Category Archives: Surface Design

I’m Hearing Voices

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Heee-hoo. Heeee-hooo. That’s the sound of chickadees in my neighborhood repeatedly calling to one another from the treetops. They’ve been so insistent (heeee-hoo) that I decided that they must be trying to tell me something.

Pencil drawing of chickadees

Pertinent chickadees. Pencil drawing from my sketchbook.

I recently posted about looking for inspiration in color palettes of artworks. After I wrote that, I went shopping and had a lot of fun choosing fabrics to use as future book cloth. Even so,  I was still a little “meh” about any real direction. I didn’t want to just fall back on the same cats for imagery.

(I know! I can’t believe I said that. I love cats, but it can’t be all cats all of the time, can it?)

That’s where the chickadees come in. But how to print them? The lamp in my Thermofax machine burned out and, despite calling every rare bulb dealer in the US, I’ve yet to find a replacement. That means no easy way to screen print. (If anyone knows where I might find a replacement lamp for a 3M Secretary with 15 amps, let me know!)

Chickadee drawings, fabric, printed fabric

Upper Left: Fabric for soon-to-be books; Upper Right: The inked version of the drawing above; Lower: Birds printed on fabric using ink jet printer

As a possible alternative, I tried my ink jet printer to print the chickadees on the fabric. This isn’t exactly a new idea for me, I kind of re-remembered it as something I tried once and liked. I’m satisfied with how the birds appear on the cloth, but I’m not certain about how archival this method is, or how durable it will be as a book cover.

Ultimately, I want more complex patterns. And I’m not sure if I would print the whole book cloth cover, or perhaps cut out individual birds and sew them to different cloth, or both. Or, something else entirely.

Heee-hoo. I’m waiting for the chickadees to give me a sign.

 

Finding Inspiration

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I’m gearing up for art fairs, and looking through my current book inventory. Here is a collection of sketchbooks and journals of different sizes and bindings. I have themes other than cats, but I’ve offered images for feline-lovers for awhile. I’m trying to think of some fresher ways to approach the work, including making the whole collection look more cohesive.

Hand made books with cat covers

A selection of cat themed book covers that I created. The fabrics are all hand-dyed and/or screen printed.

On a recent trip to the Art Institute of Chicago, I encountered a few pieces that, while very different stylistically, employ color palettes that are similar.

Paintings from the Art Institute of Chicago; Whistler, Balthus, VanGogh

Upper Left: The Artist in His Studio, by James McNeil Whistler; Upper Right: Girl with Cat, by Balthus; Lower Panel: The Parisian Novels (The Yellow Books) detail, by Vincent VanGogh

I love how these artists use the primary colors in muted tones and variation to create a cohesive looks. So, I was thinking I would try to emulate some of these colors in my book covers for spring and summer. I particularly love the gray-blues and gold tones interspersed with pink. I also want some patterns that are more intricate, and  viewable from multiple angles without seeming “upside down.” My current cat designs, for example, only face one way, so I’m thinking of incorporating rotational symmetry, and adding other images and shapes to make them more dynamic. Other possible themes include birds, tea, and geometry.

How do you find inspiration for your art work? What resources to you use? How do you keep your work interesting and fresh? I’d love your feedback!

In the meantime, the books above are still available to a good home. You can check them out here on my Etsy site.

 

 

Horizontal Cats

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We had our first snow fall of the season this weekend. Cats do not ask to go out in the Tabby Shack when it’s snowing. Instead, they  seek warmth in after-storm sun puddles.

Tabby cat on carpet

Don’t let this cute picture fool you, I was seconds away from being bopped.

Just to mix it up a bit, a cat may take over my work stool in the studio where I’m creating new book cloth in preparation for the next holiday show.

Cat on black chair

Lucy deposits cat hair on my chair, while simultaneously waiting for me to give her head scruffs.

I’m excited about the new work, even if Lucy is not impressed.

Hand printed cloth

No cats appear on the new printed cloth.  It turns out that not everybody loves cats! Who knew?

Your Itinerant Attack Cat

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Handmade Books

Just a sampling of my handmade sketchbooks and journals.

