GUEST 23 | The Art of Improv with Sarah Hibbert


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Sarah Hibbert

on The Art of Improv

Sarah Hibbert is our guest artist this week. Like many, Sarah is hesitant to call herself an artist, but I am not. She works her day job as a freelance bookkeeper and manages to produce beautiful quilts and collages all from her kitchen table! Sounds like The Art of Improv to me!!!! Oh and she had five quilts exhibited at QuiltCon 2019 in Nashville just a few weeks ago! I say it’s official, Sarah, I hereby declare, (and nothing makes me happier), YOU. ARE. AN. ARTIST!

Happenstance   Sarah Hibbert

Happenstance Sarah Hibbert

What does working improvisationally mean to you?  How would you define the ‘Art of Improv’?

I would define the ‘Art of Improv’ as being freedom to play, I try and focus on enjoying the process of making – that way if others like my work it is simply a bonus.  It’s the unknown with improv as to which path it will take you, I sometimes have a clear view of how the piece is going to look and then a colour or unit size just does not work for me, so I remove the offending piece and start again.  Improv is a license to grow and change.

Have you always worked improvisationally?

In some ways yes, I have been quilting for over 30 years and I am so enjoying the style I am now creating.  From the beginning I mainly reconstructed traditional patterns and made a twist in the colour combinations, placing a block the wrong way or carrying a piece into the border.  I still follow this method if I work today on an old block pattern.  I recently put together a maple leaf quilt but also incorporated some ghost blocks, where I just pieced neutral linen to replicate the usual block, to break up the design. I love this combination of old and new; of the traditional and contemporary; patterns passed down through the generations and my personal contribution bringing something new.

Do you work improvisationally, consciously, intentionally?  If so, how do you begin?  If not, how do you find yourself getting there?

I am purely a part time quilter using my kitchen table as my studio and the floor as my design wall.  Therefore, I only have brief amounts of time to snatch when working on a quilt or wall hanging, I have a very patient husband who is happy to have supper on his lap when I am working on a design.  It’s usually the fabric that draws me in to an idea, either the colour or the design of the print.  I like to let that take me on a journey.  It also dictates the direction of the piece as either an old-style block or improv piecing which can grow for a little two pieced unit.  I love using linen at present, mainly hand printed by individual designer or Japanese linen by Nani Iro or Kokka.  I have been known to buy a piece of fabric sometimes just for a 2” area in the middle of the design which then leads to marrying it up with neutrals or a spark of colour.

Blue Collage   Sarah Hibbert

Blue Collage Sarah Hibbert

How often do you work with improvisation?

Depending on the mood I feel and the fabric to hand it might be each time I sit at the machine, or I work on a traditional piece and then it alters direction and then the final piece plays no relationship to the original idea.  Last year I challenged myself to make a small 7”x 9” piece using discarded blocks from larger pieces.  I sliced the blocks up and added additional fabric and then match stick quilted each piece.  I made one a month and I so enjoyed the discipline.  I would very much like to follow this on.

Please share a bit about your process.  Do you have methods to getting started?  Do you have tricks to getting unstuck?  Do you have motivators to finishing up?

Even though I so enjoy reading various articles about quilters and love hearing their stories to where they are today, I very much like to work on a piece from my imagination and see how it grows, I have been known to stop a piece half way through as it is just not working for me.  I will put this piece aside and maybe revisit once I have found the correct colour or print to slot in.   The last couple of years I have taken part in The 100 Day Project on Instagram, creating paper collages (@cornerstonecollages ).  From these I have taken the collage as starting block for a design.  One of my current pieces was taken from an advert from well know jeans store cut up and re stuck down on card, this I blew up to a large piece on the photocopier and broke each panel down to piece in a workable size.  I then quilted as you go, a new angle for me as I usually quilt my pieces straight line on my domestic machine.  I am pleased with the overall piece and would like to use these collages in further pieces.

Where do you find inspiration?  How do you use it?

