Monday, October 28, 2013

Color Palette Ideas

We've had several weeks of glorious autumn afternoons, brisk but brilliant with the color of turning leaves. I marvel at how I can look around in nature and spot color combinations I hadn't thought about trying or the richness and complexity within what on the surface looks a single color or value. So as I gazed up into the golden leaves, I saw they were not yellow, but many shades of yellow with undertones of green that still lingered. But mostly I was struck by how those yellows looked against that particular blue sky. I usually pair yellow with purple or oranges or browns, or perhaps with a dark blue but I don't think I've done it with that blue. Not sure why as this was a very popular fashion pairing back in the 60's. Dating myself here, but in junior high school these were the school colors, and the drill team I was on made blue outfits with gold accents - just these colors. Food for thought.
I went back with the camera on another day to capture this palette as well as to try to capture the overall brilliance all that yellow created. While panning this stretch of trees, zooming in and out, I noticed this lone bright green evergreen nestled within the golds. One does not expect to see such a fresh green this time of the year, and when I have paired my golden yellows with green, it would be of a more muted variety. More food for thought.

 When I returned from my walk Saturday, I headed to the studio to work on my oak leaf postcards. When I opened the blinds, the late afternoon sun highlighted more of my golden inspiration. I had no doubt these colors were in my stash (including the blue from the sky) but hadn't actually inspected it yet. Nature was nagging, though, don't you think? So I obliged by checking my hand-dyes which you see here, and my batiks too. No shortage of this palette amongst my fabrics!

But playing with that palette needs to wait. I have fabric postcards to finish. For practical reasons, I ended up cutting the printed fabric into two pieces and layered up one set of 4 (I use decor bond covered with leftover strips of Hobbs Thermore and then the printed fabric). You may remember that I was questioning having so many of these prints to work with - mostly wondering what I would do with the eight of them when finished (only one has a designated home at this point). It hadn't occurred to me what freedom I would feel having so many to work with as I considered thread colors. It may be a little difficult to see in the picture but each one has different combinations (the upper left is the only one that also has the background quilted). I always struggle with envisioning how a thread will actually read once stitched - even with the auditioning aide of "drizzling" thread from the spool across the fabric. With so many "blanks" I could use trial and error to guide the way. The first thread would have worked if the length and value variety of the variegation had been less. Other choices did not show up enough or too much in the wrong way. As it turned out, the thread I thought least likely to work well around and on the leaf turned out to be my favorite.

Speaking of threads, I'd placed an order with Connecting Threads to take advantage of their sale on their Essentials line of 50 wt cotton thread. You know how it is - you never have the right color of thread and this is such great quality at such a good price. I pretty much bought a spool of every color on sale - 20 in all, mostly various browns but also some blues, bright greens which I have few of and those orangey ones which I normally would say I would never use but know that I will. They arrived on Saturday too and might find their way into these oak postcards. Yum!

I planned to experiment with different background threads yesterday afternoon but when I returned from my walk, the power was out and was predicted to remain so all evening. Arghh - well-intentioned plans thwarted! There was still some daylight in my office so I gathered up my beading project to see if I could get something done before the light totally failed. As I beaded, I remembered a gift my brother had given me that might just prolong my beading time - a mini-mag lite with legs. I found it and attached it to the desk...

And it provided enough light to allow me to bead for several hours - to a point where I needed to mark another section which I was NOT willing to do in restricted lighting. It was time for dinner anyway and then a quiet evening reading by lamp light. If only I could have fixed a hot drink to sip while snuggled under a quilt.

For other examples of how I've brought nature's palette into the studio, see these posts:

More Nature Matching (beginnings of the poppies and peonies pairing series, one quilt completed)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Dragging Feet Syndrome

I've been having a tough time moving forward with the second lesson of my on-line linocut class, another one chocked full of good information, links and design issues to ponder. It includes an exercise that I've been eager to try - converting photographs to a design suitable for block printing. Yet to my total frustration, I am discovering that within my files of hundreds of reference photos, very few will convert to an effective dark/light value design. Too many medium values that I am not at the skill level to deal with. The exercise just before it helped me see better the nature of graphic design which is at the heart of linocuts - balancing the amount of light and dark space while keeping the design moving and interesting. Yes, harder than I thought. Even after several hours of sketching, going through my photo files and studying examples on-line yesterday, I still have not come up with something I'm willing to commit to carving into a block. I did run across a few photos that I successfully converted to black and white, so some progress there. And I took the plunge to carve a monogram, which was the first exercise in Lesson 2. You may recognize the conjoined letters as what I use on my Zentangles. I'm pretty pleased with the stamp (those little triangles in the "b" were a challenge), but it is about 1-1/2 inches in height - a little big for how I might want to use something like this so I may try something a little different on the back side of the eraser. (If you click on the pic, the stamp should show at actual size.)

