Archive for March, 2012


I wish I could bottle this feeling! Hopefully you know the one – when you have an idea that something could work, and there’s some organising needed and you have to wait a while and you think maybe this won’t work out and then you get the bits you need and you give it a go and things start looking interesting and you try a few more things and then you feel like running around the neighbourhood shouting “yes! it worked, and maybe I can try this and this and…” and you feel a bit silly for being so excited, but you are that excited.

It’s a nice feeling.

You don’t have to get as excited as I am. In fact it could be quite a letdown when you see what I’m excited about. I’m excited enough for all of us.

Here it is.
On the left is my source sketch. On the right is my stamped interpretation, on white cotton homespun.

Thrilled doesn’t cover it.

It really doesn’t. I’ll try explaining.

Back here I chose an orange and black scribble as one of the potential design ideas for stage 5. Here in my sketchbook I jotted down some ideas for how I could interpret the source in a design. I needed some perspex squares and rectangles for the idea, so I found a local company who would cut all the small pieces of perspex I wanted. Today I collected the perspex.

This is the full piece I printed this evening. It’s about 53 x 47 cm (say 21 x 18.5 inches). The smallest square is 5 cm (2 inches) each side.

The ideas I jotted down back on March 11 include:

– print with orange and black on white

– paint rolled on perspex to give grid – a contrast to the scribble

– monoprint – direct on plain perspex; stamp with string relief

– mix up sizes and which colour base and line

– leave quiet spots

– work for balance with variety.

Well, I haven’t done all of that. This first sample isn’t particularly balanced.

After all, it’s the first experiment.

But there are a heap of ideas and potential in there, and it really is a wonderful feeling when one idea leads to another and another and it seems endless doors are opening in front of you.

So, calming down, using my words…

I have a set of perspex squares and rectangles, 5 cm, 10 cm and 15 cm sides.

I rolled on textile paints – black and orange.

At first I tried scraping in the paint before making the print. Then I tried laying string and yarn on the cloth to act as a resist to the print, then using the paint left on the perspex as another print. Then I tried using my jug paper snowflake (see sketchbook here) as a resist, then used the messy paper to print from, then used the leftover paint on the perspex, and the other part of the paper snowflake cut-out with the other colour and and and

yes, I’m excited.

I’m excited by the results, and that I can look at my sketchbook and look at all the steps and see how one thing led to another.

And I look at what I’ve got, and it’s not everything I wanted, and I can see lots more possibilities to take the idea further.

And while I’m certain the ideas aren’t original and that I’ve probably seen these things in the past and just don’t remember, it feels fresh and new and exciting (!) to me.

And today is my birthday and I’ve had a glass or two (well, 3) of sparkling shiraz, and I think it’s pretty good to be 54 with family and friends who care and be able to get excited about some bits of perspex and paint and cotton. Not everything in my life is good, but an awful lot is, and I know I’m a very lucky woman.

