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….

Bearberry Bark

I was wasting a very happy half hour surfing images on pinterest when I cam across this image of madrone AKA bearberry bark, the colours were so vivid and beautiful I just had to interpret it into a piece of felt!

found on http://www.npr.org/sections/pictureshow/

This is it laid out after the first few hundred rolls:

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And blocking after removing the resists and sealing the cut edges:

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And finally, mounted on some stretcher bars:

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I just love the zingy-ness of the lime green next to the berry reds and purples. This definitely an energetic piece of wall art!

While waiting for the stretcher bars for the Bearberry Bark haning, I have also been working on some journal covers, adding some needle-felting to the screen-printed gecko cover from a couple of weeks ago and some new nuno felted covers from recycled sari fabrics. The gecko cover looks a little wonky because there isn’t a book inside it yet to stretch it out to a rectangular shape.

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Happy Holidays!

Although I haven’t been able to blog much recently I have been working! Below are a selection of pieces I have been working on over the last few weeks…

These are a few brooches / pins inspired by a session with the Region 2 IFA ladies, they are just so much fun to make and one of the few things I can make relaxing in front of the TV 🙂
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I finally finished the icicles / snowy night wall hanging that I started nearly a year ago! This is a fairly large piece, measuring approx 3ft x 2 ft.

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I finished (and photographed) a new pair of gloves. I don’t know about you but I seem to be waiting for days if not weeks for enough daylight to take photos this month. Roll on spring!

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The fishy reef nuno felt made a reappearance from the UFO box too, this is how it looked a few months ago.

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Just adding some darker blue tones where the reef meets the water made a world of difference to the sense of perspective.

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Then I got a bit paint happy…

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It still needs some work, but it’s making progress, I foresee a trip to the sewing machine to add some tiny fish in the distance….

Some dyeing, the red and orange wool is corriedale that I expect will become a bag. The blues are merino which I have carded into batts and plan to use with the blue variegated blue silk pictured below.

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My technique for variegated dyeing is totally random, I just scrunch up handfuls of fabric and stuff it into a bag, hence I was surprised to see a distinct pattern on this piece of silk:

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I’m hoping to make a dress from the blue materials and combine it with some screen printing techniques from Ruth’s online class in January (click here for more information). If I can get the idea in my head to work, I plan to submit this dress to the Spinners Weavers and Dyers National Exhibition next year (no pressure Ruth! 😉 )

Whatever your faith or denomination I hope you have a wonderful break, filled with fun activities and surrounded by the people you love.

Finito!

It’s been a busy week but my challenge piece is finally finished! 🙂

Since my last post I added some embroidery to sharpen up the edges of the orange prefelts. First I had to choose some threads, I’m a big fan of the Gutterman Sulky threads for machine embroidery, they are reliably strong and have a lovely sheen that looks wonderful next to felt.

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I started with the orange stripes in the top left quadrant.

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I’m really pleased with the colour blending of the threads and the beautiful 3D effect you get from this style of stitching on felt.

Of course, it’s impossible to stop at one small area when you start with free motion embroidery….
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  When I went to bed it looked like this:

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When I woke up this morning I looked at it again and took it back to the sewing machine – spot the differences….

I have been planning to hang this piece on stretcher bars from the start. Most of my felt hangings are sturdy enough to stretch directly over the frame but this one is a bit finer, it might be alright but I don’t think it is worth risking it stretching and sagging in the middle so I hand stitched some poplin cotton to the back for extra support.

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Before stretching it over the bars ready for hanging:
IMG_4770Finally some close ups from the finished hanging:
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Some more dress-making, a sun hat and some fishes

Following on from Tatiana’s workshop, I have been making more nuno felt yardage for dress making. This is a top made using the same basic pattern from the orange shibori jacket.

I started this sun hat in January, using some hand dyed merino, the variegated roving yields a lovely mottled colour when felted, I also felted in a piece of hand dyed silk for decoration and texture

Today, I started working on a new wall hanging of fish on a reef. I am using some hand dyed pongee 5 silk and hope that the ripples and sheen will give the impression of water.

The weather was lovely, so after making the nuno felt I moved outside to “work” in the sunshine.

I have just ordered some longer stretcher bars and hope to share the final hanging next week.

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