I took a three-day class at the Southwest School of Arts and Crafts last weekend—Introduction to Surface Design. Basically that means dyeing and printing on cloth. I did some surface design in graduate school, but it was very specific to what I was trying to accomplish with book arts, so I skipped some of the foundations of dyeing and went right to screen printing and experimental textiles. This class was part review, part inspiration.
When I received the supply list, I dug the boxes out of storage containing my old textile dyeing supplies. I found screen inks that have gone bad and some powdered chemicals that have turned to rocks. (Does anyone know how to dispose of petrified Thiox?) The synthrapol detergent has turned syrup-y and smells of mold. How is it possible that something soapy smells like a fungus? My rubber gloves have become toxic, melted goo. Anyway, I discovered defunct supplies that stirred up memories of a lifetime ago in Madison, Wisconsin.
The other students in the Surface Design class had a range of experience from complete beginner (dentist as a day job), to a self-taught artist who already sells her dyed goods and wanted some more direction. When I get in a workshop situation, I tend to isolate. I am easily distracted by conversation. I view workshop time as a gift that I don’t want to squander by chatting. I know that’s partly the point of taking a class, the networking, but I’m there to get some work done, which I can’t do if I’m discussing someone’s studio space problems or getting briefed on their mid-life crisis. When the instructor is not doing a demo or lecturing, I’m listening to music on my iPod. Sometimes I accidentally sing out loud.
One woman brought her 7th grade daughter along as a helper. The girl would surreptitiously watch me draw plans in my sketchbook, and then go back and tell her mom about it. I found it easiest to talk to her—I have an easier time talking to kids than I do to other adults. (Is that weird?) She LOVED my cat print, so I made one on a piece of paper for her.
The best thing about this class is that I got to try a bunch of art making without really worrying about the outcome. I haven’t used fabric processes in awhile, and I don’t know what I’m going to do with all of these fabrics now that I have them. It’s instructive for me to be a student every once in a while to remember what my students go through when learning new things. Also, and probably more importantly, was that I didn’t allow myself to lean on things I already know. A component of the class was screen printing. I was tempted to bring my own screens, but I chose to skip it this time, and as a result I focused on the techniques outside of my comfort zone.
I’m not sure where it’s going to lead me in my work, except that I had FUN! Art making is FUN! I carved a block—something I haven’t done in ages. I made a piece in reference to Luc Tuymans by creating rabbit fabric based on one of his paintings. There’s a giant cupcake on garish hot-pink fabric. None of this would be considered Art (capital A.) But, so what? It was process-oriented, creative, FUN. That’s what I hope to carry with me as I continue my studio practice.