photoshop and gimp

March 28th, 2015

I am often asked how I use Photoshop and/or Gimp to make the patterns I use for my fabric collages.  Although there is some information in my book, I thought I would share some tips and tricks here today.

Adobe Photoshop or Photoshop Elements:

I actually use Elements, which is a stripped down version of full Photoshop; it does way more than I need it to do and is considerably less expensive than the full Photoshop program.  I am by no means a Photoshop expert (and there are plenty out there who are if you want to take a course).  But I use only a small fraction of what this program is capable of and therefore only need to understand that little bit.

In Photoshop (or Elements) I use the “cutout” filter.  Let me explain how that works.  The computer screen sees 256 colors.  The cutout filter will reduce the number of visible colors to only eight or less–and refers to them as “levels”.  That means colors that blend from one to another will be shown with a clear dividing line that is perfect for my purposes in identifying and using value to choose fabric.  But there is a learning curve.

First of all, for some photos simply applying the cutout filter to the entire photo works just fine and that is that.  But for most, reducing the number of colors so drastically means too many areas blend into each other and create a blob of color that doesn’t serve my purposes.  So I use the lasso tool (yes, that little icon on the sidebar that looks like a cowboy’s lasso).  I use the lasso to trace around a single area of like color (it takes practice) and then apply the cutout filter.  Anything inside the lasso will be the only area to which the filter (or anything else) is applied.  I can also lighten an area and/or bring up the contrast–just in that one spot.  Often I will use this tool to highlight specific areas and apply the filter a section at a time until I get the desired effect overall.  In addition, when doing the closeup of a face, I will often use the lasso to go around everything on the face EXCEPT the eyes, which will then not get the filter effect–leaving them clearer and easier to use as a pattern.  Trial and error and practice will make this work for you.  Remember to always save whatever you do in Photoshop with a new name so the original photo is never altered.

Advantages of Photoshop–

  1. the ability to fine tune the pattern by section by applying, say a level 4 (that is what the number of colors visible is called and levels go from 2 to 8) to one area but a 7 and then a 6 and then an 8 to other areas, customizing the pattern with exactly the level of detail you want exactly where you want it.
  2. a nice clean line of definition between colors/values that is easy to follow (although the result is sort of jiggy jaggy edges that I just smooth out when I trace onto the freezer paper).

Disadvantages of Photoshop–

  1. you need to purchase the program
  2. there is a learning curve before you will feel comfortable and get the results you want.

Enter Gimp.  I first started playing with Gimp when I was writing my latest book as the publisher wanted readers to be able to make their own patterns without purchasing a program.  Gimp operates by use of the same principles but the logistics and end result are a bit different.  I actually try both programs when I start on a new pattern, finding that the results are sometimes better with one than the other.  But if Gimp is all you have (the download is free) it works just fine.

In Gimp, I go to the upper menu bar to “color” and go down to choose “posterize”.  The photo appears on the screen in a box with a slider at the bottom and showing at a low level (3).  Using the slider I can move it one number at a time until the result looks like a pattern I can use (most often I am somewhere in the 7 to 11 range).  Then I save it using a different name (depending on your operating system you may need to go to “export” in order to save it as a jpeg,  If your operating system lets you save it as a jpeg from “save as”, you are good to go).  Again, either way changing the name when you save it protects the original photo.

Advantages of Gimp–

  1. very little learning curve
  2. ability to see the changes as you make them

Disadvantages of Gimp–

  1. color shift during the process.  For this reason I always print the original photo as a color reference–although even if the colors are wrong they are still in the right values.
  2. more difficult (although possible if you learn the ins and outs of the program) to isolate sections to work on one at a time as described in Photoshop
  3. less well defined edges (although certainly workable)

Once I have the pattern looking the way I want it, I use an online system to print them in the actual size of the finished art quilt. is also described in my book, and although recently the look of the site has changed (and now charges for enlargements more than [if I remember correctly] six sheets of paper wide, otherwise it is free) it still works the same way.  Upload your image, which must be less than 1 MG and in jpeg format.  Tell the program how many pieces of paper wide and whether that paper is US or European size and whether it is horizonal or vertical.  The finished size comes up in cm, but it is easy enough to do a computer search in another window,  for example “57 cm= ? inches” and you will get the inch measurements.  Plus, the program will show the outlines of the pieces of paper, which means you will get the gist of the size anyway.  This takes you to a PDF you can print and/or save.  I do both the original photo and then the pattern in the same finished size for reference.

