Enrich Your Surface Design Mark-Making Vocabulary

pokey boltonsurface design examplesI can still remember the thrill of first learning to read. When I realized those marks on the page meant something and I could figure it out all by myself, I devoured every book I could get my little hands on.

In time, as my decoding ability improved, I was no longer content with the picture books on the bottom shelf. So I headed for the thicker books on the higher shelves. Inside, the words were bigger and more complex, but learning them resulted in rich rewards: with a bigger vocabulary, I could express myself more accurately and colorfully.

I think the same could be said for fiber art, particularly surface design. The more techniques and media you explore, the bigger vocabulary you have to express exactly what you want to in your art.

When I first started stamping, screen printing, and making resist prints, I was ecstatic with the results. And I still rely on the basics of those techniques every time I'm in the studio. But after a while, I was itching to expand my surface design vocabulary.

surface designI found it in artist and teacher Kerr Grabowski, who is the thesaurus of surface design technique. I've seen her in action as a guest on "Quilting Arts TV" and she has taught a Quilting Arts WorkshopTM video, "Adventures in Surface Design: Screen Printing & Beyond."

In that video she explains, "With mark making, the more you find marks that really speak to you, the better able you are to express what you're trying to say."

I couldn't agree more.

One of the ways she helps you expands the language of screen printing is through "dusty media" like charcoal, chalk pastels, pastel pencils, and even sidewalk chalk.  

These tools, meant for paper, allow you to make expressive marks on fabric that are different from a stencil print, screen print, or stitching. By applying fabric paint binder (plain or tinted) before or after you make the marks, you can make them permanent on fabric.

surface design charcoalHere are just some of Kerr's tips and ideas for using dusty media to make marks on fabric.

Using the side of the chalk or charcoal, you can make broad marks. Then, use the end of the stick to make lines. Kerr usually works large and likes to make sweeping strokes.

You can smudge dusty media, blending the edges of the marks for a subtle, blurred effect.

Dusty media make soft, subtle relief rubbings. Be sure to use a light hand when applying the charcoal or pastel to the fabric.

surface designLayer a stencil over a rubbing plate or other relief texture. This will yield smooth outlined areas with a textured interior.

Use the "sifter" approach. Apply a thin coat of binder medium to a small area of the fabric with a squeegee or credit card. Make a screen out of a small embroidery hoop and material like a window sheer. Put a stencil down on the treated fabric and lightly scrape the chalk against the top of the screen, sifting the dust onto the stencil to make a pattern. You can layer colors this way, or add charcoal siftings for shading.

Now that you have some new mark making "words," you can use them on their own or go back into previously screen-printed fabric and use them to make your surface design express exactly what you want to say.

Anyone who wants to take their screen printing and mark-making skills to the next level would learn a lot from "Adventures in Surface Design."

Now's a good time, too, while this video and hundreds of other fun and inspiring products are 40 percent off during the Interweave Store Spring Cleaning Sale.

Other topics you may enjoy:


Hand Embroidery, Monoprinting & Screenprinting, Quilting Daily Blog

3 thoughts on “Enrich Your Surface Design Mark-Making Vocabulary

  1. Quilitng arts is a great resource. I drew on fabric with charcoal and when I searched the internet for “charcoal surface design” this article came up and answered my question. Yes, I can set the charcoal in part by using a fabric medium. I really like the quality of the charcoal on fabric, a fabric marker did not have the quality I was after. A former Fiber Arts Magazine subscriber, I look foward to more techniques in my new Quilting Arts subscription.