Category Archives: Art Technique

Fabric Sculpture.

Having grown up in the woods of Connecticut, bird stories in my family abound.  There was once a woodpecker that confused my grandparent’s aluminum siding with wood, and hammered away at it (loudly) every morning at dawn for weeks.  There was a saw whet owl that, one winter, perched in an evergreen outside my mother’s bathroom window, hooting for his mate.  We all hoped he’d return.  And my grandmother, lover of hummingbirds, did everything in her power to lull them into her yard.  She planted gladiolas and electric begonias.  She filled red feeders with nectar.  She carved out small spaces for them to hover and drink.

Glassenberg, Abigail Patner.The Artful Bird cover
The Artful Bird:
Feathered Friends to Make and Sew.
Illustrated. 159pp. Interweave Press, 2010, $24.99.
ISBN: 1596682388
ISBN 13: 978-1596682382
745.592-G464a

For years I’ve been meaning to try fabric sculpture, so I was thrilled to see that The Artful Bird featured a perched woodpecker, and an expressive owl.  I was hoping to find a hummingbird pattern as well, but as I fast discovered, sewing tiny pieces of fabric together isn’t easy, and sewing a hummingbird would require magnifying glasses and immeasurable patience.

Abby’s book covers the depth of materials, tools, and instructions needed to create the birds in her book, as well as any bird pattern that you wish to create yourself.  There are 40 bird projects and patterns, plus a gallery of guest artists, a stitch guide, and a resources section for finding specialty tools, stuffing, tapes, and wire.

Even though I have a queue of bird project possibilities, I spotted Abby’s penguin pattern and knew that it would be my first art bird.  I appreciate starting with the penguin for two main reasons: 1). The color palette was simple.  2). I know someone who loves and collects penguins, and I pour everything into a project when I know it has a recipient.  I went to my local crafter’s reuse facility, SCRAP, and dug around for black, white, grey, and yellow fabric.  For this project, I enjoy relying on the spontaneity of what might be found at SCRAP instead of purchasing new materials.

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one of two aisles of fabric at SCRAP.

The pattern pieces for all the birds in the book aren’t large, so many small scraps will do, and—bonus—you needn’t worry about fabric grain because Abby promises that grain variety only adds to the individuality and character of each bird.

I washed and pressed all my chosen fabrics.  I traced the photocopy pattern onto freezer paper with a sheet of blue carbon paper in between; this wasn’t the best idea since the carbon tends to smudge a bit, and rubbed off onto the white fabric I had found.  I had a small hiccup when I realized one part of the bird needed to be enlarged–my own oversight.  I used Photoshop to enlarge to the proper proportion, and re-cut my piece.  This wasn’t difficult, but it would have been easier while I was standing at a copy machine.

Cutting, pinning, and sewing the body was straightforward, and I followed Abby’s directions throughout.  I referred back to the Basic Birdmaking Techniques, especially with the neck, where I struggled to get my seams smooth.

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I thought I had selected thick white fabric for the penguin’s belly, but the inside edges are somewhat visible once the bird was fully stuffed.  Speaking of stuffing, next time I will certainly source Abby’s recommended wool stuffing.  I used the polyfill that you can find nearly everywhere, but it is slippery, hard to pack in, and its micro-threads popped through the fabric of the bird.  I have gone over it several times with a lint roller, and a pill remover with only passable results.  It’s also really easy to puncture through your stitches when stuffing the bird. I reinforced a couple spots along the way, and I did have to close a gap at the top of the head to smooth out a buckle.

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The feet were my big challenge.  In my stubborn, use-what-I-have mentality, I made the whole bending-of-feet part very difficult on myself.  Abby’s instructions are clear, easy to follow, and make sense.  She recommends 16-gauge brass wire.  Well, I had 22-gauge silver wire, which was too light weight, and I had 12-gauge wire that is made for rewiring your “wireless” cable system, or something.  What can I say?  It was in the garage, and it was GO TIME for penguin feet!  Lesson learned.  Bending 12-gauge insulated wire with petite jewelry-making tools is like mixing chocolate chip cookie dough with a fork—doable, but irritating.  As a result, my bird has out of proportion ankles.  But nonetheless, they work!  The armature of the feet is genius: the feet are essentially a giant bobby-pin and the bend extends up into the bird’s neck area.  This design allows for great balance of the bird, and I suspect if I’d used Abby’s recommended stuffing, the bird would perch even more easily, due to solidly packed wool stuffing and the overall weight of the wool.

