Channeling Helen: Painting Fabric

Painting Day is the day I set aside all the planning and premeditation that go into creating the diamonds. It's the day I splash around in wild color! I pretend I'm channeling Helen.

Helen Frankenthaler's "Nature Abhors a Vacuum," 1973. Patrons' Permanent Fund and Gift of Audrey and David Mirvish, Toronto, Canada. National Gallery of Art, Washington.CreditHelen Frankenthaler/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York — via National Gallery of Art

Helen Frankenthaler's "Nature Abhors a Vacuum," 1973. Patrons' Permanent Fund and Gift of Audrey and David Mirvish, Toronto, Canada. National Gallery of Art, Washington.CreditHelen Frankenthaler/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York — via National Gallery of Art

I adore the work of Helen Frankenthaler. Ms. Frankenthaler developed a method of painting known as "Color Field". The image above is of her 1973 miracle titled "Nature Abhors a Vacuum." She poured thinned paint onto huge raw canvases so that it soaked into the fabric weave. (Source: New York Times, 12/27/2011). She transitioned on December 27, 2011, at the age of 83.

And here is a sampling of my enthusiastic, but oh-so-lame attempts to channel Helen....

Fabric prepared for "Angel's Share" (Series: Bourbon Diamonds)

Fabric prepared for "Angel's Share" (Series: Bourbon Diamonds)

Of course, these sheets of color aren't meant to be works of art. They'll eventually become the facets in my diamonds.

Fabric prepared for "Old Fashioned New" (Series: Bourbon Diamonds)

Fabric prepared for "Old Fashioned New" (Series: Bourbon Diamonds)

There is nothing high-tech about this process. I repurposed this old frame that I cobbled together with wooden slats and wingnuts 25 years ago to use as a design wall. The picture of the frame below, however, is missing several very important things: the plastic tarp that I drape from the top of the wall to the floor and the heavy duty drop cloth that I spread underneath the frame. This process is wonderfully messy. 

The frame I use.... Don't laugh! It serves its purpose.

The frame I use.... Don't laugh! It serves its purpose.

A bit of information about the process... I use cotton sateen fabric ordered from Dharma Trading Company. I love the subtle sheen of the cloth and the tight weave makes it feel more like a canvas.

I love working with Jacquard's Dye-na-flow fabric paints, also ordered from Dharma Trading Company. (You can also find a limited selection of sizes at Preston's Art Center here in Louisville.) As it says on each bottle, "Dye-na-flow covers, flows and blends like a true dye on all untreated fabrics. It remains soft and permanent. Fixing it is as simple as ironing." True that.

After pinning the fabric to the frame, I use a spray bottle to dampen the entire piece of cloth with water. This allows me to immediately lay down color and spread it out into a wash to white OR blend it with another color laid down next to it.

I can get a fairly deep saturation of the darker colors (browns, grays, blues) by using pure color out of the bottle on the fabric. But because the water that has penetrated the fabric always modifies the saturation a bit, I use commercially dyed fabric for the deepest black, brown, and blue tones.

Next step: Cutting & Piecing. More on that in my next post.