Welcome to my stop on the Color Mastery blog tour! I’m Kay Mackenzie, an appliqué enthusiast and writer, and this is my blog devoted to appliqué — any kind! I’m privileged today to publish this interview with Maria Peagler, author of the new book for quilters, Color Mastery: 10 Principles for Creating Stunning Quilts.
Kay: Maria, we met by email through our mutual photographer Gregory Case. Then, amongst the throngs of people at Spring Quilt Market 2008, fortune put us shoulder-to-shoulder not once but twice. I so enjoyed our conversations, and marveled at your calm self-assurance at this huge project of putting out a book about color for quilters. Please tell us about the experiences in your life, both artistic and professional, that prepared you for this journey.
Maria: Color Mastery is my eighth book, and the second I’ve published independently. Because I’m a veteran at writing and publishing, the whole idea of giving birth to this wonderful book for quilters on color was thrilling, and I couldn’t wait to get started. My expertise in writing was instructional design and curriculum development for computer training companies, which basically means I developed classes for highly technical subjects, and made them easy to understand. So you’d come to my class and after one day, go back to work with skills you needed. I’ve taken the same approach to color: one day with me and you’ll really see color differently.
Art has been a part of my life from childhood. My mother was an artist and a musician, and I loved watching her hands with a paintbrush and playing the keys of a piano. I’ve always expressed myself with words and images, and really see them as connected.
Kay: From that background, how did you get started as a quilter?
Maria: I was quite fortunate to have a good friend, Debbie Gerbers, invite me to her quilting guild. Debbie and I both sewed and were newlyweds in our twenties, but I really had no interest in quilting. What I didn’t know is that Debbie belonged to the East Cobb Quilters’ Guild, a nationally-known quilt guild whose members’ quilts have been in Spike Lee films, the Atlanta Olympic Games, and is home to many professional quilters. So when I attended the first meeting with Debbie, I was shocked to see women who were artists. I remember thinking during the guild’s show and tell: I’m in. Whatever it takes to learn how to do this, I’m in.
Kay: That is so cool. I can tell that you found “it” that day. How was it that you became especially interested in color in quiltmaking?
Maria: For as long as I can remember, I’ve loved color. When I was a young girl growing up in the psychedelic 70′s, I loved all the colorful images around me, and I adored drawing and painting, and wanted to be an artist. My parents encouraged me to do something more practical, so I followed my other love of books and writing. When I became a quilter, it was really the color and gorgeous fabrics that appealed to me. I delighted in selecting fabrics and colors for my quilts, but was frustrated by my results. I would sit in my quilt guild meetings and be really disappointed that I couldn’t get the same outstanding results I saw from other, more accomplished, quilters. And so I tried to learn color theory and the color wheel, but I just didn’t get it. It was only once I became a watercolor painter that I understood color theory and how differently it applied to fabric and quilts.
Kay: How did all this come together to inspire you to write a book for quilters about color?
Maria: I was teaching machine quilting in a local shop in Dawsonville, Georgia, called Sew Memorable. Dawsonville is a gorgeous town near the base of the Appalachian Trail, and has many artists and crafters. The shop owner, whose favorite color is brown, was getting a lot of requests from quilters for a color class, and asked me to develop it. I wanted quilters to see color results in one day, without having to wade through a lot of color theory that doesn’t apply to us. I developed an entirely new kind of color class for quilters that was quick, immediately hands-on, fun, and at the end of the day quilters would have a finished quilt top.
And it worked! Quilters who were previously intimidated by color theory were having so much fun and finally understanding how color relationships work in quilts, they forgot all about being frustrated with color theory. I developed my own exercises and projects, but found I was spending a small fortune in paper, ink, and materials. So I decided it was time to put it all in a book. I knew I had something unique in the Color Mastery premise.
Kay: Can you describe what it has been like for you writing this book and marshaling it through the publishing process? How long from concept to print?
Maria: I published Color Mastery through my own “indie” publishing company, and was able to develop a really unique quilting book because I had no limitations on what I wanted to do. First, I didn’t self-publish; many self-publishers do everything themselves, and from experience, I know what I do and don’t do well. So I hired a photographer, book designer, illustrator, and two editors to be on my creative team. Second, I developed a series of exercises that allow quilters to use their own stash to really “see” colors in fabric the way artists do, and show them how to use that new color knowledge to design their own color palettes. Third, I designed quilts that really extended the book’s color exercises, but the projects don’t look like exercise quilts: they’re lap quilts, table runners, wall quilts, and doll quilts. All practical, and in a range of styles from funky, to feminine, to masculine. Fourth, I acted as the book’s sales and marketing team, getting the word out to the quilt industry about this new concept in teaching color to quilters.
The entire process took about 1-1/2 to 2 years, from concept to the book being in quilt shops.
