I spent the last two weeks of May in Ohio studying with Nancy Crow at her Timberframe Barn studio with a group of other intrepid artists.

This was my seventh time studying with Nancy, and it was intense and challenging, as usual. The class was called Creative Stretches in Compositional Exercises–kind of a mouthful. But the point was to use a different kind of inspiration to jumpstart our creative process. We started with a collection of photos or artwork that had interesting shapes and lines. I really liked that part, because I’m always taking those kinds of photos and it was fun to go back through them looking for inspiration.

Home Away from Home May 2024 – Cindy Grisdela

Above is my setup for the two weeks with my inspiration photos on the front wall. I realized after I got there that I had missed an important instruction about preparing my photos, so I had to wing it a little bit. Not always a bad thing.

We used elements from the photos to create a black and white composition that was to be the basis for new work during the next two weeks. The horizontal and vertical skinny black lines in the photo below are meant to divide the design for the next exercise.

Black and White Composition May 2024 – CIndy Grisdela

Each exercise is its own composition, and you don’t know what the next prompt will be. The black and white above is about 48″ square.

First Color Composition May 2024 – Cindy Grisdela

The next exercise involved replicating the black and white design in a specific color organization. At this point, I made a tactical error. I was excited about the color possibilities, so I enlarged the design to about 72″ square. I like this composition, but it got me into trouble in the next exercise.

Failed Color Exercise May 2024 – Cindy Grisdela

Ugh–this is terrible–I’m even embarrassed to show it here! I dithered about whether to edit this piece out of the post, because I really don’t like it. But in the interest of showing you my process–flaws and all–I decided to leave it in. I think it’s important to know that everyone makes mistakes and is humbled every now and again. I don’t think there’s any way to redeem this one.

We were supposed to pick interesting shapes and enlarge them as much as 3 times from the original. But I had already enlarged the previous iteration, so if I made them 3 times larger again, the composition would have been enormous! Nancy told me it was terrible, but since I already knew that, it didn’t bother me too much. I just had to start again.

Successful Color Exercise May 2024 – Cindy Grisdela

For this next version, I went back to another method of Nancy’s for finding interesting lines and shapes in a design you’ve already completed. I took the over-large color design and folded it in various ways to find small areas of interest. Then I blew those up into two color blocks to create this design. I think it’s much more successful!

As I’ve said before, coming to the Barn is a way for me to challenge myself to think about my work differently than I have in the past. Every time I study with Nancy, I come away with some new understanding. Yes, she is very critical and yes, it can be difficult to hear her say I’ve failed to execute a design well. She isn’t doing it to be mean, she’s doing it to help me get better as an artist, which is why I’m there in the first place.

My mindset when I’m there is that I’m a student willing to learn and my mantra during a difficult period is “it’s just an exercise.” If it’s really bad, there are beautiful places to walk on the grounds to get centered again. It’s unrealistic to expect that I will come out of one of these classes with a masterpiece. That comes when I go back home and try to apply what I’ve learned to my own practice–hopefully anyway.

And one of the best results from these classes is the friends I’ve made along the way, who continue to enrich my life and my art.

I hope these posts about the Barn are still of interest–I believe that my studies there have made me a better artist and a better teacher. If you’d like to read about my other experiences at the Barn, you can go here, here, here, here, and here all the way back to 2017. I realized I didn’t write about my experience there in the fall of 2023–maybe I’ll do that another day.

Thanks for reading to the end!



  1. Sarah Hibbert on June 30, 2024 at 11:41 am

    The sessions look terrific Cindy, definitely interesting seeing your journey xx

    • Cindy on July 1, 2024 at 10:53 am

      Thanks so much, Sarah!

  2. Jane Bernauer on June 30, 2024 at 1:28 pm

    Fascinating! And thanks so much for sharing your vulnerability in this post. I usually think that “real” designers always are pleased with their designs!!

    • Cindy on July 1, 2024 at 10:53 am

      Thanks Jane–it’s always hard for me to share the failures, but I think it’s important for everyone to realize that not everything is a masterpiece, even for those who do this all the time!


  3. Thea Choate on June 30, 2024 at 6:21 pm

    Thank you for writing about your experiences at the barn and your processes. I truly enjoyed reading it and admiring all of your work.

    • Cindy on July 1, 2024 at 10:52 am

      Thank you Thea! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and thank you for taking the time to comment.

  4. Karin Mcelvein on June 30, 2024 at 9:43 pm

    it so interesting that my teacher also becomes a student. I loved seeing your work and the exercises you did.
    i need to try making another quilt using what you’ve taught me.

    • Cindy on July 1, 2024 at 10:52 am

      Thanks Karin–we all need to learn and grow, even as teachers!

  5. Kim on June 30, 2024 at 11:44 pm

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. Ruth Howell on July 1, 2024 at 3:35 am

    Baby Blues and Lake Regatta are so joyful, thank you for sharing.
    Thank you for posting about your time at the barn, and being kind enough to show us the not so good along with your successful designs
    I smiled when you mentioned your tactical error, that is so easy to do jump head of the teacher, I’ve done it and had students in my class do it too.
    Thank you again for posting , all the best

    • Cindy on July 1, 2024 at 10:51 am

      So true Ruth! Hopefully I’ve learned my lesson about jumping ahead. And thank you for your kind words about my new pieces.

  7. Bernadette Houghton on July 1, 2024 at 7:08 am

    Thank you for posting the work that was deemed unsuccessful. When posts fail to include the whole process of a piece’s or a series’ development, we readers can get to thinking that every studio experience needs to result in work that is terrific. But in the real world, the process of making is rarely smooth. Stuff gets reworked, adjusted, and sometimes thrown away. You have done your fellow artists a service by acknowledging that the path to a refined finished work is usually rocky and occasionally fraught with detours and turn-arounds. I loved this post and plan to read all of the previous ones you’ve listed.

    • Cindy on July 1, 2024 at 10:50 am

      Thank you Bernadette. It’s hard to post the failures, but that’s real life!

  8. Debbie Gregory Wehn on July 1, 2024 at 9:43 am

    Love your stories about the Barn and your willingness to bare your soul on your work. I read this with what I believe is a true understanding of “it’s an exercise”, because of my personal experience at my last attempt to create, which failed, but I’m not giving up! LOL

    • Cindy on July 1, 2024 at 10:49 am

      Thank you Debbie–it’s a process for all of us!

  9. Jenn Duncan on July 1, 2024 at 11:29 am

    Love Love LOVE seeing your process. If only I knew how to sew I would be right there with you!

    • Cindy on July 1, 2024 at 4:29 pm

      Thanks Jenn!

  10. Marianne on July 2, 2024 at 8:52 pm

    Thanks for your story and journey. You are always an inspiration for me.

    • Cindy on July 7, 2024 at 8:26 am

      You’re welcome and thank you!


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