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A multi-media art lesson

Fabric Design

Fabric design has the distinction of being one of the oldest and most functional forms of decorative art. As far back as 3000 B.C., patterned cloth was being created and worn by people in the ancient world. One thousand years later, advances led to clothing being decorated with stamped patterns and worn by the peoples of Egypt and Peru.

From its beginnings, fabric patterns had been manufactured by hand. This changed in 1712 when George Leason founded the first automated cotton printing works in Boston, MA. From that humble beginning, there is now more than one billion yards of printed fabric produced in the United States annually. With all that printed material, there is quite a demand for artists and textile designers to keep creating new and innovative patterns.

Although synthetic fibers were first developed at the end of the nineteenth century, the history of textiles can basically be traced by the development of the four major categories of natural fibers: flax, wool, cotton, and silk. Currently, fabric design disciplines are used extensively in creating handpainted or machine patterns for the apparel and home furnishing industries.

Textile design typically begins as an idea sketched on paper and, through a specific process, is finally translated into printed cloth. Since the early 1980's, the digital revolution in computers has impacted the professional practices of the textile design industry and created rapid and substantial advances in the printing process.

Even so, the three basic skills required by a textile designer--designing, creating colorways, and doing repeats--must still be learned in the traditional methods. Although an individual may choose to specialize and work exclusively in any one of these skill sets, a designer should be proficient in them all.

The design portion requires knowledge of layout, color, tracing, and painting techniques. Also involved is the proper use of the tools, supplies, and reference material necessary to create textile designs. Of the many standard layout patterns in use today, the following are most prevalent: set, patchwork, all over, free flowing, stripe, border, scenic, and landscape.

A set pattern typically consists of repeating objects placed at exact spatial intervals. Multiple types of objects are often included in these patterns, and they can also range in size and color. A patchwork design takes the geometric concept further by using multiple patterns and colors juxtaposed in a quiltwork type of design.

For a less-structured look, an all over (or tossed) pattern design can be used for motif objects that are arranged in a variety of positions to achieve a varied but balanced effect, such as an arrangement of many different types of flowers. Going further, a free-flowing pattern is usually defined by a field of objects that depict flow and movement with a sense of balance, such as clouds and birds floating across the sky.

A stripe design is almost always laid out in carefully planned rows or columns of modular space. These are typically used with floral, animal, or geometric patterns. A border pattern is a variation of this type of design where the delineation often occurs at the edges of the design in an attempt to frame or supply a border to the pattern.

Scenic and landscape patterns are usually depicted in a horizontal layout and contain rural or urban images that are recognizable by most. There are many more design types that are possible in textile design; and with all the variations, combinations, and ranges of subject matter, an infinite universe of design possibilities exists.

Textile colorways are also known as "color combinations" or "colorings." A colorway is a small sample of a design that is large enough to contain all the colors of the design. Usually accompanying a colorway is an array of color tabs that are small, individual swatches of each color that are included in the colorway.

These pattern and color samples are used by textile designers to help determine the most compatible and complementary colors to use within a design and to also compare a test portion of a design with an existing color scheme in an intended location. The subject of color is vast and esoteric, and a good textile designer must be completely versed in color theory and understand which colors to choose for a pattern and why.

One unique characteristic of textile design is that a pattern must be created in such a way that it can be printed over and over in a continuous flow, with no visible interruption. To do this, the objects in a design must be organized so exactly that the repetition of the design will not overlap during the print process.

When a repeat pattern is sent to the printer, a separate screen or roller is prepared for each color in the design, and then the design is transferred to fabric, layer by layer. When a repeat is done properly, the pattern is smooth and flowing, with no discernible "repeat line."

This is a brief and preliminary description of a vocational field that is far more detailed and specialized in practice. It takes a good deal of knowledge and experience to work as a textile designer, but the rewards are many. Aside from the opportunity to work in such a rich medium, the added benefit is knowing that the world will be decoratively-enhanced by the artful designs that are created.
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Working with Charcoal

Exquisite and expressive drawings and designs can be created with simple sticks of charcoal. They are inexpensive and easy to work with, readily available at any art material dealer and very transportable. You can do a charcoal drawing with light or very involved detail. There are many charcoal-related products that help you as you delve into this medium. Following are some of the possibilities.

