Posts tagged Colour Families
As messy as it gets!

I recently posted that I can't created in chaos. And that messy in my studio is when there are snippets of thread and fabric on the floor. Well I got really, really messy (for me) over the long weekend we have just enjoyed in the UK. I also got sore feet from standing for hours. And my rotary cutter needed a long lie down in a dark room afterwards. But look what I got in return - trays of cut 'bricks' and bondaweb backed 'brickettes' ready to build backgrounds in my Ruins and my View series.

I love printing and it is so tempting to just keep on printing, especially on sunny days when breakdown screens dry quickly. But it is only by cutting up the fabrics that I can see if I have the right balance of colour and pattern. I can see that I have enough fabric to start making backgrounds. I use the bricks to piece backgrounds for my large quilts and I use the brickettes to fuse backgrounds for smaller works. But I can also see that I will need more of the darker fabrics in both series to complete the work I am planning for the rest of this year. Which means more printing. Happy days!

Sampling and getting there in the end!

I started sampling ideas for my new series using a selection of dyed fabrics pulled from my stash. Early outcomes did not exactly grab me so I also tried using stencils to take colour out (discharge) and to add colour. Interesting but still not right. I added back colour. And got rather depressed until I decided to change the scale and to add stitch. Bingo!

The sample above is definitely a step in the right direction. However looking at it I realised that the colours of the appliqued strips were not really 'me'. Being dyed fabric, they lacked the texture I usually work with. Pieces from this new series will be shown alongside pieces from my Ruins series in the exhibition I am doing with Helen Conway at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery in Autumn 2018. So I pulled out my colour diary and compared my little sample with the colour family used in Ruins. The background for the new series uses a colour family made from black and petrol green. In my Ruins series I use petrol green and a colour family made from rust and black. Doh ... it seems so obvious now!

Building blocks

Breakdown printed fabrics cut into hundreds of bricks ready to build new art None of us arrive where we are fully formed. When our first child was born my husband and I barely knew how to change a nappy. We learnt how to be parents 'on the job'. Didn't always get it right (sorry kids!) but we had no choice but to keep 'practicing', to keep learning.

My development as an artist has come from a mixture of intentional education and 'on the job' learning. Many years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn more about design and how to take the step from using commercial fabrics to using my own fabrics. So I took a City& Guilds Certificate at South Trafford College followed by a C&G Diploma with the lovely Linda Kemshall. I learnt a lot about design, and got to sample many different media and techniques. But my biggest 'take away' was that I'm not a sketchbook person and that fully designing a piece upfront is not for me.

Studying with Linda gave me the confidence to sign up for masterclasses mostly with Committed to Cloth (C2C). This was a significant investment in time and money over a period of a few years but worth every penny. Some classes were technique based but all included an element looking at how to develop ideas when working directly on cloth. The best class was Colour Families with Leslie Morgan at C2C - a simple idea that bears fruit every time.

But my deepest, most effective learning has been 'on the job'. My decision to stop taking classes, to spend 20 hours a week in my studio and to work in series was the best I've made. It has given me the time and the framework to take the techniques I learnt in class and make them my own. To develop my own style, to find my own voice.

I guess I may take another class at some stage but right now the art I am making is being built with my own bricks.

That wonderful tingly feeling

In my last post I talked about how creativity tends to creep up on me when I am immersed in process. I follow a set process when developing a new series ... I work on the colours first - pinning them on my design wall for assessment. Then I do the printing and pin pieces up until my design wall is covered. I discard fabric that doesn't 'fit' without thinking too hard about why. I then sample different types of construction. In my Hidden Message series this resulted in several pieces going in the bin before I was happy. With my Ruins series (and the series I am developing now) building a background made of bricks felt 'right'. Having stitched some small sample backgrounds I turn to my design wall again. I don't do sketchbooks - I do pinning things to a design wall until something 'clicks'.

Today I pinned up my two sample backgrounds. I rummaged through my boxes of dyed fabric and pinned up a selection of colours. I am not going to decide yet if the foreground will consist of dyed fabric or printed fabric or stitch yet. They are just up there. I added a couple of photos I took last summer of an old gasworks.

Then I used one of my favourite 'tools' - I cropped and enlarged small sections from the photo and pinned the results up. And I got that wonderful tingly feeling! I don't know what size the finished pieces will be or how I will apply the foreground but I do know what I'm going to be spending the next few months doing.

Failed beginnings

It is a good job that I have a Plan B as my experiments over the last week or so have failed to give me a 'WOW' moment. The results didn't even fall into the 'Ugly Duckling' category of pieces that might fit in with what I'm trying to achieve with some additional process. The experiment has been educational but not in any way that is connected with what I think I'm trying to achieve.

I started with 8 pieces of cotton each 'marked' with a different medium. It turns out that my water resistant acrylic ink didn't put up much of a fight and washed out when put in the soda bath to soak. The soda solution was a beautiful turquoise colour as I poured it down the drain. Luckily (sic) the colour washed out so sucessfully that I can reuse the piece of cloth. The remaining seven, soda soaked and dried pieces were pinned to the bench and a layer of colour added using an open silkscreen.

After batching them I washed and dried the pieces. The original marks were all clearly visible below the layer of colour. The lines I had made with dilute acrylic and with acrylic mixed with Golden Matt Medium looked a little faded and fuzzy but the rest appeared unchanged. I then stripped out the colour using two methods. One half of each piece of cloth was discharged using Formosol mixed with print paste and applied through a screen. The other half was discharged using the cheapest bleach I could find (40p for 2 litres - bargain!) and a fan brush.

