Paper compositions rendered on fabric
The solution to the coldness of the computer is to leave it out of the process entirely until it’s absolutely necessary. This is currently my preferred way of working:
- Paint paper in a variety of colors (a full range of hues and values; don’t forget the neutrals).
- Prepare a painted background on card stock.
- Cut the shapes from your colored paper required to create a composition.
- Arrange the shapes, lines, etc. on the painted background.
- Add other drawn or printed elements to the composition if appropriate.
- Glue the shapes and lines in place on the background.
- Scan or photograph the resulting composition, then store the original someplace flat, dry, and safe. As noted above, I’ve been storing my work in sheet protectors in a binder.
- Open the image file in an image editing program (e.g., Adobe Photoshop) and do whatever retouching, adjustments, or color correction is necessary. Crop or scale the image as needed.
- When the design is finished, upload it to an online printing service for output on fabric.
- For me, the final, optional step is often to layer the printed fabric with batting and backing, then add dense quilting that speaks to the printed design. I often incorporate hand stitch as well.
The design work is completely analog. The computer is only used as a means of getting the resulting composition printed on cloth. Working this way keeps me slow and focused and avoids those times when I get lost in trying to figure out how to do something using Photoshop that I can easily do by hand.
To my way of thinking there aren’t many cons to this method, except for the one that’s inherent in all works of the hand. Unlike the digital design method described above, when you cut something it’s cut; when you make a mark it’s made. There aren’t too many easy undos, but isn’t that part of the fun?
Technical and design considerations
There are several technical considerations to bear in mind when using either of these hybrid manual/digital methods, particularly if you are using the second approach to prepare an entire composition on paper for later printing on cloth.
Resolution and scale
If you prepare your cut shapes or your entire composition at a size smaller than you intend to print it, then you will need to enlarge your image before printing. That means that you need to consider two things:
- Understand the relationship between the image resolution from your camera or scanner and the final resolution required for printing on cloth. Some manipulation of the resolution will be required and you need to consider the resolution requirement of the printer.
- Regardless of image resolution, if your final printed cloth is larger than your original paper composition, then you are scaling up. That scale change means that you need to plan for your design elements to be enlarged or you need to work on larger paper. Those delicate marks on your paper design can become a lot less elegant at 400%.
Photographing and scanning
If possible and practical, use a flatbed scanner to create an image of your paper composition. You might still need to do some color adjustments, but your work will be held perfectly flat, lit evenly, and imaged at a high resolution.
If your work is too large to scan (e.g., larger than 8.5” x 11” or 8.5” x 14”), then you can either scan it in sections or photograph it. Scanning in sections requires planning up front. For example, will you build your design across several sheets of paper or will you work on one large sheet and cut it into smaller pieces for scanning? Ultimately, these individual images will need to be combined to form a single seamless image.
If you’re photographing your composition because you don’t have access to a scanner or don’t want to cut up a piece that’s too large to scan, then it’s important to photograph the piece as flat as possible, light it evenly, fill the camera’s viewfinder as completely as possible to maximize resolution, and make certain that your camera is square to the plane of the artwork (i.e., not tilted, twisted, or angled). Use a tripod and focus carefully to insure that the image is as sharp as possible.
Color correction and management
To get the color from your printer that you want on your final cloth you’re going to need to pay close attention to color throughout the process. That likely means color correcting what you’re getting out of your camera or scanner, working on a color corrected monitor, and accounting for the color profile of the printer that will be used to create your fabric. Alternatively, you can just not stress over color and accept what you get back from the printer.
Finally, if you incorporate painted newsprint or any other paper with visible writing on it into your composition, realize that even if the text is upside down and backwards the viewer will try to read it and assign meaning to it. Be intentional in your use of text and pay close attention to the amount of text that is visible on your painted paper.
Products and services referenced in this article:
- Adobe Photoshop (https://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop.html)
- Adobe Illustrator (https://www.adobe.com/products/illustrator.html)
- X-ACTO #1 Precision Knife (https://www.dickblick.com/products/x-acto-1-knife/)
- Uhu Stic Glue stick (https://www.dickblick.com/products/uhu-stic-glue-sticks/)
- Bienfang Graphics 360 marker pad (https://www.dickblick.com/products/bienfang-graphics-360-marker-paper/)
- Spoonflower.com online digital fabric printing service
- Staples medium weight sheet protectors (https://www.staples.com/Staples-Standard-Sheet-Protectors-100-Pack/product_40713)