I think I know why so many art quilters known for their landscapes live in the west, like Coloradoan Deidre Adams (who'll be a guest on "Quilting Arts TV" in Season 7) and California girl Liz Berg, a guest on Season 6. Both artists take an abstract design approach to their art. And while they both produce very sophisticated works, I find that abstract design is a very good place to start if you're a novice landscape quilter.
On "QATV" Season 6, Liz demonstrated her technique for creating small abstract landscape quilts using a photo as inspiration. The key to this technique--and what makes it great for beginners--is that you keep it simple. Just reduce the elements in the photo to the basic, most prominent shapes and don't worry too much about light, shadows, shading, etc.
Here are Liz's basic directions. You can follow her process for creating the quilt at left on "Quilting Arts TV" Series 600, airing now on PBS in select markets and available on DVD.
1. Choose a photo with strong horizontal and vertical lines and without too much detail. If you don't have mountains, look for a picture with a long fence, a stream, or a railing of some kind. Trees often provide verticals, but telephone poles, mail box posts, and vegetation like corn stalks or hollyhocks will do as well.
2. Make a copy of the photograph and outline the major shapes. Decide which shapes you wish to use and in what way, and then decide upon the color scheme. Remember to keep the design simple; you are not copying the photo, just using it as inspiration.
3. Pull out your stash of subtly patterned fabrics, such as batiks and hand-dyes in the colors you wish to use. Pre-fuse them.
4. Lay the basic shapes of your background top to bottom (e.g. sky, mountain, stream, ground), using lighter colors, onto a piece of muslin slightly larger than your finished quilt (approximately 8" x 10").
5. Lay in your darker foreground shapes, such as trees and rocks. Work out the design elements of the shapes, varying the size of the shapes and their proximity to each other. Avoid "kissing" shapes--those almost touching--and avoid placing the shapes symmetrically. Odd quantities works best.
You can add some dimension by cutting two of each shape--one darker and one lighter--and overlapping them slightly to suggest shadow.
6. Finish the quilt, when you're happy with the composition, by fusing everything down, adding backing and batting, and quilting with a free-form free-motion stitch.
I love Liz's technique, because it's fast and easy. Plus, the small format allows you to experiment freely to make several landscapes from the same photo, varying the colors and the design.
I'm working on a landscape quilt right now that I hope to have finished by September. I'll show you mine if you'll show me yours!
Leave a comment about your landscape quilt adventures below, and be sure to post pictures of your quilts in our quilt and fiber art gallery.
P.S. For another viewpoint on how to create landscape quilts, download Judith Trager's Quilting Arts Workshop video, Designing Landscape Quilts.