In pondering why I was having such a hard time getting into the exercises in Lesson 2, I wondered if it were not because I didn't feel I'd finished what I'd wanted to explore in lesson 1. I was so unhappy with the ink I was using so wanted to try some of the paints I had on hand. I wanted to try different colors and printing on some of the fabric I'd pulled when discovering we'd be cutting leaf blocks. I'd looked at those 6 inch blocks and wanted to use the image for fabric postcards, which of course are 4 x 6, not 6 x 6. A partial leaf would be just the ticket so I used painter's tape to mark the 4 inch line and keep the paint off the part of the block I didn't want to print (tape is removed once block is inked). I have a lot of Liquitex acrylic paint from before I had a good source for paint specifically designed for fabric. I really need to use it up and this seemed a good place for that. I add textile medium to it to make it work better on fabric.

And my experiment was a success, in my opinion. This may be more postcards than I intended to make, but the size of the fabric was perfect for eight. Indeed, after I'd printed the first four, I thought to place the tape going a different way so the leaf would be turned in a different orientation and printed four more. Curiosity and indecision can lead to a lot of prints! The best thing though is I didn't have to endure noxious fumes and the printed fabric dries quickly. A quick heat setting with an iron and it is ready to work with within hours (although it should not be washed until air-curing for 7 days).

This fabric has specks of dull green in it - more so than shows in the photo. It just reminded me a bit of the forest floor. Of course, I could have mixed a second color on my palette so the leaves would not all be the same color, or blended the two to give a two-toned effect. But I plan to do some of that color variation when I add stitch to these, and you've got to stop somewhere with the play. I don't usually do mass production postcards, i.e. I tend to work on each as individual little quilts even if doing several similar ones at the same time. But in this case it makes perfect sense to layer this up as one piece for the quilting, then cut the stamped images apart to complete each postcard.

At one point I happened to look at the roller before adding more paint to it and saw parts of the stamp imprinted on it. Since I've not used a foam roller before when stamping, I'd forgotten about this added bit of design opportunity. I grabbed one of the pieces of fabric I'd used several year ago to wipe paint off foam brushes (that's the big spots oddly enough in the same paint color) and otherwise collect excess paint and rolled across it. The first swipe I'd pressed hard - more paint than I realized still on it and then it abruptly ran out once it circled full round. The second imprint transfer is above the first, using a lighter touch (click on pic for bigger view). Pretty cool, although as usual, I don't know what I'll do with it. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Life Circles Round

I'm sure you remember that guava dye run I said my friend Sherrie would be wanting to steal from me. Indeed she did want to, but was willing to settle for a few strips of each color to incorporate into her signature wispy summer scarves which you can read about here. I duly complied. As for me, I soon spotted these shoes on sale for a pittance, covered in fabric the exact colors of the dye run. Yes, they came home with me, with spring fun dressing up in mind.  

As Sherrie was making up the first guava scarf, she had a "life circles round" moment involving our recently departed artist friend, Judi (which you can read about here). And then last week, Sherrie's scarf of my guava fabrics arrived in the mail, a thank you and reminder of the ties between us and Judi who got me dyeing in the first place. Sherrie didn't know about the shoes and hoped I had something in my wardrobe to wear the scarf with. Well...yes! And life circles round once more.


Friday, October 18, 2013

Disparate Items Coming Together

It can take an amazingly long time for the bits and pieces we collect for our art to suddenly become the answer to creating a new design. That is why we buy fabric and embellishments without knowing what we will do with them, keep sketchbooks, hold on to leftovers and unused bits of inspiration for so long. What you see in the picture above spans about 10 years. The beads were purchased around 2003 I think, when I was looking for something that would read as drops of blood. The larger ones didn't work and I didn't need many of the smaller ones, so they have been in my bead stash all this time waiting for another chance. The page of tears from my sketchbook was done on a particularly bad day back in 2007. And the marbled fabric was gifted to me by a friend when I told her how it reminded me of a marble wall at the Mayo Clinic. I had no idea what I would do with that marbling when it arrived, but while pressing yards of fabric last spring, mind wandering, I remembered the beads and thought how good the red would look against the yellow. While paging through the sketchbook, I ran across the tears. The two got me thinking about how much pain and heartbreak patients and family who come to the clinic go through, and I had the inspiration for my quilt.

