Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Creating Meaning

I have had several conversations with colleagues recently about creating meaning in one's art. It seems such a basic need we have as humans - to create something with meaning. I remember a conversation I had after participating in a professional development program for artists. Many of the participants' work had a strong political or social message. I said something to the effect that my work isn't "important" or "meaningful" because I typically do not create work with a political or social message. My friend vehemently disagreed with my view that my work was not meaningful or important.

When I create my work, I do work with intention and each piece does have a deeper meaning than may be apparent on the surface. My objective is often to create a feeling on the part of the observer, rather than to be a catalyst for thought. I have considered the reality that most people who view my work have no idea of my intention or the meaning I give to the work. Some people will be drawn to my work, and they may not even know why. Maybe they sense the meaning behind it, or maybe they give it their own meaning. And maybe that's even more important - each person finds what they need in it.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Color Studies - A Real Life Example

I have spent the past few days dyeing many small pieces of cloth to test colors for a commission I am working on. The triptych will be hung in the chapel of a local church and the colors must coordinate with the walls and trim. The walls are a sandy peach color and the trim is a darker terracotta color. I knew that color matching would take some time, and I allowed for that. In all this sampling, I have encountered some interesting and unexpected results.

I went to the church Tuesday morning with some paint chips in hand to determine the wall color. I figured that once I did that, I would be able to get the right dye tones. The first batch of color studies went pretty smoothly. I used various combinations of palomino gold, burnt orange, brick, pine cone and tobacco to create a pleasing palette that coordinated with the walls and trim. In my studio, the colors looked perfect.

My first surprise was how washed out the colors looked in the chapel. It is very dimly lit, and the colors did not show up at all. So, I had a hands-on lesson about how lighting can make color appear very different. Back to the studio for some more color studies. This time I used the same color combinations and proportions as before, I just added more dye. My second surprise is that even thought the colors and proportions were the same, the darker colors had a very different hue - I was expecting a darker version of the same color, but in some cases the color shifted and it did not work with the color scheme.

Back to the studio for another round of dyeing. This time the colors were right and I had a good range of light to dark values. I came up with two versions to try - a medium value version and a darker value version. Next step: dyeing a small version of the final product with each of the two color schemes to see which looks best in the chapel.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

10,000 Flowers - Design Explorations

A few weeks ago, I spent several hours just playing with india ink, paper and a variety of brushes and texture tools. I was on a quest to create imagery for my next series, 10,000 Flowers. I wanted imagery to represent the four seasons, but I wanted it to be more abstract than representational. Something that would give the feel of a flower, say, without looking like a botanical version of a flower. The four images I was trying to create include a flower, the moon, snow and a cool breeze.

I used a variety of items to create marks, including a chamois window cleaner, a spring cooking whisk, a square brush, a kitchen scrubber, a foam circular brush and a tool I crafted out of a chair cushion. Of course, many of the designs will never be used. And I had to ignore my inner critic who was saying, "That's an ugly pattern, you'll never use that. This is just a waste of time, none of these designs will work." When I got past that and just let myself make marks, I really enjoyed it. I used the tools in as many ways as possible, wiping, swirling, brushing, pouncing.

I didn't count how many designs I created, but I'm guessing it was at least 50, maybe even more.The next step was to look through all the designs, focusing on my theme for the series, and see which of them captured the feeling I was after. I pulled out the best and scanned them into the computer. Most of them needed some manipulation. I now have four images to correspond with each piece in the series.

A flower, created with a chamois window cleaner.

A cool breeze, created with a circlular foam brush.

The moon, created with the spring whisk.

Snow, created with my homemade chair cushion tool.

My next step will be to make them into thermofaxes and see how they translate on the cloth. Often a design will look good on paper, but when it is converted into a screen, it takes on a different look and isn't quite right. I also want to see how they look together. Although they may not be on the same cloth, I want each piece in the series to be in harmony with the others. Stay tuned to see my next steps.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

ArtCloth Demonstration

Last Saturday, I conducted a demonstration of some of the techniques I use to create artcloth. The demonstration was held at a gallery in Ft. Worth that carries my work. Weiler House Gallery is located in the historic Handley district. It is in a beautiful old house and features artwork in a variety of styles and media.

It was a beautiful day, nice breeze, not too hot. I had no idea how many people would show up, but I expected they would only watch for about 10 minutes before moving on. What ended up happening is that people sat and watched for 45 minutes to an hour or more. It was a lot of fun, we even had audience participation. One of the observers took the challenge and tried screenprinting.

