Book Review – Pastel Innovations by Dawn Emerson

I confess, I am not really one for writing book reviews, it is rare that a book excites me enough to give it a star rating on Amazon but this one is in a class of its own….

Following a very enjoyable workshop with Mark Cazalet a few weeks ago I was looking to broaden my pastel drawing skills so trotted off to my local library to see what they had, the front cover of the book immediately grabbed my attention and flicking through the vibrantly colourful photos in the book had me hooked.

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The title, Pastel Innovations, 60+ techniques and exercises for painting with pastels is a little misleading because this is really a mixed media book with pastels as a recurring theme, but in my opinion the mixed media element really enhances the book rather than detracts from it.

Dawn starts with a materials list but I like her pragmatic, “use what you already have” approach, she makes a very sensible comment that you are more likely to experiment and take risks when working on cheapo newsprint paper and the art materials you were given as a child but never found a use for. An opportunity to use some 20+ year old materials that I couldn’t bring myself to throw away? I like her already! 🙂

She then takes you on a journey through some basic art theory: line, shape colour etc but she compares each element with her own twist and provides lots of examples and drawings along the way. This section culminates in how to self-critique your work against each of these elements.

At the end of each chapter there are exercises to practice what you have learned, I thought these were the best part of the book and if you learn best by doing, I think they are what sets it apart from so many art theory books.

This is my interpretation of the exercises from chapter 1…. Dawn provides a detailed still life photo to work from by I preferred a black and white photo of some pears on a window sill that she provided for an exercise later in the book.

Line:

Shape:

Value:

Texture:

Colour:

Translating this into textiles…

Working with pastels and charcoal is all very lovely but I was itching to put this into practice with felt.

I “cheated” and use some commercial prefelts as a support for my painting with a few wisps of wool between 2 prefelts. Bearing in mind that these fibres will migrate as the felt is fulled I laid out an “underpainting” of tones roughly where I wanted lights and darks to come through between the two layers of prefelt. These fibres will also help the two commercial prefelts glue together

Line

I laid out some purple fibres to suggest the outlines of the pears and windowsill, I used wool tops rolled between my hands with some wool yarns for different line weights and some variety.

 

Adding white highlights:

Using yarn and Kap merino.

Adding shadows:

I used some low-immersion dyed Kap merino provide some extra depth but you could also blend 2 or 3 different colours / shades to get the same effect.

Adding a light complimentary colour

The compliment of purple / mauve is yellow… unfortunately the only yellow I have is quite a dark, orangey yellow, not ideal but blended with some white, it will have to do.

Adding some interest to the background:

Looking at the photo, there’s still something missing….

I think it is green! Green and purple, always a good combination in my mind, and the reddish pinks in the background really throw the greens (their complement) forward, although I am running the risk of ending up with khaki brown once the picture is fulled.

 

Then I brought touches of the bright pink from the background and used it for mid tone highlights on the pears to try to visually link it all together.

Once it reached the firm prefelt stage (fibres holding together but no shrinkage) I let it dry out so I could assess the colour and needlefelt in some details this is dried prefelt. Wetting the fibres reduces the contrast between the light and dark colours so it is best to let your painting dry out before fulling:

And after adding some more details and dark blue shadows:

To mimic the texture element from the first exercise I screen-printed some blue and purple patterns over the background and a small area of the foreground before fulling it ready to be stretched over a frame:

 

My tips for wool paintings:

  • Layout your wool directly onto your felting set up, trying to move it once you have starting arranging the fibres could lead to disaster. I like to work on a sheet of plastic over a bamboo mat as the mat gives to wool some extra support, especially in the early stages of felting
  • Use only enough soapy water to anchor each layer of fibres down, it it is too wet it will be difficult to place the next layer of fibres where you want them
  • Check and rearrange your fibres as necessary every time you add water
  • Kap merino is very versatile for wool painting, the short fibres make it very easy to blend and feather the edges of a colour, it is available from Woolknoll in Germany
  • Spend at least 10 minutes gently massaging the front of your painting to ensure the surface fibres are knitting together before flipping it over and checking the back is evenly wet before starting to roll.
  • Roll up your work, at least to begin with, with the painting facing down, this will minimise the folds and distortion forming in the face (the outside of the roll is slightly stretched while the inside of the roll is slightly compressed when it is rolled up).

 

Chapter 2 covers various monoprinting, stencilling, embossing and brayer printing techniques, most of which I haven’t tried yet.

