Tempe Festival ribbons: Spring 2018

They’re done! They’re delivered! The Tempe Festival of the Arts begins this Friday, March 23. Check it out if you are in the Tempe AZ area.

This show’s Featured Artist is Tucson sculptor Adam Homan, who does edgy and elegant things with metal.

This ribbon gig has lots of fun stages, beginning with how to translate the Featured Artist’s signature look into twenty-some-odd fiber art ribbons. With Adam’s work, we knew we wanted the colors of steel, bronze, silver, copper, and gold, as metallic as possible without verging into total cheesiness.

We picked ‘wings’ as a starting motif. From there, I found or already had bronze silk and pewter satin, some denim with a blued-steel look, and lots of metal steampunk embellishments and glass beads. A narrow vertical ribbon of appliqued sky blue adds brighter color.

The wings themselves are leather from a fabric-by-the-pound place, painted with metallic acrylic paint, sealed with a flexible varnish, and machine-sewn over the background appliques.

Every ribbon series has a narrative for me, generally evolving by the time they are done.

“Inside a vast, dim workshop, strange machines lurk dormant under old cloth drapes, or hang suspended from steel chains and huge hoists. A metallic rumble shakes the chains. A side door begins to open, letting in a glimpse of blue sky outside. The wind pushes inside, blowing back clouds of dust and age-browned muslin, setting the chains clanging. The machines wake, and unfold into the shapes of huge steel and bronze wings…”

A special shout-out to the Young Artist winners: we’re proud of you!



Tempe Festival of the Arts Awards, Fall 2017

The latest award ribbons are done and delivered! As I mentioned here, they are based on the collage/printmaking work of Erin Curry. Here’s the Festival poster image, a commissioned piece.

And here are the award ribbons I made in fiber applique, machine stitching, and hand-sewn beaded embroidery.

Materials include polyester felt, commercial printed cotton, digital print on fabric, gel transfers on fabric, polyester thread, polyester grosgrain ribbon ties, metal pin-backs, and glass beads. Signed on the backs: ‘Marian Crane 2017’

Added 12-13-2017: And one more 9×3″ Honorable Mention Award, because the art was so good the Festival judges gave out one more award.

Gel transfers on fabric

I’m partway through the next set of award ribbons for the Tempe Festival of the Arts.

These are based on the work of Erin Curry, so for the applique backgrounds I used a mix of bright and subdued cotton prints glued on white felt pre-edged with dark green/blue rose print fabric. The prints have some unifying colors and thread patterns: deep blue starry effects, bright blue tropical prints, map and ledger fabric, touches of orange and yellow.

Then came sewing on the printed fabric show labels, three to a ribbon, for all seventeen main categories, the three ‘big’ awards, and two small honorable mention awards.

Curry’s ‘Animalia’ prints are tricky to adapt, even with my own photos and Painter 17. I really wanted to have the animal motifs sewn in black & white with an embroidery machine, but that’s not in the budget right now.

But wait…I had a few yards of pale pastel floral chintz. I have a laser printer. Ta da, gel transfers!

You can find clearer instructions online. Basically, work on a clean flat area. Have waxed paper or plastic-covered cardboard panels for drying. Paint a layer of clear acrylic gel medium all over the fabric area you want to cover, paint gel over the printed face of the fabric, press printed paper facedown into the fabric, and squeegee the hell out of the paper. This will force gel down into the fabric, and stick the paper image smoothly to the cloth.

Let dry on covered surface for between 3 and 24 hours, depending on how rushed and/or insane you are. Peel off the fabric from the drying platform. Dunk the fabric into a big tub of warm water. Do NOT use a bathtub for this unless you have a screen cap to prevent paper shreds from clogging your drain!

Let soak for a couple of hours. Peel off the paper, then gently rub off the rest of the paper fibers. The result: a gel layer trapping the laser printed image against the fabric. You can paint another layer of satin or matte gel over this, to make it stronger for wearable applications.

I’d forgotten how fun these can be and how clear an image they can yield. The trick apparently is fine-grained smooth natural-fiber cloth (cotton works best, in my experience). Linen will pick up the linen texture, which is great if you want that in your piece. An aged fresco effect can be achieved by sanding the face of the fabric lightly with 600-grit wet-dry sandpaper (but then you should paint a stabilizing gel layer over the top.)

Using a white-on-white print or a pale print fabric with strong transfer images gives depth to the prints. They can be embroidered and beaded over, and touched up with fabric paint.

Now that I remember how to do these, they’re going to be in some fiber art books.

What’s next for the award ribbons? Sew down the motif critters, then beadwork, then grosgrain ribbons and metal pin backs for ease of display.

