Hi folks. June asked if I could come up with something to post at the last minute and I remembered that she had suggested last week that I post something about how I use commercial prints in my work. I had posted a comment on her first post on the blog, along with about 20 others, all with good input and interesting points of view. I loved Barbara’s comment that if she were a dog commercial fabrics would make her tail wag! Me too, and obviously lots of others. I said,
“Unlike handpainted or dyed fabrics, that can be quite wonderful, but are by their nature, rather homogenious and what I can only describe as “smooshy”, prints are crisp and assertive and introduce a kind of rhythm and elements of surprise that I really find challenging and really very fun to work with.”
Just because I love her work, and because she uses prints so well, I am posting a couple of Miriam Shapiro’s pieces. She is not a fiber artist in the same sense that we are, in that she uses fabric as a collage element and does not stitch, but she uses printed fabrics for the same effects that I use them for.
There is a richness to these prints. There is an authentic “fabric-ness” that, to me, is part of the reason for using fabric and not paint or paper or elephant dung or wood chips. It is, I am sure, my own peculiarity, but I have a rule of “medium integrity” that says if you use fabric, you use it because you want the look of fabric, not in order to make fabric look like paint, or metal or anything else. I have a slight quibble, actually, with hand-dyed fabrics that mimic painted effects. Really, why not paint, if that is the look you are after?
Beyond the love of pattern and print, the other delightful part of using prints, for me, is the combining of prints. It is dicey–the combination can be too, too tasteful and “decorator-ish” or, with any luck, the combination can be spicy and magical and the sum will be greater than the accumulated parts. The pictures I am posting are of some work I did several years ago. In these pieces I was cutting prints up to combine to create new patterns. The individual fabrics did not read strongly in their own pattern, but became very much part of a new pattern. I must say, that I could not live without stripes. They are so often the element that unites and/or shapes what the combined patterns become.
Most recently I have simply been using prints, as June said, like paint and combining whatever feels like it works. The piece below includes a piece of African fabric (which is also used in the piece above, coincidentally), an old Liberty print as well as several quilting cottons. The side “borders” hark back to the previous pieces in that I have combined several prints to create a new pattern. In this piece you also see the outlines that I use, which June mentioned. I do think they help define and keep “crisp” the areas using prints.
So, for discussion, I’d like to hear:
1. Does anyone share my personal rule of “medium integrity” and how does it figure in your approach?
2. If you object to the use of commercial prints in your own work, why? Is it on the basis that you feel the work is not so original if it uses fabric of someone else’s design, or simply an aesthetic preference, or something else?