Value studies

One of the useful things I have learnt on the course I’m currently taking at QU is to do a value study before you start to think about a colour scheme. One of the exercises was to draw a simple landscape and then shade it in all the combinations of high, mid and low values. I used SketchBook Express from Autodesk to make my studies. We have recently acquired it from the Mac App Store. It is a very simple tool that you can use intuitively – great for these sort of exercises, where you just want to get on with the task in hand and not fight with the software.

It is interesting to see just how a different value scheme can affect the look of the sketch.

Colour Vortex is going on its travels …

… I hope. I received an email on Friday asking me to give my permission for the quilt to leave the country (USA).

We have an opportunity to send your quilt Colour Vortex overseas to be exhibited at the Open European Quilt Championships in the Netherlands during May 2011. This event does not interfere with the quilt being exhibited at our Cincinnati or Long Beach festivals; it is an additional date on the tour.

I replied accepting of course. I was quite amused that I had to give my assent to it leaving the country – as it is actually a “foreigner” in the US, but I suppose most of the quilts were from the states. I hope I will be able to go and see it in Veldhoven, if the exhibit does make it to the Netherlands. I would love to see the other quilts in the Text on Textiles exhibit.

Holiday cheer, snow and dogs

I haven’t really got into the holiday mood this year. I don’t seem to have seen much in the way of Christmas decorations on my way to and from work in the last weeks. Maybe they were there and I just didn’t notice them because I had to concentrate in staying in one piece and on the road. We have had so much snow that it became a habit to wake at 5:30 and listen out for the snowplough coming up the hill to know whether I would be making it into work or not on that day. I have carried a spade in the boot of my car for the last 15 years in winter at the insistence of Sqeze. I always thought it a bit OTT, but I’ve been glad of it on 2 occasions so far this winter and a stranger similarly stuck in a snow drift (the only places left to park around work) was too. It has been used to dig the driving wheels free of compacted snow three times. I became very popular with colleagues keen to accompany me leaving work because of my spade and its potential usefulness when attempting to leave parking spaces and drive home.

So yesterday didn’t really feel much like any other day. In fact I treated it much like any other Saturday and did the washing. I also did another exercise from the drawing lab. This time it was to draw dogs using a chisel ended marking pen to experiment with thin and thick lines. The only markers I found with chisel ends were those big chunky ones so loved in moderator kits. This meant that there was not much point in aiming for fine detail. The sketches were de facto all quite large and with very few lines. An interesting technique for simplifying designs. You can’t get sidetracked into fussy details with a fat chunky drawing implement.

Dogs are not at all my favourite animals. I’m a cat person myself. So drawing dogs was also a challenge as I don’t pay them much attention most of the time. I’ve always liked the Blue Dog by George Rodrigue since we discovered his gallery in New Orleans whilst visiting over Christmas many years ago now. So I attempted to draw some dogs a bit like the blue dog. I’m not going to be putting George out of business any time soon. Some of them looked more like pigs than dogs or foxes according to Sqeze. Not being too impressed with these results I ate a mince pie and drank some tea and then tried my hand at sausage dogs. No great works of art produced there either, but I don’t think that was the point of the exercise really.

Here you can judge for yourself.


More from the drawing lab. I have been spreading my time at the weekends between the usual chores and sketching and playing the piano. I was so shocked by the price for the maintenance on my piano, I vowed to start playing again. But that of course means less time for something else. Roll on retirement when I should have more time to do the things I like rather than the things I must.

Back to my sketching, this next exercise was to find photos of giraffes and then draw them without looking at the paper or pen – just trying to co-ordinate the movement of the eyes around the image to the movement of your hand. It was quite hard to resist the temptation to peek. I own up to having done so a few times, but only to look at my progress. Although it is still cheating of course. I found the slower one went the more accurate was the sketch. Sometimes I had trouble joining up to the starting point though.

It was quite sensible to choose giraffes as a subject. They are such extraordinary looking creatures that even the less successful efforts are still mostly recognisable as giraffes. There are also plenty of good images of giraffes available on the web. I had a better experience searching for giraffes than cats. Strangely enough there were no photos of giraffes wearing woolly hats or draped in banana skins.

Here are my latest offerings.

More cats

A possible follow-up to the first drawing lab lesson was to choose your favourite images and then reproduce them in various different ways. Since I felt it was a complete fluke that I managed to produce a few sketches that looked anything like a cat I decided to produce multiple copies of my favourites and experiment with adding colour.

