Saturday, October 5, 2013

Workshop at PRO Chemical & Dye

I had a really amazing teaching experience a few weeks ago at PRO Chemical & Dye. This is the company that makes my favorite paints for wholecloth painting, PROfab Transparent Textile Paints. I was invited to teach here by Vicki Jensen, who picked me up at the airport and immediately took me to beautiful Horse Neck Beach and then for a tasty seafood meal. An auspicious beginning!

PRO Chem has its manufacturing and distribution center in this cool old building in Fall River, Massachusetts. I flew in through the Providence, Rhode Island, airport. From there, it is a short drive to Fall River.

The company has a spacious classroom, and offers great fiber arts workshops throughout the year. For next year's classes, check out the schedule here. Vicki has asked me to submit a proposal for 2015, so I hope to be teaching here again then.Vicki is a fiber artist herself, and teaches some great classes at PRO Chem, too.

We started out the first day by working from one of my photos of botanical subjects. This gives students the opportunity to learn color theory basics, and how to mix colors, shades and tints, and understand my basic process and techniques. Here is Cheri, working on a croton leaf, but improvising the color scheme:

On the second and third days of the workshop, students created original work. I really love it when I can teach a multiple-day class, because it takes a day for students to learn the basics and be ready to push themselves a bit further into the slightly uncomfortable zone of doing original work. 

The students at this workshop really accomplished great things. Some were confident, and some were anxious. Some had previous painting experience, and others did not. It is always interesting to me, as a teacher, to see how much our “issues” – our fears and insecurities and anxieties — play a role in creativity. I really believe that if you can learn to put these things aside and allow yourself to learn and play and – in the words of Nike –  just do it, you will be amazed at what you can do. When I can convince students of this, truly beautiful things start to happen. Let me show you what I mean. 

Donna came with several wonderful photos of a seagull that had been taken by her father. She had large, clear photographic prints, and we spent some time choosing the best shot, talking about the colors she wanted for the sea, and determining how to crop the photo for the most impact.

After tracing her image onto PRO Chem’s bleached mercerized cotton broadcloth – a fabric with a high thread count that is wonderfully smooth for painting — Donna started working on the parts of the gull she found least intimidating.

I painted a bit of the feathers while Donna watched, so she wouldn’t be afraid to take them on. And then she was off and soaring!

Her piece is going to have a lot of negative space to the right of the gull; here is a section of it painted and ready for stitching. I think it is going to be stunning.

Emily was working from a photo of a red-eyed tree frog. She only needed a little bit of guidance from me, because she is a trained artist. She combined the Transparent Textile Paints with some of PRO Chemical & Dye’s Pearlescent Paints, which have a lot of shimmer to them, and are great for portraying light or sheen on an object. 

Here are the Pearlescent paints on black fabric – spectacular!

Marcia finished two original pieces, partly because she chose two photos where the sky and water were dominant, and she could paint in large swashes for them. 

First she did a small piece of two trees on a beach in South Carolina, where the beach is slowly eroding. I think she did an especially nice job on the shadows of the tree on the sand. 

Next, she worked from a photo of swans. She had done some work in a photo-editing program to make a more dynamic composition before she enlarged the photo.

Here is the piece as she is adding in the grass on the left side. I think she did a nice job creating depth by paying attention to the color variations and values in the water. And again, her shadows are very nicely done.

Cheri had a nice shot of a poppy, but the colors were more subdued than she wanted. She was able to use more saturated colors by paying close attention to the values in the photo. I encouraged her to make the pollen a different color (yellow) so that it would stand out and make the composition more interesting.

Ooooooh, lovely!

Paula experienced something that a lot of my students do when they are about half way done: she was frustrated and afraid that it didn't look right. And she was right. It doesn't look right until it looks right! It doesn’t look right when it is halfway done, just the way a cake doesn’t look right – or edible – when it is halfway cooked. You have to have the patience, the faith, and the perseverance to keep on keeping on. Don’t throw in the towel at this point. You have to block in the main color areas before you can get the details right. And it is the details that are so critical to making it look realistic.

This is something that I have experienced over and over. Now I know that when I hit that point, it is okay, and that soon, it will look the way it is supposed to look.

By the time we were ready to take photos near the end of the last day, Paula was feeling relieved and happier with her giraffe, because it was starting to really look like a giraffe. Here, she makes a giraffe face while posing with her piece!

Susan worked very quietly and methodically on her pinecone. It was tricky because it had fairly similar colors, and so much depended on getting the values right.

To make her piece a little livelier than the muted photo, she chose some chartreuse and aqua colors to add on some of the needles, and a robin’s egg blue for the background.

The colors in Hope’s photo were amazing. Even more incredible: she took this photo with the camera on her phone, and somehow, it turned most of the leaves gorgeous shades of blue and purple! She rearranged some of the flowers to make the composition more interesting and move the eye through the piece. The color combination made me swoon!

The biggest challenge in Ann’s piece was the intricacy of all the leaves on the trees in her photo. She decided to work fairly small, about 8x10", and painted in the sky first.

It was a tedious slog for a while, but it is going to be spectacular when it is done. 

Here’s Ann with the hibiscus she painted (based on my photo), and her original work (the trees) well underway:


Pam has done  a good deal of watercolor, and it shows in her attention to detail, and the way she blends her colors. Just beautiful!

Each student started off with the 12-pack Painters Palette of transparent paints. If you are thinking about trying wholecloth painting, this kit is the perfect place to start. 

Many thanks to all the folks at PRO Chem, and to these wonderful students for a great three days!