The Formosol discharged to a fairly consistent colour irrespective of the original colour. The bleach gave a bit more variation and also some different colours. Neither method affected the original marks. Hmm ... I had been hoping for some really interesting chemistry to happen that maybe striped back or somehow changed the first layer of marks. Instead discharging added colours to the fabric pieces that created a palette that reminded me of street lights glowing in the dark. Which has got me thinking about something else ... maybe the beginning of something else? So the pieces will be hung on a small design wall to contemplate whilst I move on to Plan B!

Happy with the colours, now time to get printing

New 24 piece colour family After multiple attempts I am now happy with my new colour family. I am calling it 'traces' as I'm hoping to use it to create a new body of work based on iconic industrial buildings that no longer exist. I spent my childhood summers staying with my grandparents in a small village north of Nottingham. The area was criss-crossed with coal seams and every journey took us past pit heads. These buildings don't exist anymore but I bet most people my age who spent time in the north of England know exactly what I am thinking off.

I used magenta dye as one of the starting colours as an ironic reference to the way we tend to look at the past through 'rose tinted glasses'. Although many people mourned the loss of community when the coal industry declined I don't think anybody could remember working conditions in the pits or the polution in the surrounding areas through rose tinted glasses hence I have blended the magenta with black to the point where the colour just tips over from pink to purple. I particularly like the paler colours in the family.

Now that the colour family is fixed I've started work on creating the palette of fabrics. This could take several months as my ideas tend to evolve gradually as I work at the bench. However the way I used breakdown printing in my Still / Storm series gave results that were similar to what I have in mind for this new series. So this is where I'm starting.

Fragile lines created by breakdown printing


Pretty in Pink?

Using thickened dyes to create new colour families I've written about colour families before. I learnt about them on a wonderful class with Leslie Morgan. Essentially a colour family is created when you cross mix a dark, medium and light shade of two base colours. You can dye colour families or you can blend them using thickened dyes. My Hidden Message series used a dyed colour family because I wanted to create a collection of cloth with flat colours that I could then print on top of. The fabrics I used in my Ruins series were mostly breakdown printed using a colour family of thickened dyes.

The BIG IDEA that is rattling around my head will also feature breakdown printing so I have been making colour families using thickened dyes. I have already decided that one of my base colours will be a neutral black. And because I record everything I do I know how to make it with a mixture of black and dark brown. (The black dye I buy from Kemtex is actually a very, very dark blue so it needs the addition of brown to balance it).

But my idea for my second base colour was a little vague. So my first step was too blend different amounts of magenta with black and then to blend a 50/50 mix of that with my neutral black ... sounds a little confusing but I keep notes as I go. I then auditioned this 50/50 mix by diluting it with print paste to see what lighter shades would look like. I also decided to see how each of the colours would change if discharged with a thickened Formosol paste. As you can see my first attempts were very definitely still pink.

I liked the look of my fourth attempt (above, right) so then blended a full 15 piece colour family. I only needed very small amounts of each colour which is why I have a set of scales that measure to the gram! Again I discharged areas of each colour swatch.

And because my BIG IDEA is going to use very pale versions of the colour family I created an extended colour family by cross blending medium, light and very light shades of my neutral black with medium, light, very light and very very light shades of my second base colour. There are some wonderful greys here and this is definitely a very pretty colour family. But, having washed, dried, ironed, cut out swatches and put them into my sketchbook I still think it is too pink! Back to the bench Leah!

Back before the bench

I have a confession to make - I have let 'being kind to myself' because I started a new day job 5 weeks ago slide into procrastination. Now I don't mind 'value added' procrastination such as deep cleaning the studio before starting a new project. But I have been guilty of non-value added procrastination .... did I really, really need to finish watching all those Walking Dead boxed sets? Hmm - probably not! Mixing a new colour family

So how am I going to get back into a good studio habit? I'm going to do one of those things that I love most of all. I am going to develop new colour families. I have had a BIG IDEA brewing for a while and have decided that now is the time to start working on it. Inevitably (as with the colour family I mixed this week) I will waste quite a lot of dye and cloth before I get something that replicates the colours in my head. However I always keep good records of everything I mix so, in one sense, nothing is wasted. And yes I always uses scales to make sure my colour families are reproducible.

Colour family made with a 60/40 Dark Brown/Black blend and Rust. Each colour was also discharged using Formosol.

Hidden Message - Working in Series

Hidden Message 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 11 The new Etcetera exhibition opens at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery this Saturday and runs to 15th October. There is a preview between 7 and 9pm tomorrow (Friday 9th) if you are in the area and want to stop by.

I am showing these pieces from my Hidden Message series. There are four small tiles stretched over canvas and two quilts. Hidden Message was the first time that I intentionally decided to create a series of pieces from one source of inspiration. It has been an interesting learning curve - my starting point came from trips to Shanghai and the really bizarre cultural conflict between modern, urban China and it's one-party politics. My initial ideas involved bright colours, teapots, brand names and neon advertising signs. I made one piece, called No Time for Tea, which I loved but felt absolutely no desire to progress.

Instead I switched to a complex, muted colour family, broken fragments of skyscrapers and fabrics printed with words associated with censorship. I created two large pieces. Hidden Message 2 was originally 12 separate sections stitched onto a fabric background and Hidden Message 3 was originally 4 banners joined at the top. Both of these pieces were eventually cut into separate tiles, stretched over canvas and shown in the Etcetera exhibition at Ryedale Folk Museum earlier this year.

I kept working in this complex colourway eventually creating the Hidden Message Skyscrapers set of 8 panels. But I also decided to try out the fragmented structure and patterns in a restricted colour palette of shades of grey and red. The resulting pieces have always felt like odd-balls. They just don't 'work' if I put them alongside other pieces from the series. At one stage I was considering throwing them away but I'm glad I didn't. The exhibition in Stockport has given me the opportunity to hang them together and to assess them away from the other pieces in the series. They are their own little mini-series!