From my studio looking out over a lake in Reston, VA, I draw inspiration for my contemporary wall quilts from the view of nature outside my window every day. Pebbles on the path or currents in water might become part of the texture I stitch into each piece. Color combinations in bird feathers or flowering plants might slip into the palette I use to start my next design.
My abstract art quilts are designed improvisationally without a preconceived pattern, a little bit like jazz music. Each decision about color and shape influences the next and complex blocks repeat like beats of a melody, calmed by irregular plain areas that provide a resting place for the eye.
The color is the first step. Putting colors together intuitively, I use fabric the way a painter might use paint to create graphic compositions that engage the viewer from a distance, yet invite a closer look.
The texture is the second step. The stitching lines provide contrast and dimension to the piece, integrating the different elements into a cohesive whole. I do all of my stitching on a sewing machine, but it is entirely hand driven. There’s no computer program or marking ahead of time. I stitch the motifs freehand using the needle and thread of the machine like a pencil or a brush.
I come from a long line of women who have expressed themselves using a needle and thread, although curiously there were no quilters in my family. Creating with various forms of fabric and thread has been a part of my life since I was a child, and I’m self taught as a fiber artist, with lots of experimentation along the way. My formal education includes a BA in Fine Arts from the College of William and Mary and an MBA from George Washington University.
My work is represented by Chasen Galleries in Richmond, VA, and can be found in a number of private collections all over the country. I am a teacher and author.
(Click images to enlarge)
SAQA: When did you begin making art with fabric? Do you work in other media as well?
Uneven Bars © Cindy Grisdela
GRISDELA: I’ve been sewing since I was 10 and my mother decided I was old enough to be trusted with her beloved Singer. I studied art in high school and college and experimented with painting, drawing, ceramics, sculpture and weaving.I made my first quilt in 1983 after seeing an article in a magazine–a queen size Trip Around the World. After that I was hooked and I spent a number of years making traditional quilts as a creative outlet while I raised my family. About 15 years ago I got bored with following patterns and started seriously trying to make my own art in fabric.
SAQA: What inspires you?
GRISDELA: I’m inspired by abstraction, color and texture. I enjoy playing with color and seeing how various colors and shapes interact. I think one of the reasons I create with fabric instead of with paint, for example, is the ability to add another dimension to my compositions by adding the stitching texture with dense free motion quilting. I want the stitching to be an integral part of the composition, not just a means to hold the three layers together.
SAQA: Have any artists or art movements influenced your work?
GRISDELA: I have a degree in Art History, so there are always lots of influences rattling around in my head. I love Abstract Expressionism, especially the Color Field School of artists. Matisse’s cut outs are important to me, as are Klee, Kandinsky and Klimt. I’m also drawn to the work of Robert and Sonia Delaunay. Among quilt artists, I am indebted to the work of Gwen Marston, who was an early influence.
SAQA: What techniques and materials do you use?
Nautilus © Cindy Grisdela
GRISDELA: I use hand dyed fabrics to create almost all of my current work–mostly by Cherrywood Fabrics. I experimented with dyeing my own fabrics a number of years ago, but realized that’s not my skill, so I’m happy supporting others who do it well.All of my work now is created using improvisational piecing techniques and free motion quilting. I enjoy the dialogue that happens when I’m just cutting out colors and shapes intuitively and letting one decision lead to the next. It’s a little like putting together a jigsaw puzzle, only I get to decide what the picture is going to look like. I do all my quilting freehand, without marking ahead of time or using a computer program.
SAQA: Where do you create?
GRISDELA: I have a studio in the basement of our townhouse on a lake. I look out on the lake while I’m sewing and it’s a very peaceful retreat. The commute downstairs is great too! I also have a shared space with nine other artists a short distance from my home. I’m the only fiber artist in the group, but it’s good to be around other creative people and share inspiration. I try to spend one day a week there.
SAQA: How do you reconcile the art-making and business sides of your creative life?
GRISDELA: That’s the tough part. For the last ten years I’ve been traveling extensively showing an selling my work at fine art and fine craft shows all over the country. I do about 12-14 shows a year. I also have an active blog and presence on Instagram and Facebook, and I’m a regular contributor to the SAQA Journal.
Probably I spend about half my time on the business side–writing, applying to shows, keeping my website up to date, marketing, and other business. I like to spend time in the studio in the morning and early afternoon, because that’s when I’m most creative, and work on other business later in the day. I have to keep lists and work backward to make sure enough time is allotted to keep my inventory up for the shows, so sometimes I’m writing blog posts or marketing pieces on the road.
Lime Medley © Cindy Grisdela
SAQA: Have you published books or been a guest on an art-related media program?GRISDELA: My new book, Artful Improv: Explore Color Recipes, Building Blocks & Free Motion Quilting, was just released by C&T Publishing in October 2016. It’s a friendly guide to creating your own original art quilts without a pattern, using simple design principles and improv techniques.
SAQA: What are you working on now? What’s next?
GRISDELA: I will continue doing shows, although probably not as many in 2017, since I’m doing a lot more teaching in conjunction with the book. It’s such fun to see a diverse group of artists come together for a day or more to explore their individual creativity. Each person’s work is different from the others and different from mine because we all bring our own personalities and history to the table.
I also have plans to work on a new series of larger improv quilts. The great thing about improv is there’s always something new to explore!
View more of Cindy Grisdela’s work on her website and SAQA Juried Artist Member profile
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