Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Nanny's Gift of Memories: Rayna Gillman

When Dawn asked me to write a blog post, I was delighted; this is one of the most interesting blogs in the ‘sphere.

I’m Rayna Gillman and I print my own cloth. (Sounds like the beginning of a 12-step program introduction and I’m so addicted to doing this that maybe I should consider it). You may be familiar with my book, Create Your Own Hand-Printed Cloth, published by C&T.

I never considered myself an artist: my seventh grade art teacher told me on the first day of school that I couldn't draw, after he saw my rendering of a tree.

Because my grandfather was an artist who drew and painted, I equated making art with the ability to draw, so that was THAT. I began quilting because I could use color, texture, and design without drawing. My grandmother was really my prime influence in several ways. First, she had an instinctive, fearless sense of color. Second, she improvised. Third, she gave me a raft of memories and a love for the past.

She used leftover threads and yarns and scrap cloth for whatever her next project was, which meant she never planned ahead. If she had orange, green, red and purple remnants at hand, that’s what she used together and they always looked wonderful!

"Darling," she said to me, "you can put any colors together as long as you use them more than once."

That advice and ability to improvise were among the best gifts I got from her! This early “art” quilt put that advice to the test. (Celebration 1997, first photo)

If you look at the purple and green hand-dyes in this piece, you’ll see I tried to cover them up with other fabrics. But I soon discovered that printing on them worked better. (Postcards 2, 2003, 2nd photo)

In my piece, Cacophony(2003, photo 3), my original intent was to cover up the blotchy raucous yellow fabric I had dyed. Without planning ahead, I just kept adding layers till I had covered the fabric and suddenly it was a whole-cloth quilt that was juried into Art Quilts at the Sedgwick (now Elements).

Once I discovered I could improve almost anything by printing in layers, I was off and running. And it became clear that if I didn’t like one layer I could add another and another. But I learned it was better to stop before the fabric became mud and that if you have to ask yourself whether it needs more, the answer is usually “no.” Improvisation is great but a little drop of thought as you go along can make something better.

If you were to ask which printing process I like best, the answer would depend on which day it is. This week it’s screen printing; next week it might be soy wax batik. Sometimes I love using paint, other times, thickened dyes. I love it all and I love teaching it all.

I improvise when I’m designing, too: a legacy from Nanny. Scraps and leftovers, randomly pieced, cut up and reassembled and moved around on the wall till they pleased me. I don’t know any other way to work: if I were to plan ahead I would feel as though I had already made the piece and I would never actually make it. (Usha's Quilt, 2005, photo 4)

The third way my Nanny influences my work is in my return, time and again, to memory and a sense of the past. A poignant photo of unknown relatives she gave to me led me to collect and use old photographs of people in my work. Sometimes I use image transfer, sometimes a screen: I don’t know who they were – but they are alive for me.(Kaddish detail, 2003, photo 5)

An antique collector, she taught me to look beyond the first layer to see what was behind it: old buildings, passports, newspaper clippings, a piece of china: everything has a story. If we don’t know what it is, we can invent one.(Time and Again, 2005, photo 6)

Layers. Whether It’s layers of cloth, layers of meaning, layers of the past, or layers of paint and dye, my work explores it all – improvisationally and without worrying about whether the colors coordinate. I didn’t start out to write about my grandmother’s influence but it is there, beneath the surface – and even on the surface.

Rayna's book has become the bible for many of us striving to learn the techniques of fabric painting and various other techniques. And her book provides quite an array of ways to alter cloth: stamp, screen, stencil and then the more amazing gelatin plate printing, soy wax batik, rubbings, discharge printing and on and on. Again and again I have heard fabric artists exclaim, "I just took a class with Rayna and we had such fun!" I can't think of this teacher, artist, woman without seeing her smile.

In the section of her book 'about the author' it says, "Noted for her instinctive sense of color and her improvisational approach to design, she encourages students to work spontaneously." That sounds a bit like children at play -- and I'm a firm believer that we need to let the child in us play more often.

Her book is packed with photographs that whet the appetite to dip right in and give it a try. The directions clearly lead from first to last step with many tips and suggestions in between. And if ever there was a woman that advocates 'recycling'-- it is Rayna who uses EVERYTHING as a found object for rubbings, stampings, or some unique repurposing.

Create Your Own Hand-Printed Cloth by Rayna Gillman belongs in any multi-media fabric artist's library or in any creative mum's home where she looks for ways to encourage her little ones to play with creativity. -- Dawn


TexasRed said...

This is a fantastic discussion about how you create. Thank you!

Carol Wiebe said...

Rayna combines fearless creating with frank self-appraisals of her own skills. I am sure she would love to show “Create Your Own Hand-Printed Cloth” to that poor, misguided teacher who could not recognize artistic talent unless it was expressed in traditional ways.

I also appreciate the way she merges modern mixed media techniques with old photos and memorabilia.

I thoroughly enjoyed her book, with its practical “use anything” approach to printing cloth. The many illustrations prove that her approaches work~beautifully, and in such a way (as you said) that everyone has fun. When the instructor is having so much fun, the students seize the opportunity to have it themselves. In such an atmosphere, fears are allayed and creativity abounds!

Kudos to you both, Rayna and Dawn, for this inspiring post.