Project 5 stage 3 – printing and painting on fabric. Part 1

It’s funny what you don’t see – until I put these photos together I thought I had pretty much followed the plan (the black and white version created on the computer). I had a printout of it right beside me. Darn! The original is much more dynamic. While working I thought it was my sloppy positioning and some smears that made the difference.
On the positive side, I think it shows that computer-based work is useful – I think it gave a good indication of how the pattern would work, apart from the execution mistakes. It’s also a reference for the effect of background fabric. I used a light to medium weight white stonewash linen, blue and yellow cotton voile, and a mid weight cotton that I hand-dyed a mottled blue some time ago and overall like the white linen best.
Next up is some raw silk in a loose, uneven weave that I bought during the week. The stamps used were based on sketchbook work, culminating here. I used some ezy carve printing block I got from Lynne at Batik Oetoromuch easier to carve than the plastic erasers, and of course you can cut the size you need. Hopefully it’s obvious that the imagery is based on the Tutankhamen work I’ve been doing. So I don’t forget the method: I liked one side of a sketch variation and traced over it – first on one side of the tracing paper, then turned over to get a mirror image for the complete shape. I rubbed charcoal over the back, then put the paper on the ezy carve block and drew over the lines in biro to transfer the image. After cutting out the positive image I stamped it on another piece of ezy carve block and cut out just the stamped areas to create the matching negative image (not sure if an extra step would be needed for a non-symmetrical design). I particularly like the positive/negative counterchange area and I think the colours and texture of the base fabric work well.
Next was trying to combine different types of stamping to form a single image. All of the stamps used have been seen before. The base fabric is a mottled orange/brown/green cotton homespun I dyed some-when. I rather like this, especially the “feathers” of the bird – actually overlaid impressions with different ink levels of the plastic eraser leaf stamp.
I continued with the leaf stamp, looking at ways it could be put into combinations to create overall patterns. I didn’t bother doing lots of repeats, but clearly the cross and star arrangements could be repeated, rotated, combined etc to form trellis and other arrangements. This is a medium weight red cotton.
On the same red I tried combining the leaf and column stamps. It looks rather clumsy here, but this idea could work for the larger piece I’m thinking of for the next stage.
I also tried different colour combinations for the positive/negative column stamps. All use black for the positive image. Top row has blue paint for the background. It looks very dark on the red fabric but has potential – especially with the flashes of red coming through. Middle row is yellow for the negative image – on the left direct on the red, on the right with white stamped on first. In some lights you can just see the yellow on the left, but only just. I need to practice with registration when over-printing for the idea on the right to be used. Plus using the black last instead of first would help. The bottom row has variations of amount of white used.
All of which doesn’t seem a lot to show for a large chunk of yesterday. There was time spent creating a couple more sample pages (like the ones here) for the raw silk and also some stripped polyester/cotton shirting material. I’m very aware of time ticking away – at one stage I hoped to get Assignment 2 finished by the end of January, now it looks like I won’t manage end of March. This is largely due to non-OCA commitments, but I’m also trying to heed my tutor Pat’s advice to take the time to explore. There are a couple more techniques that I want to try – one in particular should help me be a bit less neat and regular, a bit free-er and spontaneous. That’s scheduled for next weekend (yes, I realise I’m scheduling being spontaneous). Of course the balance is that there’s always more to try. I’ve been reading “Fabric dyeing & printing” by Kate Wells, which has reminded me of a heap of things and introduced me to a heap more, most of which I won’t be able to touch this time round. Next time… 🙂

Wells, Kate (1997) Fabric dyeing & printing, London: Conran Octopus. – which will be added to my new list of reading done for the assignment – here.

Project 5 Stage 2 – Selecting design ideas

Identify design ideas to translate and develop onto fabric, well-structured in terms of contrast and harmony. At least four of them is the ask, and I’ve enjoyed trawling through previous work to find possibilities.


I have lots of sketchbook work, including variants that have been developed into a stencil and manipulated on the computer into a repeating pattern.

I could also go beyond a single motif and experiment further with a design complete in itself. I got excited with the possibilities for layering in my previous post here and the medallions could be interpreted in stamping or silk painting or… I think it would also lend itself to different proportions and be quite adaptable.

Tutankhamen inspired

This has been another favourite. I’ve sketched out here a very rough idea to use it in a bag project. I’m thinking of using this as the centrepiece, then adding hieroglyphic-like elements around it. Plus a co-ordinating fabric using related elements for the back of the bag.

Orange scribble

I did the original scribble right near the beginning, last August, and have since played with it in gimp. I like the energy and the colours, and think it could be an interesting challenge to develop elements that retain that energy and also achieve balance of some kind.


This started in the class with Peter Griffen and I’ve done a lot of work in the sketchbook since including making a stamp. While reviewing the sketchbooks I found quite a few other examples of birds – from Dufy, a mother-of-pearl playing counter, Tutankhamen – and today I tried a few ideas to adapt them into a similar bold-line style (sketchbook page here).

I’ve read the instructions a few times and am not clear on how far developed the ideas should be before I test them out on fabric, but I deem this far enough. Lots of space for one idea and experiment to spark the next. Now it’s just a question of where to start exploration.