As a daughter of a Graphic Designer/typographer I grew in a house full of colour, mainly red!  I have always been drawn to type and logos especially the likes of Saul Bass and Alexander Girard together with fabric designers Marimekko and Lucien Day.  I also enjoy art galleries and abstract painters very much like Sean Scully, Mark Rothko and the blues of William Scott.  I have been interested in the Bauhaus movement with weavers Anni Albers and Gunta Stolzl for many years and it was a thrill to see the recent retrospective of Anni Albers at Tate Modern London, it was a delight to see her weaving and note books up close.  I think I find a little piece of inspiration from all types artwork, once I have visited a gallery I am always buzzing to figure out how you can adjust these ideas into fabric pieces, I always carry a sketch book for ideas from an advertising hoarding or even a pattern in the pavement blocks on the way to a gallery!  I also get inspiration of words and their meanings, and I recently came across the word ‘Haiku’, which is a Japanese poem made up of 17 words.  This word played around in my head for a while and I thought how great it would be to make those words into small pieced blocks setting them out into the 3 traditional rows of a poem.  I very much enjoyed making these tiny improv blocks, each one with a different angle or colour, different spelling.  Once I had completed 17, I played around with the concept reading the size of the block and shape to make them flow together so it would read across the quilt in a poem, including a purple full stop.

Haiku Quilt   (block details below) Sarah Hibbert

Haiku Quilt (block details below) Sarah Hibbert

What advice would you give to someone interested in trying to work improvisationally.  Can you share some good advice that you received that helped you become more comfortable this way?

Buy yourself a random selection of prints or colours together with a couple of neutral pieces.  Cut the pieces into 2”/4” squares and some various sized oblongs, throw them behind your machine, pick up two pieces and if they match size wise sew together, throw back and re pick up two pieces and again if they match sew together.  After a while you will have various working pieces to join with your neutral pieces.  Enjoy the process, there is no right or wrong way of working.  If the piece doesn’t talk to you after the exercise, re slice and start again.  This is how my quilt Serendipity was created. I constructed 5 large panels and then placed on the floor and decided where to join, sometimes re working the large piece to incorporate a colour that would link the panels.  I have repeated this method with a calmer palette even incorporating a couple of my Fathers drawings printed through my photocopier.

Serendipity   Sarah Hibbert

Serendipity Sarah Hibbert

How would you finish the sentence, ‘What if, . . .?’

I had more time….  I wish…  as quite often I have two or three ideas bouncing around, but my time allocation is so limited, something must give, usually one of the designs or maybe not cooking supper!

What are reading, listening to, watching, or any other inspirational obsessions you would like to share?

I have several books on the go, ranging from Gwen Marston’s Minimal Quiltmaking to Carrie Bloomston’s The Little Spark.  I am always jumping back into Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert either in reading form or audio books for the car on long journeys.  I find her attitude of ‘just give it a go’ so inspiring, I was lucky enough to meet her on the book launch in London… A dream, she was gorgeous.  Another set of books I love dipping into is Austin Kleon, How to Steal like an Artist and Show your Work…. It gives you permission to just free ride your path, which I would love to be able to achieve one day.  Overall, I get excited extremely easily with ideas popping up randomly.  I have so enjoyed the Instagram quilting community who have given me such encouragement and good advice which I treasure.  Also, to have the opportunity to attend 3 Quiltcon’s has been amazing, especially travelling from London to meet like minded quilters that I have admired for many years.  With this special community it has brought me such opportunities to revalue my work for going forward, giving me chance to grow in confidence and I especially thank you Jen, for allowing me to share part of my journey. Happy Sewing!

Thank you Sarah, I agree that the IG community is amazing in the way it supports one another. I am so happy to have found you and your work there and to be able to express my support of you and your art by featuring you here and making it evident to you that you are an artist, I hope you see that clearly now. Interestingly it was The 100 Day Project that reignited my artistic journey, and led me to acknowledge that I am artist as well. I am totally inspired by many of the same books you recommend here and refer to them often to motivate me to create with confidence. So keep the book recommendations coming and keep playing with YOUR art of improv!!!

