Art cloth

Screenprinting and the dance of improvisation

Screenprints & monoprints
Two screens over monoprinted, handpainted fabrics. Fiber reactive dyes. Created by Astrid Hilger Bennett

Recently, I was invited to contribute images to a updated revision of Jane Dunnewold’s book, Improvisational Screenprinting, currently underway. Jane is a well known teacher and artist who has found ways to explore approaches to creativity and playing as a way of developing as an artist. I looked through my image files and found these samples, which all include a mixed technique approach to making fabrics. You’ll see registered screen printing in regularized patterns, and multiple screen overlays used for generating texture and layering in conjunction with monoprinting. Also included are screen prints over vintage and repurposed linens.

Tools screen on monoprinted fabrics
“Tools” screenprint over monoprinted, handpainted fabrics. Fiber reactive dyes. Created by Astrid Hilger Bennett
“Tools” screenprint over handpainted fabrics using leftover fiber reactive dyes. Created by Astrid Hilger Bennett

Screenprinting has always been exciting and inspiring to me. Now, with photo emulsion techniques, we can translate drawings to screens in ways that were not possible in the 1970s and 1980s. In those days, really toxic chemicals were used to adhere screens. I gave it up for a couple of decades. Now, I choose from more than 40 screens in my studio, and I’m always adding more. I use them for creating richly texture fabrics, and also simple functional textiles for the artful home.

screenprints, monoprints
Two screens over monoprinted, handpainted fabrics. Fiber reactive dyes. Created by Astrid Hilger Bennett
“Artists’ Hands” screenprint and one more, with monoprinting and handpainting, fiber reactive dyes, by Astrid Bennett
Leaf screenprint plus handpainting and monoprinting.
Empty screens overprinted using fiber reactive dyes, by Astrid Bennett
vintage linens
Screenprinting using ProFab textile inks on vintage and repurposed linens, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
vintage linens
Screenprinting using ProFab textile inks on vintage and repurposed linens, by Astrid Hilger Bennett

Snow Tarp

Unlike last year, cold temperatures and snow have been the story for this winter. Always interesting to see how snow changes the balance of color, of white to black, of light. Here is Undercurrents 4, from my Tarp Series,  in a temporary immersion.

Undercurrents 4, Tarp Series, Handpainted, monoprinted cotton fabric with mixed media and last year’s coreopsis.

The Studio Day: Creativity & the Great Balancing Act

Last September, I engaged in a much-needed weekend in my studio. Looking upon my upcoming role as Surface Design Association President, I knew I MUST prioritize making time for balance and creative work, so critical to making the rest of  life function well. In that,  I am just like 99.9% of our SDA members and all my other colleagues I know outside of SDA. All ages, all stages.

Suddenly I had an idea: talk about the importance of a studio day.  A day later, I read that I’m not alone in my thinking. Here’s the piece in the New York Times.

What follows are the closing comments I made at SDA’s Made/Aware: Socially-Engaged Practices Intensive at Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. (Read a wonderful summary of this event, written by Tamryn McDermott for SDA’s NewsBlog.) I appeared in my studio garb, my SDA “uniform” —apron, t-shirt and torn jeans, rubber gloves in my pockets. I spoke to this gathering of artists, educators, students, makers, who among them have amassed an impressive list of accomplishments and inquiry, with dedication and enthusiasm.

This is what I said, illustrated here with photos from my past:

We are first and foremost, a community of makers. Many of us working in textile and new media do this as a tactile antidote to our increasingly digital world. In whatever stages of life you find yourself—longtime artist, recent college grad, juggling paid employment, or retired but wanting to rekindle a longtime interest —creative work is never an easy fit into a busy life. The quest for work-life balance challenges all of us and increasingly is part of a national conversation, as recent media articles have pointed out.

Four friends at the Surface Design Conference, Kansas City Art Institute

SDA helps us to promote connections with our fellow makers. Our group of largely textile-centric makers is the most diverse of any national textile organizations available to us. The SDA Journal, Blog, and our members show us a broader way of thinking about what we do, as do SDA’s tools such as exhibitions, grants and fellow aficionados to talk shop with.

How do YOU make time for creativity? No one path fits all. Creative success is rarely about being secluded and monastic, — it’s about living fully within our lives, a frame of mind. Often, it’s about enjoying the ride, the process rather than the final outcome.

My own life confirms this. I joined SDA as a recent college grad and worked in my studio in addition to jobs and new motherhood. I always referred to my studio work as my fourth child. If I didn’t pay attention, it screamed and hollered. There was a time when my creative moment coincided with Mr Rogers Neighborhood on Public Television.

looms are great jungle gyms for toys

Archive photo: Astrid finishing handwoven ikat wall piece

learning fold and dip dye

Later, I saw firsthand how the kind of creative thinking that artists employ brought new ideas to the table in our  Downtown District, where I worked as a long time manager for Iowa Artisans Gallery, a 4000 square foot business with 200 artists, and served on committees for community initiatives. And it wasn’t just me. For a time, the interim head of the local Area Chamber of Commerce was a graphic designer who injected new life into the organization. As a business manager/owner, I hired artists with both retail and creative abilities, or others who simply wanted to be creative, encouraging them to pursue and fulfill their own personal life destinies as artists of all stripes.

