Friday, July 3, 2015

Soy Wax and Screen printing, making the screens

This is where the fun starts. You can plan your design carefully or you can begin by simply making marks on the screen and seeing what it looks like when it is printed. Often the screens don't look very promising but once you start to use them you see their real effect.

First thing to do is to melt your wax. While that is happening you can get your screens and mark making tools ready. I like my melting pot to sit on a large tile and have a piece of kitchen towel ready to catch any drips.

Turn your screen upside down as we are going to apply the wax onto the bottom of the screen, the side that will be in contact with the fabric. I usually cover my working table with some plastic, in case I get messy, which is more often than not.

When your wax is ready dip your mark making tool into the wax and print it onto the screen. I'm sorry if the photos appear a bit strange but I was finding it quite difficult to take a photo while I was actually doing the printing. In this one I have used a cardboard tube to add some circles. Don't worry if you get some blobs as these often add to the charm of the design - the hand of the maker?

I then used one of my tjantings to add some additional lines.

Leave your screen until the wax is completely dry. This doesn't take very long at all, even if you are in the middle of winter. Remember to turn off your melting pot once you have finished with it.

These are some screens that I have made, some of them are well over 12 months old and have seen a lot of use.

This screen was made by simply using a brush and dragging it lightly over the screen. If you like the shibori effect but don't want to go to all that trouble then this is the result you get from some very simple marks.

In this screen the small circles are from the cardboard tube, the larger circles made with a brush and the lower part has the brush dragged lightly across the screen, going over some of the circles as well.

For this screen I used a smaller brush as I wanted more well-defined lines. It came about from a series of work I have been doing on Wheels and Windows. I wanted a very abstract design using the straight lines to represent the windows and the curved lines for the wheels. I wasn't entirely happy with this but decided to give it a try anyway. After all, we can always overdye or overprint can't we?

Some simple swirly circles done with a paintbrush. Afterwards I added some light lines with a different brush. In case you are wondering what the dark black and blue areas are, they are simply from staining on my screen. They don't affect the screen itself at all, just look a bit messy.

More circles, this time done with different size tubes, some straight lines done with a brush and some lighter lines dragged lightly across. You may be able to see some feathered lines around the edge of the screen. I added these so that I didn't get a harsh straight line when I printed.

Ready for the actual printing? That will be on Monday so stay tuned.

***Some people have asked if the wax can be removed  later so that the screen can be used for other things. The answer to that is, yes and in the next post I show how to do that.***

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Soy Wax and Screenprinting, the tools

Hi, I'm Maggi. Thank you for joining me this month as we take a journey using soy wax to create screens for printing. Before we begin, I will say that I will only be using thickened dye for printing. I have not used acrylic paint or fabric paint so cannot comment if either would work. If you do try acrylic paint, remember to wash your screen out after using it as dried paint on your screen will be there for good. Also use cold water to wash it out, otherwise you will wash away your soy wax and you just might have a design that you want to keep.

I'm going to start with the tools that you need, some of which are essential and others which are optional. Before launching in though you might like a preview of the sort of results that you can get with this technique. 

The most essential equipment is the wax and something to heat it with, and of course some screens! You should only use soy wax that is made specifically for this purpose, don't use candle wax. I think that this has been mentioned previously in posts about using soya wax. Try to use a heating pot that has a temperature control and don't leave your pot switched on and unattended. This is the type that I use but you may have something different. 

The above screen is one that I made a long time ago. It has printed many yards of fabric so far and is still going strong. You might want to start with a clean screen though!

Other essentials are mark making tools. I like to keep things simple and, as a lot of my screens have circles on them, I have tubes in various sizes. The tubes I use are cardboard and so will eventually deteriorate with the hot wax but you can get quite a bit of mileage out of them. I also like to use a brush for making marks, bristle is preferable but I have often used others and, as long as you don't leave them sitting in the hot wax, shouldn't melt.