Project 5 Stage 1 – Reviewing your fabric collection

The painting and printing project starts with going through one’s fabric collection, spending some time looking and handling, noting the individual qualities of weight and surface. The idea is to develop visual and tactile awareness, plus select a dozen or more textile surfaces for the following work. In later stages we select design ideas, then use print and paint on textile to develop and express those ideas.

I’ve noticed in earlier exercises that I can get confused and overwhelmed if I’m trying to learn and experiment with too many things at once. I decided to make a “sample book” with pages of a wide variety of textiles and a standard set of painting/printing on each. That way I can keep focus on design and mark-making in the later stages. We’re being asked to experiment and explore, be adventurous and take risks, so this could be seen as a safety net or even restricting. For me it’s partly “I need to know the rules so I can break them” and partly managing complexity. It feels freeing.

This sample is on a fine cotton. I used Permaset Aqua Supercover textile printing ink – black on the white or light fabrics, white on the black samples. The techniques are mostly ones seen in the preparation stage here – stencil, a range of different stamps, sponge roller (10), brush (8), textile marker (12), and crayon (10).

I now have 24 samples, all pretty much the same format (most have only one letter stamp, and one has (11) missed – oops).  This gives great information on the basic characteristics of each textile, and it’s very interesting to compare and contrast.

Top row, left to right: a heavy black twill cotton, white tulle, white acrylic felt. Bottom row: cotton gauze, dupion silk, hessian.

I generally photograph everything, but not this time. You really do have to touch and see the real things to appreciate the differences. Even in person one thing I can’t judge yet is the impact on the hand of the fabric. I need to heat fix and wash everything. It was amazingly wet yesterday when I did most of the printing and I want to leave it a few days first.

White samples:

Tissue silk (3.5 mm georgette); silk chiffon; 5.5mm silk organza; felting paj silk; 8.5mm silk habutai; dupion silk (light green); duchess silk (beige); two different weights of cotton gauze; a light weight cotton (voile perhaps); brushed cotton (flannelette); cotton damask; a fairly light linen; hessian; a heavy semi-basket weave upholstery fabric to approximate the texture of some handwovens; tulle; crystal organza; acrylic felt.

Black samples:

Silk organza; cotton voile; heavy cotton twill (drill?); hessian; tulle; acrylic felt.

There’s obviously an almost complete overlap between black and white. This basically reflects my stash, but in any case I thought it would be useful to be mindful of the different impact of black on white versus white on black. The selection also leans heavily to light weight or semi-transparent fabrics. Again, my stash reflects my background (in this instance silk-painting and felting).  Plus I’m very interested in the possibilities for layering. I’ll finish with a shot of the tissue silk over the light cotton – lots of interesting possibilities, and imagine if they were draped in clothing, able to move slightly against each other and the pattern shimmering…

Preparation for stamping and printing

Project 5 is Painting and Printing, but I haven’t got there yet. There’s an experimentation section first, with the now-standard challenge of the open-ended, never ending exploration. Which is pretty wonderful – that there’s something I love doing where there’s always more to learn and and ideas to try.

Step one was to pull some books from the shelf and do some (re-)reading:

Dunnewold, J. (1996) Complex Cloth: A comprehensive guide to surface design. Woodinville: Martingale & Company. I think this must be one of the classics of surface design. Instructions and “recipes” for a wide variety of techniques and lots of beautiful, inspirational photos.

Grownewegen, D. (2009) The Magic of block printing: make your mark with printmaking. Australia: Diane Groenewegen. Diane is a member of ATASDA, and you can see some of her work on her ATASDA member gallery page here. Diane has self-published a number of small but information-full booklets and also runs classes in her studio and for ATASDA.

Jerstorp, K. and Köhlmark, E. (1988) The fabric design book: understanding and creating patterns using texture, shape, and color, Asheville: Lark Books. I’ve mentioned this book before here in the context of books about colour. What can I say – it’s a great book.