Dawn is clearly a fan of frottage (rubbings), I am sad to say some of the exercises I did for my City and Guilds course put me off this technique but I really like Dawn’s approach. For the most part she seems to use it as an accent in her own work but she also advocated using it to build up an entire image in what she called a “drubbing”. I found this a useful for pushing me away from trying to be to representational and literal in my interpretation and was a lot of fun to boot, this was my attempt at a “drubbing” of a calf using various textured wallpaper samples and charcoal:

 

Chapter 3 concerns itself with backdrops and under-paintings, among the options presented are, abstracted brayer paintings, watercolour and charcoal value drawings. The exercises at the end of this chapter felt a little disengaged from the chapter content, they predominantly focussed on the effect of different colour combinations but were still very enjoyable and informative in their own right.

Mass drawing with compressed charcoal:

 

Monochrome:

Complementary colours:

 

 

Adding analogous colours:

 

Towards the back of the book there are more mono-printing techniques, how to take a print from a pastel drawing and how to paint with pastels by mixing with a painting medium and using as paint. I confess I simply haven’t had time to work through those exercises yet but am really looking forward to having a play with them.

I was particularly smitten with a photo of a fancy chicken that Dawn shared to illustrate the inspiration behind one of her paintings, he was so funny I just couldn’t resist… 🙂

I can see him as a wool painting with his feathers made from coloured yarns and perhaps the occasional wool lock but that will have to wait for a later post….

Expressive Textile Printing with Dawn Dupree

Last week I was back at West Dean for another module of my Foundation Diploma, I had an absolute ball screen-printing on plant based fabrics (cottons, linen etc), guided by Dawn Dupree. We had a fantastic group and everyone was happy but exhausted by the end of our magical 3 days together. These are some of the pieces I made:

These first few prints were painted onto the screen and then print paste was squeegeed through to transfer the image to the cloth, it opens up lots of opportunity for different mark making and generally produced nice bright colours but is limited in that it is essentially a mono-print technique.

These next two prints were made using the same method but the muslin (cheesecloth) was under the cotton scrim during the printing so that the excess dye was caught by the muslin. This produced a feint print on the muslin that I added to by painting dyes directly onto the cloth.

Cotton scrim

I am planning to felt these 2 pieces to make nuno felt hangings.

Cotton muslin

This little chap from Costa Rica was printed from a line drawing that I transferred to the screen using photo emulsion. I wasn’t happy with the colour intensity of the initial print so again hand painted with the dyes directly onto the cloth, I am planning to add at least one more layer of colour to add some more depth as it still looks a bit flat.

This print also used the spider-monkey screen but also used some direct dyes and paper stencils for the leaf and discharge paste with splashes of yellow pigment for the off-white background.

 

This print was onto some commercially dyed (blue) cotton, the fish were screen printed with discharge paste mixed with some red pigment and the ripples were discharge paste painted on with a paint brush. The white highlights are silver foil.

 

These last 3 pieces used a combination of the techniques, mono-printing, direct dye (printed and painted directly onto the cloth), discharge paste and pigments suspended in binder. I even  managed to use the gecko and hibiscus stencils I made in Ruth Lane’s screen-printing on felt class. Click here for more information on that class.

 

 

Now the million dollar question… what to do with all these new pieces of fabric?

Winged Vessels Workshop – Give Away!

On Sunday 29th July I will be teaching a face to face workshop in Normandy near Guildford (UK), we will look at two techniques that can be used to make 3D felted structures with wings or flaps and everyone will have the opportunity to make at least one vessel. These are some examples of what can be made with the techniques we will cover:

 

All materials will be provided as part of the class and there will be a maximum of 10 participants (that means you have a 1 in 10 chance of winning!).

If you would like a chance to win a place on this workshop all you need to do is:

  1. Share the URL / link of this page on social media (Facebook, Instagram etc)
  2. Post a comment with a link to where you shared this post
  3. Submit your payment for the workshop (places are limited to 10, on a first come first served basis) – please email me at teri@teriberry.com to reserve your place and for details on how to pay (I can accept cheques or Paypal).

Entries close at midnight Wednesday 25th July.

The lucky winner will be drawn at random and their course fee reimbursed on Thursday 26th July.

Good luck!

 

New Designers

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to spend the day visiting the New Designers exhibition in Islington, London. New Designers  show-cases the work of recent university graduates from a variety of creative disciplines. Week 1 focusses on textiles, fashion, jewellery, glass and ceramics and textiles were extremely well represented, especially printed textiles. I was a little disappointed to only find one fellow felt-maker, a lovely artist from Rotterdam who has recently moved to Dublin, Marleen Haaften. She makes beautifully sheer hangings by needle-punching different fibres into an almost translucent backing fabric.

