Mel Beach’s next quilt could emerge from a simple roll of the dice. But not just any dice. The quilt artist, teacher and lecturer applies creative instructions to the sides of her dice to prompt her to stretch her artist’s wings. A huge advocate of making short and long term goals and then creating daily, Mel keeps her creativity flowing by constantly challenging herself, making art and sharing what she learns with her students.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving?
As a child and young adult, I leaned towards anything art/craft related. I loved taking art classes in school and learned various needle arts through Girl Scouts and 4-H. While in grad school I learned how to make quilts. I was mostly self-taught, learning from books, magazines, and watching quilting programs on TV. While I started out making mostly traditional quilt blocks and patterns, I loved adding a modern twist through my selection of fabrics and changing the final layout.
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What inspires you to create?
Inspiration is everywhere if you take the time to look for it! Whether it is on my morning walks or running errands, I love studying my surroundings. I take lots of photographs of interesting shapes, patterns, lines, and textures! Even while sheltering in place during 2020, I found daily inspiration for stitching 100 blocks inspired by a limited world of photographs, music, text, events, memories. Really, anything that made me happy that particular day. My finished 100 Days of Dice Doodles serves as a reminder of the many wonderful sources of inspiration I discovered during a particularly challenging time.
Are there recurring themes in your work? What is it about a subject that inspires you to continue exploring it?
Three themes that frequently show up in my work: mandalas, flowers/nature, and spirals/spirangles. While I am drawn to the radial symmetry of mandalas, I especially love the meditative nature of repeating elements while working around each ring of a design. Over the years, I’ve explored creating mandala designs using various quiltmaking techniques: wholecloth quilting, reverse appliqué, fused appliqué, piecing, bias tape appliqué and fabric dyeing. I draw a lot of design inspiration from nature, so many of my quilts feature flowers and leaves in their designs.
Last but not least is spirals and spirangles, which are lots of fun to improvisationally piece using straight line seams. They add wonderful energy to my designs.
When it comes to creating, are you more of a planner or an improviser?
I am very much a planner in most aspects of my life. My calendar is my best friend, and my bullet journal is filled with monthly, weekly, and daily to do lists. Being organized and having my systems in place frees up my brain to be totally focused during the creative process. I like having a few rules to provide structure, then play within these confines.
Over the past two years, I have completed four 100 Day Projects, each involving the rolling of dice. Going into each project, I determine a few artistic goals for myself. Then I create a game plan to explore aspects of design by assigning a variable to each side of the dice. This structure allows me to simply roll the dice, then respond to the prompt improvisationally. It’s a playful way to nudge me out of my comfort zone. So it yields lots of learning and exploration along the way. You can learn more about using dice in my design process on my Design By Dice Gallery page: https://melbeachquilts.com/gallery#/designbydice/
Tell us how quilt challenges move your art forward.
Over the past 6-7 years, I’ve participated in more than 100 quilt challenges at local and national levels. Each challenge has a set of rules, whether it is a theme, size parameters, and/or fabrics to use. Most importantly, each challenge includes a deadline which motivates me to finish! While most quilt challenges provide several months before the entry deadline, I especially love participating in the 1-week challenges hosted by Project Quilting (https://kimlapacek.com/project-quilting) each January through March. These challenges are a bit of a whirlwind, but they inspire me to explore all new materials, themes, and techniques, with several evolving into workshops that I now teach. In my monthly newsletter (you can sign up on my website) I include a list of upcoming quilt challenges and entry deadlines as a way of encouraging others to participate in quilt challenges!
How has your work changed over time?
It’s fun to go back to my earlier blog posts and see how much my work has evolved over the past 10 or so years. In addition to quilt challenges, I also set 5 Quilting/Creative goals for myself each January. These are way more fun to pursue as compared to traditional New Year’s Resolutions (i.e. Losing weight, visiting the gym, eating healthy), and they help me seek opportunities to grow as an artist and teacher.
When choosing my annual goals, I consider my long-term goals and reflect on what may hold me back from achieving them. Then I seek out resources to set me up for success. That might include enrolling in classes/workshops, seeking out mentors and conducting my own exploration of each topic. Past resolutions have included learning to free-motion quilt, fabric dyeing, elevating my photography skills, entering my work into shows as well as joining the teaching circuit to inspire others to try new skills and experiences.
Do you critique your own work? What is your process?
