Archive for August, 2006

While working on pieces, I’ve often found that starting with a smaller exploration of an idea or technique helps to solidify the tone or manipulation of the medium before embarking on a larger work. Take, for example, this smaller sketch of stones:

small stones 2

Playing with the idea of stones crafted in this way in a night-time setting allowed my mind to work out the kinks before attempting the piece below, entitled “Magi”:

Today, I found myself torn in several directions at once, despite a copious “to do” list and had to puzzle out my inability to focus. As it turns out, I was drifting from one thing to another because I’ve reached what I call the “point of decision” for a number of pieces. The point of decision comes when you must make a critical decision in a piece that forever alters it, for good or ill. It’s the fear of “ill” that usually stops me in my tracks and often the only way for me to get past this is to analyse the procedure to death and rationalise until I get so fed up with it that I “do it already”. Generally speaking, the decision I make is the one I had initially intended to go with and the whole process is about gumption, rather than design.

Kirk fabric layout started
The piece above is giving me some difficulty for two reasons. Firstly, whoever designed the Kirk (St. Andrew’s Church, St. John’s, Newfoundland – it was James Wills who designed it, btw) did an amazingly intricate and ornate job. The whole thing is made of brick, but has umpteen slit windows, relief designs and a slate roof done in two colours. The tricky part is deciding what to include and what to leave out without losing the effect of the building. I was also not sure about which rock fabrics to use for a winter scene, with Signal Hill in the background.

The sketch of the church is ongoing, but I’m finding that working smaller helps to solidify which details are critical to the whole piece. A quick sketch of the fabrics of Signal Hill on a similar piece of sky fabric reassured me that the effect was suitable (The borders aren’t my own creation, but are done with a photo programme.) :
Sketch of Signal Hill
A much larger piece (below) has been giving me even more trouble, as I have the background of the larger work (48″ x 30″) laid out rather nicely, but am hedging on the foreground an exactly how to construct and arrange the stones. I’m also a bit unsure of the colours of the columns in the larger piece.

By stopping my dithering and rerouting to a smaller (18″ x 13″), very quick sketch of the whole work as it will be with complete, I was able to visualise my way through the stones and reduce the foreground layers to their component bits. Usually a sketch is done before a piece, but doing a spontaneous sketch quickly utilising fabrics similar to those in the larger piece was quite liberating.

Sketch for

Generally I do a pen and ink sketch of a piece for layout purposes and often have it (and any photographs that might help with details) handy while I work. The hazard of working from photos is the abundance of detail and trying to reduce the detail carried over into the textile medium to a manageable level. The intermediate step of a fabric sketch seems to do that job very nicely. Not to mention that the smaller sketches have merit in their own right as works available to be sold!

A few tips:

  • select your sky and bottom (ocean, grass, etc) fabric first, or your background fabric, depending on what you’re sketching.
  • grab a range of fabrics you’ll think you need and back them with fusible.
  • variegated fabrics or irregular tone-on-tones work wonderfully as you can cut pieces with shading right out of them instead of cutting two fabrics to shade.
  • use your fabric pens or paints for little details.
  • do the whole thing in one sitting – it’s a SKETCH, remember?
  • by that same token, don’t use the last of your most precious fabrics for a first sketch. If possible, pick something that you have lots of or can get more of. Firstly, you don’t need the additional pressure and secondly, if it works, don’t you want to have more of that fabric for the larger piece?
  • cut out the stuff furthest away and try it out. If it works, iron it down and move forward through the picture.
  • if you mess something up, remember that IT’S A SKETCH. You’re supposed to make mistakes when you’re practicing. Did you keep every page of letters you ever wrote while learning to print? No, because you probably don’t have enough room in the basement. Learning involves making mistakes. Get used to it and get over it and stop worrying. You think I don’t have a floor of snippets that didn’t work?
  • work quickly and shove aside doubts.
  • have fun.

