Every year in February there is a local fiber art show called "An Affair of the HeART" showcasing the numerous fiber artists in the Bitterroot Valley and Missoula, Montana. They always hold a challenge for any artists who wish to participate and this year's challenge related to Alice in Wonderland. We were each given a page out of the book and a maximum size for the piece. Other than that we were free to create our pieces however we wanted.
Challenges are a unique creative process for me. When I make most of my pieces I work completely by inspiration from cloth or color, but when I am given specific challenge parameters I have to work off someone else's inspiration to make something---and that for me is the greatest challenge. After a number of years of doing these challenges, I have come to the conclusion that I need to stay in my comfort zone and with the style of work that I am accustomed to doing rather than trying to do something that is very different just to meet the challenge theme or parameters. I have not been happy with pieces I have done that aren't in my own style and they are not pieces that I am proud to show in other venues.
My page told about when Alice drank from a bottle and grew inside a house so that her foot was out the chimney and her arm out the window. I originally thought of a unique 3-dimensional piece that would incorporate a house with the arm and leg coming out as stuffed doll parts. This would be intriguing and fun for the audience--but not for me!! I don't do this type of thing in my work and after trying to think about how I would do it and not feeling good about it, I finally talked myself out of it and went another direction.
My pieces are usually simple in their construction and basic design. Then they become more complex through the quilting and embellishing. I decided to make a simple stamp of the bottle and use that to inspire the piece. I drew out numerous bottle shapes and finally hit upon one I liked. I drew it onto a piece of craft foam with a pen and then cut it out. I "etched" some lines for details on the neck of the bottle and a tag hanging around the bottle neck using a ball-point stylus. I glued the craft foam onto a piece of cardboard which I could hold onto for stamping.
Using black and gold fabric paints I brushed paint onto the stamp with a foam brush and then stamped onto my background piece. That background was simply a color block pieced top with a neutral and a red piece of linen, a vertical pieced strip of mostly red prints, and a turquoise strip of some old linen-like fabric that I had once made a shirt out of way back when I did that kind of thing.
The bottle images were stamped onto the linen fabrics in a hopefully artistic way, kind of cascading down the piece. Some of the images are from the second stamping so the paint is more faint. This adds interest so that some of the images are more bold and others more transparent. I loved how the texture of the craft foam stamp applied the paint to the fabric. It was not even and smooth, and that was perfect.
After the paint dried I quilted the piece and then added quite a bit of beading, including some fringe at the bottom. I bound the piece in black fabric with a red batik flange as a detail and then couched a black yarn around the edge between the two, which added a nice, interesting texture.
I felt very good about the piece in its simplicity and subtle communication of the challenge inspiration. I think the bottle image is unmistakably Alice's bottle and yet it doesn't scream "Alice In Wonderland". I will be proud to show this piece in any of my galleries. It won 3rd place in the Viewer's Choice voting for the challenge and I received a lovely packet of dyed fabric, dyed embroidery floss, and a fiber art book.
It was much more satisfying to create this piece that reflects my style of artistry rather than to try to fit into the parameters of a challenge and try to make something that the audience will like. I find that the audience does like my style and I don't need to try to get fancy or complicated in order to be successful in a challenge. Having a piece that many of the viewer's could recognize as my work is a good thing because it means I have a relatively cohesive style. For now, I'm sticking with it!!
See my article in the March issue of American Quilter called "Stamp and Stitch" that talks about using stamping to create a piece then using the stamped imagery to get you started with your quilting. The piece in the article is a wholecloth painted piece, but I have done many using various border arrangements (kind of like this one) or a log cabin type surround. Fun stuff---class is in the works for this!