I used artist’s coloured pencils and soft pastels. I’d forgotten about my soft pastels. I bought them for the C&G course and then hardly used them at all. I enjoyed using them again here. The effect is a more solid block of colour – especially good with the black, which always looks a bit washed out using crayons. The only disadvantage is that the fixative for the pastels stinks!

I wasn’t very adventurous with my colours. I prefer my cats to look natural.

Drawing Lab – 52 ways to have fun

Amazon recently suggested to me that the book Drawing Lab for Mixed-Media Artists: 52 Creative Exercises to Make Drawing Fun by Carla Sonheim might be of interest to me. I am usually rather sceptical when the suggestions are to do with drawing, as it isn’t anything I feel particularly good at, and to date no book has really taken my fancy. This one was different. Especially when I read in one of the reviews that the first exercise was to get into bed and draw cats. What more of a recommendation can I need? My favourite place and my favourite animal combined in one exercise. So I placed my order and the next day the book arrived. The other exercises seem to be as much fun too.

So today I hopped into bed again with some fine felt tip pens and a small sketch book and started drawing cats. A couple of days ago I did spend some time looking at photos of cats on the internet. (I don’t have one of my own yet …) It is amazing how many horrible photographs of cats there are out there on the web. Poor cats draped in scarves, wearing silly hats, adorned with bit of orange peel – where do people get their ideas from? Well anyway my research was a bit fraught, but the results are ok. Some sketches are a bit off – my mandarin chinese cat was supposed to be a cross and spitting cat, but there you go. Not every one is a winner!

Here are my five pages of cats in chronological order:

And here are two cats that I feel are quite good sketches:

I couldn’t make up my mind whether to go for a realistic sketch of a cat or a more comic approach. Apart from some painting exercises on my C&G course I’ve not done any drawing since I left school and I was never one of the star pupils in the art classes. For a first attempt I think the results are nothing to be ashamed of. Follow me on my journey of 52 weeks of fun with drawing.

Only time for thinking

The last month has been quite a busy one for me on the work front. Since I’ve been out of the house for a minimum of 11 hours and a maximum of 13 hours a day on work days, there has not been a lot of time for doing much other than eat and sleep. I’ve not been doing much physical art work, but I have been doing some (more) thinking. Since finishing my C&G course I’ve only made one small quilt. I don’t seem to have moved on much since I wrote this post in June. I know that I’m someone who needs an outside impetus to get me going. I don’t play the piano unless I take lessons, although I’ve just started again having had a large bill for the overhaul of the mechanics of my piano. I was told that the bearings under the keys stiffen up if not played regularly. They had to be replaced on my piano. I start slacking on my Spanish if I don’t go to evening classes. The list goes on.

So I am torn between the need to keep the pressure on to create – which means producing art for exhibitions and juried shows – and trying to find my own unique style. My problem with creating for shows is that most of them have themes and I’ve not yet found the answer to fulfilling the requirements for the themes and at the same time finding my own voice.

The visits this summer to two major textile art exhibitions helped me get some more clarity into my thinking. Looking at other people’s art work has enabled me to take a couple more steps towards finding my own style. Up to now I have been more of a gatherer than a hunter. I’ve taken quite a few technique courses at QU and the C&G course is designed to have you trying out different methods and styles. I feel now is the time to become more focussed. But how to do this?

I have been giving some thought to two possible ideas, which are probably different aspects of the same goal. I’ve been thinking about motifs and working in a series. Up to now I have not wanted to work in a series, because I thought it was too restricting. When you start out it is a good idea to experiment and try many different things. It is probably a natural progression to then move on to working in a series. Certainly many artists (in all media) do so.

The first impulse came from the article “Finding your unique design” by Terry White in the Aug/Sep 2010 Issue of Quilting Arts. It is subtitled Variations on a single motif. The idea being to find a motif that you like enough to work with to create your own design vocabulary. This quote from the article sums it up quite well.

By focussing on a single motif and playing with lines and shapes, one can explore personal style changes and develop new styles.

Another article on the Textile Blog about wallpaper patterns gave more food for thought. I like tessellations and repeating patterns. I think that was what originally attracted me to patchwork quilting. With the emphasis on textile art these days I suppose I felt that you had to be figurative rather than abstract to be taken seriously. The exhibition Color Improvisations changed my thoughts on that front.