Next was making a padded board for printing based on a mixture of the instructions in Complex Cloth and those in the OCA course notes. I used a dense closed-cell foam for the padding (on a board and covered in cotton) and it’s providing a great smooth, pin-able surface for printing.

Now some photos of the experiments to date (sorry about the particularly bad lighting – too much of a rush). All are on calico that was left over after making the stamping surface, and I haven’t got to the fixing, washing and ironing yet. Trying different fabrics is part of the actual project.
1. I used stamp A, made in polystyrene foam, melting away unwanted areas with a soldering tool. I made the stamp a number of years ago in a class with Marion Boyling, but had never used it.

2 and 3. The same stamp, working back over it using Crayola fabric markers. I don’t like the hard marker lines with the mottled surface of the stamp.

4. The same stamp A, this time working over it with Pentel Arts fabric fun pastel dye sticks. This worked well, the colours blending in and softly filling the gaps left by the stamp surface.

5. Drawing with the pastel dye sticks. There’s some bleeding and blurring at the edges which doesn’t work with this motif but could be effective in other designs.

6. I drew the outline with markers then filled in with the dye sticks. This helped the bleeding issues.

7. Stamp B, which I used and made in Marion’s class (2004 – I found my class notebook).

8. Stamp C, carved in a plastic eraser from a design developed in my sketchbook based on a Raoul Dufy painting. The lino cutting tools have been sitting in a drawer, never used. I was a bit nervous with them – the eraser was small and I’m pretty clumsy, but I managed not to cut myself and I like the design, especially the overlapping and mottled colouring.

9. Left over paint on the foam roller I used to coat the stamps. I’m curious to see the hand of the fabric when it’s fixed and washed.

The next photos are all on a single long strip of calico.

First is shell stencils – the design from earlier exercises for the last project. I did a couple of adjustments to make them suitable for a stencil (simplifying, no “islands” that detach from the stencil), then printed the images from the computer onto acetate sheet sold as printable overhead projector transparencies. I then cut out the printed shapes. Using a sprayon repositionable glue to hold stencil firmly on the fabric, I dabbed with a sponge to apply fabric paint. There’s a little bleeding on the curved shell – I hadn’t fully sprayed the sheet and only decided later to use both shapes. I like the bold, strong blue shape. The mottled colour on the curved shell is also effective, although my stencil cutting was a bit angular and I wonder how well the stencil will last – the long bottom curve is only just attached.

I used toilet roll inserts, with raised areas created using caulking and string. The rolls fit over a toy rolling pin which makes it easy to apply to the fabric, although my choice of colours leaves something to be desired. The rolls started to soften up when I quickly cleaned them with water and an old toothbrush. I’ve since sealed them with a few coats of gloss and will see if that helps durability.

The yellow stamp is a reconstruction – the original corrugated cardboard disintegrated during the stamping and cleaning process. The original stamp came from a class with Diane Groenewegen, and there are better results in the next photo.

The corrugated cardboard makes great marks. I’ve coated the new piece with sealant, hoping for better durability.
The leaf eraser stamp looks good repeated to form a block of patterning. I also like the variation in colour that I got. The paint was applied to the stamp with a foam paint roller and the colours just mixed together on the acetate sheet I used as a palette / roller tray. The final section was simply swirls made using a foam brush with a circular end.
I did this next piece last weekend, a few weeks after the earlier attempts. The photo is actually 2 merged together, which explains some of the odd, uneven colouring. The thumbnail photo show the tools I used.

1. is the same shell stencil as above, but it occurred to me to turn the stencil over and roll over with a brayer to transfer the excess paint onto the fabric (2). It’s almost a monoprinting technique. I love the positive and negative possibilities this opens up.

3. is a new polystyrene foam stamp, from a design started in Peter Griffen’s workshop (post here), and developed further in sketchbook work. I used the polystyrene since the particular sketch I used was in charcoal and I thought the foam gives a somewhat similar uneven mark. I’m very happy with this stamp.

