Sunday, September 6, 2015

Workshop with Pat Dews

This began as one half of a larger "start",
that was then finished with collage and stamping
I feel fortunate to have attended a 5-day workshop this August with Pat Dews, an award-winning American artist who works with watercolour, acrylic and collage.

Pat has a keen eye for composition, and because good design transcends medium, I hope to apply some of her design principles to my work in cloth.

Pat urged us to "move the colour along" throughout our painting. If you choose to apply a bright orange to one corner of your canvas, be sure to apply it in two other spots. And don't think that it can be a variation of that orange. "Knowing" that your second orange is derived from your first is not the same as "seeing" that very same orange carried along to another location or two. Even the smallest orange dab can help move the viewer's eye around the painting.

The other half of the larger "start",
with added collage shapes and stamping
Another principle of good design that Pat often referred to was the need to have small, medium and large shapes. If an edge is divided in several places, each of those segments should be of a different length.

Because I don't normally work with paint, I was impressed with the way Pat slapped broad strokes of water onto a large sheet of paper and then poured dilute paint onto the wet surface, tilting the paper this way and that to create dribbles of colour in a random-but-controlled pattern. You can see how I tried a bit of this in the piece at right.

Pat uses watercolour, ink and acrylic interchangeably in the early stages. All these media are allowed in the major shows of the national watercolour societies, and no distinction is made. However, to achieve some of the finishing techniques, like texture or "scumbling", Pat uses heavy-body acrylics.

inspired by a tiny fragment of a photo
from a magazine

"It's only paper," Pat would say when we hesitated. If we deemed a piece not worthy of further work or of cropping, we slapped on a coat of white gesso and began again. At this point Pat would hand us a piece of chalk and have us divide up our paper into interesting shapes. The chalk was easily wiped off so we could play with different compositions. Water-soluble pencil was used in the same way.

Once a piece had a coat of acrylic varnish applied, it was easy to wipe off wet paint, allowing us to experiment with final touches. Worst-case scenario: a failed painting could be cut up into pieces to be collaged into another.

We experimented with laying plastic wrap and crumpled wax paper onto wet paint surfaces, removing it before it dried to create interesting textures in the paint. We spritzed alcohol onto dried paint and scratched into it, creating "sgraffito".  We used an atomizer to spray a fine mist of colour around a cut-out shape, sometimes adding a second and a third colour, and then scribbled a line with water-soluble crayon.

building at left made of collaged and painted newspaper,
with all other shapes painted in
I had the advantage of a full selection of stencils and stamps from my work some years ago, when applying paint to cloth was my go-to technique. I had also made some textured collage paper in a recent on-line course that proved useful.

The abstract cityscape at right uses a minimum of those techniques, but it is a composition I might be able to realize in cloth.

Pat is a gifted teacher, whose well-honed intuition informs her incisive critiques of student work. I learned a lot from her workshop, and hope to be able to apply some of these insights to my own work in cloth.

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