Friday, November 25, 2016

Artgraf Experiment

As long as I was in an experimental mood in prep for the art group meeting (see previous post), I decided to do a quick test run of the ArtGraf blocks I'd bought quite awhile ago. I'd been playing with water soluble graphite pencils with intriguing results, and when I saw these, in "my" earth colors, at greatly reduced "new product" price, well, I had to buy them. And not so much for my sketching forays, but as I so often do, wondering if I could use them on fabric. The graphite pencils became permanent on paper after wetting. Perhaps these colored ones would work the same.

So I went about laying down color and wetting in various ways on a strip of white muslin that I'd ironed to freezer paper to stabilize it. The blocks are shaped like tailor's chalk so you can pick them up and draw using the edge or pull across in a wide band as I did here. Hard to get even coverage. Then I tried dabbing and pulling a wet foam brush across the section in the middle. No control. The last test on the right was with a wet one inch flat brush that was used to pick up the color directly off the dry block like you would a watercolor pan, and brush across the fabric. Also difficult to control. But you can see better how the ArtGraf reacts like the Derwent Inktense watercolor pencils - the color comes to life when it is activated with water.

I decided not to let that first swath go undampened, and tried a dauber to see if that worked better than the foam brush. It did.

Also on my mind was whether one could mist the Artgraf with water rather than apply the water with a brush. Besides laying down color in a swath, I also decided to try drawing a few lines with the edge of the block. 

My mister laid down a heavier spray of water than I thought it would, but at least I could see that it was a method that could work. There was some wicking of the color along the edges of the drawn lines but the lines themselves stayed quite visible. I also tried wetting the fabric, then drawing and dragging the block over it. Apparently forgot to take a picture but it worked fairly well. Where I dragged the block, the color eventually wicked into the damp area where I had not applied color.

The other thing I was curious about was if I could use these to make rubbings. I have several tjaps and had seen that they could be used this way, so I picked one with a fairly dense design. I covered it with a strip of white muslin taped to the top and held the other end as I dragged the block over it. Yes, it did indeed pick up the pattern. But what would happen when I dampened it?

I used the dauber again, because it held the least moisture and could be pounced along with some control. I quickly saw I had to use very little water or the color would wick and I'd lose the pattern. I really thought this product would give me more control over adding color but it did not.

Chart showing ArtGraf applied dry, dry then wet with brush, picked up from block onto wet brush and applied.

The real question, though, was if the color would bind to the fabric. And once dry, I quick rub with a piece of white muslin showed that the color rubbed right off. I was puzzled. I went back to my sketches where I'd used the water soluble graphite and it was not rubbing off. I read again the test run article that I'd pulled from a magazine that clearly stated this had binder in it. Perhaps it binds to paper but not to fabric. So I quickly did up a sample color chart (which I needed to do anyway) and found that some of the color also rubbed off once dry. And then it hit me, and I'm almost embarrassed to admit this. All this time I was thinking ArtGraf was colored graphite (which indeed many sites that sell it describes it this way) when in fact, according to the manufacturer Viarco's website, it is pure pigment with binder in the form of blocks. Yeah, the combination of working with the graphite pencils and seeing "Graf" in the product name along with possibly an erroneous product description allowed me to block out all else that was being said about this product. Now I understand why the videos and descriptions I'd been watching and reading kept saying you could use this like watercolors as well as draw with it before adding water, just that it left a slightly different look than watercolor. Sheesh.

And can you believe it, I had this epiphany AFTER I'd ordered up the "new" primary color set of ArtGraf blocks - red, blue and yellow - because yes, they were on sale. (Have you figured out yet I am a sucker for sales?) I had something I wanted to add to my comforts sketchbook and thought I'd work with the ArtGraf to get more familiar with it, and that red would come in handy. Well, the new colors came, and now that I understand what they are, it still was a good idea to play with them in this sketch today. I must confess I still do not have steady hands and used a different brush than I've used with my watercolors in this sketchbook so things are a bit ragged. While I like the idea of using the ArtGraf like a watercolor pan, I'm not sure it is as easy to work as watercolor - again, that may have been the brush. I didn't take a lot of care with this sketch, really wanted to use it to try some things out regardless of how the result might look. Thus, the darker than I'd meant spots on the lid (and there I was, sketching those ellipses again!) which are because I was being too slap-dash with the water soluble graphite up there. And rather than define the edges of the cup in pen or even dark pencil, I wanted to make a background wash of the ArtGraf to define it. I wondered if I could transfer the dry pigment onto a dry brush (I already knew how easily it transferred to my fingers when holding the blocks), and I could. A stencil brush seemed to work the best, although perhaps I just should have used my finger. Then I lightly brushed it with a damp watercolor brush and called it good.

What can I say? Now I know and I can go on from here. I'm still wondering if there's a way to "fix" the ArtGraf to fabric - I'm thinking soy milk since it is the binder for natural pigments (yes, another experiment waiting in the wings that I was researching along with the natural dyeing). Or perhaps I should get back to the machine and fabric not needing surface design added!


Living to work - working to live said...

Gosh - you're a one woman science lab.

Love the effects you've created with these. I'd stick with paper because, as you know, I'll happy pass that through my poor old sewing machine.

The Idaho Beauty said...

Well, Hilary, I guess I kinda am! Truth be told, I just have a healthy curiosity about things and love doing research. And possibly may be procrastinating from actually working on something. ;-) You are probably right - I should quit trying to make these things work for fabric and figure out how I can incorporate them into some mixed media work. I think it fabulous that you fear not machine stitching through paper. And you will not be surprised that I have a book on that - bought years ago because I was curious and thought I might actually try it. Have I? Ahem - no. But perhaps you will inspire me. :-)