May 30, 2009

Spoonflower fabric

Last weekend, I posted pictures of the first (and my favourite) of the three fabrics I got printed by Spoonflower. Here are the rest of them, and some thoughts about the process.

When I first signed up for Spoonflower and resolved to try it, I became frozen by the limitless potential. (What to do? Oh, what to dooo?) Sound familiar?

I explored what others were doing, and I hunted through all the contests on their blog (quite addictive, if you like voting each week on a favourite fabric design!)

It seemed that there were so many possibilities:
- Should I use it to print large swatches of my drawings onto fabric?
- To print computer-generated ideas?
- Or to transfer my existing (black and white) drawings directly onto fabric in quantities and width of yardage that it just wouldn't be feasible to do on the computer or with a stencil-cut screenprinting process? (If you were around last year, you may remember the glee and enthusiasm about stencils and screenprinting).

I sat down and thought about it, and I decided that the only way to go forward was to do a test. I like telling myself that spending money via Paypal is a test. It makes it feel so noble and elevated.

What I was testing with this batch of fabrics was the colour matching and the effect of different sort of designs. I chose three designs: one with a strong drawn black outline (the teapot), which I had coloured on the computer. The other two were scanned versions of my farmyard stencils, which started to look like a lot of fun when I repeated motifs and played with the placement.

It took quite a while, fiddling about with the file to find the best proportions for a repeat (white space on one side of the image turns out to repeat across the fabric). Well, yes, of course it does -- but I found that the repeat was not quite what I expected, and half the fun of the process was tinkering about to get it settled so that I liked what I saw. So, for the folksy village fabric below, in the end I had a long, thin file, with each element in a line, staggered, and lots of white space to one side. When it repeats, it just looks like openly-spaced images across the fabric breadth. Hmm.

I had a small sample of the flying birds print, from a stencil. This one wasn't fancy: just one element, repeated across the fabric in a half-step format. I mucked about with the scale, and what I have got is small birds, perfect for button covering, badges and brooches, or for applique. I only ordered a swatch.

I had done some reading, and I was forewarned that the colours will be less intense on the fabric than on-screen, and also that the reds have a tendency to shift. I pumped up the colours on all of the designs, and I'm glad I did: the teapot fabric design on-screen is quite strong, but in real life it's lovely and soft, without the colours being flat. Big tick in the box for that one!

The village fabric, below, originally was designed with red, blue and green -- but the fabric turned out a very fine orange, blue and green in real life! Initially startled, I have come to rather like it. (Even if the apples do look a little poisonous.)

If I were serious about this, which I'm not (yet), I would get a colour chart printed, with its number references on each square of colour, so that by formatting my final artwork by colour I would have a real, live piece of fabric to match it against. -And I'd know what I'm getting.

There's quite a lot of discussion about this online, and I found it useful, even if the colour calibration of the machines themselves at Spoonflower is subject to change. There's some excellent resources on the Spoonflower blog's FAQs pages.

The verdict?
I quite enjoyed the slight uncertainty about what I would get. I sure ripped into that package when it arrived, a mere 7 days later! I wasn't investing in a lot of fabric or expecting to match it to existing projects or ideas, and so a certain degree of colour shift was fine by me.

As for designs? I feel that the strong outline of the drawings works best. No point translating one fabric printing medium (stencil) into production: better to play with drawings, colour them on-screen, pump up those colours, and take the risk.

I'm working on my next batch of designs as we speak... Surprised?

May 26, 2009

Drunkard's path

No, I'm not talking about me. Or anyone else for that matter! It's the name of this quilt pattern -- a classic red and white design from sometime at the end of the 19th century.

The photo was taken by Mr Tacc some years ago, when he was invigilating an exhibition on quilts from Canada and the UK. Needless to say, we talked about that show endlessly, and as he had plenty of time to look at and think about the quilts, he had lots of interested questions to ask and ideas to discuss.

I remember this quilt because I loved the clarity of the red and white scheme, and the way that the simple repeated shape (quarter circle on square) became complicated and fascinating when you looked more closely. It sort of weaves and dances. Drunkard, indeed -- I think it's just someone having fun, or a kid in a candy shop, or me at Haigh's chocolates (isn't that the same thing?) Looking everywhere at once.

I'm thinking about drawing a lot and reminding myself that in order to draw, you have to look. So pardon me if you come across a gal in the street, giving an intent stare at passers-by, clouds and the sky (today I was taking photos on Collins street at lunch). It's just me, and I'm just looking.

May 24, 2009

Good colours

Today's good colours were the muted tones of autumn. Tinny grey sky, dark green leaves and the spots of colour from gumtrees in bloom. I love this time of year.

We stopped at the most excellent cafe for a couple of cappuccinos and some chit-chat. Chocolate croissants appeared, and disappeared almost as rapidly. The dog had his own special bowl of treats.

