Heather Ross’ Blog March: Inspiration to Fabric

Today I am thrilled to welcome artist/designer/writer extraordinare Heather Ross (blog). She’s here as part of her Blog March to promote her brand new book Weekend Sewing. The publisher, STC Craft, is giving away a copy of Weekend Sewing to one lucky reader. Just comment on this post by this Saturday, March 21, 2009, at noon central U.S. time for your chance to win. (Winner will be picked randomly.)

cricketsd

“The Chinese consider the cricket to be a metaphor for summer and courage … ”

Isn’t that one of the prettiest things you have ever read? I stumbled across those words while I was researching crickets for a print idea, and when I read that line I sat down on the floor at the bookstore in the exact spot I was standing (without moving really, other than letting my knees buckle) and kept reading. After about thirty minutes, a young clerk who I don’t think spoke much English (I had been trying to enlist her help in my cricket book search earlier) walked towards me with another book in her hand. I assumed that she was going to point me in the direction of the bookstore’s cafe, where more civilized people sit in chairs and read books they have not paid for, but instead she handed me Eric Carle’s book, The Very Quiet Cricket. I smiled and thanked her and resumed reading, entranced by the idea that every living thing could be nothing more than a metaphor for a season or a feeling, but she was insistent. She opened it for me and to my surprise the very last page, when turned, made the tiny insistent sound of a cricket. The little chirp made heads turn the whole room over, and the clerk and I both stifled a giggle.

I doubt anyone was surprised by the idea of crickets being in a bookstore, they seem to turn up everywhere. I have heard them in movie theaters and offices and even in the dark quiet of the planetarium at the Museum of Natural History, where apparently they escaped being lunch in the amphibians exhibit and have set up camp under the stars. This was the place they seemed most at home to me.

In the summertime at night in Vermont if you stood at the top of the meadow above our house you could see a dizzying amount of stars in the sky, extending far into the valley below you in a way that made you feel as though you were floating in the sky. It was always the first thing visitors noticed. “I never knew there were so many stars,” they would say, and then everyone would be quiet, except of course for the crickets. Both the stars and the operatic chorus of chirping stretched from horizon to horizon, and if you didn’t know better you would think that one was the sound of the other.

peddlarBut we knew exactly where the sound was coming from because we had plenty of crickets indoors as well. I never looked too closely at them until I found a tiny little wire cage in my mother’s things. Her parents and their parents had lived in China for a long time and as a result we had lots of little mysterious trinkets in the house. When I asked her what it was, she told me that it was a cage for keeping pet crickets, and that in China there are crickets who sing like birds, and that they are much fatter than the ones that our cats were always trying to catch under the sofa.

I was shocked that no one had bothered to tell me this before now. And newly obsessed. Sadly, our little cricket cage was broken and would not keep a pet, especially the thin, quick little Vermont variety, who I imagined to be a poor but resourceful type of cricket. I would have loved to have caught and kept one anyway, and maybe made him fat with big spoonfuls of peanut butter pushed at him, but it was probably a good thing I didn’t have the chance. We were forever catching things and putting them in jars and then becoming distracted and missing feedings. This would not have been a nice way for any cricket, regardless of socioeconomic standing, to spend a humid afternoon. Obviously, this memory stuck and I have always thought of that tiny little cage when I hear a cricket and always loved the way they remind me of vermont and summer. Which is how I ended up researching crickets in the first place.

And now I really needed to start drawing or it wasn’t going to happen within my Kokka deadline.

73220760asfog04ucricketinthecagerev

First, I gathered up a nice selection of images of crickets, some technical, others purely for inspiration. Eric’s artwork, of course, and a lovely woodcut of a cricket cage peddler. Then a few amazing examples of cricket cages, including a simple and beautiful woodblock of a gourd turned into a cage, and then immediately following, a modern-day cage also made from a gourd.

cricket_and_gourd_cage_6tgw

gourd3

I should admit that I then spent about an hour trying to find and buy a copy of the woodcut of the gourd and cricket. This happens to me more times than I would like to admit. Finally I forced myself to actually find some images of crickets, and then to start sketching.

cricketsa

I usually make very simple sketches, trying to focus on the characters and their expressions, gestures, and pose. With a print like this, where I intend the subject to be repeated with slight variations, I will draw as many as I can at a time. Next, I scan them into Photoshop using a very inexpensive scanner by Epson.