This week I discovered this gallery of photos by Melody Johnson on Picasa about working in a series. This set me off thinking about working on a series of quilts. So I did some more research and found this squidoo lens about working in series. Take a look at the 12 good reasons to paint in a series. The arguments and ideas can equally apply to textile art. Explore the links too!

Maybe I’ve found a way to move forward now. When my work/art balance gets back to something more manageable I hope to be able to take up some of these ideas and start making quilts again. Instead of just thinking about them.

Final treatment of my yardage

I think one could say that I have produced my first piece of art cloth. It was a rather unconventional process as the last step was dyeing the background colour. I was really trying for a paler background, but my dyeing is never an exact science. My note taking is just not structured enough and then I tend not to keep the samples like you’re supposed to either. So results are always a bit of a surprise.

I have dyed with this combination of blue and black dye before, but I don’t remember the colour being quite like this. Never mind I like the finished piece of fabric. I think the printing really pops out now. I was certainly surprised at how different the printing appears on the blue/grey background compared to the undyed fabric.

My only problem now is that I have no idea what to use the fabric for. I didn’t have any particular project in mind. It started out as a sample to try out the various screen printing techniques. I didn’t have very high expectations of the results. That it turned out so well (to my mind) is an unexpected bonus.

Printing yardage

These are the results of my printing with my two screens made with drawing fluid and screen filler. I added another set of prints using each screen in a paler colour. I started with the pale orange spirals and decided to overlap them with the first layer of spirals, because other people in the QU class had done this and it worked well. I realised that this created a diagonal line so continued with diagonal spacing with my square design. The second layer of squares is printed in a dark teal blue.

On these screens I have been using Jacquard printing ink made slightly less thick with Setacolor textile paint. I really like the consistency – it gives me the right amount of control and I can scoop up the extra easily too. Using Setacolor textile paint alone that was a problem as it is much runnier, but on my Speedball screen I was getting hardly any colour on the fabric using the Jacquard inks alone – which makes me think that a less dense mesh may be the answer for me. I may order some different size mesh for my Speedball screen. I’ve also using a shorter squeegee and doing two pulls across the screen – each half at a time. Maybe that has been making a difference too.

I’ve now ironed the piece to fix the inks and paint. I’m planning on dyeing the fabric tomorrow to get away from the white background. Someone else in the class dyed her fabric after printing and it worked well, so I’m hoping things turn out well for me too!

Screen printing with drawing fluid and screen filler

This weekend I am having fun with my screen printing. Things are working more or less as they should! I have made myself some home made screens with some plastic thermofax frames and some synthetic fibre organza fabric and am finding them much easier to use.

I used both home made screens to try out the method of screen printing using drawing fluid and screen filler. For one screen I drew around one of my earlier designs with pencil and then filled it in with drawing fluid. For the other one I drew a design of interconnecting spirals free hand with a flat paint brush and drawing fluid.

I took a lot of trouble with the painting to get a sharp image, which turned out to have been a bit of waste of time for my first attempt. Another learning curve I’ve climbed up the hard way. After the drawing fluid has dried, the next step is to apply the screen filler. The recommended method on the bottle and in my class at QU was to use a squeegee and draw a thin film of filler across screen. I have to admit that both said not to do this repeatedly, because it can start to dissolve the drawing fluid. I wasn’t getting a good cover in the negative spaces of my design, so ignoring all advice I did a total of 3 pulls on the smaller design. This was a mistake, because when it had dried and I looked closely I could see that the design had started to disintegrate.

I was more sensible on the spirals. After the first application of filler had dried I could see there were still holes in the surface when I held it up to the light. I applied some more filler but using a paint brush this time. With the benefit of hindsight that is what I should have done after the first pull with the squeegee. I should have filled in the missing bits with a small brush.

The next step is to wash away the drawing fluid under cold water. This was easier than I expected. I used a soft toothbrush to encourage the stubborn bits to disappear. The filler is quite robust and remained well stuck to the screen. Once the screens were dry again I was able to do my first prints onto my yardage piece. The spirals survived the whole process the best, but the organic, decaying look of my square design matches up quite well to the background of crackles.

I am also finding it much easier to produce good prints with my home made screen. Seems like I could have saved myself the expense of buying the Speedball screen that has caused me all the associated grief.