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.