To learn more about Sarah and her quilts check out @quiltscornerstone, and to see her collage work @cornerstonecollages on Instgram.


If you would like to be featured on The Art of Improv please contact me!  I would love to hear how improvisation impacts your art making process.


GUEST 30 | The Art of Improv with Brian Phillips


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Brian Phillips

on The Art of Improv

Photo by @annamazurekphoto for @fbairprogram

Brian Phillips is our guest this week. He is a self taught artist born in the midwest and now working and living in Austin Texas. Brian assembles wood ‘canvas’’ of salvaged wood remnants and then applies his signature illustrative painting onto the repurposed assemblies, his sense of humor shines in his typographical works and his love of animals is evident, as he often and beautifully depicts them. I have been so inspired by Brian and his free spirit to making and experimenting with what he finds, he works with what he has around and brings the beauty out of what many would discard. I love this and have adopted a similar attitude toward the materials I use to create. Brian has recently completed a large scale installation at the Austin Facebook Headquarters as part of their artist residency program and continues to inspire me with his creativity, his wit and his huge heart. Read more to see how he might inspire you!

Mustang On Peyote    (Part of the Peyote Series)    Brian Phillips

Mustang On Peyote (Part of the Peyote Series) Brian Phillips

 What does working improvisationally mean to you?  How would you define the ‘Art of Improv’?

To me, the 'Art of Improv' helps keeps things fresh and original in art. Beginning a project with no clear cut endpoint is a way to keep stretching your boundaries and when mistakes happen (as they usually do) helps you grow as an artist. 

Have you always worked improvisationally?

Pretty much. I've never been good at "studies" or "thumbnail sketches" of ideas, so I just jot down the basic idea and then figure it out on the fly.

Do you work improvisationally, consciously, intentionally?  If so, how do you begin?  If not, how do you find yourself getting there?

Consciously, most of the time. My way of working is sporadic, and a lot of times, I just find myself beginning to tackle a project that I had no intention of starting when I started the day, so I try and just roll with it knowing that some energy pulled me that direction so it must be time to work on it.

Rattlesnake. On Peyote    (Part of The Peyote Series)  Brian Phillips

Rattlesnake. On Peyote (Part of The Peyote Series) Brian Phillips

How often do you work with improvisation?

Almost daily.

Please share a bit about your process.  Do you have methods to getting started?

Most mornings, I work on small pieces to get through a couple cups of coffee. Smaller pieces are fun for me and I like working on them as a way to get going to the bigger projects in the day.

Do you have tricks to getting unstuck?

When I don't feel inspired to paint, I spend the time making my salvaged wood "canvases" to paint when I do feel inspired. The sizes of my random pieces of plywood pieces usually dictate the sizes I make my pieces, but if I only have large pieces, I cut them into random sizes. Not many pieces I do are conventional frame sizes.

Do you have motivators to finishing up?

Paying my bills is a pretty good motivator I've found. Ha. Kidding. I've become pretty good about seeing works to the end. I used to let pieces sit unfinished, and it still happens sometimes, but I've gotten better about following through.

Where do you find inspiration?

Honestly everywhere. I find more inspiration from DWELL magazine than I do from art magazines. Not sure why, maybe because I'm a fan of form and function as well as interior design. But I find inspiration from my surroundings, music, television, internet. It's everywhere.

How do you use it?

Well, I do my best to just let it ignite some creative spark, then go for it on my own. It's best if I leave the inspiration behind as to not steal the idea, but build your own creative energy from just seeing something that inspired you whether that be a color study, style, design elements, or simply just drew your attention to it. Make the inspiration come back out of you in your own way.

Always Pull For The Bull   Brian Phillips

Always Pull For The Bull Brian Phillips

What advice would you give to someone interested in trying to work improvisationally.

GO. FOR. IT. Planning too much can kill the excitement of a piece and make it sheer stress the whole process. Have fun, just go for it.

Can you share some good advice that you received that helped you become more comfortable this way?

