Thursday, 19 September 2013

Elephant No. 17: Inktense Pencils on Fabric

I saw this technique a couple of months ago at an art quilt show featuring, among others, my friend Marie-France Gosselin. Marie-France has a fantastic colour sense, and seems game to try almost any medium on her art quilts. So, when she spoke of using Inktense watercolour pencils on fabric, I decided to give it a try.

For those of you not familiar with Inktense pencils, they're technically like other watercolour pencils, but give you much more saturated colours than any other watercolour pencil I've ever tried. I'm a big fan.

Marie-France mentioned using the Inktense colour blocks as well, so I bought six of them yesterday at a local art store.

I thought about painting on a simple piece of fabric, then remembered that the dollar store has canvas artist aprons for two or three dollars. So I bought one.

There are many different opinions out there on how to go about painting on fabric with Inktense pencils:
• Use unwashed fabric to keep the pigments from bleeding. Which is fine unless you want the pigments to bleed.
• Use textile medium to make the colours more permanent; although textile medium makes the fabric more stiff.
• Ironing the piece afterwards makes the colours permanent; no need for textile medium.
• Using only water guarantees that the colour will fade when washed.
• Using a 50/50 blend of water and textile medium is almost as good as 100% textile medium.
• Water spreads the pigments better than textile medium.

I admit that my head began to spin, so I decided on the following for my piece:
• 50/50 textile medium and water
• Iron it after it dries.
• Wash it sparingly and on the delicate cycle.

To see one artist's tests with different fabrics and liquids, click here.

There are also many different ideas on how to use Inktense pencils and blocks. I liked this tutorial, produced by Derwent, the company that makes Inktense.

I laid the apron on top of a plastic craft sheet, then lightly sketched an elephant on the main part of the apron, using a black Inktense pencil. I followed this by going over the main lines with a violet Inktense pencil.

I tried a tentative bit of shading with my 50/50 water-textile medium and a small, flat brush. You need fairly stiff brushes to work the ink into the fabric.

I didn't have any specific idea about where I was going to go from here, so I just started playing with colour.  I added the following colours in this order: blue, green, orange, yellow and red, with a bit of black for the eyes and a bit of white on the tusks. As I worked, I occasionally painted over the pigment to move it around, sometimes drew over the damp areas with a pencil, and used the blocks to create larger areas of colour.

I also thought the non-elephant part of the apron looked too blank, so I added dots with the same colours (except black and white) across the empty areas.

A few tips if you decide to try this:

• Saturating the colour will lighten it considerably, as it would if you added a lot of water to watercolours or acrylics. It will also cause the pigment to spread and bleed.
• In addition to drawing on dry fabric, then painting over it with water and/or textile medium, you can also dip the pencils or blocks directly into the liquid and draw onto the fabric. This will generally give you more definition.
• Similarly, you can take a dry pencil or block and draw directly onto the damp fabric. This gives you more definition than spreading the pigment with water, but less than dipping the pencil or block into water and then drawing with it.
• As long as the paint is damp, it remains smudgeable. I ended up with quite a lot of pigment on the side of my dominant hand, but luckily didn't smudge things too much.
• The more colours you add, the more murky it can become. This can be fixed, however, by dipping a lighter colour of pencil or block into your liquid, then using it heavily on the area that displeases you.

I'm sure I could have gone much bolder and brighter with my colours, but I'm always afraid I'll go too far, so I left it at this. After letting it dry, I ironed it on both the reverse and the front, using a very hot iron.

I liked this technique a lot. You can get an immense range of effects, from fine lines to washes, and the pencils come in a nice range of colours. It's not a terribly messy activity, and a design as simple as this works up quickly.

I painted on fabric with acrylic paint in my original blog, but I think this might just replace that technique for any future fabric-painting adventures.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Like most sneak thieves, elephants prefer dark nights for their raids.

Scientists studying elephant herds in Africa have discovered that elephant raids on local crops vary with the lunar cycle. Having learned that farmers can see them under a full moon, elephants have apparently changed their behaviour to avoid moonlit nights.

The research was undertaken near five villages on the northern boundary of Tanzania's Mikumi National Park, where elephant raids were common. Surprisingly, it was discovered that elephants have altered their behaviour to avoid encounters with humans. Not only did they raid only at night, but were also far less likely to go anywhere near the villages when the moon was at its fullest.

Many animals have biological clocks that are attuned to lunar cycles, and many avoid the full moon to avoid being eaten. Elephants, however, appear to have taken it one step further, having learned that if they plunder fields on the darkest days of the month, they are more likely to avoid being hassled by angry farmers.

To read the full story in the online Daily Mail, click here.

Elephants under a full moon.
Photo: ©Konrad Wolhe/MindenPictures/Corbis

To Support Elephant Welfare
Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary (Thailand)
Wildlife SOS (India) 
The Elephant Sanctuary (Tennessee

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