Iowa Artisans Gallery staff, 2015

Throughout this time, I always tried to guard my studio day on Fridays.  Make no mistake: work-life balance is an issue for everyone I know.

I invite you to join me in making time for creativity during a weekly Studio Day, whether it’s by learning/contemplation only, or by active doing, —for an hour a day, a day a week, or many days every month, whatever fits. And wouldn’t it be great if SDA, as an organization, took a “studio day.” (Mind you, I’m not saying we should shut down our website  for a day a week, just that our Board, staff and members can commune together in that great notion.) We share the importance of creativity to the structure and balance of our lives.  Let the community of SDA members inspire us to be more than who we are working alone. It is not selfish. It is about good self-management practices that make us more meaningfully productive in all of life.

Lastly if you believe in SDA and its community, here are a few easy things you can do to help strengthen this organization. First, invite a friend to join the SDA community. Our membership numbers are crucial to publishing our robust, quarterly Journal. And there’s more, but that’s for a future discussion. Second, thank our advertising partners and suggest new ones. (I’ll do it here for the ones I have used for years in my own work: shout-outs and thanks to ProChemical & Dye, Testfabrics, Dharma Trading.) They wonder if their ads are unseen, down some big black hole. WE NOTICE!

So, I’ve come to the end of this little talk, and on behalf of the SDA Board, Staff and all of our volunteers, I wish you a safe and inspired journey home, to the heart of your creative work and life and your very own SDA uniform! Ciao!

Gallery staff having a painting day

Astrid teaching at Penland School of Crafts

Cat learning screenprinting at Home Ec Workshop

Helix Center Biotech Incubator Commission

This fall I completed a large commission entitled Dark Summer Sky: Mica, Stars & Fireflies  for permanent installation in the Helix Center Biotech Incubator  in St Louis, MO. This innovative facility created by the St Louis Economic Development Partnership, bills itself as a place for “startup bioscience, technology or plant and life science businesses,” with wet and dry labs, office space, mentoring and more. Currently, I’m told there are close to 40 tenants, and an expansion is planned. A perfect concept that matches my own interests in science and entrepreneurship.

My connection to this project started two years ago. I was contacted by Faith Berger, 652 Moderne Art Consultants about supplying a large textile piece for a shared meeting space. Berger found my work through the Fiber Art Collective website , which led her to my own website. (Ironically, the piece that caught her eye was Two Weeks in Autumn,  a large, 10′ triptych from a commission made for a client who found my work on the Surface Design Association website.)  At first the project was for a 10′ x 6′ piece. Faith particularly liked some of my works, like Pods 1. I supplied some ideas and sent some actual pieces to demonstrate potential textures and colors. I was told that earthy colors (mossy green, dusty rose red, browns) would be a good color palette, and that the piece would be hanging against a wood paneled wall with modernist furniture, necessitating a ceiling hanging device.

Accommodating a wooden wall as background meant that if I decided to do my usual triptych for this large size format, the wood grain and color would have to figure into the design of the piece. That was not a good fit; I felt the grain would interfere with rather than support the idea. Therefore, I designed this as one long piece.

The project went on hiatus for a while, only to be rekindled with a different concept in summer 2014. Project designer/architect Stacey Hudson, Professional Office Environments (POE), liked what she saw in my art quilt, Mica 2, above, taking the project into quite a different direction. This was a piece made in response to an experience I had while teaching at Penland School of Crafts. While walking back to my quarters on a dark summer night, the mica in the ground sparkled, forming one continuum with the stars in the sky and fireflies. Very powerful.

I went back to the drawing board, reworking the concept as well as the size to 15′ x 4′ based on the room elevations. I then submitted several ideas. Mica 2 worked well in the smaller scale in which it was made, but it wasn’t a design layout that lent itself to a larger format, so I had to rethink that. I divided the piece diagonally to provide forward movement and added a complementary color way. Mica 2 is a pleasing, “quiet” piece, nothing too visually challenging. It plays a supporting role to the ambience of the place.

This new design was approved in early August, 2014, for completion around the end of October. I quickly went to work creating fabrics using hand painting and mono printing techniques, always making more than I thought I would need.

