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PNCA Fabric Design Workshop, Wrap Up!

Pencil Pouch fabric by Madame WuThere are a lot of different ways to design fabric. When I started to work in this field I wanted to avoid having my artwork re-drawn or traced digitally, so I learned to draw in Photoshop using a stylus and Wacom tablet. I tried learning to draw in Illustrator, but I didn't like how my lines kept getting all smooth. I like a little sketchiness. As a general rule, actually. Once I got the hang of it (and of using Photoshop Channels as a way of managing colors) I was hooked. 

I have held only a few classes and demos on this process, including one here in new York where the A/V equipment and my Mac stopped speaking to eachother moments before the presentation began and I had to make everyone (fifty people) circle around my laptop screen. Another time, in a large public retail store, a woman stood in the middle of my presentation, muttered something, and began gathering her things to leave. When I jokingly asked her to get me a water while she was up, she explained that she was leaving because "if [she] knew how to draw, she would already be a REAL artist". OK. I get it. Drawing is hard. Especially when you have to do it in public, which is exactly how I started our first day of class at PNCA.

I hadn't expected us to be drawing at a table that barely held us all with the corners of our sketchbooks nearly touching. I know, that was a little horrifying. But I stand by my final assessment, which is that every SINGLE person drew something that could be -and would be- turned into a very successful fabric design. As I explained to John (thats right, a real live man signed up for one of my classes, and I didn't even bother pretending that I wasn't extremely excited about this notable first), the more naive, the more simple your beginning sketch is, the better it will translate into fabric. Remember, you are adding so many layers of dimension later -first with a repeat, then with a fabric's texture, then with whatever you make from the fabric- that you want your artwork to be as flat and simple as possible.

photo by etsyketsy

Once everyone recovered from the public sketching event, the scanning and tracing commenced. Learning to draw with a stylus is a little like learning to ride a bicycle with no hands. When you get it you GET it, but until then you feel like its a) pointless and b) never going to happen. Everyone picks it up at a different pace, but I've never met anyone who didn't eventually get it. An added bonus of mastering this tool is that you will from that point forward be the person who is asked to draw with your eyes closed in Cranium, which means that all of those other categories will be somebody else's problem. The main trick is that you have to think of it like a pencil, choke up on it very near its tip, rest your palm on the tablet's surface, and let your brain figure out the rest. I have heard that a photographer's brain will eventually see an image turned right side up when looking through a viewfinder designed to show an inverse view, and have watched my husband absorb a billboard sized spreadsheet and come away with a sense of "the big picture", much like a scene from The Matrix. My point here is that you must trust your brain when it comes to learning new things. Thats what its built for. Its smarter than you are.

photo by etsyketsyOnce we ventured into building repeats I started seeing a few pained looks on the faces of my students. But when I walked through the aisles I was thrilled to see that everyone - and I mean everyone - was getting it. I'm hoping that more of the finished artwork will be sent my way so that I can post it, I think it stands as a truly inspiring collection of prints by people who, in some cases, had never touched a stylus or used Photoshop before last Thursday.

You can see some of the finished work here, plus some shots from the weekend, here. And yes, somebody even managed to organize an evening swim at the river which, apart from a particularly carnivorous swarm of mosquitos, was perfect. Portland was, of course, wonderful. The Ace hotel is so much fun, and it's attached Stumptown Coffee Roasters was a perfect place to start each day, with its brown sturdy-ware cups and saucers, the latter of which printed with tiny gold script that read "Good Luck". A perfect, universally applicable, morning message. The hotel robes were so marvelously squishy that I brought one home, which I have never ever done. But most impressive of all were my workshoppers themselves. Armed with ideas (viking chickens? brilliant.) and a tremendous amount of patience and diligence, plus a healthy dose of bravery (see "sketching in public", above) they were a complete pleasure to spend three days with. They are also, every one of them, REAL artists. I'm looking forward to returning soon.


