Wednesday, August 20, 2014


By Linden Lancaster

“Aside from technique, which anybody can learn if they have the right book or a good teacher, I believe success relies on the cultivation of inspiration. I tell my students to look up, look down, look all around. The world is a miraculous and fascinating place, and ideas are everywhere. I keep a journal with quotes and observations. I pick up junk from the street, I plant flowers, and I try to see my world in a fresh new light every single day. Design is all around you, and it is usually free for the taking....”
Jane Dunnewold, Complex Cloth.

Oops, left the washing out! Linden Lancaster
Who would think that something as dull as washing could be used for a design idea? In this photo I can see interesting shapes, a nice colour combination, light, shadows, transparancy and so on. I could crop parts of the photo and use as an abstract design. Yes, the underwear is mine!

What inspires (motivates, stirs, moves, enthuses) you?
The key is to find subjects that excite you, regardless of where you are, because your enthusiasm will carry over to your viewers through your work. If you already know what you love and where to find it, no further decisions are needed before you head out with your camera.
Carry your camera and your sketchbook with you everywhere you go. Use your own work as a starting point.

Ways to find inspiration

             Keep a journal where you collect ideas and images that inspire you.
*Cut out pictures from magazines and newspapers.
*Cards, bookmarks, postcards and other ephemera.
*Thumbnail sketches of ideas.
*Make notes to yourself about colour, texture and feelings associated with your inspirations.
*Colour experiments with paints/dyes.

Quilted journal covers
 Collections/Stash box. Our personal collection of inspirations is what sets our work apart from everyone else. You are not accumulating with a purpose in mind. Rather, you are accumulating for the love or allure of the object or image. You can collect shells, leaves, dried twigs, magazine pictures, pottery/china, pottery shards, seed pods, beads, birds’ nests, stamps, colourful bottles, fabrics, driftwood, old photographs, costume jewellery, letters etc.

                                                  Little Jugs: Linden's sketchbook page

Collect words, phrases, poems, headlines and so on. Write them out and post them in your studio or record them in a journal. When you are stuck or need a boost, reread them. Here are some of my favourites:

“Ring the bells that still can ring,
Forget you perfect offering,
There’s a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”
Leonard Cohen
Snowdrop anemones Linden's sketchbook

“Be yourself; everyone else is already taken.”
                                            Oscar Wilde

Quilt shows. Noticing which quilts catch your attention at a show and spending a little time analysing why they appeal is an easy way to develop powers of observation and evaluation. You can find out a lot about yourself and your likes and dislikes this way. Take photos of your favourites. 

Photos. Have a printed and/or digital file where you keep all your favourite photos. I have mine stored in themes, such as skies, texture, trees, holidays, flowers. Your photo doesn’t have to be perfect to successfully translate into a quilt. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to use a photo with some room for improvement, as this can be a good opportunity to demonstrate your artistry and not merely replicate a scene in minute detail. Set up a random slide show of your photos on a screen saver on your computer. Not only does this remind you of the photographs you have taken, but also the random juxtaposition of images may well inspire you to a new creative imagery.

Delicious 2011

Books. Go to the library and borrow some books on art. Don’t forget art history, books about artists and craftspeople, children’s art, fine art, folk art, mosaics and pottery. There are also lot of online bookstores that you can browse if you live out of town, like me. I taught myself most things through books.

Magazine subscriptions. Keep up to date with what is happening in the quilting world. One of my favourite magazines at the moment is an English magazine, called “Landscape”- so they don’t have to be about quilting.

Digital play. Try a photo editing program. There are books solely dedicated to this subject. You can make interesting effects using digital alteration. It is amazing what interesting shapes you can make by zooming and cropping parts of a photo.
You can download a trial copy of the latest Photoshop at

Take time to think. Go for a walk.
Train your eyes to see light, shadow, shape and line in everyday objects and places.

Billy Buttons,around the corner

Billy Buttons Linden's sketchbook

Visit Art Galleries and Exhibitions.  Old paintings can provide inspiration for composition and colour. The beautiful flower studies of a 17th century Dutch master, for instance, or the way Vermeer used directional lighting from a side window to illuminate his figures. Notice what the artist has used to surround and frame the main focus of the paintings, too. The background colours and textures are almost as important as those of the objects in the still life and contribute greatly to the overall composition.

Online. Research your favourite quilt maker or artist. Set up links to favourites, so you don’t end up wasting time. Read about other artists' processes via blogs, etc. There are some wonderful courses that can be done online.

Sketchbook. Drawing remains the most important means of recording what we observe from a source of inspiration. Drawing makes you see what is actually there rather than what you think is there!
Sketchbooks are personal so your sketches do not have to be professional; they are for you, and you alone, to refer to as a place for thoughts and ideas.  Many professional textile artists discipline themselves to draw every day.

Jacarandah seed pods

Create a space in which you can work. Surround yourself with things that inspire and stimulate your creativity: fabric, yarn, beads, coloured pencils, drawing tools, paper, favourite pictures, your camera etc. I like having cuttings of plants/flowers, collections of feathers and pottery shards in various containers around my work desk (I'm messy).
A design board has been the best piece of equipment I have in my studio. The next copy of 'Quilter's Companion' (no 69) will have an article on my studio. This is an Australian magazine.

Pomegranate flowers 2013

Expand your experiences and draw from them to get new ideas. Engage in the creative process. Learn all the new techniques you can. Read, take classes, expose yourself to the work of others, travel, join groups of people who share similar artistic interests.
Make a file of new techniques or surface design methods that you have learned and include samples you have made for reference.
Just making blocks using a single piecing technique, e.g., slice and dice, insertions, can yield very interesting and unique quilts- especially when you use hand dyed and printed fabric. Use a design wall, but don’t overthink the process - just make!

“Sometimes, just discovering what you don’t want to do brings quiet relief.”
Joan Colvin, Nature’s Studio

Music. If I’m feeling lethargic while working on a project, I crank up my favourite music. Music without words works best with some people, as this does not interrupt the creative thought processes. Bach is my favourite.
Watercolour experiment Linden

Brainstorm/Mind-mapping themes. Explore all creative possibilities about a subject by looking at depth at all the angles. Write down as many associating and connecting words and ideas to create a visual overview. A mind map also allows us to capture flashes of insight- the spark of an idea as it happens. Start with an idea which really captures your imagination. Keep these in your journal. It may be years before you revisit the concept.

Collage. Making collages with painted papers, magazines, textured wallpaper and newspapers is a great way to practise design and composition. Collages mimic fabric and give immediate colour, pattern and texture. File into colour families in a clear display book. Working through a selection of paper collage composition and design exercises will trigger ideas for a future piece of work. Great for contemporary work.
The following piece I sent away to Spoonflower to get made into fabric, with interesting results.

Old laundry, Linden Lancaster 2013

“Inspiration exists but it has to find us working.”


  1. Excellent piece Linden! Very thorough and a great reminder to us all to use every resource available to us. I love the idea of having a random slide show on my desktop and the quote by Joan Colvin...You have give my day an inspired start!

  2. Wow Linden, a great list of ideas to follow the images and quotes are inspirational. Thank you

  3. Thank you, Linden, for so many ideas and for reminding us to look around more attentively!