Take a tour of my Unexpected Art Exhibition

I know that not everyone can make it to Minneapolis to see this exhibition, so I am bringing it to you virtually. I walked through the gallery and took photos of all of the pieces and didactics, so you can walk with me and follow along.

Three Minute Tutorial: Clipping Mask in Illustrator

In my previous post, I talked about cutting out the armadillo armor shape from a paint texture and I wanted to dig in a little bit to how that actually works because it is a really neat technique. It uses a tool called Clipping Mask. I am going to show it to you in Illustrator, but you can do it in Photoshop too.

Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 2.28.49 PMStart with the shape you want to cut out. For the armadillos it was a cloud shape that was their armor. For this example, I drew two simple fishy shapes.

If you have more than one shape, like these two fish, you need to create a “compound shape” from them so you can cut them all out at once. Choose the black arrow Select tool and shift-click to select both shapes. Then go to Object -> Compound Path -> Make.

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Next you need to add the texture you want to cut things out of. We do that by Placing it in the file. Go to Edit -> Place and select the texture you want. Any .jpg will work. Choose a photo or a scan that you have. I placed the bubble wrap texture that I scanned because I think it also looks a little like fish scales. Once you have placed it, it will show up as another object on your canvas. You might need to resize it; you can do that by clicking the toggles on the corners and dragging it bigger or smaller.

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We need the texture object to be behind the fish, so select the texture and choose Object -> Arrange -> Send to Back. Now move the texture and the fish around so that the fish are covering up the part of the design you want to cut out.Screen Shot 2017-02-03 at 2.48.10 PM

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The last step is creating the Clipping Mask. Select all of the objects (fish and texture) and then choose Object -> Clipping Mask -> Make. (You can also right-click once you have them selected and a menu will pop up right where you clicked. Choose Clipping Mask.)

Now you have fish cut out of bubble wrap texture. You can do the same things to cut words out of a photo or make a valentine heart from your dogs’ faces.

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Screaming Hairy Armadillos (or armadillos as the road to inspiration)

There is a lot going on in the world right now that makes some of us want to scream. I get it. But I think we need a little break from that to talk about a different kind of screaming.

Let me introduce you to Amber.

She’s a screaming hairy armadillo from the Smithsonian National Zoo. They tweeted about her last week. And my mom and I both saw it and were curious. Why was she called a “screaming” hairy armadillo? I get the parts about hairy and armadillo, but screaming?

So we Googled it.

And then we got the giggles. My dogs are now in love with Amber’s cousin-in-the-video and come running in the room when I play the sound. I told my mom “I think I need to design something with screaming hairy armadillos on it”. This might be the first fabric I have ever designed inspired by a sound. 🙂

So I thought about that for a couple of days. I have been working non-stop on grant/exhibition projects and I needed a day to goof off and design something fun. And I thought it would also be fun to talk a little about that process.

First I studied a bunch of armadillo photos and thought about how to make that great armor texture they have. Cut paper bits? Something photographic? Lace? Then I saw something pop up in my Facebook feed about making a paint texture with bubble wrap.

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So I grabbed a piece of bubble wrap and some double-sided tape and made myself a roller around an empty soda can. I squirted out some paint on the tin foil, rolled some on the roller and painted some sheets of black card stock.

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Messy, but perfect! Then I started drawing some armadillos. I did a quick pencil sketch and then drew over them with a fine sharpie pen.

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I thought I would just fill in their backs with the paint texture and have them be hand drawn. Turns out that they are perfectly cute little guys, but not very successful as fabric. I played with colors and fills and I just couldn’t get them to balance. The bubble wrap texture was so bold and dark and the lines here too delicate. Bleh. So I walked away for a bit.

Then I tried re-drawing them using layered shapes in Illustrator. That worked a lot better. The big blocks of solid color were much more balanced with the bubble wrap texture. I am kind of in love with them.

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The bubble wrap also got a little tweaking. I changed the transparency of that layer to be about 45% and put it over the same base color of the armadillo (turquoise in this example). The black in the bubble wrap print darkened the color up so that I got a nice related shade and you can still see some of the rainbow colors in the paint.

Then, we all know they are screaming armadillos, so they needed to say something. Only I couldn’t make up my mind what they needed to say, so I actually did two versions of the design: one with blank speech bubbles and one with “just do it” sort of positive messages: read it, think, love, believe, speak up, try, make good art.

I thought it would be fun to have options. Want your armadillos to scream Happy Birthday? or Congrats? Or Happy Retirement? Then you can fill it in with fabric markers, paint, embroidery, or sharpies. A friend sent me a list of “g-rated” swear words yesterday. She remembered that I talked about a collaborative print I did in a class with phrases like “oh piddle” and “son of a biscuit” and I now think it would be super funny to do a version with the armadillos politely swearing up a blue streak. But that’s another day.

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So I started with a blue and green colorway and did two color variations, one with bright earthy colors and another with pinks and purples. The background of the armadillos is a photo of peeling paint from a utility box. Sometimes amazing textures come from weird places. But it goes nicely with the other paint textures. I took the same bubble wrap scan and made a seamless texture out of it too. So you can also get coordinating “polkadots” that match the armadillo armor.

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I named them “Activist Armadillos” and I have uploaded all 16 designs to Spoonflower as fabric or wrapping paper designs. I have ordered swatches of all of the versions and I will post an update when I get them and decide if I need to make any tweaks to the design. I can’t wait to see them.

