Monday, August 7, 2017

Giving Credit

I have been asked to give credit for the botanical printing basic concepts post I made a couple days ago. In the post, I tried to distill the information pertaining to this subject that I have gotten from my own studio work and from other sources. I tried to make it very universal and get to the succinct basics. For more in depth information, it is important to experiment and keep track of your results. Or you can shorten that process and take a class or read some of the ebooks or other publications that are available. But I am happy to list my influence sources.

I must credit my first natural dyeing experiences to my mother, Lottie Spark. It was common practice in our household to overdye a stained cotton garment with tea or coffee.  At Easter time, we dyed our eggs with coffee, tea and onion skins. We made a special Easter egg tree with blown out eggs decorated as people from around the world- using various amounts of dye to get a variety of skin colors. Using these substantive dyes was natural for me. Of course, I didn't know they were substantive- my Mom just said they were the dyes that stayed well on the eggs (or the fabric).

In the 60's, I was a Crafts Major in undergraduate school (Western Washington University), so I did many textile courses. My teacher, Mary Bottomly McIntyre was and still is a huge influence on my approach to dyeing and other textile techniques. We studied many surface design techniques-block printing, screen printing, embroidery and various types of resist- tied, stitched, clamped, knotted, and waxed. We used both synthetic and natural dyes. That, along with the constructed textile classes of weaving, gave me an incredible base of knowledge to build on. I still use two books from that time period: Tie and Dye as a Present Day Craft by Anne Maille and Design on Fabrics by Meda Parker Johnston and Glen Kaufman.

In 1971 I went to school for 11 months at Stenebyskolan in Dals Långed, Sweden to have a more in-depth study of textiles. My teacher, Elsa Johanson, taught me patience and the language barrier (until I was able to learn Swedish) taught me to be a keen observer. Of importance to my dyeing knowledge was the dye experiments I did with lichens and the textile chemistry class.  I returned to the USA and taught adult educations classes in weaving, dyeing and spinning through two community colleges in the Tacoma, Washington area while I was applying to graduate schools. It was for these classes that I started my first attempts at finding the underlying structure of the textiles I was teaching-the basic concepts you could say. I was convinced then, and now that understanding the basics was the best way to learn something and make it your own. It was the best service I could do for my students. 

I went to the University of Washington from 1973-75 to get my MFA degree in Textile Design. My major professor, Richard Proctor was a strong influence on my understanding of color mixing. I had a one day consult with Gerhardt Knodel who asked me a very important question- Why was I doing my art? What was behind it? I took this to mean, what were the underlying reasons I was doing it and why had I chosen the materials I was working with? (At that time, it was the medium of tapestry.)  In addition, I did a special study on color by reading the book The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors by Michel-Eugène Chevreul, who was the dye chemist at the Gobelin Tapestry Works in France in the 1800's. I also took another textile chemistry class, this time in English! One of the strongest influences on me in this time period however, was a one day dyeing workshop I took. Unfortunately, I can't remember the teacher's name, nor where I took the workshop, but she introduced the idea of color mixing using 6 primaries and black. This knowledge has stuck with me to this day.  It and the optical blending theories of Chevreul have formed the base of the color knowledge I bring to both my feltmaking and my dyeing.

During my years as an art professor (1975-1990), first at The Evergreen State College (Adjunct Professor) and then  at Oregon State University (Associate Professor), I traveled every summer to fiber conferences. Often I was there to teach a workshop, but I always attended the lectures on dyeing to keep up with the latest information since I taught dyeing classes at my university. It was sometime in this time period that I learned about the practice of using a carrier to bring a dye or additive to a fabric. I can't remember who was giving the lecture, but I filed the information away in my mind for future possibilities. I was able to take workshops with Michelle Wipplinger (owner of Earthues) on working with natural dye extracts, and with Linda Knutson (author of Synthetic Dyes for Natural Fibers) who showed us a great way of mixing colors so we could get exactly the hue we wanted. Another experience I had in this time period was to attend a post-graduate program in weaving education taught by Naomi Towner at Keene State University in New Hampshire. This program was for two summers and Naomi also taught from the standpoint that understanding the basic concepts of your medium would help you to design with that medium which reinforced my own theory.

When the University closed the craft program I was teaching in, I was out of a formal teaching job but I began to teach more and more felting and color theory workshops. I used synthetic dyes with the students. I wrote my first two books on feltmaking (Fundamentals of Feltmaking and Scandinavian-Style Feltmaking) and I continued to travel to various textile conferences around the world, teaching feltmaking and attending lectures on many different types of dyeing.  Eventually, I wrote two more books on feltmaking (Watercolor Felt Workbook and Making Faces) and many articles for magazines. I traveled to other countries to teach feltmaking and to learn a myriad of textile forms.

But as an artist, I was and am always looking for how things tie together. How is this particular technique really an extension of another technique?  What is the basic concept underneath them all?  As a teacher, it is how I can make sense of a complex subject so I can present it and as an artist, it is how I can really start to create works I feel are my own. 

When I began learning about botanical printing, I brought to it a huge prior knowledge of other dyeing techniques.  I enjoy the company of a class, so I decided to take workshops on the subject. Plus I learn best when I hear someone talk about the subject, especially as I age. But many times the things people were presenting in class were things I already knew or were just slight variations on other techniques.  There are two people who I think have had the greatest influence on my understanding of botanical printing. They are Pam DeGroot and Olga Kazanskaya. Pam introduced me to the technique and taught me how to make ferrous acetate water. She began me on this intellectual journey and I love her playful and accepting teaching style. Olga really opened up my understanding of using carriers to bring a dye, mordant or modifier to my prints.  And I love her understanding of the chemistry. In addition, I respond well to her more academic teaching style. Of course there are others I've learned things from as well. For instance, I first saw the idea of using leaves to discharge color in a class from Irit Dulman and I did my first steamed prints in her classes. She was also working with the carrier concept. Plus, she has many interesting variations in how she folds the fabrics and lays down the leaves for design. I picked up the trick of using a weight on the end of my cloth when I bundle it and using ferrous sulfate instead of ferrous acetate from a Kathy Hays video.  From Tash Wesp I have learned to play with the techniques and to think outside the box! To me she is the queen of working with cotton! From
Pia Best-Reininghaus I learned how to get that amazing 3-D printing effect and best of all, how to use my serger! I am also learning about surface design techniques that use natural dyes from the ebooks of Kimberly Baxter Packwood. I thank them all.