Inspiration photograph taken by Travis Seward @travlis

Finding Design Inspiration

As part of a design group, I receive an inspiration photograph on roughly a bi-monthly basis and work to design and piece a block, mini quilt, or quilt based on inspiration I get from the photograph. This is very similar to the Quilt Design a Day (QDAD) Facebook group that I have discussed in the past (in case you are interested in joining a community to begin this kind of design practice around). The difference between the design group I am participating in now and QDAD is that QDAD focuses on design and while you are encouraged to piece and make the quilts that inspire you in QDAD, it’s more of a daily design practice to encourage repetition and development of design skills and also a great idea to use for design software familiarization.

Inspiration and Design - Challenge 1

Inspiration and Design – Challenge 1

Sometimes it can be really straight forward for me to find design inspiration from the image given. In December I shared the Crop Circles table runner, which was my first challenge that I participated in with the group. I was really drawn to the circles in the sculpture of the inspiration photo. Oh, and be sure to check out my Quarter Arch Piecing Tutorial that I created after the fact to explain my piecing technique for the table runner!

Inspiration and Design - Challenge 2

Inspiration and Design – Challenge 2

I selected the photograph for the next challenge with the group, and I submitted a photograph of a butterfly I took while on vacation in Australia a few years ago. Narrowing down my choices on an image to submit was harder than finding the inspiration to work from in the photo. I chose to focus on the color gradient change of the blues in the wings of the butterfly and I also used the challenge to try a new to me technique: reverse applique. Adding in the extra challenge of trying something new felt less scary in this design group setting because I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to explore the idea I had with traditional piecing methods and I felt like using a mini quilt to explore the idea was low risk. For more details on this mini quilt, I wrote several blog posts about it along the way:

Inspiration and Design - Challenge 3

Inspiration and Design – Challenge 3

I did take a little bit longer to figure out where to focus my design for the last challenge that I shared, the Crown Mini Quilt. There was a lot to look at and choose from in the inspiration images, but I narrowed in straight away on the gold elements within each sugar skull. Once I let go of my piecing inhibitions and decided to use raw edge applique, the creating the mini quilt went very quickly and resulted in a mini quilt that I am proud of and really love.

Next Inspiration Photo

Next Inspiration Photo – Photo courtesy of @travlis

So, all of this post is a long way of getting to the point that I have been pretty stumped by the inspiration photo for the next challenge (see above). As I am sure you see immediately, the large grid is a huge focal point of the image and something that I have been struggling to see around. Not that I need to – if the large grid inspired any brilliant ideas I would have gone with it. I did honestly consider trying out Laura from Slice of Pi Quilts‘ open lattice technique (see Quilting Outside the Box and Autumn Lattice Quilt for 2 examples).

Because it wasn’t sparking ideas for me and it takes in so much of the attention and focus, it has been hard for me to find a spark that excites me. So I sat down and discussed the image with my husband. It was immensely helpful to just talk out loud about what I was seeing and point at different elements in the photograph with him. In the end, I now have a design inspiration that I want to draw from in the photograph.

My next task will be to select a color palette and fabrics to work with. I don’t know if I will use this tool, but one option is to use the Palette Builder created by Anne Sullivan from Play Crafts, where I could upload the image to get color and fabric matching help. I’m more likely to pull out my stash and approximate colors loosely inspired by the image.

Clearly, I enjoy the challenge of using photographs for design inspiration. Where do you find design inspiration? Do you have something that really speaks to you in the photograph we are using for design inspiration this month? Is it a color or a shape or even a texture or idea? Oooh, just by writing out “idea” opened up a whole different range of possibilities for me that I hadn’t explored before (transportation theme, abandoned/rusting theme…).

I really love a good discussion post and encourage you to read the comments for thoughtful insights and ideas to ponder. Thank you in advance for sharing your methods and ideas with us!

20 thoughts on “Finding Design Inspiration

  1. Sue Rostron says:

    Sadly I am all caught up. Thank you for the lovely read and inspiration.

  2. Beth LaMotte says:

    What a cool pic! I was immediately drawn to the grid, but challenged myself to dig deeper. I saw the weed in front of the grid and immediately thought of tumble weed, but tumble (cartwheel) the grid across the space that you are working on. Hopefully, this makes sense to you.

  3. Miriam says:

    while I am not able to participate in the challenge, and you probably already do this, I might take some card stock, cut different shapes from it. and run it over the photo to focus on small sections rather than the whole. you might see small inspirations that stand out in a big way from the limited field of vision. I always enjoy your conversations, especially on design inspiration. Thank you!

  4. Yeah, that grid is pretty overpowering in the photo! It immediately suggested the word “askew” to me, which is what I would have explored. Maybe that’s because I’ve been thinking a lot about the limitations of the traditional quilt block grid.

    Inspiration for me comes almost always directly from the fabric. I primarily sew for children and I love novelty prints, so I get focused on a particular subject like “cats” or “math/science” or “dumptrucks” or the one I can’t seem to get past, “chickens.” (Why am I obsessed with chickens??) Then I start to accumulate chicken fabrics, and look at chicken shaped blocks online, etc. In the end, I usually have a group of fabrics that tell me how they want to sew together to highlight the various motifs/scales. A bright red covered with tiny drumsticks will be used very differently than a cream with large, strutting roosters.

