I came across Carla Sonnheim’s blog as part of a weekly challenge that I periodically dash to catch up with. Sonnheim has lots of ideas for doing art with children as well as stuff for adults and is well worth checking out. There are some lovely free short tutorials on the blog which caught my imagination. One of them was an exercise using washi tape, which is basically exquisite, addictive, collectable printed Japanese masking tape. My favourite is the MT brand, which I think just stands for masking tape. I am embarrassed about the amount of it I have got. It is about £3-£5 a roll so you think it’s a cheap treat, but it rather adds up. You can get it everywhere now. IKEA do a nice but limited range, Paperchase has lots, including authentic-looking Japanese designs, as well as lovely vintage-looking stuff. I even found a reasonable range in Wilkos. You could also use ordinary masking tape and colour it with felt pens or similar. So, if you want to have a go at this it is easy to find the materials.
The exercise involved cutting or tearing five pieces of washi which you arrange on a piece of paper in any way you like. Then you take a different roll of tape and add five more random pieces this time making sure to overlap them with the first five. Then you turn the paper round and look for an animal in it. This is fairly easy as we are programmed in some way to recognise faces in abstract shapes and finding animals is only one step up. Then, when you have found the beast, you add more tape to fill in outlines and build it up and finally finish off with a pen to draw in details and firm up silhouettes.
I had a lot of success with this. First off was a found poodle with a jaunty hat:
Then a stretching dog:
Then a bird partially hidden in foliage:
I really liked these and they reminded me of the wonderful work of Peter Clark who makes exquisite paper collages of dogs like this one:
So, I thought the next step would be to try to do this in fabric and thread. I do a lot of drawing with the needle embroidery, and so I was confident I could do a nice sketchy drawing.
I decided to recycle and use the baby wipes I use for putting paint onto my sketchbook pages, dried out and pressed. I ironed them onto bondaweb and cut them into shapes. I learned my first lesson right there. A lot of the energy of the washi pieces comes from the fact that they are torn not cut. My cut up wipes looked more like tangram pieces. Tangram is a square cut into seven pieces which you arrange to make pictures. I think you are supposed to use all seven, and I hated doing it as a child, so that put me in a slightly bad mood – reinventing something I hate:
I persevered and then discovered that the sewing machine, which is my very grate frend, really did not want to stitch through baby wipes and fusible adhesive onto furnishing fabric with cheap polyester thread. I gave up in the end as you can see in the elephant. Anyway, here are the results:
This is my found whale, and here is a detail:
I include this to show the very subtle marbling on this wipe used to apply deep blue acrylic paint (I dispose of the cloths responsibly, by the way). Here is the elephant:
As you can probably see, I finished them off with a very heavy felt marker pen.
So, I loved the washi versions, and the second learning point was that they worked, particularly the poodle, because the washi was so good. But the technique did not transfer that well to cloth because the edges were too defined and mechanical. I couldn’t tear the wipes and so a lot of the spontaneity was lost.