Directly after Drawlloween, I turned all of my attention to production for the Holiday Art Market where I sold my handmade paper goods. Namely, journals and sketchbooks that I bind by hand, with covers of original design. In preparation for the show, I completed 90 books and orbs in just fourteen days! I’ve been blogging about my progress and describe one bookmaking process here, give an update here,  and then discuss my paper orbs in a later post.

Art fair booth set up

Attack Cat Studio at the Holiday Art Market.

I had a successful showing this weekend and visitors to the market seemed to really like my work. Since this was the first full-on beta test for Attack Cat Studio, I feel pretty good about the results. It was especially interesting to watch people interact with the displays. For example, some of the book stands are a little tippy. But, the flow of traffic through my booth seemed to work well. I also collected a few contacts who are interested in taking a bookmaking class with me in the winter.

Attack Cat Studio Logo

In addition to connecting people with sketchbooks and journals, I get to talk with cat lovers who notice my logo. The most frequently asked question is, “Which one is the attack cat?!”

Now, I prepare for another show, this one in December, at the Merry Maker’s Marketplace. I have new images to print for book covers, larger sketchbooks to create, and lots of pocket-sized journals to replace. If you’re interested in seeing some more of my work, you can check meow-t on Etsy.

Cat in a Box

Miss Bean, the original Attack Cat.

Make Your Own Cat

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Make Your Own Cat

A few years ago, I constructed a prototype toy cat using scraps of hand-dyed fabric and some beans for stuffing. The resulting creature, let’s call him Stuffed Cat One, was entertaining, but not quite what I was trying to achieve. I learned a lot at that time, like, I don’t like working that small, the arms should be longer, the head isn’t dimensional enough, it needs a puss nose and whiskers. It’s kind of a long list. For whatever reason, I woke up this morning, three years later, determined to take another go.

Pink Beanie Cat

Here’s the original! Stuffed Cat One.

Stuffed Cat Two, assembled from black cotton, is fresh off the design table. It was not easy going. First of all, black is impossible! A lint collector of the first degree and hard to see details, I struggled with keeping it clean and concise.

Making a Stuffed Black Cat

Heads, legs, arms, and a tail. Plus, the unstuffed body of Cat Two.

Second, there are some proportions I would change. The distance from the nose to the neck seam is too long for a cat. The narrow arms and legs next to the puffy torso make Stuffed Cat Two look like a cousin to Piglet from the Hundred Acre Wood. The size and placement of the ears may be adding to this problem. The eyes give him that Toothless look from How to Train Your Dragon. However, these eyes are an improvement over the first attempt where I sewed on amber-colored jewels that made Stuffed Cat Two look like Super-Freako Sparkle Kitty.

Stuffed black cat.

The finished prototype. He has whisker issues, but he seems friendly.

Don’t get me wrong. Prototypes are important. I didn’t wake up thinking I was going to make Two, the Amazing Forever Cat. Besides, frustration is instructive. I learned that I like working this size better. I think the overall shape of the nose is improved over Stuffed Cat One. And, during construction, I figured out some shortcuts that would help if I wanted to make more than one at a time.

Stuffed Cats

Stuffed Cat One and Stuffed Cat Two, side by side, for comparison.

It is unclear whether or not I will now, or sometime in the future, create Stuffed Cat Three. All of my observations will guide me should I decide to make adjustments and try again. I just have this romantic notion of a herd of Stuffed Cat minions, all fun and funky, looking down at me from a decorative shelf. No matter what I decide, I’m sure you’ll hear about it one way or another.

Building A Book

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Building A Book

You may (or may not) have noticed the intermittent, yet ongoing, production from my studio. There was the fabric dyeing day, followed by multiple screen printing sessions using my old thermofax machine to burn screens. Now, I’m finally turning the printed and dyed fabric into blank journals and sketchbooks.

Steps showing sewing on tapes.

Top: The finished cover before the pages are attached. Bottom Left and Right: Shows what the in-process sewing looks like from the inside and the outside of the book.

