Develop your Creative Voice: Add Personal Symbols to an Art Quilt—Ideas for Fiber Artists

Detail, “Limbs, Ladders, Roots, and Rocks” by Deborah Boschert

Most great art quilt ideas develop gradually. It takes many hours of deep thought, years of experience, and—let’s face it—lots of hard work to find your creative voice. Developing that voice and pinpointing images, experiences, and topics that speak to each artist individually is a subject that is explored with great insight by artist, author, and teacher Deborah Boschert in her latest series of articles in Quilting Arts. Her article Head, Heart and Hands: Adding Meaning to Art Quilts with Personal Symbols premiers in the October/November 2018 issue of Quilting Arts with the first article focusing on the topic of developing meaning and exploring shapes in your artwork. Read on for a taste of what you’ll learn.

“Cultivate and Climb” • 20" x 20" by Deborah Boschert, Photo by unless otherwise noted

“Cultivate and Climb” • 20″ x 20″ by Deborah Boschert, Photo by unless otherwise noted

Developing Meaning and Exploring Shapes

Sometimes, after working all the way through the creative process with a finished art quilt pinned up on my design wall, I am completely satisfied, pleased—even thrilled with the results. Ta-da! What an extraordinary feeling! Of course, not every quilt turns out this way. For me, success is achieved most often when I fully integrate my head, heart, and hands into a piece of work. This means I’ve explored the ideas in my head. I’ve chosen elements I love with all my heart. I’ve used techniques that my hands have mastered. Much of my creative process is framed around maximizing everything going on in my head, heart, and hands.

Detail, “Cultivate and Climb” has recurring symbols of trees

Detail, “Cultivate and Climb” has recurring symbols of trees

Part of this process involves incorporating personal symbols into my art quilt collages. Personal symbols help ground my designs and elevate the themes, ideas, and narratives in my work. In this three part series, I’m delighted to share ideas, exercises, examples, and suggestions for using your head, heart, and hands to develop and use personal symbols in your own original work.

Why explore using personal symbols in your work?

Symbols can be a pathway to getting started. Rather than looking at a pile of beautiful fabric and wondering how to begin, I often start by cutting out a meaningful shape—a symbol—and building a composition around it. Not only do I have a specific shape and color to build upon, I also have the idea behind the symbol that can direct some of my creative choices.

Head: Developing a symbol

Begin with the beautiful, complex, powerful, ideas in your head. Think about symbols. A symbol has two parts: the shape and the idea. The shape of a heart often represents the idea of love. Symbols don’t have to be common and obvious. In fact, a personal symbol may have clear meaning to an artist, but the viewer may bring their own interpretations to the shapes and symbols in a work of art. I think that’s perfectly fine.

Deborah uses the shape of a bowl in many of her art quilts.

Deborah uses the shape of a bowl in many of her art quilts.

If a symbol is made up of those two things: the shape and the idea, which comes first? Either. An artist may wish to explore an idea and then consider what shape might be an effective representation that idea.”
—Deborah Boschert

Are you looking to refine your own artistic voice and create artwork that has meaning and power?

Deborah’s advice and guidance is simple: Make use of your unique personal resources – your head, your heart, and your hands – and work at creating your own individual style. This series will help you work through the challenges with insightful guidance, creativity prompts, and encouragement for pulling it all together. Read Deborah’s full article in Quilting Arts and apply her tips to your own creative practice. You’ll be happy you did!

Photo courtesy of the artist

Photo courtesy of the artist

Deborah Boschert is an artist who layers fabric, paint, and stitching. Her work incorporates personal symbols including her latest obsessions: ladders and bowls. She mixes commercial prints with original surface-designed fabrics. Deborah is the author of several books, and the Quilting Arts Workshop video “Contemporary Fabric Collage: Design, Stitch, & Finish.” 

Be sure your subscription to Quilting Arts is up to date so you don’t miss this or other insightful articles by world-class art quilters. Did you see Deborah’s use of hot glue stencils? Check out how I used her technique during my surface design staycation.

Want to learn more about Deborah and how she works?

Seeing where an artist creates his or her work is always inspiring. Walking into the space and experiencing it firsthand gives a unique perspective of the mindset behind the art. It takes courage and self-confidence to put your artwork and your studio on display.

Find art quilt ideas and more in Quilting Arts Magazine

Deborah’s home studio was featured in the Quilting Arts June/July 2018 issue where she shared tips about organizing her space and keeping her materials close throughout the creative process.

Featured image: Detail, “Limbs, Ladders, Roots, and Rocks” by Deborah Boschert

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