Having me make the pattern for you–

You may have noticed that I offer a pattern service on this website (click on art quilt patterns on the side menu) for $15.  For those of you who don’t want to fuss with these programs it is obviously an easier way to go.  You email me the photo and I will email you the pdfs of the original and the pattern for you to print from your computer.  But I will make the pattern as it looks right to me, and learning to do it yourself means you can tweak every little detail exactly the way you want it.  Still, if you prefer to just get to your stash and start making art, it is an option.  Interested?  Send me an email with the image and we can “talk”.

I hope this helps take some of the mystery out of the pattern making process.  It isn’t hard, you just need to jump in and play with the programs until you feel comfortable with them.




watch the quilt show, any episode, for free this weekend

March 20th, 2015

Today’s the day!   The Quilt Show, the web TV show hosted by Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims is making all it’s episodes FREE for the entire weekend.  You can enjoy lots of wonderful and informative quilt shows even if you are not a member.  While you are there, check out the newest episode with Cindy Needham–I met her recently while we were teaching in Arizona and her work is unbelievably gorgeous.  And if you haven’t seen it, MY EPISODE, #1413 it is there, too.

In addition, you will have a chance to win over $5000 in prizes, including the Grand Prize, a BERNINA 550 QE  plus:

  • Innova – Have your quilt professionally quilted ($500 value)
  • Superior Threads – five $100 gift certificates
  • RJR Fabrics – a Delicious Selection of RJR Fabrics
  • AccuQuilt – GO! Big Electric Fabric Cutter
  • Missouri Star Quilt Company –  $500 in Quilter’s Cash plus signed copies of Volume 1 of Block Magazine and Man Sewing Swag

It is snowing again in the northeast (we thought we were finished!) but where ever you live, what a great way to spend a weekend that is best spent indoors!

second article on we all sew

March 18th, 2015

A couple of weeks ago my article about finding your artistic voice appeared on the BERNINA We All Sew blogIf you found it helpful, please visit the site again today to see the second of three articles on the topic.  Today’s article defines the then things to think about when searching for your voice.

victory of sorts for artists

March 11th, 2015

Yesterday a court decided a song written by Pharrell Williams and Robin Thicke was similar enough to one written by Marvin Gaye that substantial money damages were issued to Marvin Gaye’s heirs.  Some in the music industry claimed the “verdict could have a chilling effect on the future of songwriting” but I think this is a victory for creative people in all genres.

Although this verdict had nothing to do with visual art, the court was willing to recognize the similarities and protect the creative output of the original artist (in this case, songwriter).  This is a victory for people working in any creative field who are concerned not just about out and out copying, but the more subtle infringement of derivation.  That was the case with this song–it wasn’t a blatant repackaging of the original, but it had enough elements that overlap that it was deemed derivative and the copyrights of the original songwriter were protected.

Derivative art, which I have discussed in this blog before, is different from flat out plagiarism.  To copy an artwork and call it your own is a blatant disregard of copyright.  But a much more nuanced form of plagiarism is derivative work–work that may be original but is so clearly influenced that it forms a blurred line, ironically the title of the song in yesterday’s ruling.

In another recent music case, Sam Smith was ordered to share songwriting credits with Tom Petty for a song of his that was clearly derivative of something Tom Petty had written and recorded years ago.  I am not an expert in popular music by any means, but it seems to me that this is not a new phenomenon and there is a lot of derivative music out there.  These two recent rulings mean that songwriters will have to be more careful about what they call original in the future or suffer financial consequences.  The chilling effect this could have on the future of popular music is that songwriters will have to be much more thoughtful about their creative output.

