A couple of months ago I spent the day with Jane Dávila while she was filming lessons for her Craft Online University course, Printing on Fabric with Natural Materials. I watched in awe as she deftly printed fabric using fruits, vegetables, and even rubber fish. It looked like such fun I could barely wait to go home and start printing with the contents of my fruit bowl!
In between takes as we were cleaning up and getting prepped for the next lesson, Jane and I talked about fiber art, what inspires her work, and how she got her start. Here’s a look at what we talked about:
Q: How do you approach your artwork; do you begin with many sketches or do jump in?
A: I have a sketchbook that I use to capture ideas, and I do generally start with a “thumbnail” sketch of a new design, but I work through the actual composition full size with fabric and paper in hand, making adjustments as I go. The final result usually looks somewhat like the original thumbnail but not exactly like it. I also spend time commuting, waiting to fall asleep, waiting for appointments, etc, working through design problems in my head. This way, when I am in the studio a lot of the “pre-thinking” has already been done and various choices have already been sifted through and I can get right to work.
Q: I saw in your website bio that you started your career as a printmaker, what made you decide to try printing on fabric?
A: My mom, Claire Oehler, and I opened a brick and mortar quilt shop in 1990, which is when I learned to quilt. After a while it occurred to me to combine my love for printmaking and my love for fiber and stitching into one art form and I began applying some of the printmaking techniques that I used on paper on fabric instead. I’ve completed the crossover because my printmaking on paper now includes stitching!
Q: Iconography and cultural expression are themes that appear in your work again and again. Which surface design techniques do you use to communicate these ideas to your audience?
A: I’m particularly fascinated with letter forms of all languages. One of the easiest ways to incorporate letters and characters into my work is by carving my own stamps. Typography in any alphabet is beautiful and can deepen and enrich an artwork. I like to hide words and characters that relate to the subject of a work, adding another layer of meaning to it, and rewarding the viewer who studies it.
Q: We’ve noticed waning interest in some surface design techniques, and an increased interest in others. What do you see as the current trends in surface design as it applies to fiber artists? What will be the “next big thing” in your opinion?
A: I’m not sure I pay too much attention to the trends. Block printing, for example, is a form of printmaking that has been used on fabric for over 2000 years and I find it just as relevant today. It’s one of my go-to techniques. Interest in a technique may wax and wane, but most remain classics. One thing that drives the rise and fall of trends is related to new products in the industry. A new paint, dye, or tool may be released and a flurry of interest around it leads to more and more people using it, and more and more fiber art being shown or written about using it. So in some respects the manufacturers drive the trends.
It is interesting to see how the fashion and home décor industries pick up on surface design techniques that we fiber artists have celebrated for years. Shibori and indigo dyeing are having a moment in home décor this year, and the prediction is that block printing on fabric will be the next big thing in that niche.
Q: What future do you see for surface design? Do you think it will start making an appearance within the modern quilting movement?
A: Surface design will always appeal to fiber artists who are looking for original, unique fabric and control over pattern and color for their work. That appeal won’t ever go away, but will evolve as trends to creating the pattern and color rise and fall. I would love to see more surface design work migrate into the modern quilt movement. One of the biggest influences on me as a newbie quilter back in the 90s was the Esprit Collection of graphic Amish quilts, which are visually very related to modern quilts, almost precursors of the modern quilt movement as bold graphic quilts made from solid fabrics and often large fields of color. I always imagined making quits inspired by those but with fabric I’d printed myself, so it would be interesting to see hand printed fabric made into modern quilts. Maybe now is the time to circle back to that idea!
Q: You wrote a column for several years for Quilting Arts Magazine and have given webseminars about the business aspects of being an artist. With the rise of various visually-oriented social media platforms including Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat; what role do you see those playing in a successful artist’s business?
A: If an artist is comfortable with digital video technology, then live streaming apps like Snapchat and Periscope, and Facebook Live can be excellent ways to connect with potential and existing customers, clients, and students. Because our work as artists is so visual and those visuals (photos of finished work and process) are really compelling, leveraging Pinterest and Instagram to reach a larger audience and grow our own communities feels like a given. Instagram is great for allowing your audience a sneak peek at new work, the process of creating it, your inspiration, and your studio. Pinterest is excellent for showing groupings of your work chronologically, by series, or even by color. The live streaming apps are like having your own personal television station, you can have a chat with your followers about your work, and future or current projects, you can offer quick tutorials or coming attractions, you can interview fellow artists and makers – they can be a fantastic way to really show your personality and tell your story, which helps your audience feel invested in you.
A: I would encourage fiber artists to find the techniques and methods that serve their work, that make them happy, and then push those techniques and methods to discover their own spin on them, their own way of speaking through them. Classes and workshops are excellent vehicles for being exposed to new-to-you materials, supplies, techniques, and more, and a teacher’s expertise, tips and tricks, and the results of their trial and error work can save you a lot of time and headache when you try it for yourself. If you then experiment beyond the material in a workshop, building on the information presented, you can develop a variation on a technique or process that may be a perfect fit for your own work.
If you are intrigued by learning how to print on fabric with natural materials, you won’t want to miss her online course. In Printing on Fabric with Natural Materials Jane demonstrates how to print using everything from artichokes to leaves over UV reactive dye. Her lessons are such fun; you’ll feel like you’re at a surface design summer camp!