The only real divergence I made in this penguin was a bit of fun fabric on the inside of the wings.  I’ve had this Route 66 road sign fabric for a while, and it wasn’t until I cut it out that I spied the “I Love Lucy” ® heart that was scattered into the pattern. (“Lucy’s Hollywood at Last” by Quilting Treasures).  This penguin is headed to a new home soon, where she’ll be greeted by a host of smaller penguins that protect a stretch of woodwork in our Auntie’s home.  I’ve been promised that all penguins are welcome in Sacramento, and I’ll get to visit Lucy on occasion.

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I think The Artful Bird is for an intermediate sewist who has experience with following patterns, a sewist who has patience for smaller pieces, a bird lover who can commit to a detailed craft, or anyone who wants the tools to craft their own favorite bird.  Trying one of Abby’s patterns will dramatically increase your confidence in making a fabric sculpture of any kind, especially one that requires an armature for support.  All that said, Abby’s chapter on Birdmaking Techniques is really superb, and will surely guide an intrepid beginning sewist through to bird completion.

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Abby writes regularly at whileshenaps.com.  Every Wednesday she releases a podcast about crafting, sewing, and the business of a creative life.  My favorite is her chat with Ann Wood, who makes sculptural fabric owls and ships and other woodland curiosities.   Abby is very transparent about her craft business, which is refreshing and unbelievably helpful in these competitive waters.  And she is honest about the joy and pain of writing, creating, and publishing a book.

Thank you, Abby Glassenberg, for sharing the tools to help me create my own artful aviary, to encourage ignorance of fabric grain, and to be so willing to discuss the business of crafting in a intelligent, exciting, and transparent way.

 

PS: It’s midsummer, and I’m going to press pause on artcraftnarrative.com until my kids are back in school.  Please come back in August for my report from ALA Las Vegas (upcoming craft & creativity books!), more craft projects (grey denim owls!), and book reviews.

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Exploring Image Transfers.

One of my creative goals for 2014 is to take more art classes, and explore new mediums. I spotted a class at the San Francisco Center for the Book which featured image transfer techniques taught by Courtney Cerruti. I peeked through Courtney’s Instagram feed, and knew that aesthetically, the class would be a great fit for me. I have attempted image transfers before (mostly by heat transfer), but I appreciate having a whole day to just play—and thankfully, Courtney encourages that kind of exploration in both her class and her book. So imagine my dismay when I enrolled in the class, ordered the book, and….the book didn’t arrive in time.  In class, I joked with Courtney that she should sign a scrap of paper, and I’d image transfer it into the book.  When I arrived home after class, the book was waiting. Silver lining: Courtney and I are both local, so I’m hoping to meet up with her again, share a pot of tea, and chat about art, craft, and old books.

Cerruti, Courtney.cerruti image transfers
Playing with Image Transfers:
Exploring Creative Imagery for Use in Art, Mixed Media, and Design.
Illustrated. 144pp. Quarry Books, 2013, $24.99.
ISBN: 1592538568
ISBN 13: 9781592538560
746.62 C336p

I have had the benefit of seeing Courtney demonstrate the techniques from her book, and I’ve had a day of studio time to play alongside her and a group of likewise intrepid image transferring gals. I think the class has given me a little more confidence than if I’d just cracked open the book. But truly, the trickiest part is finding and copying all the images you will want to use in all your art journals, collages, handmade cards, and art projects. I have spent the weeks between the class and this review building a file of images to photocopy. Last week, I took two burgeoning files and a stack of old books and Dover catalogues to my local copy shop, settled in and copied—for two hours. I made black and white copies. I made mirror image copies. I made color copies. And I happily trotted home with 75 pages of imagery to transfer.