I think the screaming armadillos would make an awesome tote bag with a lining of armor polkadots. I might have to make that for me.

It takes 6 hours.

This video is about 2 1/2 hours condensed down into 34 seconds. That’s me installing just one of the pieces for my first solo exhibition, which opened on Thursday last week. I thought it would be fun to try and capture a little about what installation is like because I don’t think artists often talk about that part. I filmed this on my iPad, which was set up on a windowsill across the room.

The piece is called Well Dressed and there are 144 origami dresses hung on tiny clothespins from bakers twine.

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I had sorted them ahead of time by style. If you look closely at the photo, there are about 7 different dress styles and I wanted to make sure they were fairly evenly distributed among the “laundry lines”. I chose colors and patterns to be next to one another as I went along. The patterns on each dress were created by students in the workshops I did as part of this grant project. I printed their designs on wrapping paper in 6 inch squares. Then I did a lot of practice folding. I searched for origami dress tutorials on YouTube and Pinterest and because my paper was much thicker than traditional origami paper, I needed to fold and tweak the designs to work with the heavy paper.

I installed this piece first because I knew it would take the most time. Actually after I finished the time lapse video, I went back and added one more laundry line row so I could spread out the dresses a little more because I felt like they were too crowded.

In addition to this wall, there were 8 other pieces, a section of photos and “the making of” original art, plus 2 interactive sections. The rest of those were relatively fast to install.

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Most of my dress forms have to be creatively padded to make things fit just right. I always make pieces that fit me, but I am not as tiny as the dress forms are. Quilt batting, bubble wrap and pins are my friend. I forgot to take a photo of the “before”, but this lady is wearing two layers of quilt batting and a bra with some extra padding so she looks like this dress fits her. The arms on these dress forms help a lot to make things hang right.

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You can see from the photos that the gallery I installed everything in is an old house. I thought formal gallery labels would look kind of out of place in that kind of a setting, so I made all of my labels look like framed pieces and used vector drawings of big ornate frames to put them in. I printed those on peel and stick wallpaper and cut out the outside edge of the frame before I hung them up.

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144 paper dresses, 288 clothespins, 84 feet of string, 3 dozen velcro hangers, 8 dress forms, 12 trips up and down 2 flights of stairs, 14 feet of wallpaper, 20 yards of fabric, 6 hours to install.

 

You are invited: Unexpected Art Exhibition

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Art often shows up in unexpected places. A brass doorknob, a painted feather, or a pacemaker can become an evening dress — if you know how to look at them. Artist Becka Rahn dug deep into the collections at The Museum of Russian Art, The Bakken Museum, and Hennepin History Museum to find items that have been hidden away, unnoticed, or overlooked. Drawing inspiration from these forgotten objects, Becka created new surface designs which were digitally printed onto fabric and paper, transforming unexpected items into new pieces of art.

About this project
Several years ago, I was approached by the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum for a project that they were working on in an effort to bring some new life and relevance to their collection. They asked artists to respond to a piece in their collection, and these pieces and corresponding artistic responses (poems, essays, art) became an online exhibition with an objective of presenting a new way to look at old objects. Several years later, inspired by the same idea of an artistic response to a museum piece, I created two more designs, drawing from a woodwork detail and a feather fan from the collection at Hennepin History Museum. I loved the idea of looking for museum pieces that were overlooked, forgotten, ignored, or even maybe were just too odd to be on display in a typical exhibition and finding a way to put them in a spotlight.

My work for this exhibition continues the idea of an artistic response to an item from a museum collection. I worked with curators and staff at each of my museum partners — The Museum of Russian Art, The Bakken Museum, and Hennepin History Museum — to choose quirky pieces from their collections. In response to these pieces, I created original surface designs that were digitally printed on to a variety of fabrics. The designs were created from a variety of sources: photographs, hand cut paper, and original illustrations. I designed and sewed a garment from each original fabric design, choosing a silhouette or style to compliment the inspiration piece.

In 2016, I received an Artist Initiative Grant from the MN State Arts Board and that is what has made this project possible. An important component of that grant was doing hands-on art activities with members of the community. With the grant funding, I was able to purchase six laptop computers, giving me a mobile computer lab to use for workshops. Grant funding covered the materials costs so that we could make these workshops affordable for both the participants and the partner organizations that I was privileged to work with. I also had the support to create a body of work and put together a solo exhibition of that work. As an artist, I can’t put a value on that kind of opportunity. Many thanks to the MN State Arts Board and the voters of Minnesota, who make this Legacy funding possible. We live in an amazing community.

The opening reception is Thursday January 26 from 6-8 pm and if you are in the Minneapolis area, I hope you can make it. I will also be doing 3 mini-workshops in the gallery throughout the run of the show. More details about those will be posted soon, but you can come and make your own origami dress just like the ones that will be in the exhibition.

Digitally printed faux suede from a photo of an antique feather fan.

Digitally printed faux suede from a photo of an antique feather fan.

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Fabric design inspired by a Geissler tube from the Bakken Museum collection.

Announcing: It’s a Spoonflower Handbook Master Class

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Registration is now open for my March 2017 Spoonflower Handbook Master Class. This session uses Adobe Illustrator as our main design tool, so it’s a great intro if you have ever wanted to learn about Illustrator. All of the details are on the Master Class page here. Hope you can join us!