3 Ways to Design Art Work: Variations on a Theme


Libby’s Leaves #2 by Laura Wasilowski

My second method of creating original art quilts is called Variations on a Theme. This way of designing artwork comes in handy when my brain needs a little kick start. Like a jolt of coffee in the morning, it spurs me into the “create zone” and I’m off and running.  

Please note that all of the examples used here are made with pre-fused fabric. (You can learn more about fusing here.) But you can apply the same methods to a pieced quilt as well.

variations1Variations on a Theme

The first step in creating this type of design is to select a theme or motif and create variations on that theme. The motif in our example is a unit or block with a square shape set on a rectangular shape. As with any design method, there are pros and cons when selecting the Variation on a Theme method.

Pros:  Repeating a motif lends rhythm and balance to your design. It gives the design a sense of unity.

Cons: The design may feel formulaic and static. By restricting yourself to one motif, the design may feel static and uninteresting. The key to making it interesting is to bravely change up the motif. Slice that fabric!


Variations on a Theme by Laura Wasilowski

Here are some tips when creating your variation on a theme:

  • Start with a simple motif block. You’ll be repeating this block several times and an easy-to-make shape aids the process.
  • Explore ways to slice, flip, skew, enlarge, and diminish the motif block.
  • Determine a focal point or place where the eye first rests on the design. The rule of thirds applies here. Divide your design into thirds vertically and horizontally. The juncture of those grids lines is good destination for a focal point. The focal point may be a change up in size or spot of high color contrast.
  • Join the motif blocks together so they read as a unit. Note that the spaces between motif blocks (negative spaces) can be just as interesting as the blocks themselves.

Stay tuned for our third and final method of designing artwork: Design Triggers.

3 Ways to Design Art Work: The Sketch

seedpod1detail1forwebReady to make an original quilt design? There are three methods of designing art quilts that you may find helpful. And each way of designing has pros and cons to consider. Over the next few days I’d like to show you the three methods I use:

  • sketching a design,
  • creating variations on a theme, and
  • using design triggers.

Please note that the examples are made with pre-fused fabric. (You can learn more about fusing here.) But you can apply the same methods to a pieced quilt as well. It doesn’t matter how you assemble the design, it’s the process of turning your ideas into fabric that matters. Today we’ll explore sketching the design.


Sketch for Seedpods

Sketching the Design
For large art work, a sketch may be the answer. You don’t have to be an expert at drawing but with a sketch or doodle you can work out the design possibilities ahead of time before cutting into fabric.

Pros: A sketch helps you visualize your final design. It helps determine the shapes and placement of each shape in the design and can be enlarged and turned into a pattern.

Cons: One difficultly of working from a sketch is the feeling of being locked into that design. Confining your imagination is not good in art making. So at some point you may want to set aside the sketch and wing it. Give yourself the freedom to change things up.


Seedpods #1 by Laura Wasilowski

Here are some tips when designing from a sketch:

  • Make multiple sketches to develop the shapes in the design, their placement, and relationship to each other.
  • Duplicate the sketch and play with color ideas using colored pencils or markers to help with fabric choices.
  • Use the sketch to determine a size for the final design and use those measurements to figure the amount of fabric you will need to make the quilt.  
  • Work from the sketch directly or enlarge it into a pattern for the design. (See how to transfer pattern shapes to a fused fabric here.)

Stay tuned for the second method of designing art work: Variations on a Theme