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While leaping from blog to blog this morning on my coffee break, I happened upon a fascinating article about creativity, fatigue and setting a frenetic working pace that really got me thinking. While it’s nothing new to most people who work creatively that you need head-space to be able to create, it seems that the business world is only now recognising that ingenuity requires an ability to supersede the mundane and the mental space to allow one to do so.

I’ve often found (as I’m sure many folks have) that I’m more creative and have fabulous ideas when I’m least focused on work or have just gotten into the relaxed swing of a good vacation. Some people get ideas in the middle of the night, when their minds can finally shut down involuntarily. Often artists will talk about working in their “Zone”, when they set their minds and hands free to follow the nuances and suggestions of their art to creative culmination. Thinking on my own creative habits, I actually vacillate between frenetic activity on a piece and “letting it stew” in my mental crock pot.

While thinking this way, time has no meaning, which is why it’s probably difficult for most people with the “Time Equals Money” mentality. Lawyers, for instance, are acutely conscious of the fact that the passing of 15 minutes needs to be attributed to some sort of income. Some lawyers allow for creative connections to be made in their work by working late at night or going to the office when others aren’t around and free-form thinking won’t be interrupted or questioned.

It only makes sense that new ideas have to come when the mind allows itself time to make cognitive leaps. I particularly liked the quote used from Peter Drucker, who stated that, “All one can think and do in a short time is to think what one already knows and to do as one has always done.”

Innovation takes a certain amount of brilliance, it’s true, but it also takes having the inclination and time to be receptive to flashes of creativity. Something to think on as you work through lunch….

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I’m working on a textile interpretation of the scene below, which you will note contains an old, abandoned, saltbox-style house.


After deciding on the tone, mood and setting in some detail, I started fabric selection and layout. The scene is going to be a night-time setting and I’m tweaking the angles a good bit. To this end I drew and redrew the house until I got a layout I liked (this forms my template for constructing the house – might be a good plan to make a couple of copies, just in case you need to cut one up for pattern pieces):

Thus far, the layouts have been done and I’m finishing off the house, but it occurred to me that it might be helpful to outline a few techniques useful in making a house look like a house, namely, how to simulate clapboarding.

The most obvious is to buy fabric that looks like wood-grain, boards or shingles. I can almost guarantee you, though, that the scale will be wrong for whatever project you’re doing. A variation of this theme is to paint fabric with the appropriate scale, but this will require a proficiency in fabric painting with better-than-average control over the medium. And time. Lots of that. Alternatively, you could take digital pictures of clapboarding, re-size the images to what you need, tint the colour digitally (or paint over after printing) and print the images with colour and light-fast inks directly on the fabric.

Those are the simplest methods, but the results will be somewhat flat. Oh sure, you could quilt the lines of the clapboarding for additional relief, but realistically, it will still look like a piece of flat fabric stitched.

If you’re looking for a more textured effect, you’ll have to actually make fabric clapboarding and put it on. I’ve tried a number of different methods for doing this and have narrowed it down to two that seem to really work.

The first is the accordion method – you take your house fabric and pleat it so that the pleats overlap each other slightly, but give the illusion of layered wood. This method works well for large buildings that are relatively close to you, as the resultant piece of pleated fabric is rather thick and bulky. Iron each fold as you go and pay attention to the distance between folds – it should be relatively even. I’ve often drawn lines on the back of the fabric as fold guidelines.