Being self taught, I'm pretty sure all advice I've been given is the opposite of how I approach working. But one thing I always remember if from a gallery owner, she told me to "lose your ego" when it comes to your art. This quote has helped me to not take rejection personally. It has helped me realize that I don't like every piece of art I see out in the world, so don't expect everyone to like mine. That's the beauty of art, there's something out there for everyone.

How would you finish the sentence, ‘What if, . . .?’

"What if, as artists, we stopped trying to "get discovered" and just go with our ideas as a way of really opening up the channels of creativity and self-acceptance? I think subconsciously we as artists have that inner self doubt that sometimes prevents us from taking a creative jump. The more I take the jumps, the more I find my style and the more I have fun in the process. I'm trying to get better at making it happen more often than not. The fun comes out in the work.

What are reading, listening to, watching, or any other inspirational obsessions you would like to share?

Music, music, music. It's constantly on around me. Silence and I don't get along. I listen to mostly slower music while working. Classic country is my main staple, but I listen to a wide variety from jazz to classic rock, old hiphop to heavy metal, it all depends on my mood that day.

Thank you Brian, I’ve loved getting to know a little bit more about how you work your artistic magic! I agree that we all would benefit from opening our creative channels and accepting ourselves just as we are, and losing our ego, especially when it comes to our art. I believe that in learning to take these creative leaps we channel who we really are and what we our are here to do, AND going for it is the quickest way to get there!!! Thank you for sharing with us here, I know it will inspire many to consider taking the leap as well. To learn more about Brian visit his website and check out his day to days on instagram.


If you would like to be featured on The Art of Improv please contact me!  I would love to hear how improvisation impacts your art making process.


GUEST 22 | The Art of Improv with Kim Duhaime


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Kim Duhaime

on The Art of Improv

This week we learn how painter Kim Duhaime uses improvisation to create beautifully intricate and richly textured works that evoke a sense of peace. Abstracting motifs from nature these works create a sense of calm amongst the chaos. The colors are luscious and the layered patterns complex, the overall compositions abundant with interesting stories that I want to know more about. Let’s find out more about Kim’s work and her experience, use and process of improvisation.

The Purest Unity   Kim Duhaime

The Purest Unity Kim Duhaime

What does working improvisationally mean to you?  How would you define the ‘Art of Improv’?

To me, the “Art of Improv” has more to do with the experience of making art, than  it is about producing an object. Working improvisationally means approaching the canvas with an open mind, allowing the painting to evolve as a dialogue between my intentions and what’s happening with the materials. It means being fully present and focused, perceiving and sensing what’s happening, then responding spontaneously. I love to work this way: leaving room for serendipity, following the unexpected, being inventive, taking risks and exploring avenues that may or may not lead to something I like. Improvisation also means letting go of trying to control things by opening up to receiving inspiration from what can feel like a higher source than the conscious mind (or tapping into a deeper one). I guess that’s what people mean when they talk about “getting into the zone”.

Have you always worked improvisationally?

Pretty much yes. I was a graphic designer and art director for many years before becoming a painter, and I always felt most satisfied when I could infuse projects with the spirit of improvisation. When I became an artist, once I had established a basic technical foundation, I quickly moved from painting landscapes to exploring abstraction so that I could improvise with greater freedom.

Do you work improvisationally, consciously, intentionally?  If so, how do you begin?  If not, how do you find yourself getting there?

It’s definitely an integral part of my process, and I do it intentionally. I begin every painting by making random marks on the canvas and covering it with washes of colour, and I let things evolve from there without really knowing exactly what is going to happen next. I know some people have a phobia about making those first marks, but for me it’s the best part because a blank canvas feels like the ultimate freedom and I’m excited to see how this new painting will evolve, and what I’ll learn from making it.

A Stain of Ocean   Kim Duhaime

A Stain of Ocean Kim Duhaime

How often do you work with improvisation?

Nearly always. It’s really part of my nature to work improvisationally – it’s the part of creativity that I find most exciting. If I knew exactly what my paintings were going to look like before starting, I probably wouldn’t make them. I’d find it boring to make work that follows a fixed pattern.