Final pieces can be seen here.

Tempe Festival of the Arts, Spring 2017

If you’re in the Phoenix, AZ area this weekend, check out the Tempe Festival of the Arts, running March 31 to April 2. It’s a sprawling wonderful circus occupying Tempe’s Mill Avenue and the surrounding side streets: plenty of art, food, live music, and people-watching.

This festival’s Featured Artist is Hannie Goldgewicht, known for her blending of ceramics and basketry. Her pieces have a monumental simplicity, combining the textures of pine-needle basketry with the rich colors of her stoneware base forms.

I’ll expand this blog post later today, to show the festival award ribbons I designed to riff off Hannie’s signature ‘look’ and themes.


And it’s now later.

Since 2010, I’ve designed and made the fiber art ribbons used as category and grand prize winners at the Tempe Festival of the Arts. The organizers and I have hit on the strategy of having me focus on themes (such as the AZ Centennial in 2012) or riffs on that show’s Featured Artist’s show poster. When I first heard they were considering Hannie’s work for this show poster, I started getting design ideas.

First, a look back at someone who may or may not have been an inspiration to Hannie, but they were certainly firing on the same wavelength: the late fresco artist Marcia Myers.

courtesy Gail Severn Gallery

I first came across Myers’ work in a coffee table art book, and then in person at a show at Phoenix’s Bentley Projects gallery. Inspired by Venetian frescos, Myers developed her own techniques for creating lush, many layered faux frescos on canvas or board with acrylic mediums (plus other art media). Deceptively simple, these must be seen in person to be really appreciated.

They show the same light-soaked, rich colors and pleasing textures as Hannie Goldgewicht’s work.

How to show those textures and tones in fabric? Ultrasuede: it has a soft nap and leather-like look that almost mimics the textures of fresco or ceramic. I had some oxblood red, aqua turquoise, and caramel-gold suede on hand from other projects.

How to keep a clean, crisp edge without a lot of bulk? Ribbon facing: a black-cherry red satin ribbon binds the edge of the cutout thick interfacing shape. Ultrasuede panels are glued and sewn on top. Bonus: I can use this edge trick on fiber book pages!

Text blocks and logo are digitally printed fabric, sewn in place with satin stitch.

Wood and stone beads (jasper, carnelian, dyed magnesite, various agates, tigereye, and aventurine) made great accents.

How to mimic Hannie’s simple pine-needle basketry? I thought about pine needles, but they are too finicky to work with in very small forms (for me, at least). Pigtail raffia, however, has long thin fibers in a rich straw to green-gold tone. When soaked to soften, then twisted, they were perfect to couch-embroider over the suede panels.

For the raffia accents, I chose very simple shapes to echo the simplicity of Hannie’s work.

The ribbons are finished on back with seafoam-green canvas, frayed out along the edges for more texture. Ribbon ties and pinbacks offer a variety of display methods for the winners of the three major awards, the category winners, and the honorable mentions. There are 23 ribbons total in each show’s set.

I can’t wait to see what next fall’s design is going to be!

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Rocketships and Robots

It’s ribbon time again! That is, award ribbons for the upcoming Fall 2015 Tempe Festival of the Arts.

The theory is simple: the festival organizers vote on a Featured Artist and pick one piece from that artist’s portfolio to become the festival poster/publicity image. Then I sit down with the organizers to riff on that design, for the sixteen category award ribbons and one Best of Show ribbon.

I know the awards will be made of layers of constructed fabrics (applique, painting, embroidery, beadwork, etc). I know their sizes (16″ x 4″, 20″ x 5″), and that a specific show label and category listing has to be included in the design.

Beyond that…well, things can get a little crazy. This season’s Featured Artist is the digital virtuoso Geoffrey Aaron Harris, and the promo artwork is his ‘Midnight Invasion‘.

Harris is inspired by his collection of antique tin toys.

For me, his work is an affectionate nod to all the hilariously-corny science fiction B-movies from the pre-Star Trek and pre-Star Wars days. Back when you saw the monofilament line and Scotch tape in the camera view, and you didn’t care. The screenplay might have been written by a master or a hack, and somehow it didn’t matter. The actors might be slumming Shakespeare players in between London productions, or deeply-sincere bit players just trying to make rent. Costumes? Props? Forry Ackerman saved basements of the things, and it goes for big bucks at auctions now. Classic stuff.

Tempe Fall 2015 BOS blogThe Best of Show ribbon stars a flying robot inspired by ‘Invasion’.