I demonstrated a number of techniques including flour paste resist, deconstructed screenprinting, screenprinting with an interfacing stencil, oatmeal resist, thermofax printing, stamping and discharge. My objective was to focus on how I add layer upon layer of printing and imagery to create a rich, complex surface. It was a great opportunity to educate people about artcloth. Most people who came to the demo had never seen artcloth and were amazed at the transformation that occurred on the cloth with each layer. Below are a few pictures from the demo, along with some of the samples I created that day. I've got a lot of fabric to create some new small works!

This piece started with flour paste resist, then I added a layer of textile medium as a resist. It was handpainted, overdyed, and finally discharged with a thermofax.

This piece was created by screening with an oatmeal resist on top of dyed fabric.

This piece had a flour paste resist for the first layer, then it was screened with the deconstructed silkscreen. The colors from the deconstructed screen are very subtle, but it has some great patterning.

This was from another deconstructed screen. I placed silk organza on top of silk noil and screened through both layers. The organza came out very pale, but with more texture from the screen.

This piece has a flour paste resist and soy wax resist. Then it was screenprinted with an interfacing stencil, and then stamped. This piece was the big hit of the day! It is spoken for - all I have to do is turn it into a completed work of art.

This piece had two layers of printing with a flour paste screen and was then overdyed. Finally, it has two layers of discharge.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

New Small Works

I finished up four more small pieces for my ArtCloth Demonstration on July 18. These pieces are all stretched on a 10" x 10" frame. The piece pictured above, It Is Written, is silk organza, with soy wax resist, screenprinting, discharge, metal leaf and stitching.

Seaweed is from the same cloth as above.

At the Sunrise is a 2-layered piece. The bottom layer is cotton with monoprinting, soy wax resist, handpainting and metal leaf. The top layer is hand-dyed organza.

Stepping Stones also has 2 layers. The bottom layer is a silk/soy blend with multiple layers of screenprinting and metal leaf. The top layer is screenprinted silk.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

10,000 Flowers - The Series

As part of the ArtCloth Mastery program, I am creating a series of four works, based on one of my favorite poems. The poem was written by a Zen monk, Wu-Men Hui-K'ai, who lived in the thirteenth century. The poem is very short - only 7 lines.

Ten thousand flowers in spring,
the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer,
snow in winter.

If your mind isn't clouded
by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

I spoke about the poem and what it means to me in an earlier blog post. I am creating four pieces, one for each of the first four lines of the poem. My intent is to incorporate the theme of presence from the last three lines into each of the four pieces. The idea of being present in the moment is a pretty abstract concept to try to depict visually. But, I have been moving toward the abstract lately, so I guess this is the challenge I've been waiting for.

I have already dyed the fabrics. I purposely did not choose typical colors for the seasons. Rather, I focused on the line from the poem and chose a color that fit. For spring, I chose a pinkish red, to pick up the color in my wildflower garden.

For summer, I chose a blue violet, to represent a cool breeze.

For autumn, I chose a yellow orange, similar to the harvest moon.

For winter I chose a cool blue. (Okay, that is a bit traditional, but I didn't want to have a white cloth, and the blue works well with the other colors.)

When I dyed the cloth, I used a technique that creates a sunburst-like pattern. My intent is to represent the position of the sun for each season. So, the central point for the pattern is highest on the summer cloth and lowest on the winter cloth. You can see it best when looking at the four pieces side by side.

My next step was to begin to identify imagery to place on the cloth. I'll talk about that and show photos of the images I created in another blog post.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Friday Morning Fun

For the past six weeks, my Friday mornings have been spent at the Southwest School of Art and Craft. I'm the instructor for an Independent Projects in Surface Design class. It's a lot of fun. Each person works on their own projects, and I am there for any guidance they may need. Because they all know one another, and have been in classes together before, the group has a strong bond. It's a time to finish projects, experiment with new techniques and just enjoy having a place to dye! Below are a few photos from the class.

This is Jane's sunprinting experiment. Jane painted the fabric with Setacolor and placed a large palm frond on top. The leaf was so large, there was a large white space in the center, so she printed it with a fiber mat that a friend brought back from Mexico. (See below) Everyone in the class wants one now.

Sarah has been spending a lot of time on deconstructed screenprinting. We did it in a workshop this spring, and ever since, she has been producing a lot of cloth with the technique. The piece below is one she created in the spring. She has done a lot of stitching and beading on it (which doesn't show up well in the photo).

Diana has been working on a piece she printed with an oatmeal resist silk screen. She added to it with several layers of printing and her signature "squeegee wipe". The colors are a beautiful blend of yellows, oranges and reds.