    One of my design constraints is that I refuse to purchase ugly novelty fabrics. And boy howdy, are there are a TON of super ugly fabrics out there! Yikes. I’m very picky about my personal idea of “cute.” (Ugly stuff gets sent to me anyway, but that’s a different story.) I avoid licensed characters and the Uncanny Valley stuff. I’ve also set a personal challenge of not paying more than $2/yd for fabric on eBay, including shipping. So the online search for fabric is a big part of my hobby, and I very much enjoy the hunt. It’s part of curating my stash, and the beginning of the design process (“Oooo! Rainbow chickens wearing sombreros! Let’s see if I can pry them out of the seller for a buck. I think I have a stripe that would outline those perfectly, maybe a nine patch border in ROYGBIV order…”)

    OK, I think that’s probably a pretty weird process. But hey, it works for me!

  5. I don’t consider myself that good at design, but I’m learning. I might snap a photo of something, or make a quick sketch. I think what surprises me most about my design process is how much it changes from the beginning idea to the final product. I just finished a challenge quilt that went through four stages before I settled on a finish. All of those stages happened in my mind, not on fabric. Once I settled on the final idea, the quilt came together quickly. At first glance at your photo, I also saw the grid. Leaving that behind, my eye went to right above the grid and that piece that pops up with the diamond shape. I’d consider that, but would probably end up with something entirely different. It will be fun to see what you create!

  6. Hannah says:

    For me a lot of the design process is about seeing how colors, textures and shapes interact. I look for themes and breaks of themes. In the inspiration photo above, there was a contrast between the greenish background and the reddish/brown truck (color-axis). Further, the truck part is constructed from main flat, rectangular shapes, whereas the background is finely textured (shapes and texture-axis). My eyes were drawn to these regular shapes in the foreground and there I noticed two more themes: a variation in scale of the same type of shape (squares) as well as the fact that some shapes appear as holes and others are made up of material (I hope this makes sense).

    My next step would be to open illustrator, build a color palette (here: black and rusty colors) and then start playing with the shapes (here: squares of various sizes + some lonely circles). I don’t have a concrete idea, but I would try to port some of the tension that is created by how these shapes interact into the quilt design.

    Good luck!

  7. Tu-Na Quilts says:

    I had to go back and look at the photo again because I didn’t see the grid first. I saw the round headlights and the color green. Sometimes the interesting item isn’t the most obvious. I find design in nature and reading really good blogs. I’m still learning about designing quilts and blocks but I have learned that what one person finds interesting another does not. It’s really what you want to see or do or make that’s important. The bonus is if others find it interesting, too.

  8. Danice G says:

    What great inspiration. You certainly have knack for finding inspiration. ‘Love your Crown mini quilt also.

  9. helen says:

    I love seeing inspiration for quilts, especially in nature. Unlike yourself, I rarely follow it up. I do have it all filed however in my head

  10. Lea says:

    what pretty photos! The car picture is fabulous.

    I used to get inspiration from little things like … a floor tile, or something like wrapping paper or even a Kleenex box. But over the years that has changed. It’s strange but most times ideas come to mind when I’m not really thinking about it. For example I’ll wake up with a new quilt idea in mind. So these days it’s more spontaneous.

  11. Kate says:

    Thanks for sharing the photos and the inspired quilt. Looking forward to see what direction the latest photo takes you. Since piecing is my preferred project palette, my inspiration comes from seeing a block, building the setting and the colors.

  12. Such an interesting post Yvonne! I have an inspiration for quilting post started in my Drafts, but haven’t got back to it in nearly 2 months! It got started after the trip to Cuba, and prior to that Mexico, where there was just so MUCH inspiration in colour, colour combos, and shades, and in designs in sidewalks or buildings, in artwork, in tiles, in nature… I love this group that you’re in, and thanks for sharing both the photo and what you focussed on. Talking about design (or other aspects of the process) as you did with your husband helps me too.

  13. Very interesting post Yvonne. I have learned so much from you over the years and today is no exception. Also enjoying reading the comments above. 🙂

  14. Patty says:

    It’s great to see the quilt and the photo together! I see the grill – and only the grill!

  15. Kaja says:

    It’s interesting that you found this difficult as my first thought was how much I liked the photo, though that’s easy for me to say when I’m not making the quilt. I am often kickstarted by colour combinations; usually I pull a pile of fabrics that appeal and then feel my way from there. I look at a lot of images and other textiles, but I very rarely start with a coherent idea of what I’m going to do.

  16. This was a fun post and set of comments to read. I love photography, so light and color attract me first. I appreciated Louise’s comment about “askew” because that’s what I noticed about the grid right away. I loved how she used that as inspiration. I don’t design quilts, but I love learning about the creative process.

  17. It is so cool how you draw pieces ofthe photo out for your inspiration! And your process – when I draw a blank -I usually bake something ha ha!! I get a lot of color inspiration from my ranch – I love to watch the colors of the sky interact with the ground. THanks for sharing you creativity!

  18. Anja @ Anja Quilts says:

    Wow…that’s an interesting photo to draw a design from. I can’t wait to see what you’ve come up with. Good luck.

  19. springleafstudios says:

    I enjoyed reading a little about this challenge. While I love taking photos and looking for compositions in everything I see everywhere I go, rarely are they quilt inspiration. When it comes to quilts I am inspired by the fabric and the repetitive patterns quilt blocks can create.

  20. Lisa J. says:

    As you know Yvonne I am not much of a designer….yet…. but this post and looking at that photo was so interesting to me. Yes that grid is dominant but the more I looked at the fabric the more I saw….like the diamond above the grill and also the empty light fixture on the right of the photo that angles down. Very interesting. I usually start with fabric and colour but I’m thinking I should look at more photos and objects.

I really appreciate the time and thought you take to comment, and I look forward to conversing with you. :)