I am a self-trained artist. I cannot, however, claim to be a self-taught artist because while it's true that I've had no formal art training of any kind, I have nonetheless filled my creative life with the books, articles, and DVD tutorials of some amazing artists who have taught me, sight unseen, what it means to create.
One of my very first and favorite teachers, and a continuing source of inspiration, is mixed-media artist, Sherrill Kahn. Sherrill and I have never met, I've never been fortunate enough to take a workshop with her, but by studying her books and her thoroughly engrossing artwork, I learned about color, design, movement, contrast, and most importantly, the creative liberation of playful experimentation. My discovery some years ago of Sherrill's books and her body of work has, in many measurable ways, changed my creative life.
So when I saw recently that Creative Catalyst was offering a DVD workshop taught by Sherrill called Acrylic Paint Pizzazz: Collage Techniques for Paper & Fabric, I think I was probably the first in line to purchase it. While my obsession with creating "art fabric" has taken me over quite a lot lately, leaving me less time for the art of mixed-media painting, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to watch Sherrill speak about and demonstrate her astonishing techniques for achieving rich depth and texture.
The DVD met and exceeded my hopes. With 25 chapters of fascinating material to peruse, I wound up spending quite a few hours watching and rewatching as Sherrill worked her way through a dizzying array of products, materials and mediums while clearly and defty explaining it all.
In this video workshop, Sherrill explores acrylic painting techniques that are appropriate for both mixed-media beginners and experts, from sponging, to stamping and creating your own temporary stamping pad, to creating resists with both paint and masks, to using paint in fine-tipped squeeze bottles to generate drama and add fine detail. While Sherrill demonstrates these techniques mostly on fabric and paper, they can be used on nearly any surface including fabric, wood, metal and even lightly-sanded plastic.
She uses acrylic fabric paints, Neopaque, Dye-Na-Flow, Lumiere, as well as a small army of useful tools, the vast majority of which can be purchased in your local hardware store. If you're afraid of traditional painting, this DVD will speak directly to you- there isn't a paint brush in sight; Sherrill creates her art with sponges, stamps, and her own fingers.
At the conclusion of the DVD, Sherrill shares her suggestions for creating both paper and fabric collages with the reams of papers and fabrics you will create using her easy and incredibly effective techniques.
Sherrill has been kind enough to answer a few of my questions and to offer all of us a glimpse of her new work, some of which she calls, "experimental".
"There really isn't a typical day. I usually first answer emails, and once that is done, I start working on whatever project I have going. I am always trying new things, so whatever is current is what I concentrate on for that day."
Can you tell us a little about your work/studio space? Do you create in a dedicated studio or is the kitchen table sufficient?
"I have a third bedroom that I use for a studio. It is about 120 square feet. I have maximized it with built-ins and work areas. I have a computer corner, and a main work area that is raised to 39" so that I can stand and work. The raised area is about 45 square feet.
"I have a painting area by the window with about a 30" x 30" area open so that I can paint. It is a large desk and there ARE paint and art supplies on three sides with the front open for me to draw and paint.
"Finally, I have a sewing area surrounded by trays filled with thread.
"The studio is tiny, but I have maximized every square inch for working areas. I also have hundreds of books in the studio. Plus I have wonderful artwork that my friends have made, or pieces I have done that are sculptural. It is a very warm environment for creating."
I know for myself when I complete a piece of art, I love it for a while and then I detach from it and move on to the next piece. How do you feel about your work once you've completed it?
"I usually become very attached to my work. I am just now realizing that I can let some of the work go. I have come to this conclusion very reluctantly. I have some pieces that I will never sell because they hang on my walls and I am very attached to them. I just started selling work from my website about a month ago. I hated to see the pieces go, but I am thrilled that they will be enjoyed by the people that bought them."
Has the advent of computers and creative software packages influenced your work? If so, in what way?
"I love using the computer creatively. I am constantly pushing the envelope by altering my photos and artwork on the computer. I often completely alter the printed images with different art media or use them for collage in my work. I can lose a whole afternoon playing on the computer. With the new programs out there, it takes only a few steps to completely change your work."
In your video, Acrylic Paint Pizzazz: Collage Techniques for Paper and Fabric, you work with paints, fabric and paper at a dizzying, improvisational pace but I know you also incorporate stitch and fibers into your work, as well. Do you take the same experimental approach at the sewing machine?
"Yes, I am very experimental when I use the sewing machine. I used to make most of my clothing, but now I very rarely sew clothing at all. I use the sewing machine to enhance the surface of my artwork. I love combining papers and fabric together in one piece and am doing some very experimental work right now that has't been seen yet. I am still in the early stages right now using the sewing machine in a new way with my work."
Has there ever been an event, or an artistic realization, that radically changed your work and if so, would you be willing to share it with us?
"I think that my work changed when I retired from teaching public school. I was able to use my drawing and painting skills in ways that I hadn't used them before.
Starting a rubber stamp company also led to a new style in my work. I started teaching more and using the stamps more and more in my work. I was doing a lot of photorealism in my work before the stamps. I haven't done photo realism in years. I am drawing an entirely new rubber stamp line right now. I sold out the rubber stamp part of my business and people were so upset, that I decided to do something new. I am drawing every day and hope to launch the new rubber stamps this summer."
You teach a lot of classes around the country. Do you ever take any? What was your favorite?
"I do take classes occasionally. I took a wonderful class with Jan Beaney and Jean Littlejohn a few years ago. I learned about needle felting with a single needle and also how to use the sewing machine as a painting tool. I am fascinated by so many techniques and want to literally try anything and everything. I will be taking a class at the end of the month on using Lutradur. I like to take classes using media that is new to me. I am very picky about the classes I choose, however, because I am very busy."
Thank you for sharing so generously of your time and work, Sherrill!
(All images are copyrighted and are the sole property of Sherrill Kahn. They are reproduced here with her kind permission.)