So why didn't I dive right in since I had such a clear idea of where I was going with this? Well, a lot of reasons, but mainly I've been dithering over mostly technical issues. But I think I've resolved those, made up my mind about the various ways I could approach it and have taken my first stitches. I plan to stretch the finished quilt over a 12" square canvas placed in a floater frame and will just be adding beads to the fabric - no batting and no threadwork. Just simple and untextured like the marble it reminds me of.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Playing with Geraniums

Ever since I took those pictures of the geraniums on my back deck, I've been wondering what they might look like run through some of the filters in Paint Shop Pro. Unlike a lot of photos I play with, these had a very limited palette and not much variety in shapes either so I thought it might not produce anything of interest. Boy, was I wrong. So while this hemisphere gives way to the warm colors of autumn, I filled another spare block of time before dinner playing with the pastels of summer.

When I play like this, I don't actually manipulate the settings myself but use the "roll of the dice" feature, clicking through changes randomly chosen by the program until I see something I like, something that may have potential for inclusion in one of my fiber pieces. This setting of the topography filter produced the least amount of change, but one I really liked. I could see thread painting over this one or using as is as part of a fabric collage.

I usually get some interesting abstract effects when I use the distortion map filter but this time the only one that did much was the "wet fall leaves" tiled across the picture. It has turned my geranium into more of a carnation with those frilly edges.

This is quite a different look than I usually get using the ripple filter. Reminds me of refracted light.

The twirl filter is one of my favorites. I always seem to like what it produces. This looks so rich and yummy to me.

Wave is another one I use a lot but with limited colors and value, it was giving me some very different options. I could see this one printed out as a good basic fabric one could cut up for piecing or use as a border or binding.

I saved the kaleidoscope filter for last - it can tie me up for hours producing dozens of options I save because they are just so beautiful and intricate. But again - what would this limited photo produce. I needn't have worried. When this one flashed on the screen, I immediately wanted to put it on the cover of a padfolio.

But this one took my breath away and is perhaps my favorite. I want to print it on fabric and bead it!

I guess you don't need a lot of colors and contrast to get usable images through filters. As I mentioned above, some of these would be good candidates for thread painting. And I'm always trying to think of ways to use my vast store of reference photos in my quilting. As if the universe heard those thoughts, I recently won a drawing over on Terry Grant's blog for a copy of Sarah Ann Smith's dvd "Art Quilt Design From Photo to Threadwork." I must have some major karma going on here - seems I've been the recipient of quite a few give-aways of one kind or another this year. I have to say - it really makes my day and keeps my inspired! 

Monday, October 14, 2013


I can't seem to get past puttering and on to a "real" project in the studio for what seems like ages. (The garage has been the biggest beneficiary of said puttering as of late.) And I still have scraps of that strip-pieced band I can't quit playing with. You've seen the bookmark on the right. I decided to make a mug rug to go with it, getting it quilted and satin stitched in a small chunk of spare time before dinner last night. Now these are off to a special friend...

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Printing at Last

I finished cutting my last linocut of Lesson 1 last Wednesday but didn't get around to printing until yesterday afternoon. That's my repeat block and you can also see the paper version where I was testing various permutations. Remembered a trick from my Mariner Compass-making days and got out my mirrors to get an idea of how the repeat might work. In the background you might be able to make out the oak leaf block and the paper testing the design with a rubbing. I have to say I really like working with the Inovart Eco printing plate much better than the Blick Readycut Plate.

Since I am using what is supposed to be the master bedroom for my studio, there is a full bathroom off it at my disposal. I've played with painting and discharge in a similar extra bathroom in a previous rental so set up my print station in there. I wish the counter was a bit wider, but for what I will be printing right now, this will suffice. My print pad on the right consists of nothing more than some newspaper on either side of a piece of fleece, the dense kind that is used as padding in suit shoulders, not the soft kind that goes into robes and blankets. It's more like a dense poly batting than anything and seems to be the perfect balance between too firm and too soft. It's really nice having the water source right there.

So here we go. This is the 12" sample block, the paper proof in the upper left, the first print on fabric in the upper right. I didn't need to tweak the block but I did need to put more ink on it. The second print on fabric in the lower right came out perfect and I plan to brush Dye-na-flo paint over them later to add color. But I won't be printing more of these. I'll be cutting the block up into individual texture blocks as I anticipated. 