4. Following up the almost monoprint idea above, I stamped onto an acetate sheet then rolled the colour off onto the fabric. It gave a nice reversal, but the image is a bit lighter and different in character compared to the direct stamp.

In 5, I stamped onto the acetate and rolled off, then without re-inking stamped directly. This meant less paint on the direct stamp and the two sit together better in my eyes.

6. uses a number of fancy foam rollers, sold as children’s toys. These could be used to add some texture and interest to an area and the contrasts and overlapping have possibilities.

7. Used a wooden checkers counter (nice) and a cosmetic sponge (boring).

8 and 9 is paint rolled over plastic parts sold as a peg bag. Lots of possibilities as part of a composition, and it could come in handy to have both a square and a circular element.

10 is rolled over a paper doily. 11 was rolling off paint on the foam roller. I tried to use get variation by changing pressure but didn’t have any real control.

I have lots more ideas to try in the future and am continuing work in the sketchbook, but I think I’ll call this enough for the preparation section. More things to try include:

  • vegetable, leaf etc prints (love broccoli)
  • simple screen techniques. I’m thinking of using gum leaves as a stamp (I did that earlier in some assignment 1 work), then holding leaves down under the screen to get the negative image.
  • silk painting. This is where I started my focused textile exploration, back in 2003 (?or so)
  • thickened dyes for stamping and painting
  • shibori techniques
  • monoprints
  • discharging with stamps

Ways of Abstracting – Peter Griffen Workshop

Last weekend I took a workshop with Peter Griffen. I’ve met Peter in the past at an ATASDA function – he’s married to Denise Lithgow who does fabulous textile work in felt, silk painting, art-u-wear, machine-stitched mixed-media pieces…

On Friday we met Peter at the Art Gallery (the workshop was organised by the Art Gallery Society), for a general chat about what we’d be doing and a wander through the Picasso exhibition (in its last weeks, so get moving if you haven’t seen it yet).

Saturday and Sunday were in Peter’s studio, which is also his home with Denise. It’s an amazing, exciting, inspiring, overwhelming place. Formerly a factory, Peter and Denise gutted the building and it’s basically one huge room with a mezzanine and some closed areas at each end (bathrooms, storage, their bedroom). This photo was taken from the back mezzanine. The kitchen area is down to the right, left you can just see a corner of the lounge area, but not the dining table which is closer on the left. Middle right is a display area for Denise’s work and the front mezzanine is her studio – but the main space is Peter’s studio and workshop area.

This is the view I had most of the weekend – a table full of objects to draw, fighting for attention with all the artwork and interesting collected objects on the walls and around the room. That’s Peter in the middle of the photo – he gave a number of demonstrations but spent most of his time moving around the group. I’m of course pretty much a total beginner (which is very freeing in itself), and I really appreciate the serious attention and consideration Peter gave to my work. He was encouraging and he gave suggestions and commented on weaknesses – but it didn’t feel like teaching, it was serious art-making business (not deadly-type serious, I mean not even the slightest hint of patronising or condescending or dumbing down – although I’m sure he scaled things to my level of understanding).

Peter’s work was everywhere, finished and in progress, and in a conversation he’d suddenly jump around and pull out a canvas to illustrate a point or show some possibilities. This canvas is one of three that may or may not be hung together (unfortunately my photo of the three together is blurred). I love, love, love this one. A lot of his colour is pretty full on, but he doesn’t limit himself and there are other works – well, I don’t want to say less colour, because they have incredible rich colour from all the glazes and layers, but not such strong colours.

Actually you can just the top of the set of three canvases in this photo, below a row of work done by some of the other students. There were 10 of us, some very experienced and some beautiful work. We worked in acrylic paints on cartridge paper (some people had brought canvases), drawing from the table of objects in black paint, thinking about lines and shapes, adding colour. There was quite a bit of collage work, and some people moved into charcoal and pastels. Peter had litre bottles of acrylic paints and drawers full of various types of brushes for us to use.

I won’t show all of mine here – the full set is on my sketchbook page, starting here.