Derivative art, like music, is not wholly original.  For most small potatoes artists like me, this may never help me if and when derivative art with my underlying signature rears it’s head–both sides need to be high profile enough and the stakes high enough to spend money to defend it.  But to me this sends a message (first to the music world which will hopefully trickle down to the rest of the arts) that derivative art is in fact, an infringement of copyright.


watch the quilt show for free, three days only

March 7th, 2015

I am a big fan of The Quilt Show, the web TV show hosted by Alex Anderson and Ricky Tims.  It is where I get to learn lots things from people in our industry.  If you aren’t already familiar with it, this is your lucky chance to check it out.

In honor of International Quilting Weekend, March 20-22, 2015, The Quilt Show, will make all of its shows #100-1513 –FREE for the entire weekend (just click this link).  That includes MY EPISODE, #1413.  For three days, everyone will have the chance to view over 200 shows, featuring some of the quilting world’s leading artists.

In addition, this year’s sponsors are contributing over $5000 in prizes, including the Grand Prize, a BERNINA 550 QE .  You KNOW I love my BERNINA–what an amazing prize.  Someone is going to be VERY lucky!

You will also have a chance to win these wonderful prizes:

  • Innova – Have your quilt professionally quilted ($500 value)
  • Superior Threads – five $100 gift certificates
  • RJR Fabrics – a Delicious Selection of RJR Fabrics
  • AccuQuilt – GO! Big Electric Fabric Cutter
  • Missouri Star Quilt Company –  $500 in Quilter’s Cash plus signed copies of Volume 1 of Block Magazine and Man Sewing Swag

As you may remember, I appeared as the featured artist on TQS in show 1413.  (It was great fun and I so enjoyed spending time with Alex and Ricky).  If you didn’t have the opportunity to see this show the first time around, now you’ll have a chance to see it—so check it out.  And while you are at it, take advantage of so many other terrific shows while you can for free, for just these three days.

Enjoy the shows and let your friends know!

what a difference a few days make

March 5th, 2015

It is snowing AGAIN in NY, but this time it doesn’t seem to be bothering me as much.  To begin with, my BERNINA and I have spent some quality time in the past two days, and now that I feel I am back on track and making progress, the weather doesn’t faze me as much.  I even figured out the solution to a problem that had been plaguing me, so all is good on that score.

The other reason is that rather than waking up to the finished storm, it is snowing now, that soft fluffy snow that sticks to everything and it is just beautiful (now I am happy not to go out, seeing it through the window is far superior to getting out and shoveling it!)

garden sculpture

My favorite garden sculpture, which looks lovely in all weather, looks particularly pretty this morning with the snow on top;

hummingbird sculpture

Look closely and you can see my snow covered hummingbird sculpture in the flower pot;

snow covered tree in backLooking out in back, the trees and the snow make a very pretty picture

back deck

But just so there is no misunderstanding, Mother Nature, this is it–it is pretty, I am enjoying it, I don’t mind being inside today, but enough already.  Bring on spring!

we all sew blog

March 3rd, 2015

Today on the BERNINA we all sew blog you can read an article (the first in a series) I wrote about finding your artistic voice.  Check it out here.


working when you don’t feel like it

March 2nd, 2015

Depending on where you live (and this year that includes pretty much anywhere on the planet) winter has gone on too long.  By the time February ends, we should be seeing bluer skies and warmer temperatures.  But March dragged itself on the scene yesterday with more snow here in the Northeast–more on top of what we didn’t shovel last week, hoping it would melt on its own.

I never put too much stock in the SADD (seasonal affective depressive disorder–or whatever it stands for) but maybe there is something to it.  This week I am feeling down in the dumps and unmotivated.  And that is probably in large part this cold and snowy winter that just won’t quit.

But every day I do force myself to spend at least an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon in the studio trying to get some work done.  Last week, I did a required straightening up and folding of all fabric–which did help a lot.  Once I was able to put things in order and actually see what I had, it did make going in the room a more pleasant experience–straightening up is not optional!  Some days I find myself really getting in the swing of it and spend more time, others I am practically one foot out the door.