In the above photo I also have a roll of  self adhesive film (the kind that you use to cover books with). This comes in very handing for creating resists. 

If you decide to use a larger brush then you might want to cut into it to make the edge more uneven as this makes for a better mark, unless you want a heavy solid line that is. Just take your scissors and snip into the bristles from the bottom. If you are not sure whether you've done enough then try it out on a piece of paper with some paint or dye.

You can, of course, use any of you favourite tools to make marks, as long as they will pick up the wax to transfer it to the screen.

Thickened dye is also an essential. I find that once it's made up it lasts for a long time but you might want to make up just enough for your sessions.

Fabric. Although you can use these techniques on paper, I'll be using fabric here, silks and cottons. Do remember to soda soak them first and let them dry, otherwise your beautiful results will disappear down the sink. I have a lot of pre-soda'd fabric that was previously dyed so I've been using some of those, as you will see in a later post. If you find that you have made a screen that you really like you could always print it out onto paper and have a thermofax screen made from it, that way it won't take up one of your screens that you could be using for something else.

One other essential item is some lightweight vilene. We won't be using this until later in the month but I thought that if I included it here it would give you chance to find some. It's called by different names in different countries and, fortunately my piece still has the selvedge on with some of the names. It is also sometimes called interfacing.

Optional items:-

A mark making tool that I have wanted for some time is a tjanting and so I decided to treat myself at last so that I could try it out with this series of posts. It's not an essential tool but it does make a finer line.

Sketchbooks which may provide you with inspiration

Something to listen to, music is actually an essential for me but you may prefer listening to your podcasts or audio books, or even prefer silence.

Once you start to print you will also need a padded print surface and a squeegee. If you have done screen printing before then you will no doubt have these, if this is your first time there is plenty of information out there, including in previous posts on this blog.

Have fun getting your supplies together if you are going to play along. On Friday we'll start making those designs on your screens.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Collaged Backgrounds - Finale!

To finish up my month of fabric collage blog posts here, I’ll go through my process for making these collaged backgrounds work for me.

I almost always paint the stitched collage with fabric paint to unify the piece. My choices of light, medium, and dark fabrics start to matter more here. My favorite paints are the Prochem textile paints diluted with the white extender. Sometime I use an old credit card, sometimes a brush.

However, if I don’t have the color I need, I use an acrylic in my collection with the additive to make these paints more textile-friendly.

I might add more white paint to this background, maybe in a pattern, like circles, lines, etc.
After painting, I often do more stitching.

And sometimes, I add sheer fabric, especially organza, in whatever colors are needed - greys, white, black, even green. The sheers can add depth by pushing back a section of image that you want to de-emphasize. Or they can just add a subtle design element.

Thanks for your comments during my month as a Fire blog blogger! And I hope you'll excuse that I didn't keep up the normal quick tempo of this great site. My Mega Move has been pretty intense! (See my blog for some details :-)                                                         

Friday, June 26, 2015

Collaged Background Step 1

These fabric collage pieces all begin with some kind of background or support. Using Valerie Goodwin's technique, I'll show you how I began with fabrics from My Pink House, seen in my last post.

Selecting my fabrics for this technique is pretty easy and a lot of fun because any bloopers blend in so well in the later stages. I generally start with a range of lights, mediums, and darks in the color or colors I have in mind for my finished piece. It is easiest to assemble the collage if the pieces are cut into smallish rectangles, although with a little experience you can use any shapes you want, as raw edges ARE allowed. Above, I assembled my cut fabrics on the crinoline to which I will attach them. (Crinoline was discussed in a past post this month - nice firm backing and easy to stitch through by hand later in the process.)

 I start by stitching one fabric piece to the crinoline by machine, then adding the others, folding each piece over the seam. I often press the pieces down as I go but that's not essential.

 Once my fabrics are stitched onto the background, I begin stitching on the surface to ensure that each edge is surely attached. Decorative stitches can be fun and/or helpful here. Use any color you wish. We used black top stitching in Valerie's class and it looked great.