In Playing with Image Transfers, Courtney covers five main methods to transfer images: 1) packing tape transfer, 2) blender pen transfer, 3) acetone transfer, 4) gel skin medium transfer, and 5) acrylic paint transfer. Each method features a full page of instruction including what kind of image or photocopy you’ll need, and whether the image will be reversed in the process. Also, Courtney includes a few tips for success. There are many techniques for this beguiling medium, but as Courtney states in her introduction: “I’ve experimented, tried, and tested every method and process out there. After many failures and many discoveries, I’ve settled into a set of methods that work both beautifully and consistently.”

At home, with my stack of copies and Courtney’s book, I started small. I made some quick blender pen transfers of birds and butterflies on a few mat-finished cards from Studio Calico for my Project Life® album (this is my week by week family journal with photos and stories). Blender pens are xylene or xylol with a felt-tip applicator. The tip makes it easy to apply to small, detailed images. The Chartpak Blender pen is nontoxic, but really pungent (you will not want to use this pen in an enclosed space or near unsuspecting companions). This pen works best with straight black and white toner photo copies. The results are similar to rubber stamping with black ink, except that the image options are limitless. If your image shifts a bit during the process, it can cause some haloing, which only adds to the charm. This is a very easy process, and can add to your art journaling, collages, and any other variety of paper projects.

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I attempted a couple acetone transfers on those same Studio Calico cards, but the results were spotty. I think the images didn’t have enough contrast, and the stock absorbed too much of the acetone. Then I tried the Blender Pen with the color prints. I recall Courtney saying that it may not work, but she also advises that all copiers are different, and to keep playing. Happily, the Blender Pen worked!

Packing tape transfers are the easiest transfer technique, but I sometimes don’t want the high sheen of packing tape, and I feel limited by the 2 inch wide roll. It does make for a cool project though, and can be done with kids. Just adhere the tape carefully to a magazine page or photocopy, burnish it, then soak the paper pulp off. The toner sticks to the adhesive, and yields a highly transparent tape. I used packing tape transfers in some of the collages I made a few weeks ago.  Here are the latest batch drying on a window with the smooth side against the glass.  I keep them on sheets of waxed paper, as recommended by Courtney.

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Courtney includes 19 project ideas to take you from playing with image transfers to actually making something from them. Collaged postcards with packing tape transfers. A jumpstart for sketching. Wearables, pennants, and stationery. Plus a host of mixed media project ideas.

Fauxlaroids. Brilliant name, eh? This project features packing tape transfers onto Polaroid-sized paper that will take you straight back to 1986. This project inspired me to order a 6 inch wide roll of packing tape. Then I thought it could also be scaled to fit Project Life 3X4 pockets, and take on the appearance of an Instax print. I think the high gloss of the packing tape translates well with this project.

Photo Sur Bois.  This project features my favorite transfer method–the Gel Skin Medium Transfer on wood. I had success with this method in Courtney’s class. At home, I had a couple small wooden plaques. I learned from the class that the hardest part about transferring on wood is waiting for it to dry. So I painted on the gel medium, and carefully smoothed an image (image side down) onto the gel medium, then allowed it to dry overnight. Once wet, the paper rolled away, revealing some marbling on vintage paper that I made a few years ago. Then I layered on some other elements.  Outcome: the transfer over transfer wasn’t a complete success.  Too much text in both images.  Next time, I want to try to cover the wood with vintage fabric, and transfer an image onto it. Or perhaps photocopy the fabric and use that as a background.  Or paint the wood, and use the acrylic paint transfer method.  Likely,  there will be more of this image-play to come since I have a stack of veneer varietals.

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Above left image of portrait & chair, and donut with hands are courtesy of Courtney Cerruti.

Mixed-Media Wall Hanging.  Another method that I want to spend more time exploring is transferring onto fabric.  Courtney’s piece features an assemblage of fabric with a photo of her grandmother framed by stitching, fabric scraps, and buttons. It hangs from drift wood and heavy red thread. An homage, and utterly tactile. This piece inspires me to make.

Modern Magnets.  I’ve gathered the materials for this project, and plan to spend an afternoon making a batch of artisan magnets with my boys.  They each have magnetic boards, and a set of animal-themed magnets is required.  In my copying expedition, I included their favorite animals, and other vintage curiosities.