Kay: How do your current publishing efforts fit in with family life?
I have two school-aged sons, and being a mother has been the greatest joy of my life. I don’t want to miss a single moment of their growing up, so I work around their school schedules. Sometimes when I’m gearing up for a big promotion or a deadline I end up working at night after they’re in bed, but my husband owns his own business and understands the life of an entrepreneur.
I’m also aware of being a role model, for not only my own sons, but other students in this area as well, as an author. I live in a rural county where most families live within severely limited means and college is a luxury. I never imagined when I was a child of being a writer: I didn’t know anyone who was a writer, and I’m the first person in my family to attend and graduate from college. I visit the area schools and talk to students about being a writer and getting published, and encourage them to follow their dreams. (Some parents attended these too – I think it’s the great American dream to write a book!)
Kay: You sent me an advance copy and asked if I would like to write a blurb. I was delighted to do so. Here’s what wrote itself, from the right side of my brain, without effort: “I’ve attended several lectures on the color wheel, but none of them made me start thinking about color the way that Maria Peagler’s Color Mastery did. All of a sudden I had fresh eyes, and looked at everything around me with greater understanding. This book is an instant classic.” I’ve been tickled pink to see my blurb appear on your Color Mastery blog and indeed on the Amazon.com detail page for the book! Tell us a little bit about why your book takes us beyond the standard color wheel lecture.
Maria: Most color wheel lectures left me cold, with too much emphasis on rules and limitations of using the color wheel. I wanted to show quilters what I had discovered about using the color wheel, that it’s really a launching pad for unlimited color options and innovative color palettes. I stress how important it is for quilters to keep a color journal, where they start collecting images and ideas for color palettes they love (and those they don’t). Without knowing your own color style, color theory ends up making formulaic quilts. The most common observation I hear from my students is this: “I was making the same quilt over and over again. I didn’t realize what a color rut I was in!” Once you combine your own color vision with color theory, you’ve unlocked the door to endless color options.
I do spend a lot of time on teaching the parts of color theory that are essential to quilters, but I do it in a way that gets quilters working with their fabrics right away, so they can visualize color palettes with their own fabrics. I also stress using the color wheel as a tool: it’s not the focus of my quilts, nor am I a slave to it. I make the color wheel and color theory work for me in my style of quilts.
Kay: I have to tell you that one startling revelation in your book changed my fabric choices forever… for the better! My jaw dropped when I read that the Impressionist painters did not use black, brown, or gray in themselves. After that, I was making a wall quilt, and when I would have reached for gray (because that’s the true color of what I was depicting), I reached for blue-gray instead. It looked fabulous! Would you expound a little more on this topic?
Maria: Some of my favorite parts of the book are the artist’s secrets, where I show quilters how to use color in their quilts the way great masters throughout time have. While I love using black in my quilts, I never realized how much more colorful a quilt would be by using a darker color in its place, like dark blue. It really does work, and gives a quilt far more vibrancy than if you use a simple black. It’s also a great example of how you can use value to increase the color potential of your quilts. Most quilters think of value only in terms of light vs. dark, but it can have a far greater impact on the color in your palettes.
And if you dye or paint your own fabric, you can make a much more colorful version of black by combining dark red, dark green, and dark blue. While I don’t dye my fabrics, I use this technique often in my paintings and sketches, with gorgeous results.
Kay: It strikes me that Color Mastery is coming along just when we quilters need it more than ever! In light of our current ‘economic downturn,” your book helps quilters understand how to wring every last bit of color from, of their stashes. In addition, the exercises reveal what’s needed in the stash, so that the quilter can shop for fabrics wisely and judiciously.
Maria: The emphasis on our fabric stash in Color Mastery really resulted from a need. I wanted to convince quilters that outstanding color results were possible with everyday fabrics, and so I turned to my stash to prove it. I made all the quilts in the book from my limited stash, knowing that if I could develop innovative color palettes for gorgeous quilts using only fabrics I had on hand, any quilter could read the book and go into a quilt store and select fabrics with ease. And, I knew from my classes that using your own fabrics for color exercises helps quilters to better understand color, as they’re using the fabrics that have meaning for them. Looking at a mock-up block that uses someone else’s fabrics teaches little about color.
Kay: Maria has made a sample chapter from her book available for download! (One of the perks of having one’s own publishing company.)
Maria: Thanks Kay, for hosting me at your All About Appliqué blog on my Color Mastery blog tour! I so admire you and other women authors for the creative work they do. And I can’t imagine a better business than quilting in which to write and be an entrepreneur! I love the whole notion of quilts being an art form you can wrap up in and share with loved ones.
Also, be sure to also check out the guest post that Maria did here last October on “Color and Appliqué.”
Until next time,
Quilt Puppy Publications & Designs