Tempe Fall 2015 Moons blogFor the Tempe Festival Fall ribbons, we eventually settled on mixed focal designs unified by a dark blue sky and stylized mountains/trees.

Tempe Fall 2015 Stars and Saucers blog(A lot of the colors, shapes, and styles I also borrowed from the artwork of the cartoon ‘Adventure Time‘.)

Tempe Fall 2015 Rocket ships blogIndividual category ribbons feature stars, moons, rocket ships, and flying saucers inspired by those from Harris. Over a dozen different fabrics combine in applique to form the designs, and a scattering of glass beads adds detail and shimmer.

Tempe Fall 2015 Saucers and ship blog

I take on these ribbon projects because each one is a new beast, and I learn new things from every round. This time, I figured out how to fix a big science-fiction tapestry project that has stumped me for a decade. (And now I want to do the Little Book of Rocketships.)

More fiber art award ribbons

Tempe Spring 2015 Best of ShowIt’s spring. Next weekend is the Tempe Festival of the Arts, where 40,000 people will somehow find places to park around the core of Tempe’s Mill Avenue Downtown district. Hundreds of artist booths will line Mill and its side streets. There will be decadent food and more decadent booze. Several million dollars will change hands, in one of the biggest art festivals in the Southwest.

(And we’ve already had three or four slightly smaller ones going on just before this, in nearby cities. That’s right, while the rest of y’all are freezing and shoveling snow, we have open-air art festivals in the spring and fall when the blast furnace climate isn’t so bad. Don’t worry. You’ll be laughing in July.)

I recently finished the latest round of award ribbons for the festival: sixteen category winners and one best-of-show, all in fabric applique and bead embroidery. (I’ve done this twice a year since 2010. It’s a hoot, even if it takes approx. 50 hours to design and complete.) This spring’s design was a riff off the festival Featured Artist Andrea Merican’s luminous watercolor painting ‘Just Breathe’.

Tempe Spring 2015 Fine Jewelry, GlassSeriously, I nearly fell over when I saw that piece last year. Watercolor is not an easy medium. It demands a delicate marriage between trained skill and the recognition of serendipity.

For our award ribbons, the festival organizers and I chose a creme raw silk striped with gorgeous candy colors in the weave, a rich dark purple suiting, bright blue printed cotton and blue linen, orange satin ribbon, commercial prints in multicolored wrought iron ornament patterns, digitally printed sections of a 1926 Arizona road map, several patterns of blue-green to acid-green cotton, and a riot of polyester sewing thread from soft pastels to vivid orange and scarlet.

I will admit that my current favorite fabric glue, Beacon’s Fabri-Tac, makes a strong but unseen appearance in these ribbons.

Tempe Spring 2015 Printmaking, PhotographyThe basic motif is the balance between light and dark, and the botanical focal point is either a stylized yucca in bloom, a fruiting cardon cactus, or a prickly pair cactus. Glass beads in harmonizing colors add a bit of sparkle. The show labels and titles are printed, then hand-inked on cotton applique. All ribbons are finished with coral-orange seam binding, white-on-white cotton backing fabric, grosgrain ribbon ties, and a metal pinback so the lucky artist can pin it to booth draperies.

Category ribbons are 16″ x 4″. The best-of-show ribbon is 20″ x 5″. All are signed by me.

I look forward to seeing the winners and their art.




New fiber art: Tempe Festival of the Arts award ribbons

Warning: if you are not a crafty type, this will be a very boring post. I’ll forgive you if you go look at pictures of Grumpy Cat instead.

Twice a year, I have the honor of making the seventeen award ribbons for the Tempe Festival of the Arts, a major regional art fair in the southwestern US.

We’ve fallen into a more-or-less efficient pattern. The nonprofit foundation running the festival picks a featured artist whose work is used for that show’s promotional poster – as well as becoming part of the Festival Gallery collection in downtown Tempe, Arizona. Then I come up with a thematic riff on that artwork, for the fiber art ribbons that will go to the category winners as well as the Best of Show artist.Tempe Fall 2014 Best of Show

Then follows a mad scramble of designs shunted back and forth, as we narrow down what we like, and what best reflects the featured artwork that season. (You can see past efforts on my Artist Book pages along the left side of this blog, going back to 2010.)

Nemaeus The Vicious for blogThe Fall 2014 featured artist is Shawn Harris, whose surreal photography uses real-world locations, human models, animal masks, and some wonderfully devious photo-manipulation tricks to make haunting, multilayered art. His ‘Nemaeus the Vicious’ is a great example of his Hadaptation Series.