Linda got the deconstructed screenprinting bug and has been playing with it as well. Here she is working on a screen to print next week. The whisk brush makes great marks on the screen. She also placed a feather and coconut fibers on it, to create texture when she prints.

Madeleine is a relative newcomer to surface design, so she has been enjoying experimenting with dyeing techniques. She likes combining the dyed fabric with thermofax printing. Below she is contemplating her next step.

Kate has been working on a gorgeous organza scarf. She dyed it using a block and clamp resist and is stenciling a fish design in the blocks. Last week she added a smaller fish in a different color.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

ArtCloth Mastery Program

I am one of 12 participants in Jane Dunnewold's 2 year ArtCloth Mastery Program for 2009. The program is geared for those who are serious about their art and want to move to the next level. It provides an intensive, in-depth approach to creating artcloth. The group meets twice a year for one week and has a number of assignments to complete in between sessions.

I was able to learn a lot about the program from Laura Beehler, a colleague and fellow artist at ArtCloth Studios, who participated in the first class that started in 2007. I often stopped by the studio to pick up my supplies while class was going on, so I had an opportunity to see what they were working on. It was only last fall that I felt a strong pull to take the class. The turning point came when I saw the projects the group was working on. Each participant had become a stronger artist over the first 18 months of the program. I felt that this workshop would help me grow as an artist and I felt ready to make the commitment. And it is a big commitment. We have to complete four pieces of artcloth before the next class, along with a number of color studies and a research project.

We concentrated on color during the first week of class. We dyed fabrics in the color wheel, using pure (not mixed) Procion colors. There are only a handful of the Procion dyes that are pure colors. Most other colors will split out during an immersion, which can make color mixing somewhat unpredictable. Being somewhat obsessive, I dyed cotton and two types of silk in each color. It was helpful, because the colors came out quite different. I expected a difference in the cotton and silk, I didn't expect as much of a difference in color between the silk habotai and the silk noil.

We also worked with color in fabric paints. We painted some color wheels in class, and I have continued to paint them over the past month. For every color on the color wheel, we painted a color wheel showing that color blended into black and then white.

Before I took the class, I wasn't convinced that I would benefit from painting color wheels. I felt pretty comfortable with color before going into the class, because I have always mixed my dyes and paints from primary colors. I was surprised by how valuable I found the color wheels to be. Here are few of my observations.

  • Trying to get a color wheel that was as close to the true primaries as possible was difficult. I tried three times before I felt good about my results.

  • Mixing a color with white really shows any undertones in a color. And mixing with black can yield some unexpected results. Yellow turned green when black was added.

  • It was very helpful to have the experience of painting different values of a color. It is harder than it looks to achieve an even color gradation from light to dark.

Another study we did was to blend complements together. That was very helpful for me, since I typically use more subdued colors. Now I know what colors to mix to achieve a wider range of earthtones. I'd like to repeat these studies, to try to get a smoother blend from one color to the next.

The series of four pieces that we have to complete by October are also color studies. I have dyed the fabric for them and will report on my progress each week.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Art and Music - A Great Combination

The San Antonio Visual Artists (SAVA) are partnering with the Cactus Pear Music Festival this summer. Artwork by SAVA members will be on display at all eight of the Cactus Pear concerts in July. The works on exhibit are in a variety of media, including oil, acrylic, fiber, mixed media, wood and stone. Artists whose work will be on display include: Sonya Gonzalez, Carmen Johnson Alexander; Richard Ybanez; Janice Cooper; Ofelia Uz Gonzalez, Toni Richardson, Ronney Stevens; Ramon Vasquez y Sanchez, Ilze Dilane, Raul Castellanos, Eduardo Garza, Hebron Chism, and Steve Ortman. I will also have several pieces as part of the festival.

This month's exhibition at the SAVA Rivercenter Gallery also has a music theme. The opening reception was Tuesday, June 30, and the show runs through July 31. Below are a few of the pieces in the exhibit.

Cello, J. Cooper

Janice recently completed a series of oil paintings with music as a central theme. See her website to see more photos from the series.

Mandolin, Ilze Dilane

Accordion, Ilze Dilane

The above pieces are from a series Ilze created, each highlighting a different musical instrument. She uses a very interesting process - they have a 3-dimensional effect, as if they were etched into the surface of the painting. You can see more of her work on her website.

Struttin, Steve Ortman

Steve has recently started painting again, after a long break. He works primarily in acrylic. Photos of his work can be seen on his blog.

Adagio, Lisa Kerpoe

Awakening, Lisa Kerpoe

These two pieces are both silk, and incorporate a variety of techniques, including dyeing, color discharge, screenprinting, metal leaf lamination and beading. More of my artcloth can be seen on my website.
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