I recently posted that I can’t created in chaos. And that messy in my studio is when there are snippets of thread and fabric on the floor. Well I got really, really messy (for me) over the long weekend we have just enjoyed in the UK. I also got sore feet from standing for hours. And my rotary cutter needed a long lie down in a dark room afterwards. But look what I got in return – trays of cut ‘bricks’ and bondaweb backed ‘brickettes’ ready to build backgrounds in my Ruins and my View series.
I love printing and it is so tempting to just keep on printing, especially on sunny days when breakdown screens dry quickly. But it is only by cutting up the fabrics that I can see if I have the right balance of colour and pattern. I can see that I have enough fabric to start making backgrounds. I use the bricks to piece backgrounds for my large quilts and I use the brickettes to fuse backgrounds for smaller works. But I can also see that I will need more of the darker fabrics in both series to complete the work I am planning for the rest of this year. Which means more printing. Happy days!
I started sampling ideas for my new series using a selection of dyed fabrics pulled from my stash. Early outcomes did not exactly grab me so I also tried using stencils to take colour out (discharge) and to add colour. Interesting but still not right. I added back colour. And got rather depressed until I decided to change the scale and to add stitch. Bingo!
The sample above is definitely a step in the right direction. However looking at it I realised that the colours of the appliqued strips were not really ‘me’. Being dyed fabric, they lacked the texture I usually work with. Pieces from this new series will be shown alongside pieces from my Ruins series in the exhibition I am doing with Helen Conway at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery in Autumn 2018. So I pulled out my colour diary and compared my little sample with the colour family used in Ruins. The background for the new series uses a colour family made from black and petrol green. In my Ruins series I use petrol green and a colour family made from rust and black. Doh … it seems so obvious now!
Breakdown printed fabrics cut into hundreds of bricks ready to build new art
None of us arrive where we are fully formed. When our first child was born my husband and I barely knew how to change a nappy. We learnt how to be parents ‘on the job’. Didn’t always get it right (sorry kids!) but we had no choice but to keep ‘practicing’, to keep learning.
My development as an artist has come from a mixture of intentional education and ‘on the job’ learning. Many years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn more about design and how to take the step from using commercial fabrics to using my own fabrics. So I took a City& Guilds Certificate at South Trafford College followed by a C&G Diploma with the lovely Linda Kemshall. I learnt a lot about design, and got to sample many different media and techniques. But my biggest ‘take away’ was that I’m not a sketchbook person and that fully designing a piece upfront is not for me.
Studying with Linda gave me the confidence to sign up for masterclasses mostly with Committed to Cloth (C2C). This was a significant investment in time and money over a period of a few years but worth every penny. Some classes were technique based but all included an element looking at how to develop ideas when working directly on cloth. The best class was Colour Families with Leslie Morgan at C2C – a simple idea that bears fruit every time.
But my deepest, most effective learning has been ‘on the job’. My decision to stop taking classes, to spend 20 hours a week in my studio and to work in series was the best I’ve made. It has given me the time and the framework to take the techniques I learnt in class and make them my own. To develop my own style, to find my own voice.
I guess I may take another class at some stage but right now the art I am making is being built with my own bricks.
In my last post I talked about how creativity tends to creep up on me when I am immersed in process. I follow a set process when developing a new series … I work on the colours first – pinning them on my design wall for assessment. Then I do the printing and pin pieces up until my design wall is covered. I discard fabric that doesn’t ‘fit’ without thinking too hard about why. I then sample different types of construction. In my Hidden Message series this resulted in several pieces going in the bin before I was happy. With my Ruins series (and the series I am developing now) building a background made of bricks felt ‘right’. Having stitched some small sample backgrounds I turn to my design wall again.
I don’t do sketchbooks – I do pinning things to a design wall until something ‘clicks’.
Today I pinned up my two sample backgrounds. I rummaged through my boxes of dyed fabric and pinned up a selection of colours. I am not going to decide yet if the foreground will consist of dyed fabric or printed fabric or stitch yet. They are just up there. I added a couple of photos I took last summer of an old gasworks.
Then I used one of my favourite ‘tools’ – I cropped and enlarged small sections from the photo and pinned the results up. And I got that wonderful tingly feeling! I don’t know what size the finished pieces will be or how I will apply the foreground but I do know what I’m going to be spending the next few months doing.
It is a good job that I have a Plan B as my experiments over the last week or so have failed to give me a ‘WOW’ moment. The results didn’t even fall into the ‘Ugly Duckling’ category of pieces that might fit in with what I’m trying to achieve with some additional process. The experiment has been educational but not in any way that is connected with what I think I’m trying to achieve.
I started with 8 pieces of cotton each ‘marked’ with a different medium. It turns out that my water resistant acrylic ink didn’t put up much of a fight and washed out when put in the soda bath to soak. The soda solution was a beautiful turquoise colour as I poured it down the drain. Luckily (sic) the colour washed out so sucessfully that I can reuse the piece of cloth. The remaining seven, soda soaked and dried pieces were pinned to the bench and a layer of colour added using an open silkscreen.
After batching them I washed and dried the pieces. The original marks were all clearly visible below the layer of colour. The lines I had made with dilute acrylic and with acrylic mixed with Golden Matt Medium looked a little faded and fuzzy but the rest appeared unchanged. I then stripped out the colour using two methods. One half of each piece of cloth was discharged using Formosol mixed with print paste and applied through a screen. The other half was discharged using the cheapest bleach I could find (40p for 2 litres – bargain!) and a fan brush.
The Formosol discharged to a fairly consistent colour irrespective of the original colour. The bleach gave a bit more variation and also some different colours. Neither method affected the original marks. Hmm … I had been hoping for some really interesting chemistry to happen that maybe striped back or somehow changed the first layer of marks. Instead discharging added colours to the fabric pieces that created a palette that reminded me of street lights glowing in the dark. Which has got me thinking about something else … maybe the beginning of something else? So the pieces will be hung on a small design wall to contemplate whilst I move on to Plan B!