To finish this stage, I trim the edges.

Next step - making all those different colors and patterns look unified.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Lasting Lessons from Valerie

Last summer I took a terrific workshop with Valerie Goodwin at the annual Quilting by the Lake event held in Syracuse, New York. The title of her work shop was Design with Color, but it was so much more than that.

I have admired Valerie’s work for several years and saw it first in Quilting Arts magazine. Her art quilt maps just knocked me out! Maps?! Fabric?! Geographically-placed visual stories?! Right up my alley! She constructs beautiful fabric collage to tell her stories, and I bought her book Art Quilt Maps to learn more. But the thing that got me to the workshop - in spite of all kinds of complications - was seeing her work from 12 inches away at the Cartography: Artists as Map Makers exhibit at the Schweinfurth Memorial Art Center in Auburn, NY last June. Her materials and narratives were so inspiring, that I went home, rearranged my schedule, and send in my registration for the second week of Quilting by the Lake.

I’ll start with the finished collage backgrounds I used for a couple of my recent pieces using Valerie’s technique. Then I’ll explain how they were constructed in the next couple of posts.    
The piece at the right is one of a group of works I made using Valerie's techniques for my backgrounds. This one, Jacaranda, is based on a photo I took in Oaxaca, Mexico of a doorway in an ancient stone building. As I walked past it one morning, the sun was hitting a brilliantly blooming jacaranda tree back in the courtyard. I wanted my background to convey the texture of  the old building with its somewhat crumbling walls. You can see many intentional imperfections and its rectangles of stone blocks.

My Pink House

You may have seen this piece on the left before. It is my Pink House fabric collage, an embellished version of my new studio, gallery, and home. This time, the collage using Valerie's technique makes up the house itself, which is then the background for more collage work. The house is 115 years old, and I wanted the siding to have a somewhat random look (although it doesn't appear that way, at least not on the front of the house). 

Below is an under-construction detail of the addition of the door and windows on top of that background.
If you like the look of this technique, I highly recommend Valerie's book. Even better, track her down at one of her workshops.

Next post - how to get started.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Smokin' Art!

From Cris Winters
This article was written by my friend Matt Burnett, an artist colleague of mine in Saranac Lake, NY. He describes his interest in, purchase of, and activation of an old cigarette vending machine in 2010. He and another artist Todd Smith transformed it into an art vending machine and soon after, with the overwhelming majority of votes from the artists involved, named it the "Smokin" Art Machine." Matt wrote this up at my request after I posted this blog - Cris on Fabric Collage - about making my small fabric collages to include in the art machine last summer. There was such an enthusiastic response about the machine that I thought you might like this story from the "horse's mouth" (sorry, Matt :-).

How do I describe the phenomenon of Smokin’ Art?   Adventure.   Mystery.  History. Wonder. Curiosity may be the best word, because it was curiosity that drew me to this strange machine in the first place.

I first laid eyes on it in a antique store (a front for something less reputable, my wife Amy suspected) in downtown Plattsburgh, NY.  After giving up on the meager vinyl selections (Perry Como, etc.) I saw this machine right by the door.

I recalled a link shared by a colleague, the idea of transforming this machine into dispensing tiny art.   The Art-O-Matic concept has already been well developed, with machines in major cities all over the United States. (

With the encouragement of my colleague, Todd Smith, then the proprietor of the Saranac Lake Gallery 7444 , I eventually returned to purchase this relic from an era where a pack of Marlboros sold for a dollar. 
Matt and Todd with their purchase
The vending machine is the special powder metallic yellow-gold color one only sees now in defunct amusement park rides.   The peeling labels above each knob were solved with colored paint squares courtesy of a local hardware store.   And the machine’s incredible weight made it just barely manageable for two people to wrestle into a vehicle.  Forget lifting it; being completely mechanical, this machine is wall-to-wall gears and steel.

