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….

Adventurous Drawing and Colour with Mark Cazalet

I feel blessed to have spent the bank holiday weekend drawing in the beautiful landscapes around West Dean in  glorious sunshine. Mark Cazalet was an excellent tutor, I signed up for this course hoping to come away using colour in a more considered way and he did not disappoint. He set us a number of exercises over the 3 days including using cool colours on warm grounds (papers) and vice versa, exploring the effects of black versus cream grounds and seeing the colours around us in a much less literal way.

The first drawing was made in the gardens, Mark suggested I redraw it from my original drawing without looking at the source.

 

It is interesting how the colours are so much more vibrant…

 

This one was a 10 minute sketch, playing with different colours to give and impression of depth, light and shade:

 

This drawing was exploring the combination of warm and cool colours together on a neutral ground:

 

I had 10 minutes before we were expected to pack up and return to the studio so I did this one just for fun:

We were asked to create some sketches of abstract forms  from what we saw in the gardens, from those I repeated the same design several times on different coloured grounds, it is curious how the colour of the paper has such a an impact on the feel and tone of the drawing.

 

 

These last two drawings are my least favourite but it was an interesting exercise, the first was warm colours on a cool ground:

And cool colours on a warm ground:

 

Now it is back to work for me! Enrolment for the new online felted bag class closes on the 22nd and the class starts in earnest on the 25th, I am still doing the final edits on the tutorials while trying to prepare for the Surrey Open Studios event beginning on June 2nd it is going to be a busy few weeks but both are projects I am really excited to be taking part in, if you would like to join in the fun please follow these links:

Felted bags online class: link

Surrey Open Studios: link

 

Design Trust Workshop

This post is not directly textile related but I hope it will be useful for anyone wanting to market and sell their hand-made work.

Last week I attended a workshop with Patricia van den Akker from the Design Trust. The main focus was on marketing and was a godsend for me, I have read all the articles and often thought, “yes, makes sense, I should do that” but never actually did it! I am a terrible procrastinator and really need someone standing over me to make sure I do the difficult / less fun stuff like writing a business plan (not as boring as it sounds), working out what my brand is and who my customers are.

While I can’t cover the whole workshop in one blog post I hope you will find the following highlights a useful place to start… As Patricia said at the start of her workshop, “this is a workshop, and you will be doing the work!” 🙂

Have you got pen and paper ready? Try to answer each question before you move onto the next. Let’s get started….

What is your business dream?

What does success look like for you? Holidays in the sun every year, time to spend with your children/family, earning a specific salary, winning a design award, having a team of employees etc.

Think about why you chose your craft. Who are your role models? Why do you look up to them, what have they achieved?

What do you want to be known for? What would you like to be said in your eulogy? What is most important to you?

Marketing

This is communicating the value of your product for the purpose of selling. Try not to think of it as advertising, more as a conversation with potential customers and clients.

Marketing has 3 inter-related purposes:

  • increase your profile
  • increase your credibility (trust)
  • brings you clients

Why do you do what you do? Is it just art therapy for you or do you have a wider philosophy you want to share with the world?

Effective marketing requires that you understand your client’s needs when designing your products, what problem are you solving / need are you satisfying for them? What makes you different from your competition?

Who is your ideal client? There may be several different people and it can help to write a profile for each, think about:

  • their age
  • gender
  • who lives with them
  • do they work?
  • hobbies and interests
  • where do they go on holiday?
  • why do they buy your product?

Brand Identity

Have you ever looked at a piece of work and though, “that was made by so-n-so”? Or described something as being “very Warhol”, you have unwittingly absorbed brand identities. If you want your work to be recognisable it helps to think about what make your work look or feel different to other crafts(wo)men in your field. Take a look at the photos in your online shop or create a gallery of your work and try to come up with 5 words to describe your collection. It helps to ask friends an family for their input on this, if you are selling face to face you could even ask your customers which words they would pick.

You might end up with a description like, “Bright, flowery and floaty scarves” or, “calming and expansive textile landscapes”, this is your brand identity.

Try to be consistent with the brand image you present, use the same image and text on website banners, business cards, stationery. Is your website banner / business card image and text consistent the 5 words you came up with from looking at your gallery?

Make a Plan!

What business (and personal) goals do your want to achieve this year? Try to be specific, if it is a salary – how much and by when? What sales would you need to make to take that salary? If it is a holiday, where? how long for? when? If it is to make sales, how many and by when?

Then break your goal down into monthly targets, what needs to happen each month to achieve your goal by the date you set?

Review your targets/goals at least once a month and look for alternative courses of action if you are not on target.

If you have an Etsy shop, read the Etsy Handbook, Patricia recommended 2 hours of reading and 2 hours of action per week, personally I am finding I need to take action as I read each suggestion, and I am spending 2 min reading then 2 hours updating my listings!