Although I have made large pieces before, this was the largest to date and it was not a triptych. Simply creating the design and hanging the final product in one piece was challenging but one I knew I could handle. To assemble the piece, I used both the floor plus a large, end-to-end wall in my 100-year old house. Designing was done on the horizontal wall. When I was satisfied with the layout, I stitched it together. Then I took it apart to create three separate pieces for stitching/quilting. These were laid out on my 10 foot printing table to make the “quilt sandwich”, i.e. with backing and needle punched batting, then pinned. Stitching took place on an ordinary sewing machine, which I always use.

When I finished quilting/stitching the three separate pieces, I re-stitched them together. This diagonal seam was a little tricky in that the quilting had shifted and tightened up the fabrics. I had to make sure that the seams were correct, or else the piece would not be square.

During this time, I researched hanging rods. Because of the wood wall, I could not use my usual solution. Since my original intention was to ship the piece, the rods needed to be no longer than six feet. I settled on 3/4 aluminum tubing, which is hollow for added strength. A short length of dowel joined two of the tubes in two places, creating one long hanging device.

My last step was add top and bottom casings and bindings. My original intention was not to use a binding, but simply to finish the edges as they were. With the large size, this was not possible, because the piece needed to be squared up. In its finished form, it measures 175 x 42.”

In the end, I delivered the piece in person, driving the four hours through autumnal landscapes, wary of the deer in rutting season in early November. Northeastern Missouri, near the Mississippi River, is quite beautiful, and the thinning of vegetation meant that old Prairie family graveyards, ancient trees and southern-style architecture were all in view. Delivery was well worth the drive. It was rewarding to see the piece installed and meet the people involved with this project. And it is a treat to be associated with this facility, the Helix Center, as well as with Faith Berger and 652 Moderne.

35 years of textile samples, part 2: stitched & clamped resists

In the previous post, I described needing a storage container and finding myself immersed in sorting through a career’s worth of textile samples and explorations. Here is Part 2 of this archive, stitched and clamped resists on cotton and silk, using Procion MX dyes. This is a tradition more popularly known as tie dye, but it stems from a rich textile heritage that is very considered and carefully made.

Bound resist cotton, Procion MX dyes, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Bound resist cotton, Procion MX dyes, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Clamp resist cotton, Procion MX dyes, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Bound resist silk, Procion MX dyes, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Clamp resist on silk, Procion MX dyes, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Clamp resist and silk resist on silk, Procion MX dyes, by Astrid Hilger Bennett
Stitch resist, silk

 

 

ICON Gallery Exhibit, plus a night in Fairfield

Work by Astrid Hilger Bennett, Icon Gallery, Fairfield

Contemporary Art Quilts of Astrid Hilger Bennett, Carol Coohey, BJ Parady and Judy Zoelzer Levine is featured exhibition at ICON Gallery in Fairfield, Iowa. What a wonderful installation: clean, light-filled and spacious, the best installation of my own work I’ve ever come across. This is ICON’s first-ever art quilt exhibition; exhibit dates are October 7 to November 12. ICON is located at 58 Main St. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday noon to 4pm, Saturday 1 – 4pm, and by appointment. For more information, contact ICON Gallery by phone, 641.919.6252.

“Curators Wendy Read and Karen Harris have brought four of the best contemporary art quilters in the region to ICON Gallery,” says ICON Director Bill Teeple. “If you are used to traditional quilt making in Iowa, this will be an eye opener. It contains the visual and conceptual impact of a contemporary painting exhibit.” My personal opinion is that the Midwest is rich with exceptional art quilters. We appreciate the compliment, and curator Wendy Read, also a SAQA (Studio Art Quilt Association) Iowa Representative and Karen Harris did a great job balancing styles of work, which makes for a conceptually strong show. What follows are images more from my own section of the exhibit; the work was divided up by artist into different mini-galleries. By the way, Carol Coohey, BJ Parady and Astrid Hilger Bennett, are all members of the Surface Design Association, and all four of us, including Judy Zoelzer Levine, are members of SAQA. For a more detailed look at images in this post, be sure to click on the image and watch it expand.

Looking towards the gallery with Judy Zoelzer Levine’s Body of Evidence, Contemporary Art Quilts, ICON Gallery

more from Judy Zoelzer Levine’s Body of Evidence, ICON Art Gallery

 

left to right: BJ Parady, Carol Coohey, Astrid Hilger Bennett & Director Bill Teeple in front of a work by Coohey, ICON Art Gallery

Astrid with her work, Icon Gallery, Fairfield, IA

Carol Coohey is a newer, talented fiber artist living in Coralville, Iowa,  who has recently really found her own voice. This collection of work, entitled Voices, is powerful and was developed using many surface design techniques inclduing drawing, discharge, screenprinting and painting before quilting. Carol explains, “My most recent work focuses on the rights of girls and women, especially in the Middle East.  To make my collage paintings, I use un-gessoed cloth as the foundation.  I draw, paint and print on cloth with dye, discharge paste, ink and acrylic paint.   I spend half my time teaching and conducting research on violence at a university and half of my time creating art.  The themes in my research often carry over into my artwork.  Earlier in my career, I worked as a graphic artist and an art therapist.