We were amazed to find that the thing still worked, albeit fussily.  In the coming weeks, we would discover that the levelness of the machine, the weight of the dispensed art, and a thousand other factors all contributed to a “good pull”.

About the art

Once we got the machine working, the next part was filling it.  This is where it pays to be part of an awesome arts community like we have here in Saranac Lake.    In 7444’s “stuffing party”,  local artists were given a deadline to come up with a body of tiny works (at least a set of 12)    Todd Smith arranged with a manufacturer to make boxes similar in size to a pack of cigarettes. The boxes arrived flat, like pizza boxes, so not only did art need to be made, boxes needed to be folded together (like origami) and art inserted, then loaded into the vendor. The whole thing worked like a finely oiled machine, or at least more smoothly then the cigarette machine itself.

With the capacity for over 200 boxes, we didn’t fill the machine that first time but we came up with one of the most unique bodies of work that the Saranac Lake Community had ever seen.  I was pleased and surprised by the ingenuity of artists that I had been working with for many years, this format seemed to encourage alternate approaches to one’s artmaking.

The Artwalk
The crowd waiting patiently to buy some Smokin' Art for 4 quarters.
The “Smokin’ Art Machine’s” debut came with the June 2010 Art Walk.   We placed the machine right outside of the China Jade restaurant and proudly stood waiting for the crowd.   Our very first customer was Tim Fortune (also an artist contributor) who strolled up, quarters in hand.   Plink, Plink, Plink, Plink---Pull----NOTHING! The machine immediately jammed.

We tried again, but to no avail.  The mechanism was designed such that any box trapped in the dispenser would prevent any other knobs from being pulled…necessitating the front coming off and a sometimes surgical extraction. As I sheepishly handed Tim his newly acquired mangled art, I thought to myself, how often will THIS happen?

Approximately %15 of the time, was the answer.  Not bad one at a time, but what I was not prepared for was the line that developed in front of this machine.  People loved this thing!   The line of 4 to 14 people did not dwindle until well after the end of the two hour gallery walk.

Oh, the pressure of fixing the jams with that many people in front of you waiving quarters!   We artists labor for attention, clamor for it; when you find it thrown at you, nothing must get in the way!  Thankfully another artist, Larry Poole, came to my assistance and stayed for the duration.  Though I didn’t know him well then, by the end of that evening I felt the kind of kinship that I expect fellow soldiers must feel in the trenches together.  Together we managed to fix the myriad of jams and other technical problems, while keeping the masses pacified, the quarters coming in, and the art going out.  
Which knob to pull?????

A happy art patron

"How many quarters does my dad have on him......?"

The “Smokin’ Art” machine was restocked and brought out several more times that summer in Saranac Lake, Blue Mt, and a few other places.   Each time, the same mania seemed to result; curiosity ruled.   Not so much for the almost free art (imagine getting an original Tim Fortune or a Mark Kurtz for a $1) but I think even more for the novelty of “What will I get?” and the novelty of the strange machine with the inviting handles.

We had accidently struck on something that in my mind often seems absent or squashed in the traditional art gallery setting.   Kids and young people too young to remember these machines, (which have been out of play since the 90s) got in line again and again to insert a dollar and see what they got.   The fun, the surprise, the accessibility---all good ingredients between artist and community.

I sure hope some people have kept some of the amazing pieces that this machine dispensed.  But one is in many ways reminded of the postmodern approach to art: art being more of a transaction, a cooperation between the object of art, the experience of art, and the strategic deployment of art.   As a protagonist in this adventure, I have had so many adventures with the people that I met in front of the machine, the artists that I have cooperated with on the machine, and many other interactions which have unfolded in the name of Smokin’ Art.   Perhaps it is okay that the artwork itself in this case has become relegated to a crackerjack prize; perhaps the art is somewhere else, in the orbit of this machine, and all that it enables.

Smokin’ Art currently is on loan to the Wild Center in Tupper Lake, NY.  For more info about the machine, please email Matt Burnett @