An Artist's Quest

Posts tagged “fabric dyeing

The Art of the Problem

smallfile_full quilt

I’m a problem solver. That’s who I am. If someone asks me if I can do something I usually say yes even if I don’t know how – yet…figuring it out is half the fun. For me art is like that. That’s why I’m forever trying out new mediums and materials, I want to figure it out and make it my own. When I have an idea to convey or a feeling to share I have to find a way to create it in physical, visual form. After my series of bird collages (see my last post), I was invigorated to set a new challenge.  I have decided to do a series of 24×36” fabric collages depicting endangered species of Sonoma County.  FUN! I have a new problem to solve. First, I had to do my research, make a list of endangered species in my area, then decide which to start with.  I chose the diminutive Mrytle’s Silverspot Butterfly found only on the Sonoma/Marin coast. I wanted my work to be informative but not completely literal and of course it has to be visually pleasing.  I also decided I only wanted to use fabrics that I have dyed, printed or stamped myself.  My butterfly subject helped me choose the color scheme.  Orange, rust and black from the butterfly and tans, and lavender and blue for the coastal bluff where they make their home.  I got to work marbling, stamping a dying fabric. For the butterfly images I used my iPad to create a digital watercolor that I printed out on cotton from my home printer. Once I had all my fabric, I began to lay out my composition. This is what I came up with.

I had so much fun with myself imposed problem I have started on my next subject – the very charming Salt Marsh Harvest Mouse – now I’m thinking green, grey, brown and blue thoughts while I puzzle over this next riddle. I promise to show you when I’m done.

I’m teaching several surface design and mixed media workshops in the coming weeks, check out my website to see if you can join it the fun! Upcoming creative workshops


Allowing Failure to Lead You

I haven’t blogged in a while – I’ve gotten out of practice. The end of the year was busy with teaching and holiday’s and visitors. And the beginning of the year was busy with teaching and visitors and all the busy-ness of life. This past week I decided to create space for a making week. Not prepping for classes, not writing a magazine article, not preparing for a show – just making. For a long time now, I have felt that my creative endeavors are bifurcated. I have my paintings and mixed media work and I have my fabric work. My roots are deep into textiles and stitch but in the last 25 years my focus has been more on paint and collage. In the past 10 years I have been dipping more frequently into my fabric art persona connecting to the vast next work or quilters and quilt guilds. My one goal in my play date with my studio was to create something in the medium of fabric that is in the same voice as my paint/collage work.

To that end I set out sketching and planning. I dyed and printed, stitched and pieced, quilted and embroidered. After 4 days of this I stepped back and didn’t like it. I really didn’t like it. The scale was wrong the colors weren’t working, my heart sunk, my plan – kaput! I lay the three-foot by four-foot piece across my dining table and decided to sleep on it. In the morning it was clear to me that I needed to cut it all up and let go of my plan. I got out my ruler and rotary cutter and cut the piece up into 11×14 inch rectangles. I didn’t cherry pick, I just cut. All along I had planned to put wrens on my piece. I had already printed out my watercolor wrens onto cotton fabric and they told me they still wanted in on this piece. I pulled out two bins full of printed and stamped fabric from past adventures and let them talk to me. I started composing. Word from a psalm in that Sunday’s church service found their way in, a snippet of sheet music called out. A favorite rubber stamp I’d carved years ago of a bird in flight stated firmly it need to be included. My studio exploded – I worked furiously, with energy and joy and perhaps most importantly – no plan. I will say I am in love with these fabric collages. They feel like me. They feel like home, they feel real.

I am so glad I allowed myself to the space and time to create. I am so glad I allowed myself the space and time to fail. I am so glad I allowed myself the space and time to find contentment and my mature voice in this medium. Now my synapses are firing and tingling. What about natural dying? What about rust prints? What about a series on endangered species in Sonoma County? Oh the possibilities!

Take time for your own creative self. Let yourself fail, brood about it, then make something of it – remember that joy is meaningless without knowledge of struggle.


Something Fishy Going on Around Here

found art leads to quilt

found art leads to quilt

Inspiration is a funny thing sometimes.  For me sometimes it has to shift and settle a bit before it comes out in the form of new art.  This fish story is one of those instances.  Months ago my husband and I were walking around Guerneville, a little rundown Russian river resort town, and came upon these wonderful koi fish spray painted on the sidewalk in small swimming groupings.  We saw about four or five schools of fish spread out in different parts of town, the one pictured here is on the main drag in front of a restaurant.  I was very taken with this bit of artful graffiti and immediately took out my cell phone to take a picture. I have to say the best thing about the camera phone revolution; you can always capture inspiration wherever you find it.  The photos languished in my phone for a while until I synched my phone and computer up and these little sidewalk muses reminded me of their charm.  So I got to work making my own stencil.  I’ll tell you I have used this stencil in a number of ways and will share more koi with you as they evolve but today I want to share the quilt I finished a couple of weeks ago at The Bishop’s Ranch quilt retreat.

The fish inspiration merged with an urge to do some experimenting with fabric dying.  I had been reading about ice dyeing and wanted to try it.  The basic idea is you crinkle up your fabric and shove it into a dishpan or tray.  Then you cover the whole thing with crushed ice and sprinkle powdered dye over the ice…. And that is it!  The ice melts and the dye spreads and makes fantastic organic beautiful results. That’s how I created the background fabric.  Then using my fish stencil I stenciled on this relatively new product called color magnet and dyed the whole thing a light grey.  Where the fish were stenciled the color magnet grabbed the dye and made them a wonderful charcoal color.  I then stenciled the fish outline with a color removal paste that basically bleached out the fish outlines.  I love how this all turned out and decided to make a quilt with the fabric during the quilt retreat.  I free motion quilted in a swirly pattern using variegated blue thread, then outlined the fish in loose sketching lines in white.  I had now idea how amazing the back with the white on the bright blue would look.  I know I’m going to do more of this thread drawing on plain fabric in the future.

the  finished quilt, front and back

the finished quilt, front and back

So one inspiration leads to the next and the next in a meandering path.  So lunch in a sleepy town leads to a wonderful quilt and who know what else.  So keep you camera phone close and like a scout always be prepared to be inspired!