I recently returned from a 7 day independent study workshop with textile artist Michael James at the Quilt Surface Design Symposium (QSDS) in Columbus, Ohio.

There were about 20 students in the class–everyone with a different plan for the week based on their own studio practice. It was fascinating seeing the work other students were doing–everything from piecing quilt tops to constructing compositions using dyed or manipulated fabrics, to adding unusual elements, like rope or recycled materials to the design. We were studying in the Columbus College of Art and Design, so the space was large and had student artwork everywhere–notice the paper plate mobile at the back of the room!

QSDS Classroom 2022

Each morning, Michael presented a video about an artist for discussion. Some were textile artists and some were not. Several were new to me and I plan to learn more about them. Then we got to work.

Michael James teaching QSDS 2022

In my initial discussion with Michael about my plan for the week, I had two potential ideas to pursue. The first was quickly dismissed, but the second got some traction. I had begun a series of pieces exploring large shapes and the tension between the figure and the negative space, but all of them were fairly small, given the newness of the series. I had started this process in a workshop with Nancy Crow several years ago, but hadn’t taken the time to pursue it further until recently. Michael’s suggestion was to take one of the these pieces and “go large.”

How large is large?

Well– in this case the limiting factor was the size of the design wall and the fact that I hadn’t thought to bring a step ladder. So I started out with a “canvas” that was 60″ wide x 72″ high.

Beginning the new large piece QSDS 2022 – Cindy Grisdela

I started out with a black and white study so I could determine the lines and shapes I wanted to use.

Pile of color – Cindy Grisdela

Then I started pulling colors to do another version.

Finished Color Study – Cindy Grisdela

These pieces are based on my Homage to Matisse quilt–the original is about 30″ x 40″ so this is much larger in scale. I used similar colors so I could really work on the scale–but they aren’t exactly the same because I didn’t bring all my fabrics with me this time. Plus it was interesting to do things a bit differently. I was glad to have a long table to make those vertical cuts!

Long cut across the entire height of the piece!

As I was working, I started thinking about new ways to interpret this idea–breaking up the shapes in the figures or in the backgrounds, and using alternative color palettes.

I was there for seven days, so I got the first two tops done fairly quickly. The third one took a little longer and it isn’t finished yet.

I decided to break up the shapes in the figures first, but I really didn’t have a good enough selection of fabrics to do it in color. So I went with my neutrals because I had the most selection there. That was also a challenge for me because I don’t usually work in the neutral palette.

Neutral Study Beginning QSDS 2022 – Cindy Grisdela

I kept the black and white study up on the design wall and used it as a guide to build the others. I didn’t have templates, but I eyeballed the shapes based on what was already there. Ideally I would have pinned the black and white study up on the wall and built the new ones next to it, cutting the shapes by eye, but I didn’t have enough space for that.

Looking at the top in process above, I have a couple of new ideas to try soon!

Neutral Study Almost Finished QSDS 2022 – Cindy Grisdela

The neutrals were tough to work with and the effect was muddier than I wanted. I put the sections together in vertical rows, and when Michael came by to take a look as I was finishing up, he suggested that I could mix up the vertical panels until I found a design that was more pleasing. Great idea!

I ran out of time to put the final top completely together, and I’m not sure if I want to finish this one. But I came away from the class with a new appreciation for working large and for getting out of my own way–you can mix things up to make your designs more compelling!

Chatting about the work – QSDS 2022 – Cindy Grisdela


Right to left – Beth Schillig, Libby Williamson, Donalee Kennedy, Cindy Grisdela

I had a great time getting to know some of the people in the class better–Libby Williamson, Donalee Kennedy, Beth Schillig, and Maxine Thomas (not pictured).

Libby Williamson had the best backdrop!

Sights and inspirations from Columbus:


Texture Inspiration – Cindy Grisdela


Thank you for reading all the way to the end! Taking a class that pushes you out of your comfort zone is a great way to grow as an artist–I’m looking forward to exploring these new ideas in the months ahead.




  1. Christy Steiger on June 14, 2022 at 10:53 am

    I love your ideas-gone-large! The neutrals are lovely. I think they may just look muddy next to the black/white combo, but not on their own. Please do something with them — your eye for color is so good.

    It was fun reading about your experience and see the photos. I know you have come back inspired.

  2. Robin on June 14, 2022 at 10:54 am

    Thank you Cindy. You have inspired me on the “how” of making “big.” Looks like you had a productive and fun class. – Robin

  3. Libby Williamson on June 14, 2022 at 12:15 pm

    What a great experience we had. It was inspiring and exhausting. I’m so glad to have worked aside you and had some special meals together. I’m looking forward to meeting up again …. Somewhere….. Sometime! Hugs

  4. Marilee on June 14, 2022 at 12:16 pm

    It is really cool to see you go in new directions with your work and to watch it evolve. Thank you for sharing that. I can’t imagine handling such large pieces of fabric. It would be like wrestling a parachute!

  5. Kristin F on June 14, 2022 at 2:35 pm

    I love your work in this new large scale format!

  6. Linda on June 14, 2022 at 4:24 pm

    I’m looking forward to attending your online workshop on Thursday with the Oakville Quilt Guild.
    Your project with Michael James is wonderful and made me think of Matisse’s paper cutout works.
    Linda Macphail

  7. Joan Houghton on June 21, 2022 at 11:47 am

    I enjoy seeing your adventures in color and reading about your journey as an artist. It’s interesting to know about other artists who inspire your creativity.

    • Susan on July 12, 2022 at 8:51 am

      Thanks for sharing your week in Columbus. It was fun to see your designs evolve and see how you made changes as you went through the class.

  8. JaniceMorrill on July 3, 2022 at 4:40 pm

    Love your work. The large format reminds me of artists I studied when I was a student at Columbus College of Art and Design. Great space to work in.