In the Voices Series, I focus on how policy and culture affect the lives of women and girls living in the Middle East.  I explore universal themes, such as the right to an education and the influence of culture on girl’s and women’s decision-making. Stylistically, I’ve drawn on graffiti street art which has become a form of political protest in the Middle East during recent years.”

Illinois artist BJ Parady works primarily on silk and recyled fabrics, creating smaller pieces where marks made by stitching are important. She interprets Midwestern landscape. “My art reflects the microcosm in which I live—where the tall grass prairie used to be. I am inspired daily by the big skies, the reflection of light on water, the remaining remnants of native plants. I have come to embrace the idea of abstraction—capturing the essence of a moment rather than a literal depiction of a scene that could just as easily be photographed.”

Judy Zoelzer Levine’s Body of Evidence series is composed of 25 art quilts interpreting the female human form. A Wisconsin artist, Levine created these works over a span of many years.

Astrid Hilger Bennett approaches her pieces as she would a piece of music, using painting, monoprinting, screenprinting and other techniques to make large scale, abstract wall art. For more information on  her work, please check out the gallery and other pages on this website.

Contemporary Art Quilts, ICON Gallery

Iowa SDA-SAQA-IA Artquilters Meeting

Iowa is a big state with a small population, smaller than the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Our Surface Design Association (SDA) and Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA) are small enough that it makes sense to pool our resources and meet together in different locations in central and eastern Iowa. I held an earlier meeting last February at my home, and this time Carol Coohey shared her home and inspiring studio with us. Nineteen women attended from the Des Moines area, Elkader, Grinnell, Guernsey, Oskaloosa, Fairfield, Cedar Rapids and Iowa City/Coralville.

Karin Gundlach explored the issue of what kind of finishing presentation is most appropriate to art quilts and fiber art in general, especially smaller pieces. She posed several questions in an online SAQA forum and received a wealth of technical responses, from mounting on a protruding cloth-covered or painted “frame,” to shadow box framing, to armatures. In general the consensus was that framing or mounting of some kind helps to set these pieces off and relate them to their environment. Some participants shared pieces in which presentation was discussed.

Kris Grover shares her ideas for studio design (above), with Amanda Murphy discussing lighting (below)

Kris Grover, former University of Iowa space planner and mixed media artist then shared her Studio Design Challenge, where she converts a small 10 x 10′ bedroom-type space into a functional studio. She shared drafts of this presentation, done on her laptop with many images included. This was a very interesting presentation that we could have spent more time on; Kris had many ideas for finding simple storage units at janitor supply shops and places like Cabellas. One idea was installing a simple overhead bike rack to hang three dimensional works from while they’re in progress. Then
Amanda Murphy, a lighting consultant for Light Expressions and a mixed media artist working three dimensionally with concrete and felt, shared ideas and answered questions for adequate lighting.

Lastly, we had a tour of Carol Coohey‘s impressive studio space. Not grungy like mine, but airy and clean. She does deconstructed screen printing in the way that Kerr Grabowski does, but adds her own spin and has recently started doing regular screen printing. One look at her extensive wall of fabrics, all hanging from a cork strip rail, and one can’t help but admire her grasp of this process.

Carol Coohey with her wall of deconstructed screen printed fabrics

After the meeting, participants split up, some attending Dianne Day’s show at Arbor Gallery, some going to central Iowa City to visit Home Ec Workshop, Prairie Lights Books and Iowa Artisans Gallery, and some home. An interesting, enlightening time.

A New Year: scraps + art cloth

Time to return to painting and printing, but first, taking advantage of opportunities the new year provides: completing partially finished pieces. Shown above: works on cotton broadcloth (left) and a cotton-hemp mix (right). Hemp dyes beautifully; the effect is a bit like linen, which screenprints nicely.

Then, art cloth. I am screenprinting using dyes instead of fabric paints. Procion fiber reactive dyes bond at the molecular level with the natural fibers they are applied to. This results in a soft “hand” to the fabric and good wash-fastness. Dyes are transparent and create wonderful effects when layered. Even the best fabric paints (I use Pro-Chem’s Pro Fab fabric paints) leave a stiffened fabric, and it’s difficult to achieve the transparency I like. My last real burst of screenprinting involved fabric paints to make functional items like tea cozies, table cloths, napkins, and yes, wall hangings. Predating my art quilts, this was 15 years ago. Now I’m eager to try some of my three dozen screens with thickened dye. What follows is a sequence of printing over two days, 2.5 yards.


This is really an interesting combination of colors, but the white will look untended when finished, so I move on with more monoprinting over the screenprinting


the finished fabric, heat set, washed and dried