But what's this? Something in my pocket...

Could it be, a cafe-themed piece of my own design Spoonflower fabric, carefully tucked in a pocket for an on-location photo shoot?

Could be, could be....

May 16, 2009

Sign up

I've signed up for that children's book illustration course.


One sign fits all
Originally uploaded by neil-san

May 15, 2009

This time last year

On exactly this day last year, this is where I was:

In front of an amazing chunk of history, an effect of architecture, a monument of achievement. A cathedral like this one is not just a cathedral, a building: it's lives and deaths, laws and mystery, religion, belief, families and locality. Ego. Perhaps baser impulses of envy, pride or greed.

This time last year we took the train from Rome to Orvieto. On the tourist trail, I was suspiciously holding myself aloof, even while we piled out of the train station and whooshed up the funicular carriage, climbing the rock to the town.

Our self-catering place was in the unpopular end of town. It required a bumpy journey on a little bus with our big bags - all of which made us grin with glee because it cut out the loud Americans. And I hate loud American tourists in Italy. Sorry. But it's true. Luckily, they won't -- or don't -- walk, so we were spat out by our surly bus driver at a nondescript little square, some judicious directions in improving-but-rusty Italian leading us down an alleyway, to a door, a long dark staircase upwards, and some negotiation.

'You talk into the speaker phone.'

'No, you.'

Nudge. Scuffle.


BZZZ>>crackle-crackle<< -'Eh, umm, Buon Giorno....' We explain. We think we are understood. We start to rattle and babble along in broken words, but she understands: we are the Australianos, but he lived here in Italy, when he was small. Short. Little. Piccolo. The Italian flows around us, long streams of which we gather, 'How lovely! You are welcome. But you were once small! (a poked finger toward his tall frame, and much laughter) My daughter comes soon. She speaks English.' The creased old face of a nice woman, late in life meeting and interested in strangers, much though they present a difficulty of language, perhaps slightly worrying. We're all right. Paying guests who are no problem and who even understand Italian. We get big grins.

Late that night, still jetlagged from the flight from Australia three days earlier, we drift through the deserted town. Sit on cold stone benches. Sigh at the soft light. Stare intently at scultpured reliefs on the cathedral front, carved when the world was young, over 600 years ago. Hands were once alive.

It's like filling up on a long drink of water - or milk, and feeling the sustenance of the art and the power of the images filling you back up again. Yes, this is why I studied art history. This is the Renaissance and its tangled precedents and the master artisans of Europe. The Christian history and its worldly remnants. Myths and legends: of the master craftsmen, now, as much as of the religious rites they depicted.

It's hard to explain my love of Italy and how I feel more alive there, but this comes close. It's something in the comfort of inspiring but understood old friends: art works that I have loved and studied with curiosity since the first days when I heard of them, and saw them in books.

Sometimes life is quiet and sometimes it's loud. Some days, like the day exactly a year before today, it fills you with a richness you can feast on for decades.

May 6, 2009

Good morning, baker boy!

Here's one of the characters who showed up in my sketchbook last night. I reckon he's apprenticing in specialist petits fours pastry techniques. Don't you?

May 5, 2009

If time is a river

If time is like a river, when you hold your hand against the current, does time wash around you? Push and pull you. Slip around you. Hold tight: push it back. Twirl and whirl, like flying hands flipping the current of air out the window of a car.

Did you do that when you were a kid? Let your hand bounce and sway in the air as you rush along. I don't do that much now that I know how to drive. Being a passenger I can't let go of mantle of responsibility. Mirror, shoulder, mirror. Watch the traffic. Even when I'm not driving. To let someone else drive and to sit back - that's a little pleasure. I do that sometimes when Mr Tacc drives. Trust to know that you are safe, like you were when you were a kid, with your family, going places.

I'm rowing upstream at the moment, like so many of us. I wonder what the banks of the stream are like, and if there are picnics to be had on grassy green banks. Flowers to pick. Time rushes but playtime, it stretches.

Tonight I have spent the evening on my own, drawing whatever comes to mind. Not this wistful rower: she came along a few months ago. Solid things. Coffee cups and pear trees. A strange little llama. And a coupla characters I'm rather pleased with.

I'm thinking (deep breath) - I'm thinking I'm going to sign up for a night class in children's book illustration. I don't feel like I can afford it, but who cares? (And that's my own fault for not doing last year's tax, silly girl -- so far missing out on Kevin's play money. Sorry; stimulus. I reckon some drawing stimulus and a challenge from someone outside would be good.) The moral of the story I need to illustrate with my own life is: catch up, do your paperwork, get your beans and take them out to the drawing garden, where they might grow.

Do you think there might be flowers?