Exploratory Mark-Making on Cloth

With the expert guidance of Claire Benn, you’ll master the important skill of establishing what a range of simple tools can do for you in terms of line, texture and shape alongside the use of surface resists to introduce structure into the ‘chaos’ caused by this free and spontaneous way of working.
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Tutor Name(s): Claire Benn
Level: Beginner/Intermediate
Programme: On Demand Masterclasses
Duration: 1 hour
About

When setting out to make your own surface-designed cloth, it’s hard to know what can be achieved or what you might respond to. With the expert guidance of Claire Benn, you’ll master the important skill of establishing what a range of simple tools can do for you in terms of line, texture and shape. In addition to making marks, Claire will enable you to use masking tape as a surface resist on cloth, in turn introducing structure into the ‘chaos’ caused by this free and spontaneous way of working.

To keep things simple and accessible, and to minimise the need to mix thickened dyes, you’ll use black acrylic or fabric paint on white or unbleached cloth. Sticking with black and white ensures the marks are very graphic and will help us to stay focused on the results (colour – although lovely – can sometimes be distracting!). Claire will show examples of different outcomes from this activity and discuss how to progress the resulting cloth with stitch or additional colour, potentially turning it into an artwork, cushion cover or tote bag.

Materials & Preparation

Materials

  • Paint: one 250ml pot of black fabric paint of a mayonnaise consistency.
  • Tools: assemble a selection of tools and be creative, found object and bits of scrap can be great for mark-making. Examples of what you might explore include:
    • Brushes: foam, bristle (about 3cm wide), any size of artist brushes, silicone pastry brush.
    • Rollers: small foam rollers, hard rollers.
    • Packaging materials: a scrap of corrugated cardboard, any kind of (foam or otherwise) packaging.
    • Mono printing tools: a small (say 10-15x10cm) piece of not-too floppy plastic, or a piece of old vinyl tile, or a piece of washable tablecloth/vinyl, a silicon pastry sheet, and old CD or DVD.
    • Stamping tools: any kind of packaging foam, a piece of synthetic or natural sponge, a flat lid (circular, rectangular, square, an empty yoghurt pot or small square plastic pot, a metal or rubber washer, an off-cut of wood books or small 3-5cm wide strips etc.).
    • Scraping tools: an old plastic credit card or membership card, a pastry/dough scraper, a palette knife.
    • A couple of old spoons or spatulas.

Miscellaneous:

  • One roll of 1” masking tape.
  • A plastic pipette or syringe, or small needle-nosed plastic squeeze bottle.
  • A flat-bottomed tray: an old tea tray, a cat litter tray or a seed tray: this will be used as a pain palette from time to time. Failing a tray, a piece of sturdy plastic will work.
  • For wash-up: a bucket, half filled with cold water. It’s a good idea to be able to toss your tools into water as you finish with them, otherwise you’ll be too’ing and fro’ing to the sink. Plus, allowing the tools to soak will make the wash-up faster.
  • Rubber gloves: fabric paint will wash off your hands, so wear gloves only if you want to.
  • Box of ball-headed or T pins: it helps to pin the cloth down onto your padded surface under some tension.
  • An old towel: can be useful to wipe up spillages or drips.
  • A cloth apron, or wear gardening or decorating clothes!

Cloth

For your mark-making you’ll need a piece of natural fibre cloth; cotton, linen, cotton canvas, medium-weight calico – nothing too light-weight as it has to be able to support the weight of the paint. Go for something approximately 75 to 1m square, although ultimately the size and shape is up to you. If you’re going to be working on a table that isn’t particularly wide, then simply go for a size and shape that suits your work area.
As we’ll be working with fabric pain the cloth doesn’t have to be pre-washed, but wash it on a hot wash if you can (bung it in with your sheets), then iron it.

Preparation

  • Work on the largest flat surface you have as this will give you room to play and have the paint and your tools close to hand.
  • Cover the work surface with plastic if you’re worried about spillages, along with the floor if drips might be an issue.
  • Lay down a double thickness layer of old blanket or towels and if you think they’re going to skate around, then secure in place with masking tape.
  • Place your old/unloved piece of cloth over this padded surface as a drop cloth (and old bedsheet works perfectly).
  • Assemble all of your tools; placing them in a litter or seed tray can help with organisation.
  • Get the pain and the spoons to hand.
  • Have handy your rubber gloves (if using), the masking tape, pins, tray/litter tray and a bucket half-filled with water.
  • Pin your piece of cloth on to the padded, drop-cloth covered surface under decent tension; space the pins about every 4” and drive them right up to the ball or T so they don’t snag the tools when you’re working.
Meet the Master: Claire Benn

Claire Benn is an artist who works in mixed media: textiles, raw earth pigments, natural dyes, acrylic paint and thread. Her work is abstract, reductive, contemporary, quiet and very tactile; apparently simple yet engaged with a complexity of ideas and practices. Her inspiration is drawn from wilderness landscapes such as the Atacama Desert, New Mexico and the Arctic.

Claire Benn’s work has been exhibited in galleries on an international scale, including:

  • USA 'Material Pulses; Eight Viewpoints' Ohio (2016), ‘Unfurled' Nebraska (2007), ‘Never Static’ Minneapolis (2006).
  • Europe The Florence Biennale (2007) ‘European Art Quilt’ touring Europe and the USA (2004, 2006, 2010, 2012, 2014,2017), 'Of Place & Time' in Germany (2015).
  • UK ‘Creative Link’ Grace Barrand Design Centre (2005), 'Committed to Cloth' London & Harrogate (2004), 'Complex Cloth' (London & Harrogate (2004), 'Lines, Rows, Rhythm & Repetition' Birmingham (2016) and with ViewSeven at the Menier Gallery, London (2013, 2015, 2017).

In addition to the public exhibition programme, her works feature in both commercial and private collections.

Find out more about Claire Benn:
Website: clairebenn.com
Instagram: @herquietmaterials 
Twitter: @QuietMaterials 
Facebook: @HerQuietMatierals 
Pinterest: HerQuietMaterials

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