on The Art of Improv
Our guest this week Melissa Marginet, is a Canadian designer, author and teacher whose art quilts demonstrate the many quilted designs that are highlighted in her book ‘Walking Foot Quilting Designs’. As a teacher she enjoys sharing her knowledge and inspiring her students, but finds that they always inspire her in unexpected ways. She works improvisationally and encourages her students to work this way too, as there is no right or wrong way, we each have our own way. I love this! Let’s find out more about Melissa and her process of improvisation, shall we?
What does working improvisationally mean to you? How would you define the ‘Art of Improv’?
Working improvisationally means keeping an open mind as you work. It means allowing yourself to veer off the path, and sometimes allowing yourself to return to that original path. The Art of Improv is pure unbridled creativity.
Have you always worked improvisationally?
When I began quilting I would buy quilt magazines and I would look at the patterns. I would sometimes follow one but I would always change something. It could be as simple as adding more borders or eliminating the ones they suggested. Or it could be a complete revamp of the pattern using only the concept. Sometimes you couldn’t even tell where my original design came from. As I’ve progressed in my quilting, I rarely buy magazines or books and I start with my own ideas but I still change things as I go.
Do you work improvisationally, consciously, intentionally? If so, how do you begin? If not, how do you find yourself getting there?
It is just in me to work this way. I was brought up to make do with what you had. I’ve lived in remote locations where supplies were not readily available. I now have a large stash but much of it is hand me down fabrics, and thrift store finds (vintage fabric, shirts, ties, etc.) When I visit quilt stores, I tend to buy from the remnant bin. I never know how much to buy off the bolt but when it’s a remnant, there is no choice. My stash is organized in categories rather than by colour and is in open shelves. Sometimes I have an idea in mind and sometimes I stand in front of those shelves until inspiration hits me.
How often do you work with improvisation?
Improv is defined as: created without preparation, using what is available, or creating spontaneously. I often work improvisationally according to these definitions. I don’t, however, often freely slice into fabrics and put the wonky pieces together that we think of when we are talking about improv quilting. That is the improv that is hard for me. (What if I cut off too much, or what if it’s not enough? If I waste the fabric I may run out and not be able to finish my piece.) This type of improv is easier for me if I start with scraps. The scraps will tell me where I am going. There is a parallel between improv quilting with scraps and buying remnants at the store or thrift store fabrics. With both I am working with limits I cannot control.
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?
My process usually begins with the fabrics I chose from standing in front of my stash. I consider the amount of each of the fabrics and design within the quantity limitations. I have many designs on my computer and on paper and sometimes one of those designs will fit with a selection of fabrics that I have so I begin to work with that idea. Sometimes my design is based on a 5” grid but the amount of fabric I have will only allow me to work with a 4” grid. Sometimes I move up in size in order to use up more of the fabric. Sometimes I start to clean my studio and run across something that sparks me and off I go again. Unfortunately, my studio rarely ends up clean. I’ve always been a finisher. I get such satisfaction out of that last stitch in the binding that I have no problem plugging away till it’s done. Labelling my work is another issue. I struggle with that final step and sometimes just sign and date my quilt with a marker.
Where do you find inspiration? How do you use it?
There is inspiration everywhere. Patterns, textures, architecture, nature, etc. I carry a little sketch pad with me all the time to jot down ideas when they come to me. One little idea can send me down the rabbit hole and there is no turning back.
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?
Trust your ideas, allow yourself to work with them, and don’t worry about what others think. My advice to others is to take part in some of the many challenges found online or in your quilt/art groups. Start with something small. You don’t have to actually enter it, just do it. Make yourself stay within the parameters given and you will grow technically and creatively. Then begin to challenge yourself to tackle some of your own ideas.
How would you finish the sentence, ‘What if, . . .?’
What if I had more time? I have enough ideas and inspiration to last me several lifetimes. I need the time to execute them.
What are you reading, listening to, watching, or any other inspirational obsessions you would like to share? I don’t do much of any of these but what I do find most inspiring is my grandchildren. They have such open minds and creating art and quilts with them stimulates my creativity.
Thank you Melissa for sharing your work and your process with us all. I appreciate your advice that improv is all about trusting your own ideas, and I agree that children with their honest and open creativity is a great source of inspiration. You can find out more about Melissa on her website, by following her on Instagram, and checking out her Facebook pages: Melissa Marginet-Quilter & Walking Foot Quilting Designs.
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.