Typewriter Tape Transfer.  Courtney recommends typing on tape. I was surprised to see how well my old Smith Corona typed onto the washi tape.  No smudging.  And what you can’t see is how deeply etched the letters are. This would work for any type of papery tape like masking tape, washi tape, or artist’s tape. It strikes me as the reverse of a Dymo labeler.

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This book is for the artist or crafter who wants a little image transfer guidance and inspiration.  You do not need to have any previous experience, though an art journal to play in would be helpful.  Courtney’s methods are solidly illustrated, and the materials are easy to find.  Courtney also includes a number of templates for completing the projects, and a resources guide for finding all the materials needed for sourcing and transferring images. The mat-finished pages of this book feature cleanly-designed layouts, and artfully illustrative photography.  I would be remiss to omit mention of the extensive contributor’s section. Each of a wide stylistic range of pieces is visually inspiring, and notes the specific transfer method used.

You can find a window to Courtney’s visual world on Instagram, or at her website, and blog–which features a video peek at Courtney’s process. She works and teaches at Creative Bug, and SF Center for the Book. She also has a new book about the many delightful uses of washi tape.

Thank you, Courtney Cerruti, for creating a tried and true book of methods that have me contemplating the purchase of a giant, grinding copy machine, researching 6-inch wide packing tape, and making great use of all the scrap wood veneer that I’ve been stockpiling.

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Gelatin Printing: in practice & play.

In Vanessa Mooncie’s The Print Making Book, she fashioned a set of placemats from gelatin-printed cork floor tiles.  Since this was my first time gelatin printing, I had no expectations for a finished project; I just wanted to try it.  I adore the unexpected discoveries that happen when I try a new-to-me technique.  I made a cookie sheet full of gelatin (according to Vanessa’s recipe), skimmed a slice of paper across the surface to remove bubbles, and let it congeal on the countertop.  I covered it with plastic wrap and placed it in the refrigerator overnight.  Before printing, I allowed the gelatin to come up to room temperature.  I don’t know if it would affect the viscosity of the paint, but it seemed easier than chancing it.  The plastic wrap left the surface with scattered rippling which may irritate some people, but I didn’t mind, and I found that once the paint was layered on, the ripples weren’t noticeable.  At first, I tried to use the screen printing ink from my Gocco printer, since I have a lot of it.  I tried to work it over a paper palette, but found that the ink didn’t move well enough to cover the 12X17 cookie sheet, and that mixing the paints on the paper palette resulted in a very homogenous color instead of the splotchy, mottled mess for which I was aiming.  So I shifted to acrylics.  I applied them directly to the surface of the gelatin, and used the brayer to both flatten and gently bleed edges. For this initial foray into gelatin printing, I used paint leftover from school and craft projects, even some mysterious paint from Daiso.  I added in some better quality once I got a handle on the actual process.

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I had a stack of papers at the ready: plain white drawing paper, ledger paper, nautical charts, and a hodge podge of envelopes, tags, and book pages.  My tool kit for mark-making includes a scrap of bubble wrap, empty tape cardboards, old tatting, and vinyl placemats with lacey edging. I have two hand-heId tools: one for making the divots in cracker dough, and one for shredding pasta dough into fettuccine.  I also had the negative from a set of magnets, and I think this piece yielded the best geometric results.

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I found that the first print off the freshly inked surface made for a very opaque print, obscuring whatever the paper or ledger had on it.  The second, or ghost print, was a better use of the printed papers.  And some paints picked up more thoroughly than others.  When there was residue on the gelatin, I sometimes used an envelope or tags to pick up the ink/paint.  Or I used a sheet of plain white paper, and repeatedly lifted all excess paint from the tray.

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Once dry, the variety of paints allowed for a range in sheens—from flat craft paint to smooth, glossy acrylic.  In all, I have forty sheets of gelatin-printed paper, and a handful of interesting tags and envelopes.  Next time—which is soon since the tray is occupying a shelf in our refrigerator—I want to experiment with either tube watercolors or gouache, or watering down the acrylics to allow for more transparency.  I also want to try using different shapes and silhouettes in the mark-making.  I plan to work these into a variety of projects: map-making, mail art, art journaling, gift wrapping, and collage.

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