The exception is when a painting is nearly complete: at that point, I feel like I need to be very deliberate about bringing in marks or moves that I think (rather than feel) will bring the composition into balance and harmony. If I start improvising at this point, the piece is likely to fall into irredeemable chaos and end up in the burn pile.

Please share a bit about your process.  Do you have methods to getting started?  Do you have tricks to getting unstuck?  Do you have motivators to finishing up?

I work on several pieces at once, with the intention of creating a series that communicates a coherent theme or mood, so even though I’m working improvisationally, it’s not just random flinging of paint. I decide on a colour palette, and I’ll repeat marks and design elements so that there’s a cohesive look that holds the series together. With that as a starting point, I build up layers of textures and marks, responding intuitively to what’s going on with whatever the piece feels like it needs. If I feel like I need to break my own rules and bring in a new colour or element, I’ll do that.

I find it a lot easier to work with the focused spontaneity and openness of possibilities of improvisation than to work in a rational or deliberate way. While things are still “open” and I’m building up the textures and layers in the painting, it’s all play, but the closer it gets to being done, the more reluctant I am to keep working on it.

I have a few tricks to get myself unstuck. The first is to put the painting away and work on something else for a little while, and come back to it later with a fresh perspective. After a few days, I’ll make a latte and just sit in front of it for a while, to see what ideas come up around what parts feel unbalanced, or what kind of thing I could try to make it feel complete. It’s the hardest part because often, there might be a little part of the painting that I really love, but it has to go because it’s not working alongside the rest of it. Or the opposite happens and I find that I was stuck because the thing is actually finished, and doesn't need anything else. If it still feels unfinished and I can’t see what it needs, I’ll just put it away again.

Where do you find inspiration?  How do you use it?

I find inspiration in the natural world, and in the emotions it inspires in me. I don’t feel compelled to reproduce what I see, but rather to use the colours, textures, motifs and moods of nature as a language beyond words to communicate a deeply personal experience in a way that others can connect to and then make their own.

The Well of Color   Kim Duhaime

The Well of Color Kim Duhaime

What advice would you give to someone interested in trying to work improvisationally. Can you share some good advice that you received that helped you become more comfortable this way?

I would say that the most important thing is to be both patient and devoted to your  process, and to approach art-making with curiosity. Accept that not everything you make has to become a finished piece destined for show or sale, and have the courage to explore.

Working improvisationally can take you into some very enriching territory and open up possibilities for your work that you would never have arrived at otherwise. The most interesting experiences and learning happen when you open up to interacting with the unexpected, when you take risks and follow unlikely paths.

How would you finish the sentence, ‘What if, . . .?’

What if the sky weren't blue? How would that affect the colour of everything on earth?

What are reading, listening to, watching, or any other inspirational obsessions you would like to share?

Listening: The Savvy Painter podcast, with Antrese Wood

I love how Antrese goes deep into discussing process with the artists she interviews. It’s fascinating to see how there are so many common threads running through everyone’s experiences no matter what genre or medium they work in. And people share tons of tips and tricks about materials, techniques and ways of getting your work out into the world.

Reading: It’s All About Music, by Jean-Michel Pilc

Interesting reading about the expressive nature of improvisation and some great exercises to help you tap into your creativity.

I’ve also been listening to a lot of improvisational jazz, specifically Jean-Michel Pilc. And Prince’s recently released album, Piano and a Microphone.

Thank you Kim, for sharing your work and method of using improv with us all! I can relate to choosing a palette and letting loose with an open mind of not knowing how the piece will evolve, this is the magic of creating for me. And I, like you, have no fear of the clean slate of a blank canvas, in fact I relish in it. Your recommendation to put away work when it is not working, to get some time and space away does make the heart grow fonder, no? I am adding It’s All About Music to my reading list and I thank you for bringing it to my attention. I look forward to the exercises especially!

To find out more about Kim, check out her website, her blog and see more of her process on Instagram.


If you would like to be featured on The Art of Improv please contact me!  I would love to hear how improvisation impacts your art making process.