I won’t go into the artspeak reasons why ‘Nemaeus’ is a gutsy, provocative choice as featured art for the Tempe Festival. There are viewers who will agree with me, and viewers who will object. For the latter, Arizona already has lots of Dancing-Kokopelli and Howling Coyote art, plus all the other southwestern tropes.

The challenge here was keeping the rich, dark, almost-Christmas color scheme, as well as referencing the motifs of pine, lion, goose, and snow.

Once we had a sketch or three that worked, I gathered materials: tan-gray linen, dark green printed cotton, red silk velvet, brown and blue brocade, dark blue and silver-painted broadcloth, tan and neutral gray accent fabrics with interesting patterns, and dark red and green grosgrain ribbon (Thank you, SAS Fabrics By The Pound!)

Thanks to pack-rat instincts, I already had glass accent beads for more sparkle.

I printed the main motifs on specially-treated cotton and linen. Those motifs include the new Festival logo and category listings, and a lion face mimicking the mask Harris used in the photo. While the lion was lightly printed, most of its detail came from hand-inking later with colorfast acrylic ink pens.

Fall 2014 ribbon progress 1I cut out sixteen 4″ x 16″ linen blanks and one 5″ x 20″ blank with plenty of selvage space, and added pine trees via a combo of hand-painting and monoprint, to look like this.

Once those were dry, I made the goose appliques, the lion faces, and cut out dozens of accent fabrics and ribbons. I lightly glued those into place and started up the trusty old Elna sewing machine. Here are the ribbons at that stage. Nemaeus ribbons stage 2

Once the fabric and ribbon strips were sewn, I trimmed the selvages, zigzagged the edges to prevent fraying, and began hand-sewing the red, green, and clear glass accent beads into place. On all seventeen ribbons. That’s a lot of beads.

I backed the ribbons with a beautiful, moody rose-print cotton in shades of dark green and gray-blue. To make a border, I folded the edges around to the front, ironed and glued them into place, and sewed down the strips. I stitched a hanging ribbon at the top, and added a sew-on pin to the upper back. That way, each lucky artist has at least two display options. I signed each ribbon in silver ink, and documented them via scanner.

Then I fell over and slept for about twelve hours.

I think these came out pretty cool, in sort of a Goth Narnia vibe.

Now I’m wondering what the festival organizers going to hit me with, for the Spring show. (Note: by the time I posted, I had seen the Spring 2015 featured artwork. Wow.)

For anyone in central Arizona during the first weekend in December: wander over to Tempe and see our festival. (Follow the links above, for more info.)


Fabric art award ribbons

A little case of mistaken identity has been brought to my attention.

I am not Diane Tessman. I am Marian Crane, when I wear my art hat.

Tempe Fall 2013 Best of ShowAs a fiber artist, I periodically create sets of award ribbons for the Tempe Festival of the Arts, held twice-yearly in Tempe, AZ. These are generally sixteen category ribbons 15″ x 4″, and one Best of Show ribbon 20″ x 5″. I am paid for this, but it’s a relatively low rate I grandfathered in because I love the Festival and its staff. And I’m crazy.

Tempe 2013 Spring ribbon group for blog

Each year I get to see the chosen Guest Artists’ work chosen as a Festival logo/poster piece, and work up a design based on or complementary to that work. I’m told that the artists love my ribbons, are happy to frame the awards as artworks in their own right, and that the unique pieces are a small part of the marketing and cachet of the Festival. That, and the great portfolio images I get, are wonderful recompense for the insane two-week effort to build each set of ribbons.

This involves creating digital sketches for Festival approval, and material sourcing if I don’t have it. I then assemble backgrounds of constructed fabric from layers of cotton batik and/or dye-painted linen, accent images of appliqued fabric, digitally-printed labels and topical background fabric, accent beads hand-sewn in place, and bias tape or selvage edgings. Finishing touches include a ribbon tie/metal pinback combo so artists can more effectively display their ribbons in their booths during the Festival. Each piece is signed and dated on the back.

Tempe 2014 ribbon shots for blogI am not at this time looking to expand this service to other regional or local arts festivals. I have enough fiber art to do already, between wall art and book arts pieces. I’d have to substantially raise my award ribbon prices for that new workload: to around $60 to $100 per ribbon, I’m afraid, depending on complexity.

Someone recently mistook one of my Spring fiber art award ribbons for those made by Diane Tessman, of My Artzy Ribbons. I’d like to rectify that by posting a link to her site, which feature her own charming and intricate take on fiber award ribbons.  http://www.myartzyribbons.com/index.htm 

Diane’s richly-textured fiber art awards deserve plenty of second and third looks, believe me. 

Glad to have that cleared up. On with our regular programming.