For this first round of printing, I'm using Speedball Fabric Printing ink which is oil-based but cleans up with soap and water. It smells so the bathroom fan was running and a window slightly open. Also, it needs to air-cure for a week rather than being heat set within 24 hours in order to be permanent on fabric. Had I known that before I ordered it, I probably would have opted for something else. A week is a long time to wait if you know what you plan to do with the fabric once printed. And black - it was suggested to get black but I wish now I'd gone for a dark brown or a navy or even a dark purple. Well, I'm using it up quickly so it won't be long until I can replace it with a paint of a different color.

On to my leaf blocks (one on either side of the same block) and the repeat block. Here is my paper proof. The leaf in the upper right is the first proof which showed I needed to cut away more between the veins. Lower left leaf print shows the improvement after that tweak. The background "noise" in the other leaf, however, is intentional - a suggestion of the teacher's to lend more organic interest. I must say I really like the effect. And you can see my traditional quilt background coming to the fore as I rotate the leaves around the center not unlike so many applique designs of the 1800's. The repeat block also shows my penchant for classic traditional quilt designs - I have a hard time moving away from symmetry and grids.

Here's how they look on plain white fabric, the repeat block turned in different orientations than in the test print. The leaf blocks are on a 6 inch square, the repeat block is a 3 inch square.

 Do you recall the fabric I tried to improve with overdyeing that I refused to show you because it was still pretty awful? I decided it was the perfect candidate for sacrifice, nothing to lose by using it here. I was curious about how opaque that printing ink was and also thought if so much of the ugly fabric wasn't showing, it would lend an autumn air to my leaf. The top one had a lot of ink on the block, the other was a second print without re-inking. The repeat block is printed in between the two - you may have to click for a larger picture to see it as I was using up what was left on the roller and pulling what ink I could off the blocks at this point.

 I also dug out some random fabric I'd used the last few times I'd played with my paints - trying out some rubbing patterns, cleaning off brushes, that sort of thing. I can't reconcile what seems to me a lot of waste when dealing with inks and paints so this is my way of capturing all that I can before cleaning brushes and rollers and eventually I have something that can be used as a background in a postcard or other small piece. That's what this lavender strip is and again, I was just trying to get as much ink off the roller and plates before quitting for the day and washing everything up. "Purple oak leaves?" I thought to myself afterwards. What was I thinking???

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Linocut Progress

Thought I should give you a little update on my on-line linocut class progress. The first lesson includes three different exercises, the first of which is to mark off 9 squares on a 12 x 12 block and cut a different pattern into each square. This is to give practice in how each gouge works and to generally get a feel for how to wield this tool. On the surface, this didn't look like a big deal, but some of those textures took much longer to do than one might think.

I particularly struggled with this one, which was to look like arch-topped windows. The material that the Blick Ready Cut plate is made from is soft and easy to carve, but also rubbery, with a thin top layer that often defied flicking off. It sounded like a good idea - that top gray layer that would make it clear what your print would look like. But I found it problematic.

These circles also took a long time and were a challenge because of the rubberiness of the block. I found I could do better with them if I cut standing at my work table rather than sitting in front of my laptop. We are to print this block as a whole, an "interesting" background to print other designs on top of or we can cut it apart and use each texture individually. I'll do one print but I'm sure I'll be cutting this block up.

Exercise 2 involves carving negative and positive versions of a leaf. I have a commercial set of leaf stamps that include both kinds given as examples, so I was compelled to think of something different. And then, up pops a post by Annabel where she is using oak leaves to stamp images. It reminded me that I have a file with leaves I've pressed and maybe there are some oak leaves in there. Oh, I love it when my obsessive collecting is vindicated - I had far more oak leaves to choose from than I remembered. And oak leaves are tough things, even when dry. It was easy to trace around them right onto the block. This time I'm using an Eco Printing Plate (by Inovart) on the recommendation of Cynthia St. Charles and am having much better success with it. Still easy to cut but more substantial. Also, it is thick enough to cut on both sides. I couldn't decide between the two leaves you see on the plate so one will be cut as a positive (done) and the other will be cut as a negative on the flip side (drawn on and ready to cut).

The third exercise should go more quickly - just a small simple design that can be used as a repeat. I need to move along on these as I think the next lesson will be arriving soon and I still need to make prints on fabric. We have two weeks to work on each lesson and now I see why. This first one is so chocked full of information and exercises that one needs a couple of weeks to get through it and let it sink in.