Then, I add color. I use the channels method in Photoshop, where I can bring in one color at a time as though I am screen-printing my design. When you print fabric, you make a separate screen for each color. Eventually, each of these channels will become a screen. I draw with a stylus and a Wacom tablet, which is also my mouse. (I have been using a stylus for so long that I can’t actually maneuver a mouse properly. It’s a little sad to watch, like someone trying to draw with a wet flipper.)

With my sketch visible, I create channels on top of it and trace the edges of my sketches, making lots of changes and improvements. I set all of my channels to be transparent, so that I don’t cover up my original sketches as I work. i don’t like to draw outlines, I prefer my illustrations to be made up of solid blobs of color and then add detail with a single dark scratchy line. The result looks like this:

mixedcricketsb

Cute, right? But sort of blah? I remember the magical cricket cage and decide to add it. Bonus, this gives me the opportunity to add more colors and play up the graphic elements. I try caged crickets, but they look like they are in jail. I opt for empty cages.

cricketsc

I like it. I print it out in ten different colorways, changing the ground and the cage and the crickets each time. This is the best thing about drawing one color at a time using channels, you can change the colors really easily and try lots of variations. I love Epson Fine Art Paper for printing colors, and I use the low-end Epson photo printers — the ones with six ink cartridges give the best oranges and pinks, FYI. It’s pricey, but produces something that you could frame if you wanted to.

My crickets were actually intended to be a part of the Far Far Away line for Kokka of Japan. I sent it to them along with the unicorns and princesses and frogs and snails. And guess what.

They hated it.

It was (very respectfully) cut from the line. This happens a lot, at least to me. I have an idea that I realize, much too late sometimes, relates to too few people. And the thing is, when you decide like I did to become a commercial artist, you have to respect that.
So my little crickets came back to me after their trip abroad (which means that they have now been to Japan and I have not) and currently take up permanent residence on my inspiration board. More organized designers use their inspiration boards to plan and generate new works, but mine is really more of a wildlife refuge for everyone who emerges from my printer unfit for the real world, a little too creepy or scary or odd, or having been born too late or too early and missed that window of relevance or popularity or even recognition. They are, of course, my own little strays. I’m sure a few of them will venture out successfully one day, but for now they are quite happy and safe here with me. Plenty of peanut butter to go around.


Thank you so much, Heather! Look for Far Far Away, unfortunately sans crickets, in fabric shops soon.

95 Comments

  1. ChrisC. says:

    Ohhh, what a great post. I LOVE the crickets — wish they’d made it into the line. :-( Thanks so much for the chance to win.

  2. This is such a lovely story! I love Heather’s fabrics and I’m always curious about how people bring their ideas to life.
    That book is on my wishlist!

  3. damia says:

    Great “behind the scenes” story! And yay for a fabulous give-away! :)

  4. Wendy says:

    I would love to win this book!

  5. Kat says:

    I loved reading this! Fascinating look at the process from inception to completion (and sadly rejection). For what its worth, I like the crickets.

  6. Barb says:

    Wow, I loved reading about Heather’s design process. I would love to win the book because I love Heather’s designs and Fabric!

  7. Ange says:

    Thank you for this, and to hear of the inspiration behind the design process is so inspiring

  8. Sarah says:

    I think those crickets are awesome! And I would love, love, love to win this book.

  9. Catherine says:

    What a beautiful and insightful essay! I will always think of this when I see or hear a cricket. I would have loved this fabric.

  10. Edith says:

    That is such a wonderful story!

  11. revive says:

    oh goodness…. picke me pick me!

  12. Chen says:

    I’m sad that the crickets got cut from that line. I would have loved it like all her other collections.

  13. Sarah says:

    I just love the crickets! It would be so cool to catch a glimpse of her other designs that didnt make it to print yet. Thanks for sharing this with us. Childrens books.. please Heather write some childrens books ;-)

  14. Christie G says:

    I love this story. A long time ago my high school art teacher told us that to be an artist meant “not being attached to the results.” I found it impossible, still do and so now my art is mostly…for me. I can be as attached as I please.