The books have soft covers that I create by attaching the fabrics to Pellon Fuse-n-Shape, a thick, iron on interfacing that gives the covers some thickness without making them too thick. The binding is a variation of the coptic stitch and sewing over tapes. I like this binding because it leaves the spine exposed, and allows the visible stitches to become part of the aesthetics of the finished book. This binding is also sturdy and allows the book to lie completely flat when opened, a desirable quality when writing or drawing.

Orange Cat Book

Hand-dyed fabric with thermofax screen image, exposed-spine sewing on decorative cotton strips. Book is bound with waxed linen.

I have fun coordinating the cords, threads, and fabrics to individualize every book– no two are identical. Sometimes, I choose contrasting fabrics for the front and back of the book to add visual interest. So far, I have constructed six of these soft cover books and, with each one I complete, I learn a little more about the small things I’d like to finesse.

Cat on table with books

A selection of books, guarded over by the original Attack Cat, Miss Bean.

My Thermofax Machine is SO Mid-century

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Thermofax technology was developed by 3M in the 1950’s as a way to make a copy of a document using heat and carbon. Artists use them today to make stencils for screen printing and tattoo art. This works by inserting a filmy plastic sheet and a toner photocopy together into a feeder slot which grabs the materials and passes them through a heated area causing the toner to “burn” the image into the plastic sheet.  I bought my thermofax for around $300 in 2001, back when eBay was still an auction-only site. Due to their popularity with artists, and the difficulty in locating one, a reconditioned thermofax machine like mine can sell for around $1,000, or more!

Vintage Copy Machine

Classic advertising showing the original use for the Thermofax circa 1960’s. You can see more vintage ads at Adsausage.

Picture of thermofax machine

Top: A beauty shot of my Secretary thermofax. Bottom: Photocopy and resulting screen used for printing.

Making screens and transferring an image is magical. You can easily reproduce the exact image onto almost anything from the same screen. Though, screens do wear down or occasionally tear, they are easy to replace, and you can get awesome results. Once the image is burned into the screen, ink is forced through the stencil leaving the image transferred onto your surface.

Hands screen printing with helicopter image

Left: My friend carefully crafting the multi-colored helicopter t-shirt for his son. Right: Finished helicopters in a row.

Recently, some friends came over for a combination dinner and print-your-own shirt party. (The delicious meal was prepared by my friend, Wendy, who blogs at In Other People’s Kitchens.)  One friend has a toddler who is obsessed with helicopters, so he dedicated his printing time to meticulously making a multi-colored image. Our physics teacher friend and my math teacher husband like nerdy math references, hence the speed of light sign. The rest of us preferred decorative birds, and, of course, the Attack Cat Studio cats, Bean, Vera, and Lucy.

Birds, cats, and speed limit sign

Results from the super-fun dinner party and screen printing night.

I Would Dye For You

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Cotton fabric comes in plenty of solid, consistently dyed colors. Sometimes that’s exactly what I need, and what I expect when I purchase it. However, I appreciate the depth of layers and happenstance that occur when I hand-dye my own cloth.

Pink and purple fabric.

Fabrics dyed using low-water immersion techniques with Pro MX Reactive Dye.

I use the low-water immersion dye method, so you can forget that stinky pot of boiling chemicals steaming up the kitchen. Each piece of cloth is individually wrapped in it’s own packet or soaking in a container, left to absorb just enough dye to saturate the cloth. This allows for some migrating, pocketing, and patterning to occur, allowing for variations in the final surface. Hand-dyed cotton

I dyed 8 half-yards to use as the substrate for printed book covers. While the colors are nice, they are not as intense as I’d hoped. I lost a lot of dye in the wash-out, and it took repeated rinsing to get the water to run clear. I don’t know if the muslin I’m using just doesn’t hold the dye, (I wonder this because I over-dyed an older piece of heavier cotton from my stash and it held the same dye really well,) or there’s an effect from the softened water I used for rinse out, or if there’s something else I’m missing. If you know what I did wrong, please let me know!

In any case, I ended up with completely useable, pretty cloth. It will become more complex when I manipulate it further with printing and sewing.

Fabric drying on a clothesline.

My “drying room.”

I first learned this technique from Lisa Kerpoe at the Southwest School of Art a few years ago.

Here’s what I posted about it then.