Friday, October 9, 2020

Designer DIY -- almost great!

I've gotten so used to mocking the Designer DIY feature in the New York Times that it's a big surprise to find one with not only a good idea but pretty good execution.  In fact, some useful hints that might help you in many other contexts of your art life.  This week's designer is Dries Van Noten, who only inches away from the DIY feature had a shout-out for this strange outfit, but we won't hold that against him.

Photo and drawings -- New York Times

Today you're going to take a cotton T shirt and paint it with flowers.  In contrast to the skimpy directions usually found in this series, you're given extensive guidance on how to tape paper onto your work table

and how to put cardboard between the layers of the shirt so the paint doesn't bleed to the back.

The part that I like is the hints on how to paint the flowers.  You should draw three circles on the shirt, and for the artistically challenged, he suggests where to put them.

Yes, the drawing has right and left confused, but never mind.  Here comes the good part.

"Starting at the end of the line closest to the circle, paint a curved line in a fluid motion toward the other end of the line to create one side of the flower petal.  Repeat this step on the other side of the line.  The flower petal outline should resemble an elongated raindrop."  After you have turned all the straight lines into petals, "use the long edge of the sponge brush (dipped in paint) to place straight lines sporadically around the flowers to illustrate the stalk, pistil and stamen of the flower."

Then you draw some leaves "around and between the flowers to the three separate flowers connect into one fluid design.  The leaves can extend onto the top shoulder and upper arm of the shirt."

The illustrations, as always in the Designer DIY series, don't help much, but they do seem to tell you to use a brush when painting the flowers.

I like this advice on how to arrange and paint flowers.   (Previous designers in this series would have kissed this off by saying "now paint beautiful flowers all over your shirt!")  I've drawn a bazillion flowers in my life, and this advice about first sketching the straight midline of each petal and only then putting the curved edges around it would have greatly improved most of them. 

But I have one serious complaint about this feature: what it says about the paint.  It calls for "dispersion paint, in any contrast color."  What is dispersion paint, you might ask, as I did.  I googled and discovered that it's water plus solid particles of pigment.  But the google page is ominous, including such phrases as "stabilization of a pigment dispersion requires time and energy" and "paint physical properties (rheology, stability flocculations...) etc." and "the pigment agglomerates are broken up by flocculation/deflocculation" and linking to websites like  

I somehow suspect the average NYTimes reader who hasn't had any experience painting on fabric might wonder what this means, and more to the point, wonder if anything already lurking around the house would work or if they need to buy something.  And if so, what they should buy.

Unlike every other consumer product that I have ever googled, when I type in "dispersion paint," the top of the results page does NOT show me five products available from amazon.  Which leads me to suspect that "dispersion paint" is a phrase the designer ran into once in art school but has never had the occasion to actually purchase or use. 

If I were editing this feature, I would have cut back on the third drawing of a paint brush amid a sea of flowers and said something like: "Use fabric paint if you have it; it can be heat-set and then washed, and will leave your shirt soft and drapable.  If not, use regular acrylic paint sold for crafts or kids' art projects; your shirt will be a little stiffer and will probably do better with hand-washing.  In a pinch, use house paint, but understand that your shirt will be a lot stiffer and more susceptible to cracking.  Don't use tempera paint or anything described as washable."  But then, I'm not writing these features.

As always, the watercolor of the finished project looks beautiful.  This time I think some of the actual projects will look pretty good too. 


1 comment:

  1. I can’t help but think that unless you already have some painting skills, hand painted flowers by a complete beginner is always going to look a bit naff...unless that is the intention. There are fabulous artworks that have that ‘naive’ look, but they are still done by people who know what they are doing...