It felt really strange to wake up at home this past Saturday and not have to jump up and get ready by 7 AM to start sewing for the day!

Crow Barn 2018 – Cindy Grisdela

I’m just back from two intense, exhausting, exhilarating two weeks studying at the Crow Barn in Ohio with Nancy Crow. I was doing “remedial improv” this time around, because when I went last year I only had time in my schedule for one week, Improv Exercises Part I, and Nancy wanted me to get the benefit of the second week for Improv Exercises Part II. So I did the first week over and it was really helpful, because I understood so much better what I needed to do compared to last year. You can read about that adventure here.

Black and White Studies 2018 – Cindy Grisdela

The first week we created 12 small studies in black and white to get the hang of working improvisationally. The idea is to use your rotary cutter like a pencil and draw with it. It was much easier the second time around because I felt so much more fluent in taking shapes and exaggerating them or skewing them to create something new. I know I only have eight in the image above, but they wouldn’t all fit on my wall, and I wasn’t all that happy with the first set anyway.

The days are long–the Barn opens at 7 AM and closes at 9 PM. Nancy isn’t there teaching all that time, but you feel like you need to take advantage of the extra sewing time. Surprisingly, the time goes by very quickly. It’s a retreat style setup, with delicious healthy lunches and dinners prepared for students on site, so you don’t have to take time away from your work to cook or find somewhere to eat.

Week One Color Study 2018 – Cindy Grisdela

About the middle of the first week, we got instructions to create a large 6 foot square composition using color intuitively. I struggled with this one a bit. I wanted to get away from the large arcs with spines I had been working with and do something different, but coming up with the composition was difficult. I have lots of pictures of designs that didn’t work out, and I hope I can use some of them for future work. I ended up with arcs anyway–just without the spines.

I got it sewn together, but all those curves ended up pretty wonky. I couldn’t shake the idea that the cobalt curves described the shape of a horse from those ancient cave paintings in France, so I decided to embrace it. The color choices were a bit of a struggle too, but I was trying to challenge myself to use colors I don’t normally use. You can see that in the comparison with the images below from my presentation of the pieces I’ve been working on this year.

Quilt Presentation 2018 – Cindy Grisdela

We had Saturday off and then came back Sunday to present our current work to Nancy and our 20 fellow students.

It was fun to see all three of these quilts hanging together on the huge design walls. The black and white one on the left is Wings, the top I started in last year’s workshop. The next one is the one I created as homework to explore a different color recipe, and the last one on the far right is Confetti, which I made to play with these new ideas–that’s the only one that is finished and quilted. I see now that the middle one, Fireworks, could use some adjustments to make the main figure more defined, but maybe I’ll just do another one.

It was so inspiring to see everyone’s work hung up on the walls–there were very different styles and approaches to creating art quilts in the room.

The second week was the real breakthrough for me.

You might ask, as many have done, why I’m doing this. It’s a fair question. The answer is I need to grow as an artist, and I wasn’t seeing the way forward on my own. Nancy Crow is one of the most respected and admired artists working with fabric today, and she is known for pushing her students to do their best work. So I went last year, and I went back this year. And I did learn! My brain is full with new ideas and new possibilities.

Large Black and White Study 2018 – Cindy Grisdela

The second week we started with a black and white study–larger than the ones from last week. Mine was about 36″ x 40″. This study was used as the basis for a larger piece done in grays and then a color version. And I decided there would be no arcs this time!

All of these pieces were created cutting the shapes freehand with my rotary cutter. It was a lot of fun to do it that way. As I mentioned in my earlier posts on this topic, all the pieces are cut out and the lines and shapes are defined before any sewing is done–which is a different approach than my normal. I usually create units and sew them together, then arrange and rearrange them on the design wall until they are in the configuration I want. I do see the benefits of this process though, especially the ability to create large pieces without getting bored. I’m learning that I like to sew, but I really like to design!

Color pull Week 2 – Cindy Grisdela

Above is the color pull for the final quilt top. Nancy uses a structured approach to selecting colors based on the gray scale used in the intermediate design. I’m a more intuitive color person, but I found this structure helpful to sort of “hang” my intuition on. And it forced me to step outside my comfort zone and use colors I wouldn’t have chosen on my own.

Gray and Color Versions of the same quilt design – Cindy Grisdela

I was pleased with the final result. I built the color version on top of the gray scale, so it is similar but not identical to the first one.  I wanted to see if I could do it without making templates or patterns, because it’s improv after all! Plus I played with some transparencies in the large blocks on the right and in the smaller ones on the left in the color version, and I broke up some of the larger shapes into different colors.

It’s important to leave your preconceived notions at home when you come to the Barn, and that’s what I tried to do–to be open to a new process and a new way of creating. I’m still not sure how all this integrates into my studio practice, but I’m getting a clearer idea as I move forward and I’m excited to figure it out!

I’m grateful to Nancy for her insights and to my fellow students for their support and encouragement.

If you’ve read this far, thank you. And I’ll love to hear your comments. How have you integrated new ideas into your work?









  1. Mary Ann and Soest on June 7, 2018 at 12:15 am

    I too have been to a Crow workshop. I like how she stretches an artist. I like what you created and see the strength of the grey scale and enjoyed the color version.

    • Cindy on June 7, 2018 at 11:52 am

      Thank you Mary Ann–so you know exactly what it was like!

  2. Nancy Latham on June 7, 2018 at 2:53 am

    How very interesting to read this. I have been a fan of Nancy Crow for forever and I can’t even imagine 2 whole weeks doing what you did. (I’m a fan of your work too, but I haven’t ‘known’ you as long.) Thankyou for taking the time to write it up and illustrate.

    • Cindy on June 7, 2018 at 11:51 am

      Thank you Nancy–it was intense but fun!

  3. Rachel Biel on June 7, 2018 at 6:24 am

    What a great experience, Cindy! So glad you had this opportunity and it will be interesting to see where you go next with all of this!

    • Cindy on June 7, 2018 at 11:50 am

      Thanks Rachel–I’m working on figuring out where to go next!

  4. kathy anso on June 7, 2018 at 9:14 am

    great extra detail development from the grey to the full colour, nice!

    • Cindy on June 7, 2018 at 11:50 am

      Thank you Kathy–it was a fun exercise!

  5. Lesly-Claire on June 11, 2018 at 1:24 pm

    I went to one of Nancy’s first barn experiences, when she moved the first studio next to her house. It was a great week.

    • Cindy on June 12, 2018 at 3:50 pm

      That’s very cool, Lesley-Claire! I sometimes wish I’d gotten started with this earlier, but I don’t think I was ready before. So I’ll just start from where I am now and move forward.

  6. LynneP on June 12, 2018 at 2:11 pm

    Sounds like you had a great experience and that you stretched and grew as an artist. Hooray! I really like your blk/wht studies and the large pieces that were inspired by them. Hoping to see you in July.

    • Cindy on June 12, 2018 at 3:50 pm

      Thanks Lynne! I’m looking forward to coming to NM next month.

  7. Elizabeth on June 15, 2018 at 2:45 pm

    Thanks for writing up your experience at the Crow Barn. I have nearly all Nancy Crow’s books, and am quite a fan, but am totally intimidated by the Barn experience, so it’s nice to live it vicariously through you. Thanks for walking us through your decision points, and for describing the process. I have your book, too, and quite admire your work as well.

    (PS. I don’t often return to posts I’ve commented on, so if you decide to reply, please use an email response if you want me to see it. Thanks.)

    • Cindy on June 18, 2018 at 7:52 pm

      Thank you for your thoughtful response and kind words about my work, Elizabeth!