I consider myself an omnivart (I term I am pretty sure I coined), a person who likes to participate in nearly all art media. Some might call it art ADD, but it's not so much that different genres and techniques don't hold my attention, it's just that there are so many that I enjoy or would like to learn more about. I have a feeling many of you reading this know just what I mean.
My condition is helped (or worsened, depending on your point of view) by the fact that I work with a group of talented artists who are always creating something new with my favorite media: fabric, paint, paper, and fibers. Were you to peek in at one of our weekly show-and-tell sessions, you would typically see us passing around a range of projects with stitch, screen printing, collage, crochet, and knitting as components, among others.
Sometimes we all work on a project together and sometimes a small group works on a challenge, usually involving fabric art. These are my favorites, as I get to see how different artists coming from different points of view make unique projects using the same basic ingredients.
A few months ago, Jane Davila, a contributing artist to many of our publications and editor of In Stitches eMag, involved Cloth Paper Scissors Editor Jenn Mason and Quilting Arts Editor Vivika Hansen DeNegre (plus a few other artists) in a round-robin surface design challenge she called a renga. Jane borrowed this term from a form of 15th century Japanese collaborative poetry. One poet would contribute the first stanza of a poem, and pass it on to the next participant.
The fabric art renga collaboration started with six plain pieces of fabric and six artists and resulted in six distinctive pieces of textile art. The participating artists could only apply one surface design technique, no cutting or stitching. They scribbled with ink, stained with natural dyes like tea, added screen printing or stamped with textile paint, and so on, until everyone had had a hand in each piece of fabric.
Vivika said, "Personally, I found it both thrilling and terrifying to apply my own surface design technique on top of someone else's. The challenge pushed me to think creatively about the design of the fabric and also about what kinds of surface design techniques to use."
You can learn so much by working with others on a piece (or several pieces) of art. Here are Jane's tips for organizing a successful surface design renga of your own:
1. Limit the number of participants to four to six for each group.
2. Use a permanent marker to write your name on the fabric you start with so you get it back in the end.
3. Write notes in a journal that travels with the fabric. If a technique is particularly fragile or requires special care, it is a good idea to let future participants know.
4. Avoid repeating a technique that's already been done on the fabric.
5. Keep in mind the number of artists that follow you so you don't get carried away and "finish" the fabric. Leave some space for future layers.
Of course, you don't have to limit yourself to surface design to create fabric art. You might like to embroider, use heat-transfer techniques, sew, add fabric embellishments, and so on.
Even if you don't have a group to swap art with, you can still learn different techniques from other sources. A new book, Embellish Me: How to Print, Dye, and Decorate Your Fabric, is a wonderful resource for creative approaches to fabric art.
P.S. Have you ever done a round robin with surface design and fabric art? Would you be leery of trying it or would you jump into the challenge? Leave your comments below.