I like to work from photographs when designing my quilts. An engaging image often translates well into a great quilt, but not all photos work well in quilt designs. So what makes a photograph a good candidate for a quilt? In a nutshell, pick those images with a clear main subject that creates a strong visual focal point.
I work from my own photographs or photos taken by family or friends (with their permission). There are endless opportunities to capture a great image, so I always carry an inexpensive digital camera me. Digital cameras are great …. one can take many photos, easily manipulate them and end up with interesting original images. This morning I found some poppies growing along the side of the road where I happened to park. Five minutes and 20 quick shots later I had another great idea for a quilt.
Its important to remember that the endless images available on the internet were taken by someone, and in most instances the photographers do no intend or want you to use their images without their permission. The vast majority of photos, even on sites like Flickr, are copyright protected. The same is true for all forms of print media. If you don’t see explicit permission (copyright free, royalty-free) posted with a photo, assume you can’t use it. There are a few Internet sites that post images in a “creative commons”. In these instances, the photographer has posted a photograph to allow others to use it for any purpose, copyright-fee and royalty-free. If I am searching for inspiration or a particular kind of image, I stick to “creative commons” websites. When using any Internet sources for images, read all the rules for downloading images. Respect the rules; you are required to seek written permission from the photographer if it has been copyright protected or requires a fee or royalty for its use.
I work from my own photos because they are memorable. They represent where I’ve lived, place I’ve been, important events, people or moments in time. By carrying a digital camera, I can stop and snap a few photos wherever I am. I love garden centers. They always have seasonal flowers in bloom. I can take a few photos (along with the tags so I can learn the names of the blooms) and add them to my file of images. Your own photos are the best source of images for quilts.
So what kind of photos inspire good quilts? Think about the pictorial quilts you like best, or look at my quilts or Ruth McDowell’s quilts. In most cases, we love quilts that clearly feature a main subject as its focal point. Flowers with simple petal forms are perennial favorites among quilters (tulips, poppies, sunflowers, daisies) — they are beautiful, colorful, offer interesting shapes and draw our attention as a focal point. I often find myself taking pictures of flowers (or chickens or dogs or people or bridges or….) from interesting angles. I loved the photograph that inspired my Dogwood quilt because I managed to captured two dogwood blooms from different angles (one face on, one edge on). I had taken 50 or so photos, so had lots from which to choose. I happened to like this image the best. The line drawing for the quilt design edited out details from the photo in order to highlight the two main flowers. This strengthened the composition of the image and worked best in the quilt design.
I find that taking lots of photos of a subject, like a flower photographed from different angles, helps me study its shape. I look carefully, then attempt to capture what I see in a photograph. One quickly learns that the camera “sees” differently than we do. Taking multiple shots of the same subject helps you key in on details to capture them in the photograph. There is a dogwood tree next to my local grocery store. I took pictures of the blooms everyday for a week. I took more photos than I know what to do with, but I looked through them and deleted most , saving a handful of the best closeups and some reference shots that will launch a new quilt design.
Another great source of images are photos you’ve taken in the past — old vacation photos or family photographs. Quilts inspired by informal family photos are perhaps most memorable of all. I’ve found these quilts often become treasured family heirlooms. The same ideas apply when selecting a family photograph. Pick an informal image with a clear main subject that creates a strong visual focal point.
When thinking about a subject to photograph, ask yourself, “what is memorable about the subject? How can it be most simply captured in a picture?” Carry your digital camera everywhere — and start taking photos. Take LOTS of photos!! As you take each picture, think about what in the photo will create the strongest focal point. A few of your photos will be ideal to inspire a quilt design; the extra photos can help with getting the details right. Put together your own file of images as candidates for quilts. This doesn’t take much time and gives you lots of options.