Susan McBride Gilgen
The creative experience for me starts by observing scenes of natural beauty. I often sketch such scenes, or take photographs, and gradually begin to compose an idea for a pictorial quilt. With these ideas in mind, I then begin exploring the potential of each piece of fabric in my extensive stash. Like a painter who mixes paints to get a variety of intensities and hues for a certain effect, I look for fabrics that complement, accent, or provide visual contrast. I often look carefully for opportunities to change hues gradually in a pleasing or idyllic way. Other times I search for fabrics that attract interest, or that demand attention.
I am usually surprised at the outcome or evolution of a composition. Even when I have a pretty good idea how it will look in the end, if I follow my instincts and allow the fabrics to have their own voice, I am always amazed at the result. Nevertheless, the pictorial landscape, while often spontaneous in design, is always meticulous in detail. Many hours are spent in finding the exact fabric to represent a particular element of the design. Hand-died and batik fabrics that have a multi-colored, impressionistic quality with generous light sources are my favorites. Many more hours are then required to cut the fabric pieces to perfection. Manipulating small scissors to extract natural elements from the fabrics is both exciting and challenging. The resulting tessellation of many small pieces of fabric to form a design is an exciting creative process.
While fiber and design are the beginnings of this creative experience, a third element of equal importance is the actual stitching. I carefully free motion, machine quilt the picture and border to artistically enhance the design, and also to maintain the quilt's technical integrity. The sewing machine not only is an extension of my hands, but also of my artistic eye. Like any accomplished talent, once the technical skills are acquired, the artistic freedom begins. I feel liberated and inspired to have such independence of motion. Sometimes I feel like a storyteller who has arrived at the punch line and wants to make sure the story is absolutely, perfectly told. The challenge to me as a fiber artist is to end up with a product that is as squared up as a framed canvas, as beautiful to look at in design as a fine painting, yet still to be made of fiber, and to be called a "quilt," begging the onlooker to touch it, to take it home, to replace cold, hard and flat surfaces with tactile as well as visual warmth and dimension. I desire that those who view my quilts will feel compelled to visually explore every inch of the composition, asking what lies behind every tree or bush. "How does the water look so real?" or "Do I know this place?" I want them to wonder "Is this fiber or is it paint." They will want to know "Where do you begin?" or "How long did this take to make." I aim to both capture and challenge their imagination.
Finally, I mean for each composition to be a visual repose, a place of quiet introspection or escape from life's difficulties. I especially hope viewers are reminded of Him who created the earth's landscapes and, through my quilts, to rejoice in their beauty.