM on February 21, 2011

The Art Academy series for the Nintendo DSi will introduce you to all of those concepts in an interactive tutorial fashion. I love that. Of course it helps to have a DSi.
posted by cross_impact at 7:28 AM on February 21, 2011

I like these books for color theory:


Also check out Ann Von Mertens work. The second quilt down is genius for it's color use, in my opinion.

As for perspective and that kind of thing, as a quilter I'm scared to work with diamonds which would seem to me to be essential for building perspective into a quilt. Unless you were just planning on doing a "scene" sort of quilt with applique. I have an idea in my head to make a quilt that looks like farmland seen from the air, but I will definitely have to get over the diamond/triangle/corners fear in order to see that through!
posted by wwartorff at 7:58 AM on February 21, 2011

The book you are looking has just reprinted for the first time in many years.

It's called Composing Pictures by Don W Graham.

It's a modern classic. It used to be an expensive collectors item, so your timing is perfect.
posted by bonobothegreat at 7:58 AM on February 21, 2011

For a beginner Betty Edward's Color is excellent.
posted by Cuke at 8:48 AM on February 21, 2011

The Interaction of Color by Josef Albers is a fantastic primer on the way that adjacent areas of color (such as those one finds in quilts) affect perception.

The exercises in the book were designed to be performed with colored paper, but they should work fine with bits of colored cloth, as well.
posted by Uncle Ira at 8:49 AM on February 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

2nding The Interaction of Color.

I found Arnheim's The Power of the Center: A Study of Composition in the Visual Arts to be very compelling. It does not have exercises in it though I think you could create some from his analysis. Personally I found reading Wucius Wong cover-to-cover was a bit of a snooze, but his work is a good reference to have.

I don't know just how far abstract you want to take your quilted work but Scott Andresen is a painter who turned to quilting found materials. I mention this for inspiration only. Have fun!
posted by safetyfork at 10:59 AM on February 21, 2011

Once you get the vocabulary down, and are comfortable with the basic concepts (saturation, value, contrast, emphasis, movement), from reading the books here, I recommend getting into action as soon as possible. After all, it's your eye that needs to be trained more than your understanding, the art is NOT the theory—it comes from personal excitement and discoveries with your materials—and your intro phase should be as short as necessary before you move into your lifetime of practice and research.

I suggest you start right away (if you're not already) making daily collections of color and design examples that move you from magazines and online sources, poring daily over colorful books of a wide range (nature, painting, photography, graphics, collage, fashion, all the decorative and paper arts, and of course textiles) from the library, and watching all scenes in movies and TV from the point of view of a cinematographer or painter. Studying visual communicators at work is always going to be more illuminating and inspiring to your actual practice than studying those who study them.

Another excellent way to get hands on with color, value and contrast issues is to spend serious time with Photoshop, Adobe Camera Raw (comes with PS and PS Express), or any comparable raster image processor, sliding the controls around on images you like, esp. images of quilts and graphic patterns. Every piece or exercise you create should get explored this way during and after.

And here's a really cool online color resource:

There's plenty of others.
posted by dpcoffin at 3:26 PM on February 21, 2011

Here's the link version of that source.

You could hardly ask for a more dramatic display (You have to move your mouse over the color grid, btw!)...

Be sure to go to the home page, try all the previous/next links, etc.

posted by dpcoffin at 3:37 PM on February 21, 2011

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