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Is Coloring on Fabric like Coloring on Paper?

If you think about it, this is a very good question!  Is coloring on fabric like coloring on paper?  There is not a simple, straightforward answer to this question!  In this week’s newsletter, and later ones as well, I will explore this in more detail.  But you may not be happy with my answer.  And, as much as I hate saying this, the only way to truly answer the question is to say “It depends!”.

But why ask the question?  Is it important to consider this when you want to learn about coloring on fabric?  I think so.  

In my own adventures with using pigments to color on fabric, this query was almost fundamental. Having had previous experiences coloring on paper, I had awareness and perception of that paper medium.

I used that to anticipate what might happen when I changed my base from paper to fabric. I had used several different pigments like pencils, colored pencils, pastels, watercolors and other pigments on paper. I even knew that different types of paper gave me different results.  Could it be the same with fabric?

Each of us has had experience with coloring on paper.  We started as children.  You may have moved away from coloring on paper or you may have embraced it as a wonderful relaxing way to unwind.  Just look at the popularity of adult coloring books! So you too have a base of experience.

Asking myself questions, based on past experiences while experimenting using pigments on fabric is a recognized method of learning is called “experiential education”.  And it is very powerful. 

This learning approach allowed me to examine my actions (the actual coloring on the fabric using different pigments) and my thought processes.  I was comparing and evaluating.  It was also important to also consider my emotional responses to the results achieved.

To this day, each project I do that involves coloring on fabric using pigments follows this same process.  I am always learning. It is always an adventure!

This approach has also taught me not to fear mistakes, but to value them.  In my mind, there are no mistakes, but lessons to be learned. Practice makes progress.  The more we experiment, the more we learn.  

And, when I teach my workshops or do my on-line Challenges, I try to pass these lessons on to my students.  I always hope to get them “hooked” on this wonderful journey of using pigments to color on fabric.

But let’s get back to the question at hand: Is coloring on fabric like coloring on paper? 

Since there are many answers to this question, I will start with some basics this week.  Then, in later newsletters I will continue to explore other aspects to this question.  So stay tuned!  Let me know what you think!  Can you also identify with what I am saying?

Color-core wrapped in wood (colored pencils) and hand-held blocks (pastels) examples

Before I go much further, let me clarify what I mean by coloring on fabric using pigments. Terminology is always a challenge when trying to describe things, but I will do my best.

My techniques focus on using what I call hand-held devices or mechanisms to apply pigments or color.  Specifically, this can mean pigments packaged in pencil form: a core of pigment (color) wrapped in a container of wood or other materials that can be cut away to expose the pigment.

Or a pigment that is packaged in a form that can be hand-held and not require a brush or other applicator to apply. I am talking about pigments packaged so we can draw with them directly onto the surface. The advantage is that the hands stay cleaner when using the pigments (hopefully!).

Examples include colored pencils, drawing pencils, watercolor pencils, ink pencils, pastel pencils and more.

There are other hand-held pigments that fit this description including chalks and pastels and inks in block form. These are much more messy on the fingers. Face makeup also fits this definition but also usually requires an applicator of some kind. 

That said, I do not mean to say that I don’t use other types of pigments. There are so many different pigments out there and more being created all the time.  The basics of understanding how to use pigments to color on fabric, and my techniques, can be applied to virtually any kind of pigment.  

Struggling to apply pigment to fabric back in 2013. I truly learned a lot!

In 2011 I had the opportunity to take a small group trip to Kenya, East Africa. During the trip we were assigned to groups of 6 per safari vehicle. There were 4 quilters in our Land Rover. We decided to do a Round Robin project to commemorate our trip. As I added my portion to each quilt top that came my way, I wanted to add my own special touch, and decided to use pigment on the fabric. I had played with pigments on fabric for some earlier pieces, but this was a little different.

This photograph shows me coloring on the fabric to add a giraffe to this border piece of the quilt top. I learned a lot of lessons that are related to the question presented above. First and foremost: Fabric is NOT like paper in that paper has a structure or body or stiffness to it that fabric does not. I did make it work so that I could apply the pigments, but later I learned better ways to stabilize my fabric so the application of pigments was much easier.

I always chuckle when I look at this photograph. It was fun but also frustrating creating the colored images on my fabric. In addition, my cat, Scooby Do, was bound and determined to get some attention while I tried to color. That also added to the challenge of coloring on the fabric. Ah, those were the days!

There are more commonalities and differences between paper and fabric when it comes to coloring on them with pigments. More on this topic in later newsletters.
I offer other workshops that are related to coloring on fabric using pigments. Most often these workshops are sponsored through Guilds or Shops to a group of interested people. Or they are taught to groups in my studio in Emporia, Kansas.

I am working on creating these as on-demand workshops that can be taken online. I will keep you posted when these are available.

One workshop called “Coloring on Fabric” must be done in person. The reason is that I bring a large variety of pigments for the attendees to try on fabric. Sort of a “try before you buy” kind of thing. This is a wonderfully fun half-day workshop with lots of laughter and experimentation.

Here is some feedback on this workshop from Tonya E who took the workshop in my studio in Emporia, Kansas in 2021. Of course, it was when Covid restrictions were not applicable. I miss those days and wish for their return.

Thanks for the wonderful feedback Tonya!

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