Dan Olfe – Julian, California, USA
I began making quilts after retiring from being an engineering professor at the University of California San Diego. Because of my technical background I have always created my designs on a computer. Initially I created pieced quilts from designs made using the 2D design programs Illustrator and Canvas. After a few years I switched from piecing to painting whole cloth quilt tops in order to put more detail into the designs. To gain still more complexity in my designs I next started to have my designs digitally printed on whole cloth. For these designs I used 3D modeling and animation software. For the past several years I have been using simpler technology: using Photoshop to layer photographs I have taken.
The process of creating a quilt is similar to academic research. You get an idea based on your previous work or on something you have seen; you experiment with various ways of developing that idea; and when you know you have done your best you send the design out for printing (or in academia you send a paper out for publishing in a journal).
(Click images to enlarge)SAQA: When did you begin making art with fabric? Do you work in other media as well?
OLFE: I started making quilts twenty years ago, after my wife and I moved into a new contemporary house. We always admired fiber art, so we commissioned an artist friend, Susanne Flowers, to make a quilt for our living room. Since I had recently retired from a career as an engineering professor, I had the time and interest to create art quilts for our other walls.
I don’t work in other media, although as a child I spent much of my time drawing.
SAQA: What inspires you?
OLFE: I am inspired by the natural environment (see Cloudscape) and by the built environment (see Hillcrest Cinemas).
SAQA: Have any artists or art movements influenced your work?
OLFE: I read art magazines and frequent art museums, and am particularly influenced by modern and contemporary art. Some quilts are directly influenced by particular artists. For example, for the quilt Cloudscape, I layered my photos of a grungy wall detail and a chrome sculpture detail with my photo of a storm cloud to give a more painterly image, like the paintings of J. M. W. Turner. For the quilt Glass Tiles #1 I created a tiling pattern based on a circle painting of Frank Stella, and rendered it as glass tiles with 3D software.SAQA: What techniques and materials do you use?
OLFE: I am currently creating my designs by layering my photos in Photoshop. For more than a dozen years I have had my designs digitally printed on polyester cloth. I mostly use thin polyester batting, and machine quilt with cotton thread.
SAQA: Where do you create?
OLFE: I create my designs on a desktop computer in my home office. I do the quilting in my home studio, which takes up half a large room that is also used for storage.
SAQA: How do you reconcile the art-making and business sides of your creative life?
OLFE: I mostly ignore the business side, which means I have a very large surplus of unsold quilts.
SAQA: Have you published books or been a guest on an art-related media program?OLFE: An advanced computer graphics textbook I published would not be of interest to quilters. A ten year old newspaper article on my quilts is still available online by googling “Beauty Squared San Diego Union Tribune”, but the link to the accompanying video slide show is no longer operable. Also, I appeared on Alex Anderson’s Simply Quilts HGTV show more than a decade ago, but I don’t know if that episode can be accessed online).
SAQA: What are you working on now? What’s next?
OLFE: I just sent out two designs for printing. These designs feature photos I took this past Thanksgiving on a trip to Washington D.C. The designs were created by layering the photos in Photoshop. The first design consists of three photos of the curving exterior of the National Museum of the American Indian. For the second design I layered four photos of the interior of the National Gallery of Art. I have many options for future quilts, including a continuation of photographing ocean states (inspired by the drawings and paintings of Vija Cemins).
Dan Olfe is juried into Quilt National ’17. Don’t miss viewing the exhibition from May 27-September 4, 2017!