Patricia also offered a reality check about how much time we should expect to spend on making vs marketing. As a new designer-maker you should expect your time to be spent:

40% on marketing

40% on making

10% research and professional development

10% admin

Design Trust

There is a ton of really useful information on the Design Trust web site (start in the “free resources” section), I can thoroughly recommend it, but be prepared to stop and answer each question posed, taking notes as you go, before moving onto the next paragraph, you will get much more out of the site if you really engage with it and stop to think about what each question means for you and your business.

These are just my highlights from the workshop, if you get the chance to work with Patricia, take it, she manages to make marketing fun and the face to face interaction makes it less easy to gloss over the harder the questions and only focus on what you are already good at!

Do you have any tips on marketing or selling your work?

 

I feel very conscious that this post is all words and no pictures so here is the finished “Michael” wall hanging, finally framed and ready for sale this week 🙂

Life Felting

Apologies to anyone who also follows the Felting and Fiber Studio blog, this was a guest post written for their blog but I thought I would share it here too for anyone who doesn’t follow both blogs.

A year ago, I signed up for a life drawing class, not really sure what to expect but I knew I needed to expand my portfolio if I wanted to study art and design / textile design further.

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I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed it, Tuesday evenings soon became the highlight of my week. Like everyone else, I was working with charcoal and pastels but a turning point came when I met a lady at an untutored life drawing session who was making collages of the model with acrylic “felt”. I cringe to call it felt, the fuzzy plastic she was cutting up bears very little resemblance to the woolly gorgeousness that we all know and love ?

The following week I turned up with a sheet of commercial needle-punch prefelt as a base and large  bag of wool tops and fabrics for felting. Sarah was my first muse and I am still working on her, she is being treated to a lot of hand-stitching that is taking weeks to complete, this was her after felting and adding some stitch around her eyes:

sarah

And as she looks today, still lots more stitching planned, she is giving my hands something to do while sat in front of the TV in the evening:

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Chantelle and Omar were the models at the next session, this time I used some low-immersion dyed prefelts as the base and Chantelle was collaged from screen-printed prefelts I made during Ruth’s online class.

Chantelle is still at the prefelt stage and she needs a lot of work,

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but Omar’s hands are progressing nicely,

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I think the background needs work though, what do you see  when you look at the dyed background?

 

This is a line drawing on a printed photo that could be one option…

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And finally, I tried a new technique with Terry, mixing rust dyed fabric with Kap Merino. Kap merino is a very short fibre wool that is lovely to “paint” with but unfortunately it isn’t that easy to source, I bought mine from Woolknoll in Germany.

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Kap merino with cm measure

Terry is still at the very soft prefelt stage but I am happy with today’s progress and I hope to take the sander to him later this week. This is what he looked like first thing this morning…

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And after another 5 hours work on him today… I can still see areas that need fixing, it is funny how you see things looking at a photograph that you don’t see when looking at the felt ?

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Are you interested in finding a life-drawing group near you? Most further education colleges with an art department offer evening classes, these are usually quite structured and they are great way to get a grounding in traditional methods of drawing the human figure but they might not be so keen on you turning up with a large bag of wool instead of charcoal ? Alternatively, most towns have informal life drawing groups, where someone organises for a model to sit each week or month and you pay per session or series of sessions. I found Meet Up to be a great source for finding these groups (and other art and craft groups). They are typically untutored so they are much more amenable to weirdos like me turning up with armfuls of fluff and a bottle of soapy water! ?  Do check how long each pose will last before turning up with your wool though, I would find it tough to work with anything less than hour. Be prepared for lots of questions about what you are doing, I think most of the Guildford group are genuinely fascinated by what I am doing and the models say they enjoy watching me work too (they normally just have the back of easels to look at).

And finally, a shameless plug ? Registration for the very popular concertina hat class, the one with the cute snail hat tutorial, will open tomorrow please follow this link for more information and fill out the contact form at the bottom of the page if you would like to join us. Alternatively, you might like to admire the wonderful creations from previous students here.

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Christmas is a comin’

Today was a very good day, it was my first Christmas fayre of the year and it was at a company where I worked for more than 10 years, I sold a few prints but the best part was catching up with everyone, most of whom I haven’t seen since this time last year. The lady who organises this event said they are planning a much smaller scale event next year but I hope I can persuade her to repeat a similar event next year, or make it even bigger and better, I just need to network with a few more sellers who might be interested. If you are in the Surrey / Berkshire border area and would like a table next year please drop me a line via the contact form at the top of this page.

It is funny how the stuffed kitten was the only thing on the table not for sale but it was the one thing everyone made a bee-line for, I could have sold him a dozen times over! 🙂

 

It was quite a luxury to have 2 x 6 ft tables today, I could really spread out…

This week I made a start on 2 new felting hangings during my life drawing group, they both need more work, some embroidery for the hands and a mixture of needle felting and embroidery for “Chantelle”. I am liking the random dyed backgrounds, I will be making more of those…

Chantelle

Happy Thanksgiving to all my US friends, I hope you are having a lovely day with your family and friends.

 

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