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.

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 4.48.30 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 4.50.27 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 4.52.40 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2017-02-02 at 5.03.04 PM

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.

bluearmadillos

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.

versions

bubbles

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.

IMG_9574

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.

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 12.09.49 PM

bikini

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.

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 12.04.41 PM

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.

Screen Shot 2017-01-30 at 12.19.57 PM

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

PostcardFrontFinal

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.

geissler

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

Announcing: It’s a Spoonflower Handbook Master Class

masterclassblog

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!

Heroes don’t always wear capes.

debbie

A few weeks ago someone on Facebook posted a thing from Singing in the Rain. I forget the thing and even the context now, but my mom commented that it was her daughter’s favorite movie. And she is right. Hands down, 100%, no question, my favorite movie of all time. Halloween2015I wanted to be a costumer because I wanted to make costumes for movies like that. (Nevermind that I was a generation too late.)
In fact I commented back on that post that among my top five movies were Singing in the Rain and When Harry Met Sally

Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

Fierce. Confident. Unapologetic. Sharp. Witty. Imperfect. Creative. Royalty.

I feel like a deflated balloon today. On one hand it seems completely dumb to me to write a post about celebrities; people I have never met. But we all have heroes we’ve never met: historical figures, fictional characters, family legends. And I think we need to have people that we admire to help us figure out how to be the kind of people we want to be. These two were the kind of people I want to be.

The thing I admire most about both is how brave they were. Both stepped in to blockbusters at age 19 and lived in the spotlight for their entire lives. Through divorces, drugs and all kinds of things I am certain you would never want to share with a million strangers on the internet. But they both shrugged and said if you are going to point that spotlight at me, then I will talk about something important. Mental illness, ageism, sexism, equal pay, objectification of women, addiction. I never want that spotlight, but I hope that I would have the guts to use it to talk about something important too.

I had a funny conversation with a group of middle school girls in a class last year when The Force Awakens came out. The girls didn’t understand why they had to make Luke and Han and Leia soooo old in the new movie and when I told them that the original movies came out when I was a kid, they just couldn’t wrap their heads around that.leia I saw Return of the Jedi in the theater when I was 9, because my dad thought my sister and I would like the Ewoks. (He was right.) I am not a huge Star Wars fan, but I don’t know a single girl my age that didn’t want to be Leia. We all wanted her hair. We all wanted to ride around on a speeder and shoot like the boys. We all wanted to tell Han Solo he was being an idiot and hug Chewie. She was the princess that kicked ass and not one that needed to be rescued. There are a few more princesses like that now. (Thanks Joss and JJ.) I have seen and read interviews that Carrie was a little uncomfortable knowing that she was the slave bikini pin-up poster for a whole generation of boys but we girls knew she was so much more than that. And Carrie was. Turns out maybe Leia was too.

As a very comfortable and determined introvert, Debbie Reynolds was just pure effervescence to me. I can’t watch her without smiling; a little part of me wants to be her in another life. A friend and I have a theory that when you know your day is going to suck, that the best way to get through it is to put on your very cutest shoes and your favorite dress, be fierce, and power through. I think you also have to put on a little Debbie Reynolds. I watch Singing in the Rain at least once a year, every year. She was pure love and determination and will always be my hero. debbie2

 

Holiday Ornament Tutorial: Goldfish Bowls

img_0700I love goldfish. My logo has been a goldfish for years and years. (His name is Smee.) I have 2 goldfish named Harold and Henry that spend their summers outside in the waterlily pond and the winters in my living room begging for someone to feed them. So goldfish might not seem like an obvious ornament choice, but I love ornaments that are a little whimsical.

Materials

  • 4 x 8 inches of blue felt
  • 2 x 3 inches orange felt
  • assorted small seed beads; gold, brown or cream colored
  • 1 white 8-10 mm sequin
  • thread to match your blue felt
  • green embroidery thread
  • 6 inch piece of narrow ribbon
  • 2×3 scrap of fusible paper backed webbing (Heat & Bond Lite, Wonder Under)

Tools

  • small sharp scissors
  • beading needle, embroidery needle
  • sewing machine with straight stitch (optional)
  • iron & ironing board

Instructions

1. Right-click or option-click the pattern pieces below and save them to your computer. Then you can print them out. Cut two bowls (circles) from the blue felt. Set one aside.

2. With the embroidery needle and a piece of green embroidery thread, use a feather stitch to embroider a plant in the fishbowl. Here’s a great feather stitch tutorial

img_0693

3. Use the beads to add a pebble bottom to your fish bowl. With a beading needle and thread, stitch individual beads in a random scatter. Be sure to keep your beads about 1/4 inch from the outside edge of the bowl.

img_0695

4. Iron the fusible webbing to the back of the orange felt piece, following the instructions on the packaging. Trace the fish pattern and cut it out.img_0686

5. Peel off the paper backing and fuse the fish in place.

6. Using the beading needle and thread, stitch on a large white sequin and dark colored bead to make the fish’s eye. Tie a knot in the end of the thread. Bring your needle through from the back and add the sequin and then a seed bead. Bring your needle down through the same hole in the sequin. Pull it tight. The bead will hold the sequin in place and makes the pupil of the eye. Tie a knot on the back. Add a few small clear sequins to make bubbles around the fish, if you like.

img_0696

7. Layer the two fish bowl pieces together. Fold the ribbon in half and place the cut ends inside the top of the bowl between these two layers. Pin the ribbon in place.

img_0698

8. Machine stitch 1/8 inch from the edge of the bowl (shown in photo). Or you can handstitch using a blanket stitch and matching thread to go around the edges.

Pattern Pieces

goldfishpattern