I Have to Talk About Chuck Close

Happy New Year to all! Sandra Bruce here, with my first post of 2014. I’m excited about the year coming up and hope it proves to be a creative and enriching year for us all. This will be Artistic Alchemy’s first full year and we have a lot to share with you, our readers!

I can’t possibly blog in the Artistic Alchemy site without talking at some point about Chuck Close, who has been very influencial to me as an artist, and a human being. I talk about him in my lecture as an art quilter, and hardly a day goes by that he doesn’t cross my mind in some capacity. Let me give you a snapshot of his life and work, and if you’re not familiar with him you will be driven to go look him up and discover more about him yourself. There are many interviews and articles on the web you can easily find.

Chuck Close was born in 1940 in Washington state to parents who encouraged his artistic leanings. Chuck was severely dyslexic as a child and struggled as a student in school, except for art. A teacher once told him he’d never amount to anything. He was not socially popular and couldn’t play sports due to a condition he had. When he was 11, his father passed away, followed closely by his mother developing cancer and Chuck himself was struck by a kidney infection that forced him to spend a year in bed. So much at a tender age! His love of art deepened as a teenager after seeing an exhibit of Jackson Pollack’s paintings, and that was when he determined to become an artist himself. Fast forward to the 60’s, when Close got a degree in Art from Yale and established himself with his signature style: very large, photo-realistic paintings of people, including himself. This acrylic painted self portrait, from 1968, is 83″ by 107″:

late20th32 copy

Amazing, isn’t it? Notice how absolutely, perfectly detailed it is.  It is so…..real. Imagine it at its size. By the 1970’s Chuck Close had established himself as a leading American contemporary artist and was enjoying success and notoriety, rightly so.


Fast forward again, to 1988, when Close was at a ceremony where he was on his way to the podium to present an award. He fell mid-stride, suffering a spinal collapse of an artery, which left him paralyzed from the neck down. One can only imagine where this left him in his mind, unable to do anything, let alone paint. Months of rehab brought him limited movement in his arms, but he was to always remain in a wheelchair. In a documentary about him, his wife, Leslie, tells of his depression in rehab, and how she pressed the doctors to help: an art studio of sorts was set up in the basement of the rehab hospital, where they literally strapped a paintbrush onto his wrist with tape, and Chuck Close began to paint. His new technique was born. This is my favorite of his self-portraits:


Close grids the photos he takes, commonly in a diagonal format, and paints each square of the photo a solid color, then makes amorphous circular shapes, one inside the other. Inches away it is hard to imagine what exactly you’re seeing, but stepping back to view it your eyes see it as he intends you to see it. What truly amazes me is how he knows what colors and shapes to paint each time! He’s making an average hue. Here’s a close-up view…..squint!Chuck+Close+Chuck_Close_Up_Close

Incredibly, Chuck Close also suffers acutely from “Prosopagnosia”, or face blindness. He once failed to recognize the face of a woman he had lived with for a year. But, if Close paints a face, therefore converting the image into a two-dimensional one, then he can commit it to memory, and have a photographic memory for it. “Everything about my work is driven by my disabilities”, he once told an audience of neuroscientists. Chuck Close is the ultimate illustration of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade”. I do not mean to make light of his handicaps, just to say that he epitomizes how to make the best of what life deals you. Chuck Close is an exceptional human being. There are many quotes attributed to him, but my favorite, and the simplest is, “Art saved my life”. He took what could easily have been the end of his career and life as he knew it and turned it into a new career, more successful than the last. He continues to work, making each day mean something. He sees his glass half full. In fact, I’d say he sees his glass running over!

The first time I saw a Chuck Close painting in person I instantly thought: QUILT. Although it was not in the front of my mind at the time, I think a seed was planted that finally came to fruition in my quilt “Self Portrait”. The act of using fabric to represent a photographic image in a gridded, square format is very exciting to me. Unlike making a quilt that is “photographic”, where the image is represented literally, using my Material Matrix technique allows for fusing color, line and form in a way that invites serendipity and happy surprises.closeup of eye SBquilt

I’m looking forward to teaching my workshop this year, in particular with my Artistic Alchemy sisters in Zephyr Cove, Lake Tahoe, in September, 2014. Those participants taking my workshop will be able to experience some magic, hopefully, creating quilts from their own photographs. I invite you to join us!

Meanwhile, again I wish you a Happy New Year, and I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about Chuck Close.Film_ChuckClose


Playtime is Underrated

Happy New Year everyone! Where did 2013 go? I am looking forward to 2014. There are so many exciting things happening in 2014, and one of them is our September retreat at Zephyr Cove. The only New Years resolution that I made was to allow myself more time for quilting and beading. Monday I took a class on Polymer techniques for beads and buttons from Sandra Bruce. Now, I will also need more time for polymer.  I love the unexpected colors and shapes that emerge during the process.