  15. Nancey says:

    Thanks for this post. I enjoyed reading!

  16. tina says:

    awww… i love the crickets!!!

  17. Rebecca says:

    I love those crickets! They remind me of my college days when they were all over campus during late summer…

  18. h. e. clark says:

    Heather Ross and her designs are a favourite of mine! Thank you for this post!

  19. shawna says:

    I am so addicted to the inspiration coming from this book right now!
    ~Shawna

  20. Hyewon says:

    I’m so inspired! Thank you both for the post.

  21. Cynthia says:

    Thank You! This was such and Awesome Inspiration for all of us who dream of one day designing our own fabrics! You rule Heather!

  22. Jennie says:

    That is too bad. I love crickets. Eric Carle’s book and The Cricket in Times Square are favorites in my house. Maybe Heather can release a line of all her rejected prints – I’m sure they would sell great!

  23. Love her fabrics! Thanks for offering this.

  24. Rhiannon says:

    Those crickets are adorable!

  25. Alyson S says:

    What a fun line of fabric and I’m even more excited to see the book! Thanks, just found this blog and I’m hooked!

  26. frog says:

    What an enchanting description of your design process! I kept thinking of James and the Giant Peach – simply because your crickets put me in mind of the grasshopper and his ‘violin’ playing.

    Australian crickets are black/brown but still sing in the throbbing heat.

  27. rhea says:

    Thanks so much for this post. I was fascinated and disappointed, too. I totally would have bought me some cricket fabric.

  28. Eileen says:

    I am really enjoying the blog tour, so very interesting.

  29. Michelle says:

    Bummer that the crickets didn’t make the cut – but oh so cute!

  30. Emily says:

    Oh I love the crickets- I would have bought some!!

  31. Ms. Fine says:

    Wow. That was so amazing to see heather’s thought process in design. Clearly, that is just never going to be me. Great post.

  32. Lyn says:

    Those crickets are cute!
    Thanks for featuring such a delightful article!

  33. becka says:

    I would totally have bought some cricket fabric to make something for my sister! (Cricket was one of her nicknames!) I loved this essay about the fabric. Made me smile.

  34. Mariellen says:

    Beautifully written essay on the inspiration and process of creating art…… and of accepting rejection with grace. Thanks for hosting Heather on your blog!

  35. MelodyJ says:

    The cricket’s meaning is very interesting. I never thought of them as a metaphor of courage.

  36. I’m with you all the way on crickets – I’ve loved them since I was a kid and they completely remind me of summer and exploration. I also love how a book can grab yo uso instantly that you wind up in the same spot where you picked it up an hour later. Thanks for the post and for Heather – I’m loving the blog tour, what a wonderful idea!

  37. Brooke says:

    I love this blog tour.. Heather, you must not be sleeping at all because everyday there is a new inspiring post from you somewhere. I love following you around the web each day.

  38. Amanda says:

    This was an inspiring post! I love the crickets! They are so happy and springlike. I would love to own this book. :D

  39. Lolly says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I really enjoy learning about the process behind the designs, and I love those crickets.

  40. Lara says:

    Loved reading this post:)

  41. Janet says:

    Thank you for this post! I have the library copy of Heather’s book right now and loving it. I would love a copy of my own. Thank you for a chance to win it!

  42. tia says:

    Fantastic! Heather should come here to Australia and hang out with me…there are zillions of freaky critters and bugs to inspire her!

  43. quinta da quilter says:

    The crickets rock!

  44. Katherine L. says:

    I loved this post. I like reading about the thought process behind the designs. I anticipate this fabric line. I really like the crickets, but it was interesting to read that they were eliminated from the collection. Interesting!

  45. Alissa says:

    I’m kind of glad the crickets didn’t make it…because I have a feeling this collection will be hard to get. My hope is the crickets will appear in a later collection, so I can snap them up – because they are possibly the cutest thing I’ve ever seen!

  46. marnie says:

    love all heather’s fabrics and use them a lot for my business

  47. Fulvia says:

    Thanks for the chance to win …

  48. rachael s says:

    i would love to win this book! thank you!

  49. Lauren says:

    I love the color combination of the lime green cricket and the hot pink cages…………super cute!