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    Fantastic Webpage, Preserve the great work. Thanks a lot.
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Reader Comments (17)

Heather, I was wondering which Wacom tablet you use and/or can recommend. There are so many models! Thanks, Ritu

July 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterritu

What a wonderful experience! I hope you do more of these classes and I hope one happens near me someday. I would sign up in a heartbeat... and I wouldn't even mind (very much) that it's "drawing in public"!

July 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKathleenC

Heather, I wanted to (publicly!) thank you again for such a wonderful experience. I had an amazing time surrounded by amazing people doing amazing work led by an amazing teacher. I left truly inspired ... and only wish I didn't have this dang day job to come back to so that I could sketch and design fabric all day long.

Thanks again!
Signed, "The Man" : )

July 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJohn

So so wished my twin and I could've been at this. Would COVET an online course. Still dreaming of a class somewhere in the south: we have mosquitoes, and bbq, and we LOVE you!

July 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterkristi

Sounds wonderful - any chance for a do-over NYC class?

July 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterbear

I would love to take a class with you sometime if it happens somewhere on the east coast. After reading your earlier posts on sketching, I've been wanting to get a Wacom tablet and practice. Do you recommend any one in particular? Thank you so much for the peek into the process.

July 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPratima

I would like to second "The Man." The class was fabulous, and you were an amazingly patient and inspiring teacher. Thanks so much for all your hard work -- we certainly kept you busy over those three days. It's great to hear that you had as much fun with us as we did with you! Now to get all those little ottomans all lined up....

July 28, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmy

I was wondering the same thing! Which Wacom tablet do you like best? I use CS 5 and would like to move from my mouse to a tablet.

July 28, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterangela

I Use a Wacom Intuos 4, which I bought a few months ago. Its the third tablet I've owned in twelve years. They are pretty straightforward, but try to find a place where you can try them out!

July 28, 2010 | Registered CommenterHeather Ross

I'm so mad at myself for not signing up for the class the day that I saw it was being offered. i love pnca and your work...i will be kicking myself until the next time you (hopefully) come back.

July 29, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterrobyn

I had a ball! Thanks for all your patient hand-holding and exuberant praise as we hemmed and hawed around the drawing table :) Besides your funny, candid instruction and experience, learning how to use channels has opened new worlds to me! I'm so excited to start a new project. In the meantime, I'll be ordering some karate bugs from Spoonflower and making my kid a new drawstring bag to hold his karate belt.

Thanks again for everything!

July 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAbi

I missed a chance to see you in Portland! I've admired your fabrics for a long time, but just started getting on your blog this week. Had no idea you were in my neck of the woods (I'm from Seattle), but I'll stay tuned in case you come back! I have always wondered how designs get turned into fabric, and I'd love to try it.

July 30, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterB @ cup + penny

Darn. I missed you Heather. I was in Portland the same week you were teaching. Hopefully, you'll do this again. It would be a great excuse to travel again.

August 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNancy

Re: squishy bathrobe..."you brought one home"
Hope you paid for it ;)

August 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterNOTyourrunofthemill

Wow! How I would love to take a class like this!

August 20, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJennwith4

I use a Wacom Bamboo tablet, the cheapest one they had at the time, maybe $60? I'm a film student and used it for a rotoscoping project, where you trace over a video image. The first several frames looked pretty wonky, but after forty or fifty I really had the hang of how much (or how little) I needed to draw to convey the look and emotion of the person. Fun!

Looking forward to the mouse story.

August 21, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterSarvi

Hi Heather,

Thanks a lot for your experience. I am a Spanish children fabric designer.I used to trace all my drawings as they are always reproduced by serygraphy. I wish you could answer me, it would be great, as I am not very good at tracing, and my drawings look much better, and childish, by ink. I understood that you draw directly whithout scanning at phoptoshop. But I wonder i¿ do that kind of drawings have enought quality in order to reproduce them?
It would be very nice and interested if you could explain the steps you do to begin and finish a fabric. Greetings from Spain. Congratulations for your blog.

May 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJulia Grfol

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