Summer Art: Painting Fabric in the Garden

The Fantasy

It’s been a while since I painted fabric. More than a year, to be precise. Experimenting with mark making and surface design have long been on my to-do list. Other things kept getting in the way, however, and I didn’t get to it.

I can’t use paint during winter. My sewing room has a light-colored carpet, and is therefore unsuitable for wet work. I simply can’t risk staining it with paint. So, for the last few months, I’ve been waiting for warmer weather, so I could create some summer art. I’ve been fantasizing about playing with paint out in the garden, thus combining my two passions. What can be better than peacefully experimenting with paint while surrounded by flowers and chirping birds, right?

The Reality

In early summer, I set up a folding table in my back yard. I then prepared everything I needed: acrylic paint, brushes, stencils, white cotton fabric and my brand-new Gelli plate.

I went out happily one sunny morning, but soon my high hopes came crushing down. First it was too cold, then too hot. It was too shady, then too sunny. Leaves fell onto my fabric. Bugs landed in my paint. And when I left some freshly-painted fabrics out to dry, the wind blew them all over my lawn…

I suddenly remembered why, when I first tried this over a year ago, I ended up painting on the garage floor instead… Creating summer art in the garden sounds wonderful, but the reality of it is all but. I will need to think of a different solution.

The Fabrics

My limited garden foray did teach me that Gelli printing has a mind of its own, which I actually like. You know what you start with, but never know what the result will be. There is always a surprise! I ended up with a few printed pieces, as well as some solid-colored ones. 

I wasn’t planning on using them right away. In fact, I didn’t have a plan for them at all. But things happen when fabrics lie in my sewing room. After seeing these prints lying there for a while, I just couldn’t help myself…

The Collages

The colors and circular shapes on some of the printed fabrics happened to resonate with some of my scraps. I cut a 12″ x 12″ batting, spilled out my scrap drawers, and started to let various pieces of fabric converse. They’re pretty chatty, those scraps. They speak to each other, as well as make it clear to me what they want to do. Soon, a background was laid. It was in colors I rarely use, shades of primary colors. They reminded me of the colors of California summers, which I’ve been seeing everywhere I go over the last few weeks. The colors of sun-kissed mountains, “California Gold” laid against a bright, blue sky. The colors of a drought-stricken water reservoir, three-quarters empty, surrounded by perched plants. And also the colors of sandy beaches against a blue Pacific ocean.

Rings of fabric emerged. The bright sun, perhaps? Or the circles formed by blades of windmills? I appliquéd them on. I added some stamped circles, and finished with touches of hand stitching. It always surprises me how hard it is to stitch through acrylic-covered fabric. I stopped before my hands hurt. This one is “California Gold.”  

I couldn’t stop. One of the printed fabrics reminded me of the universe (have you seen the pictures from the new James Webb Space Telescope??). So I went with that theme. The primary colors remained, a little darker this time. I played with positive and negative spaces, still exploring circular shapes.

I decided to donate the resulting artwork, “Final Frontier,” to this year’s SAQA Benefit Auction. It will be available for purchase in September, all proceeds going to a great cause.

I’m not in love with primary colors, though. I found myself yearning for some friendlier hues. Luckily, I painted some fabrics in warmer colors, too. I pulled out another scrap drawer with a different palette, and played some more. The end result had an air of a fully-blooming garden. It made me happy. I don’t have a name for this one yet, so if you have a good idea, please let me know!

Then I got distracted by other projects, as I often do. I will probably return to this little summer art some other time. And if not, I will most likely use my printed fabrics for something else. Time will tell.

4 thoughts on “Summer Art: Painting Fabric in the Garden”

  1. You definitely are a natural in the abstract art form. You have a great sense of balance, contrast, shape, pattern, and color choices! Love what I see.

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