Willow charcoal comes in stick form and is light, hard and brittle. It is powdery and easily rubbed off, so it is not as good for finished drawings as other charcoal products. Willow charcoal shines, however, when used for quick construction drawings or underlayment for other materials or methods.

Vine charcoal is a very refined, high quality charcoal that can be used for finished drawings. It offers a full range of tonal qualities, yet it is easily erased with a kneaded eraser. Artists use this type of material to create sketches, studies and finished drawings.

Compressed charcoal is available in a variety of hardness degrees. It has a dense tone that can be difficult to erase and blend but is great for rich tonal applications. It comes in stick form that is very useful for large area coverage and in pencils that can be sharpened for explicit detail.

For coverage of huge areas and toning of materials, powdered charcoal is available. This powder can be loaded into a brush and dispensed to a surface or rubbed on with fingertips or with a cloth.

If staring at a stark white canvas scares you, consider toning the surface with an application of charcoal powder. That will create a soft tone upon which you can begin your painting.

To remove unwanted charcoal, there are two well-accepted methods. One is a kneaded eraser, which has an unusual feel, almost sticky. It grips and holds charcoal powder and is one of the neatest ways to remove lines or re-establish white or light areas. Another method of charcoal removal is a scrap of chamois leather. Its soft, gripping surface will pick up lots of powder and allow a lot of surface manipulation. For overall reduction of tone, the chamois is great. For spot removal and detail alteration, the kneaded eraser is best, but both are valuable to have.

The paper upon which you do your drawing makes a big difference in the finished look of the piece. When you select a hard surface such as drawing paper or watercolor paper, the charcoal doesn't have a "tooth" to grip and will not hold very well. But a soft suede paper or handmade paper will give the soft powder something to grip and will create a more stable drawing.

Once the drawing is finished you may choose to use a finishing spray over the sheet. Almost all of these will somewhat alter the image. It seems to wash away the powder or make the drawing have less contrast. You can do one of two things to correct this. One method is to spray a fixative from the back side of the paper, saturating through to the top layer of charcoal. (This also works with pastel works.) Another method is to spray successive light coatings of fixative over the completed drawing. Some artists expect to enhance some of the dark areas after spraying and then re-coat the entire surface.

Care should be taken with the finished drawing, even if it has been fixed. Rolling the drawing is a common practice, but is very likely to cause some disturbance of the surface. Ideally, you can create a file of drawings where they can lie flat with sheets of some sort of slick paper between them. Sheets of tracing paper or drafting layout paper are ideal.

Framing charcoal drawings is simple if you can elevate a mat above the surface of the drawing. When the inevitable bumps occur, the dust that is dislodged will fall into the space between the drawing and the mat. It is unwise to use acrylic sheeting or plastic glazing material over a charcoal (or pastel) drawing. The static of the surface will draw particles and hold them, ruining the look of your work.

Because it is a simple material and easy to work with, charcoal is an ideal creative media. Try it on some of your drawing exercises and you will see why it has been popular for centuries. See your retailer and ask for General's Charcoal Pencil Set. And check out all that the General Pencil Co. has to offer at

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A multi-media art lesson

The Art of Tapestry

Tapestries have been woven for thousands of years.  Nearly every culture has some woven clothing, adornment or fabric, even the ancient Egyptians and Incas.  Burial clothes from both of these cultures have been discovered as have Greek hand-woven tapestry art believed to be an important means of decorating affluent homes and important buildings.  Only the very rich and influential could afford them.  Tapestry art was even thought to have covered the walls of the Parthenon.