The second method is the one I’m using for this house. I take two pieces of fabric; one for the shady side of the house and the other lighter piece for the seaward side (water reflects light, remember!). I make sure that I have more than enough of each to entirely cover the house about one and a half times over. Then I fuse the wrong sides together using fusible. The resulting double-sided piece of fabric is then cut into strips. In my case, they were 1/4″ wide:

Then I fused another bit of Wonder-Under to a random bit of grey, peeled off the paper and started layering the clapboarding on the fusible-coated fabric in roughly the shape of one of the sides of the house. If you do this on the ironing board on top of a pressing sheet, you won’t have to move the whole, wriggly works afterwards. Things to keep in mind:

  1. remember which part of the house you’re working on and use the right colour
  2. pay attention throughout the whole construction process to which is the top of a wall and which is the bottom. Clapboard is designed to shed rain, not catch it….
  3. lines converge as they get further away, so if your house recedes as you look at it, your clapboard should bunch a bit at one end to give that illusion
  4. don’t overlap so much that your fusible-coated fabric doesn’t touch the planks

After layering one side, you’ll end up with something like this:


You can then iron it thoroughly to hold it together while you work and trim it to size and shape. When two pieces are done, work on fitting them together. You can see how I’ve laid them over the paper pattern, to check for accuracy:


The next step is to cut windows. Before you do this, cut out window templates and lay them over the house pieces to check perspective and angles. Cutting a hole in your house only to find that your lines were off is rather disheartening. Use very sharp, very small scissors and layer some fabric behind the holes to give the desired impression. In my case, since the house is uninhabited, I wanted darkness to convey abandonment. You could also plug in those pieces of wood that hold window panes, should you so desire.


Cut your roof pieces, doors and other bits (you can see in the above picture that I’m working on the foundation planking now). Fit the whole works together and see what you think. This is a critical point, as lapses in perspective often become obvious at this stage. For instance, the door in the above house is slightly off…. must redo that! Also, I forgot a couple of windows and need to decide if they’re worth the anguish of including, since they’re small (and thus finicky).
As for attaching the finished house to the background – I suggest running a very fine seam along the sides of each of the planked sections, to hold things onto the background firmly and possibly outlining the windows and doors similarly. Details can be embroidered, machine-stitched, glued (use good fabric glue that won’t discolour), painted or drawn on. I usually cover the rows of stitching along the corners of the house and around the windows with pieces of fabric that simulate trim on real houses. This means that the shaded side and lit side have fabrics that are different from each other, but which complement their respective sides.

I’ll post pictures when it’s done, which should be tomorrow or the day after.

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Yes, I’m back. Took a real vacation and have been chugging away at things since my return.

This summer I discovered that, even if you work erratic hours and can frequently take time off to enjoy a sunny day, you still need a real vacation and a change of scenery.

I think there’s a tendancy to forget this among artists. Sometimes we fool ourselves into believing that taking a day off here and there or going for a drive is enough to recharge our batteries. Often we delude ourselves by saying that doing something we love is self-energising and a break is unnecessary. Frequently we treat those periods during which no energy flows and we stand in the studio keeping busy and mentally bashing our heads against a canvas as time away from work, but they don’t do the same thing as a real break. Memo to self: take two weeks off and GET AWAY FROM THE STUDIO each summer. It’s worth it. I feel rejuvenated and ready to finish things off.

Yesterday and Tuesday Shelley dropped out for a spat of fabric painting and dyeing. The painting went well and I did up a few pieces that are needed to complete show projects. I also mucked around with a few dye techniques using paint. The starburst effect is done by tying fabric (I used elastics) and injecting paint at different points in the bunch. Might be a good technique for flowers, done on a smaller scale.


Note to fellow fabric painters: assorted graass seeds sun paint very nicely, although the dried stems don’t lie flat enough to work well. Some picking apart of stems and seeds and repositionoing might work. Will try again next time, when there’s no wind!

grass seeds sunpainted
Yesterday we dyed up a storm, mostly for Shelley, but I did get a few particular things done that were needed. The pre-reduced indigo from G&S Dye worked like a charm. I’m thinking the piece below looks either like jellyfish at night or snowflakes.

I unfortunately don’t have pictures, but we did a colour wheel of fabric using Rose Red, Royal Blue and Banana Yellow Procion MX dyes. The results were spectacular and the process great fun. I also do some varigated pieces that will be great for borders, binding and backings. It had been a while since I dyed anything and it was a great treat to go at it again. Must do another batch again soon.

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