Design Inspiration for Light and Life

Barbara Olson—Journey of an Art Quilter

Generating Ideas

journey of quilt artistSeveral years ago I purchased Barbara Olson’s book Journey of an Art Quilter. At the time I planned it to be a guide as I did more in combining art and quilting. It got put in the back of my book shelf as many other activities of the time took precedence. No, I am reading through it page by page and drooling over the life and vibrancy that she has incorporated into her quilts.  LindaKay Pardee has collected lots of images of Barbara Olson quilts and made them available on Pinterest.

 Barbara has written in her book: Using your brain is the slowest way to create. Using your intuition and feelings is the quickest way to create unique images. These sentiments are reinforced by what neuroscience has to tell us about how the brain ‘creates’. Barbara promotes meditation  (sitting quietly and slowing down the input to the brain) as a technique for preparing to create.

drawing light within Dr Judith Cornell, promotes Drawing on the Light From Within—imagery of light flowing through the body. This imagery inspires me to try to depict what gives life to design ideas. What is this light within that generates life—a creative life? Judith also has written several books on Mandalas—sacred circles. These objects are found in many different forms in most religious traditions—stained glass windows, tiled floors, Native American dream catchers to list a few.  A whole series of quilts based on mandala themes have been collected together into the Pinerest site Mandala quilting inspirations.

Kaleidoscopic Colouring

An inspiring work of what beauty can be created from scraps of fabric.

An inspiring work demonstrating what beauty can be created from small scraps of fabric.


The traditional patchwork design — ‘dahlia’ could be the beginning of a Mandala. Also the ‘mariner’s compass. Judy Niemeyer is renowned for her use of the basic mariner’s compass pattern; and Paula Nadelstern has created glorious visions using the kaleidoscopic technique. All of these I have tried in previous quilts. At one time I spent quite a bit of time working with Paula’s ideas.

Reviewing these images, I decided to try out the recommendations from How to grow a mandala. Prema Akasha has created a YouTube video to guide users through the initial method of drawing a mandala. Barbara Olson created her first one turning and connecting four uninspiring blocks.



A Representational Schema

I have engaged with Barbara Olsen’s exercises. Also, while attending the HQ Academy in the Blue Mountains, I have been reminded of the basic elements that are life and light—earth, water, fire, and air. The western philosopher, Aristotle, and eastern thought also add the heavens (aether, what lies beyond) as a fifth element. With space travel, and the exploration of the heavens I accept that there are five important elements of life and light. Depiction of these cycles are my challenge. I will think of the fifth element as the ‘life’ that is manifest by the other elements.The image below suggests symbols which could be used in the quilting pattern of the finished object. I am thinking that it should be circular, and could be a table top. It might even be appropriate for Phyllis to put on Grandma’s table.

The Chinese see these elements as interactive and ever changing and moving. They impact on each other in the cycle of life. Chinese philosophy suggests a cycle with metal and wood, air seems to not be included.

Wind/air, Fire, Earth, Water What depicts the aether?

Wind/air, Fire, Earth, Water
What depicts the aether?


  • Wood feeds fire;
  • Fire creates earth (ash);
  • Earth bears metal;
  • Metal collects water;
  • Water nourishes wood.


  • Wood parts earth;
  • Earth absorbs water;
  • Water quenches fire;
  • Fire melts metal;
  • Metal chops wood.

Watercolour Inspiration

I am using watercolours at the moment to get some ideas together for my Light and Life Quilt. We are house sitting in Sunny ? Sawtell so I don’t have my fabric and sewing machine here. I have joined the Sawtell Art Group and been inspired by the watercolour teacher Helen Goldsmith and the other talented artists in the group. They have all inspired me to paint … paint … paint! Actually, I find that the more I do and redo a subject / composition, the more I am learning about the watercolour medium and how to get the light into the pictures. I hope this will translate to my fabric and quilts.

I’ve added some images of the paintings, I’ve been working on.  In the pictures featured here I am playing with the light sources. There are supposed to be 3 different sources of light in the interior scene. Just to clarify, the three photos are of different attempts to get it all right. You will note that I ultimately decided to make the chimney blue brick (photo #2) rather than red brick, and changed the density of the flowers in the vase, as well as made the book case into a chest with drawers.

initial drawing

initial drawing

blocking in light sources

blocking in light sources

adding light

adding light











In the woman sitting on chair, there is a light source from behind her shoulder, as well as from the open door behind the cat (also within the mirror).

Cat came back

Cat came back

Watercolor Holiday

Last weekend, I took a two day break from my PhD writing activities to attend a watercolour workshop at the Sawtell Art Gallery.

Helen Goldsmith was the teacher with a focus at this workshop on interiors. It was a fantastic weekend. I loved how Helen gets so much light and energy into her paintings. 

It was a developmental process over the two days, first sketching an interior composition. Helen reminded us that we could arrange the interior however we wanted. “It’s a painting not a photograph!”

Lay back and relax. Easy to fall asleep in.

Lay back and relax. Easy to fall asleep in.

I had done quite a bit of thinking about interiors I really liked and what I would like to have remind me of places I have loved. My mind took be back to Finland and the rocking chair where I read the book Travels with Charlie , and several others. The Finns have a rocking chair with a long runner. So, I wanted to include one in my painting. I also thought I would include other Finnish memorabilia and asked Taphyl to photograph objects from around the house.

Just a few of the treasures.

Just a few of the treasures.

Thus began my imaginative journey into arranging these as a pleasing composition. Helen was a great help here, reminding me that I did not have to have the entire and detailed replication to make the final painting evoke my memories of the Finnish culture.

A Finnish interior-taking a leaf from Charlie's travels.

A Finnish interior-taking a leaf from Charlie’s travels.

We sketched, did pen drawings, and then painted. The great thing that I learned this weekend was to visualise the colours, mix them on the palette and then test before laying down. Boy, do I need lots of practice in the ‘testing’ step. Testing the colour before application in its final location helps to keep the muddy appearance from ending up in the final picture.

Well here is my final work! Can you find the reality?

I added a lamp and afghan from my grandmother’s living room. A mirror which came from my sister-in-law, and a table that used to sit in my Mother’s house. Of course Mom’s was semi-circular, and not blue in colour. But still it was a favorite because it always had a vase of flowers on it in front of a mirror.

I did get the kettle, the trumpeter, and the teacup in as well as the rocker and the warm and welcoming Finnish fires.

My next effort will include the runners of the rocker. I just have to come up with a suitable composition!

This entry was posted on May 6, 2015. 2 Comments