As one of the most effective forms of literary expression the world has ever known, woven tapestry art used its unique form to tell stories, record history and idealize any form of life from any period of time.  Throughout history, tapestries have been created and help to form historically significant records of the lives of other times.  Vivid stories of the Greeks, Romans, and the Renaissance periods as well as the Old and New Testaments are documented through tapestry imagery.

Nearly from the beginning of time, some type of woven item was used to record the passing of time or events of merit.  Early in the Thirteenth and Fourteenth centuries, Gothic art appeared in woven tapestry art with its unique form of religious mystery and romance to fascinate the viewer.  These hand-woven tapestries were personal, human and most often spiritual.  Most all tapestries of this time centered on religious consciousness, the artist's comprehension of God and man's relationship with him.

Renaissance tapestry in the sixteenth century, on the other hand, evolved later with completely opposite views.  Gothic pictorial art in hand-woven form was created to tell a story of beauty and to tell a story at any expense.  The woven stories created illusions of what reality should be in the eye of the artist.  Early works were usually adapted from manuscripts and weavers were free to create images as they perceived them.  It was far more intellectual or perfect in form, method and grandeur than what was real at the time.

Tapestries became status symbols with the aristocracy in the Middle Ages.  They also had much practical use, providing insulation for castle walls, covering openings and giving privacy around beds.  Some of these tapestries were joined together to form continuous scenes of more than 450 feet in length.  When traveling, kings and noblemen took them on their travels from castle to castle for reasons of comfort and prestige.  Tapestries even became part of the spoils of battle, when the victorious claimed the defeated's possessions as their own.  These captured tapestries were often cut or joined together with other pieces very unceremoniously and in a way to destroy the crests, scenes and history of the defeated.

Medieval weavers extracted their dyes from plants and insects in a range of less than twenty colors.  Some of those same dye sources are used today: madder roots to get strong reds and oranges and flowers and leaves for subtle shades of green and yellow. Natural dye sources were expanded.  Today there is a near limitless palette of colors possible from natural materials and colors from commercial manufacturers to complete any spectrum.

As in the Middle Ages, handmade tapestry weavers of today use two basic types of looms (a high warp and a low warp).  Warp yarns are stretched between two rollers and the artist delivers bobbins of different colored yarns between two layers of warp.  The enclosed colors (called the weft) are beaten to tighten the "lock" of the design, and then opposite warp threads are raised and the process is repeated.  Low warp is worked horizontally and the weaver sits over the tapestry piece.  As the work is completed, the tapestry is rolled toward the weaver.  Very long pieces can be created with this method. Widths are dictated by the width of the looms.  Newer computer controlled jacquard weaving machines produce their high quality tapestry reproduction products on a large volume.  Belgium, the Netherlands, England, France and Italy are well known for this type of tapestry.  Perfect in detail and workmanship, these looms have brought very high tapestry within the reach of any and all.

Fortunately, contemporary tapestry can be practiced and enjoyed without the cost of a loom or other specialized equipment.  A simple frame loom in a moderate size can be warped and a tapestry woven in a small size, or small segments may be joined together to form a large work.  This sectioned method is especially good for the artisan who has limited space or whose needs grow past his equipment.  Many tapestry artists begin with pillow front-sized examples and progress into large, wall-sized works by joining together sections done from a "cartoon."  This cartoon is a detailed drawing of the finished design, divided into the sections that will be created as individual tapestries.  Joining is usually done by stitching the segments together using the same thread as was used for the warp. Once joined, the tapestry looks as though it was done in one large piece.

A frame loom can be handmade from strips of wood joined into a secure rectangle shape, with thread wrapped in tight passes, top to bottom.  The weft can be any wool or cotton yarns, fabric strips, grasses, reeds, etc., and can have the added textures of found objects incorporated within.  So, whether your interest is in the tapestries of early civilization, the finished loom work of Europe or the contemporary looks of today's artisans (perhaps those created by yourself), tapestry can be an exciting creative media.

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I hope that these lessons are helpful to you. Please feel free to explore the rest of the site. Many of the link pages contain various art lessons to enhance your visit.

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