This bird is based on a carved tree stump (on the right) – basically a head, but with birds at the top. I drew the curved top line, eye and crest first and really liked it and was pleased with the level of abstraction, but it didn’t feel enough so kept going. I’m already returning and reworking this – at the workshop over a head that wasn’t working (still not right), and in later sketchbook work (here).

I didn’t actually produce anything I’d call finished. I don’t expect to in workshops anyway – it’s a learning place, and there’s not generally time for considered work. In any case, I didn’t go to learn to make abstract acrylic paintings. I did want to increase confidence and technique in using acrylics, since I’ve only tried a couple of times, rather tentatively, in my OCA course work. More importantly I wanted to loosen up, get expansive, extend my ability to see and abstract and to use colour – all with the final objective of input to and development of textile works. I even got to bring in some textile expertise in my collage work, weaving together two paintings which weren’t working, then integrating with glazes. It’s not there, but it’s a line I want to explore more.

As I’ve said, more photos on the sketchbook page (click on the head to get there).

This was a great, exciting, exhausting weekend, and I definitely recommend it. It’s a complete experience, including the gallery visit, all the materials you need down to details like aprons and tape to put works on the wall for contemplation, plus really yummy cakes for morning tea and gourmet lunches all made by Denise (she even picks and preserves the olives herself). (The final photo is of some of Denise’s textile work.)

Book Review – Sonia Delaunay

Color Moves: Art & Fashion by Sonia Delaunay is the catalogue of an exhibition last year at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. The exhibition focused on her fashion and textile designs, so naturally the catalogue does too. Delaunay (1885 – 1979) was an abstract painter and designer who, it seems, approached both her painting and her design work in the same way, creating form using colour.

I knew very little about Delaunay before reading the book – just a few of her works that were included in Paths to Abstraction 1867 – 1917 exhibition at the NSW Art Gallery in 2010 and occasional bits read here and there. The essays included left me wanting more. This is not a negative reflection on the catalogue as such, just the result of the exhibition’s strong focus and my own lack of background. One essay concentrated on issues in the dating and recording of the textile designs. Another looked particularly at Delaunay’s work and relationship with Metz & Co, a Dutch department store which produced many of her designs. This was interesting because it gave some context about the other designers of the period, plus a few glimpses of Sonia Delaunay the person. There was also a more general introductory essay by Petra Timmer, “Sonia Delaunay Fashion and fabric designer”.

Delaunay kept a series of workbooks through her textile design career and the catalogue has many very good reproductions of pages from them and from the records kept by Metz. It is fascinating to see for a design the original gouache, ink and pencil drawing, the master print, and swatches of the final fabric in 6 colour-ways. The photos are large and crisp, so you can see the weave of the silk and the pencilled notes on the design cards. Delaunay cut some printing blocks herself, but many were created by a couple of commercial suppliers and it’s interesting to see the slight changes introduced in the process – especially relevant to me given the current stage of my OCA course. Some of the colour combinations she used just sing  (yes, I’ve noted some that really appeal to me in my sketchbook). There are only one or two of Delaunay’s artworks included and I’d like to track down some more as I want to compare her choice of palette for painting (unlimited) versus textile printing designs (3 or 4 colours and the base cloth). The fashion sketches and photos of models wearing Delaunay’s creations are also very interesting, but of course the contemporary photography was black and white.

I keep flipping through the book, admiring the colours and designs and working methods of a woman who had such a strong and clear vision and who was personally involved in a very interesting and creative period. I think the book is a great resource with such beautiful and clear images. On the other hand, I’d be really interested in any suggestions of books that take a broader view of Sonia Delaunay and her work.

McQuaid, M and Brown, S. (2011) Colour Moves: Art & Fashion by Sonia Delaunay. New York: Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Edited to add: I’ve just found a lot more material on the exhibition here, including a long video of an evening discussion by the curator and others.  I haven’t had a chance to listen/see everything yet, but a word of warning – some of the links failed for me because the link started with “beta” instead of “www”. If you get “server not found” just fix the address in your browser.



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March 2012

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