Tag Archives: Surface Design

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.

 

 

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.

An Obvious Mixed Bag

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An Obvious Mixed Bag

I hope you’ll forgive me. I have a case of blog posting procrastination. Not only have I been remodeling the basement, a.k.a. The Mole Level, the weather has been pristine. Clear blue skies, crisp in the morning, yet warm enough in the afternoon for me to be lured away from responsibilities.

Scaredy Cats

Lucy, Vera, and Bean in various stages of denial about the strangers in our house. P.S. I would not usually publish such a poor photo of Vera (center) but her hiding place deep in the closet left me no choice but to use a flash.

The cats have been in hiding during while the workmen are here, so it’s hard to get good cat portraits. And for some reason, I’ve been avoiding my camera, unaware that I should be documenting all of the changes. I must be having an identity crisis. Or, maybe I feel the shift from the mostly carefree days of summer to the seriousness brought on by the ever-so-slight hint of color on the maples.

Left: A workman replaces the carpet in the stairwell as seen through the cat door. Right: Walls prepped for painting in the family room.

Left: A workman replaces the carpet in the stairwell as seen through the cat door. Right: Walls prepped for painting in the family room.

Whatever it is, the cats are constant in their cat-ness, anchoring me to the earth, lest I float away with the first falling leaf. I have, despite the distractions, managed to make some new books in anticipation of a busy (and not-far-away) holiday season.

Handmade books

Handmade books. Larger, printed books are sewn on tapes. Smaller books are suede with tie closure.

Today, the waves on Lake Michigan are supposed to be seven feet high. Maybe I’ll take a drive out to see them…. Ah, but that’s the wistful, wish-it-was-summer me. More likely that I will get back to my blogging and book arts, do some housework, and make a quick run up the road to the vegetable stand for some fresh tomatoes to go with dinner.

Heirloom Tomatoes

It’s easy to find a good tomato this time of year.

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.

Art Can Be Fun

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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.