Marleen Haaften

There were far too many individual artists for me to share them all here so these are a small selection of my favourites.

Andrew Sutherland’s textile monsters were derived from drawings he made as a child.

 

 

I was fascinated by Laura Ukstina’s modular approach to fashion, these pieces were inspired by Lego and she sees them as sections of a garment that can mixed and matched to create a variety of outfits depending on your mood.

 

Linda Anderson’s knitted pieces reminded my of sea anemone tentacles, I desperately wanted to run my fingers through them but thought better of it 😉

 

Lucy Turner’s knitted pieces also reminded me of the underwater world, coral formations this time, although it turned out they were inspired by Tuberculosis!

 

While this piece by Heather Ratliffe reminded me of days spent looking at fluorescing cells down a microscope in my student days. There was a UV lamp on the left that made sequins sewn along the edge of the fur fluoresce. A fascinating interpretation of some fairly standard dress-making materials.

If you can make the time, this show is worth a visit, granted there are a few pieces that I thought looked like they had been crafted by teenagers, but given that most of the work was produced by young people I was enormously impressed by the very high standard of the work.

 

Open Studio

The last few weeks have been a bit of a blur, the end of May was spent preparing for my inaugral participation in this event and the the first two weeks of June were the open studio event itself. It has been hard work but a lot of fun, meeting new people and sharing the magic of felt-making with them.

I confess, I have been thinking of hosting an open studio for several years but had plenty of excuses not to, the main one being that I usually work in my kitchen and dining room, not very practical spaces for hanging / displaying work and not really fair on Mr TB to have strangers milling about while he is trying to relax after a busy week at work.

I did consider using the garage but it isn’t a very pretty space (breeze-block walls) and where would I put all the stuff currently stored in there? Although if I am honest I think most of it should go on Freecycle or to the municipal dump. This year I had a bit of a brainwave, we live in a bungalow and have a guest bedroom at the front of the house, what if I put the guest bed in the garage for a couple of weeks?

The space worked better than I had dared to imagine, the mirrored doors on the wardrobes made the room feel large and airy and there was just enough wall space for most of my ready-to-hang pieces.

It was just large enough to demonstrate felt-making but I was rather ambitious to think I could squeeze up to four students in there for workshops, as it turned out I managed to arrange it so I never had more than one student at a time. As always seems to be the way, in the excitement of completing each case I completely forgot to take photos of their work but since I was teaching 1 to 1, I ended up making a case of my own alongside them, these are what I produced…

I made a short video tour of my “studio”, please come in….

What did I learn from this event?

  • Allow yourself at least couple of weeks to prepare the studio, price your work, tidy the front garden / drive and redecorate / move furniture if necessary.
  • Have a visitor’s book to collect emails so you can stay in touch with your new contacts. The open studio event is an excellent way to meet new people with a shared interest. I was surprised by the number of people who returned with a friend a few days later to show them what they had found.
  • It took me a good hour to put out the signs, blow up balloons etc each morning, don’t under-estimate how long it will take. At least half of my visitors said they were just passing and saw the signs, they are really important!
  • Most people paid by cash (and even had the right change) but I would have lost a couple of sales if I didn’t have a card reader.
  • A friend told me she sells a lot of greeting cards at these events – that was a good tip, I had some professionally printed and it offered visitors the opportunity to support my work even if they did not have a lot of money to spare.

What will I do differently next time?

  • I will bake some of my world famous chocolate brownies as little treats for my guests (if that isn’t incentive to get on a plane to visit me, I don’t know what is! 🙂 ).
  • Be patient, most of my sales came in the last 2 days of the event.
  • If I wasn’t running the event from my home, I would not open on a Wednesday, the footfall on Wednesdays was very low.
  • I will allow longer for the teaching sessions, it always takes longer than you expect doesn’t it?

I hope I have inspired you to take the plunge and participate in your local open studio event, I have met so many wonderful people, from other artists participating in the event, to new and potential clients and some potential teaching opportunities.

I had better get on with moving the bed back into the bedroom, Mr TB is already eyeing the room suspiciously, thinking I have commandeered yet another “wool room”, what he doesn’t realise is that I have felting / textile paraphernalia stashed in EVERY room, but we will keep that to ourselves 😉

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