I don’t really maintain a regular sketchbook or journal practice. However in 2011, I started blogging (https://pieceloveandhappiness.blogspot.com/) to document my quilting journey. After each project, I write a blog post to capture my design inspiration, process, construction materials and techniques used, lessons learned along the way, as well as a personal critique. To support each blog post, I try to remember to take lots of pictures along the way. Then I step back from my work and really assess the strengths and opportunities to improve. For me, maintaining a blog has really helped me to document and celebrate my progression as a quilt artist.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
Over the years, my creative space has grown from a corner in my small apartment to my current set up in the front living room of our home. I totally geek out on studio organization and I am thankful for my handy partner who has a garage full of tools to assist in my studio makeovers. Over the years, my studio space has evolved to support my creative ventures. A few years ago, it underwent a major transformation to accommodate a longarm machine with a 10′ frame. This past year, I explored mark-making on fabric and found myself reorganizing my space to have my paints and mediums more readily accessible.
In addition to creating, my studio accommodates my virtual teaching and lecturing, as well as my daily yoga practice. Last but not least, I have three dedicated studio assistants: Callie, Panda, and Susie Q. They keep me company as I create and protect my studio from various delivery workers, especially the postal workers!
What are the indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Over the years I’ve used a few different sewing machine brands and models – I absolutely love my Juki sewing machine. It is a basic straight-stitch machine but it’s a real workhorse. I’ve amassed quite the collection of fabric, threads, prepared for dye fabric and paints for when inspiration strikes. Blue painter’s tape, Elmer’s School Glue, and dice are my other must-have tools!
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, podcasts, movies? If so, what kind?
When working out a design or construction challenge, I usually prefer silence to focus on the task at hand. But once that is sorted out and I am doing more meditative tasks like piecing, quilting, or finishing, I like having background noise to help pass the time. Oftentimes it is music which provides lots of energy and inspiration. In fact, one of my favorite quilts, “Orange You Glad I Got the Blues?!?” was inspired by Jazz music. I must confess that my guilty pleasure is watching Reality TV programs, so that is often playing in the background. One of my newer lectures is entitled “Free-Motion CREA-TV and Reality” which is my fun twist on free-motion quilting through the lens of some of my favorite Reality TV programs like Survivor, American Pickers, and Project Runway.
Are you a “finisher”? How many UFOs do you think you have?
Thankfully entry deadlines are powerful motivators to finish most of my various projects. However, I do have a few UFOs lurking about in my studio, some as old as 2011 when I didn’t have the confidence or skills to quilt my own quilts. I try to tackle one or two UFOs each year, usually during the month of December when my teaching schedule tends to be lighter.
What is the biggest challenge to being successful in a creative field?
Making art is only one aspect of being a successful artist. We must wear many hats to promote, enter, and sell our work. This requires discipline, planning, and oftentimes quite a bit of time behind the computer. As a result, I try to strike a balance between tackling the necessary administrative tasks and making time to practice my art.
Do you think that creativity comes naturally to people, or do you think creativity is a skill that people can learn?
I believe that we are all creative beings! While we may have different ways of expressing our creativity, it is definitely there. Some people may need a boost of confidence to embrace their creativity. We could all benefit from taking classes and/or making time to explore our creative endeavors. And most importantly, we need to celebrate our creativity!
What advice would you give to emerging artists?
- Take classes that will challenge you to grow and explore new techniques.
- Seek out mentorship opportunities to learn from more experienced artists as well as to share your experience with new artists. I learn just as much from being a mentor as I do as a mentee.
- Make time to create daily! Not everything will be a masterpiece or gallery-ready, but the efforts will quickly add to your artistic growth and voice.
- Be curious and play! These will add a fun-factor to your work and help prevent burnout.
- Create what you love! That passion will translate into your art.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope people will gain by visiting?
I hope that visitors to my website, www.melbeachquilts.com, will be inspired to try something new: explore new color/fabrics, experiment with a new technique, participate in a quilt challenge, take a workshop with me, and/or sign up for my newsletter for a monthly boost of quilting tips and inspiration.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I absolutely love empowering others through my lectures and workshops that are packed with quilting inspiration, tips, tricks, and lots of FUN!
Guild/event organizers can visit my teaching page (https://melbeachquilts.com/teaching) to learn more about my programs and contact me through my website (https://melbeachquilts.com/contact-1) for date/time availability. For the past two years, I’ve been lecturing and teaching virtually via Zoom. Not only are my online programs highly interactive, but everyone can enjoy the front-row seat to all the up-close demos and samples, all from the comfort of their own sewing space where they are surrounded by their fabric and supplies.
Individual quilters can visit my teaching schedule and/or join my monthly newsletter to see where I’ll be lecturing and teaching next. While much of my teaching is through guilds and groups, there are often times openings for guests and visitors to join the fun!
Ways to stay connected with Mel Beach:
Sign Up for my Monthly Newsletter: https://melbeachquilts.us16.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=3db5aef333f6e5c3848a3aee6&id=9dd9a1f844
Follow me on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/melbeachquilts
Visit my Blog: https://pieceloveandhappiness.blogspot.com/
Interview posted October 2021
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