What is my point?  If I had a real job in the real world I would have to be there every day, whether I felt like it or not.  Winter, cold, snow, whatever–if you have a job, you get there.  From that perspective, when I had a real job it did force me to put on nice clothes, makeup and comb my hair and get the heck out of the house.  Working from home means I haven’t been out of my sweatpants and my hair hasn’t been out of the ponytail for days now.  And we won’t even talk about makeup!  (don’t worry, I still shower!!!)

So if you are feeling the same way, take my advice.  Don’t entirely give in and slump on the sofa watching TV, push yourself to do at least a little work every day.  Especially with the right music (even Yendrik didn’t feel like dancing today) and getting into the zone of a project that is going well does help.

Spring isn’t that far away—is it?

spend your time where it matters

February 23rd, 2015

As many of you may know, for the past year and a bit I have been the chair of the SAQA Exhibition Committee and a member of their Board of Directors.  Earlier this month, I was fired (or as a friend cleverly dubbed it SAQed) from the Exhibition Committee, although I am still a Board member.  This delicate situation has meant I have hesitated to post anything about my firing, but ultimately decided my blog, my opinion.

I won’t go into why, or how hurt it made me feel, but it did make me think long and hard about how I look at volunteering and what it gets me in the end.  After putting in literally hundreds of hours for the betterment of the organization, I was tossed aside–and all that hard work, the sleepless nights and the uncountable hours spent on emails and phone calls and making thoughtful decisions were erased.  Where they worth it?  Probably not.

As women we often think we have no value, we let our insecurities rule our decisions.  Our time is precious, and therefore we really need to be judicious about how and where we spend it.  It may sound bitter (and maybe it is) but I am more convinced than ever that when you give your time away for free, that is how it is valued.  When someone has to pay for your time, they respect it.  Payment need not come in dollars, but when you put yourself out there and give of yourself the results should be a two way street.  Did I learn about how exhibitions work and will that benefit me in the end?  Sure.  So the exercise wasn’t completely pointless.  But was that education worth so much of my time that could have been better spent pursuing my own career?  Did I receive personal pleasure from all that time spent?  The answer to both questions is a resounding no.

So I am happily at work in my studio, making more pieces for the solo show at GPMA.  My takeaway is this:

others will not value you until you value yourself.


upcoming solo museum exhibition of my work

February 10th, 2015

Although I have been working on it for some time now (and have even shared some of the images in work on this blog) I have not officially announced my upcoming solo exhibition at the Grant’s Pass Museum of Art in Oregon this summer.  I am thrilled and so excited, and hope that any of you close enough will come see my work.

The idea started about a year ago when I was in Santa Fe, NM.  I spent an hour or two in the Plaza, taking random photos of strangers, as I always do.   When I got home and went through all the photos I took during that trip, I realized that most of those from the Plaza were people sitting on benches (the Plaza in Santa Fe has particularly pretty iron benches).

Originally, I planned to do a small series of pieces based on those specific photos, but as I made more and more figures, I went back to my photo files and realized a large number of the photos I had taken over the years were of people on benches–not always in parks but waiting for buses, in front of buildings or in other outdoor locations.  This got me very excited about examining the whole concept on a much larger scale.

The concept (as yet untitled as I play with some ideas for what to call it) is a park bench and all the people who come to sit on it throughout the day, or days.  The bench is stationary, it cannot move but can only stay in one place in the same setting.  What changes is the world around it, the weather, the seasons and the people who come and sit–some for a very short time, some for longer; some alone, some couples and others in groups.

I am having a great time making all these figures, and am noticing that even out of context, it is often easy to identify where the photo was taken.  Those from Brooklyn look different from those in the city (lots of photos taken on the Highline in NYC seem to be couples making out).  Those from other countries have a different feeling to them.  But each one tells a story, and as I always prefer to do, in each the story is for the viewer to tell.

Of course, as we get closer to the exhibition date I will share all the information with you.  For now, I am enjoying being inside my studio, watching the snow and ice from the window.  This is a great time of year in the NE to be engaged in something pleasant and enjoyable that does not involve being outside.

So stay tuned for more information in the coming months about my exhibition at the GPMA.