Thursday, November 8, 2007

The Creative Process of Pam RuBert

It's Only a Leaf, 2006
35" x 49"

Pam RuBert’s art is definitely distinctive – few would not recognize the signature style that combines her incisive wit and sense of humor through the exploits of a character named PaMdora. Pam (the artist) states:
“…PaMdora has become symbolic of how I see the
world -- a big jumbled mess of good, bad, joy,
frustration, beauty, and humor. The quilts are not
really about PaMdora, although she’s large in her
own mind. They are more about how she watches
the crazy world around her with a strange mixture
of astonishment, dismay, and amusement.”
Through the format of a slideshow, Pam provides us with insight into her design process for an artwork titled “Its Only a Leaf”. The slideshow starts with her first steps in the composition of the piece. It shows the fabric “auditioning” process, as well as the movement from arrangement of fabric yardage on the design wall, to final placement of each figure and the finished composition. The slideshow is looped so that it recycles through the sequence of images automatically.

By reading through Pam’s blog and the 2006 interview of her for the Alliance for American Quilts Save Our Stories project, you can glean a plethora [my favorite word – I just like the sound of it] of additional clues about how she works:

“I usually do little sketches in my sketchbook then I work on a more formal design and refine lots of the details on my laptop. Then I print out a big pattern and use that to cut the fabrics.”

“I always design standing up. This is probably due to the influence of a college painting instructor who said to never paint sitting down. His theory was that it’s too easy to be lazy if you’re sitting down, that the tendancy is to not get out of your seat enough, walk around, and evaluate your work from a distance.”

“…sometimes I cut out a character or object out of fabric and it doesn't seem quite right in the overall composition. Then I usually pin it to a nearby empty design board because I still like to look at these characters. When I need space cleared off my design boards, I put them all into a box under my worktable but usually with regret. Sometimes I go through and pick out a few of my favorites and pin them to an "inspiration board" above my sewing machine. Rarely do I use them in another work because it's just easier to start fresh with a new project.”

“…translating a drawing to fabric creates something entirely new. It’s not just copying one thing to another. The fabric has it’s own personality and either augments the drawing or takes away from it. So I’m working more towards the augment effect, but I don’t always know what will work until I try it. Sometimes I think a fabric is just perfect, but it looks horrible when I cut it into a shape. Sometimes the most unlikely fabric is a real sleeper, it’s either perfect…Sometimes the same fabric has a totally different look if it’s just laid out a little differently, like plaid that’s a little skewed.”

“I like to throw fabric on the floor when I’m trying to figure out a color palette. It’s fast, it gets messy, and I get frustrated because each time I add a new fabric to the mix, it seems to throw off everything else.”

“I work hard to make lots of different patterns and designs work together. Sometimes it takes a long time for me to find just the right fabric for a specific character or object but that fabric has to work within the context of everything else in the quilt.”

“Usually I start in the center, or with PaMdora’s face, which is this case is both and makes it kind of tough since there’s a lot of fabric to handle on each side. I start with the blacks to warm up and get my groove back, especially necessary after a long sabbatical from quilting.”

“During the cutting process, sometimes I find that I have to go back to the drawing and make changes—either because something isn't working in fabric or maybe I had a new idea that I want to add. Then, after I get the whole thing cut and pinned to my design wall, I fuse it together and then start to quilt.”

“…I keep cutting, pinning, and re-evaluating all the fabrics on the board…[I] try to work the whole “canvas” at once. This means, don’t ignore the whole design while focusing on one detail area. Every part of the design impacts every other part, and it’s always a balancing act to make it all work together well.”

“I try not to work until I’m bone-tired and at a total loss for what to do next. I find a place to stop when I still have energy and know what needs to be done next. This makes me excited and look forward to returning to the studio the next day.”

“It’s always exciting to take a design off the wall and start to quilt, and sometimes a relief. A relief after days (or sometimes months) of looking at, struggling with the composition, colors and patterns and finally committing.”
[Note: I really relate to this on a very personal level – for me,
this commitment comes when I finally can no longer avoid the
realization that instead of “honing” the concept, all I’m really
doing is just procrastinating – read, “avoiding doing the work”.
When all is said and done, at some point you simply have to
cut the fabric! I’m s-o-o-o glad to know that I’m not the only
one that has to cope with this. Pam, thank you for sharing.]

“I practice doodling on paper before I do the actual quilting. But now I’ve started doing it in color because it’s more fun that way.”

“When I’m getting ready to quilt a face or some detail, I lay some tracing paper over the shape and practice drawing lines, to ready myself to make similar patterns with the sewing machine needle. I do all my quilting improvisationally, so for me, it’s like a dancer practicing the dance to ready for the final performance.”

“I develop new stitch patterns for each part of the quilt. Because I match the thread to my fabrics, the effects are subtle — you have to get up close to see the different stitching motifs.”

“Sometimes the stitching is symbolic like spider webs representing the Internet or sound waves coming off a cell tower. But sometimes the stitching is just funky and fun. I think it makes the quilt more interesting when there is lots of variety and I like to use the stitching to make something that couldn't be done with a drawing or paint or just fabric alone.”

“I do design my quilts to look bold and simple from a distance, then up close there are small details in the story line, stitching and fabric patterns, that are, hopefully, a surprise to the viewer when they move in closer to the work. I want the viewer to spend some time looking for them but not so hidden that they can't see them at all.”

Pam’s Views on Creativity:

“Creativity is struggling with some half-cocked idea and trying to make something out of it. My history (as probably most people’s) is strewn with half-realized ideas, things I sort-of worked on, but abandoned somewhere at some unsuccessful and ugly stage of development.”

“I don’t think you can fail at creativity because it’s a process. The only way to really fail is not to try.”

Be sure to also check out Pam’s Illustration Friday posts

[NOTE: Illustration Friday is a weekly creative outlet/participatory art exhibit for illustrators and artists of all skill levels. It was designed to challenge participants creatively…It's a chance to experiment and explore and play with visual art.]

To view more of Pam’s work, please visit her website:

To keep abreast of her design process, please read her blog:


PaMdora said...

Holy cow, who is that long-winded woman? haha, just kidding, I can't believe that you've put all this together. Thanks Gwen, it's pretty interesting to see yourself through someone else's eyes. I posted about this on my blog tonight.

Gwen Magee (Gwendolyn) said...

Pam, I'm delighted that you've shared so much. It's fascinating to see how different artists work.