Good composition in any piece of art is magic. When it comes together it speaks to the viewer in powerful and inspirational ways. It’s more than technique, but yet the technique needs to be right on, so the viewer can look past it and see something more. The composition of Nancy Eha’s bead work is rich in detail and layers, inviting the viewer to explore the story she tells.

Art elements are the building blocks of the art work. They are line, shape, form, color, light & value, texture and space. The principles of art are the way the elements are put together making up the composition of the piece (how it looks). Balance, gradation, repetition, contrast, harmony, dominance and unity. The arrangement will determine what the viewer sees and the meaning the artist wishes to convey through their work. Done successfully, the composition will draw the viewer’s eye across the whole piece so that everything is taken in and then finally settle on the main subject; or focal point.   It is both the seed of inspiration and the framework around which the artist builds their creative process. So, here are two questions: first, what does the artist want us to see and two, how do they inspire us to see it?

7177NEArt elements and principles of design

Let’s use Nancy Eha’s beaded quilts to explore emphasis—or focal point, which tells us where to look. What are the predominant elements used in this piece and how does she get us to look for them? The different types of forms, both straight and rounded, create symmetrical shapes and areas of calm within the quilt even though the overall arrangement is asymmetrical. Nancy, who is drawn to circles and derivatives of circles such as spirals, labyrinths, and kaleidoscopes, creates movement with the spacing and repetitive placement of round shapes. The composition is visually balanced so while there is a lot to take in, each circle plays its part and doesn’t overwhelm the whole piece.

7204NEThe beads and ribbon create depth and bring the viewer in for a close examination of the many bead shapes, colors and ribbon textures featured in each kaleidoscope. Wound up ribbon is quilted into place at the center of each kaleidoscope making a bed for a large fancy bead which acts as an anchor and a place for the viewer to rest their eye. This is the focal point. So, really there are many focal points. The eye goes from one kaleidoscope to another, landing in the center and moving around the circle. The piece is trimmed in seed beads and follows the scalloped edges of rick rack. The bead work makes this small quilt weightier than a much larger piece.

7332NEAmerican Crazy Quilt as a backdrop

Nancy uses the American crazy quilt as a platform to explore facets of a place or culture. Line is the predominant element in this quilt. The crazy quilt piecework divides the quilt into windows giving Nancy the opportunity reference icons and tell stories using small scenes. The Geisha is the focal point in her hand drawn, painted silk costume. Surrounding her are the crazy quilt ‘windows’ featuring Japanese cultural icons such as the bonsai tree, lotus flowers, koi fish, dragon fly, tea pot, screen lattice, hanging lanterns, Mt. Fuji and fan (just to mention a few). Also note the brocade style ribbon and trim. The layered, embellished piecework borders are typical of quilts in the heyday of the crazy quilt era. Each window, fabric and bead composition tells a part of the Geisha’s culture and story. And, of course, the quilt is made of silk.

This much larger, crazy quilt nine patch block quilt is called My Life is My Muse. Here, Nancy uses a basic quilt layout with uniform boundaries of the overall composition. Each block’s asymmetrical design highlights the contents. Nancy shares some of Minnesota’s fun, iconic quirks and a bit of what she treasures about the pleasant culture from her native Minnesota. Nancy made this quilt to answer a call for entry from the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS). It has been exhibited at MHS, the Textile Center, and Minnetonka Center for the Arts.

7580NE_rev1aFeeling like going on a treasure hunt?

Instead of going block by block, I’ll point out some highlights and you can try to find them in the quilt!  1) The Loon—we love our loons! It’s the Minnesota state bird, their call is very distinctive and no matter where you are when you hear it, their call will bring a smile to you face. 2) Princess Kay of the Milky Way. Crowned at the MN State Fair, the title is awarded by the Minnesota Dairy Princess Program. Princess Kay is the official good- will ambassador for the MN Dairy industry. 3) Lime Jello® with marshmallows which is next to the Tator Tot® hotdish. And if you are really doing well, find the lefse! 4) Spoonbridge and Cherry—we love the arts! 5) This is the hardest one—Split Rock Lighthouse. 6) Finally, the walleye (so easy I almost didn’t include it)!­­


Starting at the top left: It’s the Great Minnesota Get Together! And, I might say with pride, the 2nd largest state fair in the United States. Yes, you guessed it; Princess Kay of the Milky Way is represented in all of her buttery goodness as well as a blue ribbon winning cherry pie. The middle top section shows a sample of our native critters including Goldy, the U of M’s rodent mascot! The upper right section is my favorite with a classic menu including lime Jello with marshmallows (okay you children of the 60s know what I’m talking about)! The lefse is instantly recognizable as is the Tator Tot hot dish and the ever present coffee pot. The middle left displays food we like to eat such as walleye, milk, apples, blueberry muffins and mushrooms. The Minnesota state bird is the focal point right in the middle. We love our loons! Their call is very distinctive and no matter where you are when you hear it, it will bring a smile to your face. The far right contains native flora and the wonderful dragonfly that gobbles up the squadron of mosquitoes that invade the state every summer. The lower left is a tribute to handcrafts which keep us busy in the winter months. Even the spider is weaving a web. The bottom middle includes several of Minnesota’s most recognizable cultural icons. Paul Bunyan and Babe, the gold horse represents the Progress of the State sculpture at the state capitol building and the beloved Spoonbridge and Cherry from the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The lower right block is about how much Minnesotans love to travel Up North to hike, camp and be outdoors.

Nancy teaches workshops both in-person and online. She’s written two beading books and has her own YouTube channel. Her YouTube beading videos has been viewed over 500,000 times! https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCE_koxhX_wKUL0XoxAvyZPA

Nancy’s website is www.beadcreative.com

Tutorials:Judith Willemsma Elements and Principles of Design http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DWEhwp5JgZk (long one) The Elements and Principles of Art http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2JWNXYLUIN8 (short one)