This is why I love designing quilt patterns. I experiment for a while on my computer and eventually an unexpected design will emerge.  It’s almost always something I didn’t expect.  From here, I develop the design.  One of the interesting processes that I do with my pattern design is use gray scale before I start to pull colors. This allows me to see the effects of light and dark and how they transform the design.

This is how I started my Mardi Gras Pattern.  This is the outline of the block.

Mardis Gras BlockI finished the block and played with arrangements.  Once I had the blocks arranged, I started experimenting with the gray scale.  It really shows the difference value will make. Do you see the different shapes and how the design changes as the gray scale changes?

Mardi Gras - Sample 3 Mardi Gras - Sample 2Mardi Gras- Sample 1Then I started filling in with color.

mardi gras - on pointAnd I wound up with this.  (I wish that you could see the quilting.  Sandra Bruce quilted it.  It is Beautiful!)

mARDI GRAS - QUILTI had a great time doing this with my Anacortes pattern. This is the block that I started with. Anacortes-3 I played with both the block arrangement and the gray scale.

This arrangement was fun. (And I may still do another quilt with this layout.)

Anacortes-2However, I loved all the different designs that emerged when I created this block and     gray scale arrangement.

Anacortes-1Here is the final quilt. How many different shapes do you see in this quilt?  (The quilting on this quilt was done by John and Karla Rogers of Precision Quiltworks.  The quilting is beautiful!)

cdPlaytime and options are underrated. As we begin 2014, allow yourself the freedom to try new things.  You never know what will emerge.  Logic takes you from A…..B .  Imagination will take you anywhere.

Before I close I really must show you the fabrics that I purchased yesterday at my favorite quilt shop, Sugar Pine Quilt Shop in Grass Valley, CA.  I saw these fabrics and just knew that I needed to create a summer quilt for my bedroom.  Aren’t they just yummy?  A new pattern will be forthcoming.  So, stay tuned. I will show you the progress as it unfolds.

fabric photo_2Have a happy and creative week!


Complicated and Intimidating? Definitely Not!


Hello, I’m Sharon and this is my first blog post ever.  As you look at our group picture, you will see that I’m the one who isn’t wearing a sewn garment.  Actually, when we took this picture, Sandra said,  “Look, we’re all just about the same height.  Except Sharon.”


I love to organize retreats, so I am very excited to be part of the Artistic Alchemy group! The energy and talent in this group is unparalleled. Each one of us has a unique style and can share a different perspective. It has also become a great friendship, and I feel fortunate to have Christine, Heidi and Sandra as personal and professional friends. I am so looking forward to our 2014 retreat at Zephyr Point.

My career has been in fire protection engineering. This is a discipline that requires precision and working within close tolerances. Even though the process requires precision, I must be able to communicate how the process is to be completed, and I must communicate that information clearly. So, when I started designing quilt patterns, that is the approach that I took. I wanted to design a unique quilt, but make the process uncomplicated and definitely not intimidatingI’m short and blonde – how difficult could I make things? I enjoy precision and precision piecing, and my patterns are designed to give you an extraordinary look.  One of the principles that I discovered early in my career was that if the project appeared daunting, start in a corner and work out.  If you take it a step at a time, all of a sudden it is no longer intimidating.

I have decided to teach two projects at the retreat this year:

I will be teaching FyreWyrks I, which is a contemporary Lone Star design.

Alves-1We will first break down the color placement so you can get your star to sparkle.”  Then we will build the components until, all of a sudden, you have a beautiful star. We will strip piece the star points, and I will show you how to block your points so they will easily fit together. The outer points are paper pieced. The pattern is also designed so that there are very few Y seams. Once your components are built, it all goes together flawlessly .

The second project that I will be teaching is my Anacortes pattern.

cdOne of the great things about this pattern is that I provide template sheets.

template sheetAll you need to do is pin the sheets to your fabric and cut on the lines. There is no need to cut individual templates, which can be extremely time-consuming. Color placement is key with this pattern. If you look at the  quilt you will see different patterns and shapes emerge.  We will work with color placement first.  Once you decide where you want your fabrics, the rest is simple. The templates are all designed to fit together easily. Once again, it is a matter of building the components.  With the exception of the border, this is a one block quilt.

I love fabric and I love color!!  Give yourself options and enjoy playing with fabric and color. The most important thing is to have fun and enjoy the process.  You will walk away with a stunning quilt!

It has been a lot of fun writing this blog. I’ll catch up with you again in a few weeks. I’ve got a some new things in the works. You can sign up for my newsletter on my website. You can also go to my Engineered for Quilters Facebook page. I will be launching a new contest very soon.

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