I've said it before and i'll say it again. One of the things i really love about the teaching component of a Teaching Artist job is, the cycle of my classes forces me to revisit specific topics on a regular basis, remind myself what i know about them and do more research into both historical methods and new technologies. It's not that i didn't love my previous jobs of being a non-teaching artist, but in those jobs my opportunities for doing research and development were attached to the requirements of the theatres and designers for which i worked.
The class i teach this semester is called Decorative Arts, which is to say that it encompasses all the crafts artisanship topics which aren't covered by Millinery/Wigs, Dyeing/Surface Design, or Masks/Armor. So, for example, right now my students are well into the first project, gloves. I'll have images of their work to share next week when they present, but i'm a step ahead and am focusing on the next project.
In previous years, i've taught a jewelry unit. It focused on jewelry production and rigging for stage and we covered topics like soldering, types of frequently-used stageworthy hardware like split rings or magnetic clasps, and media like polymer clay and silicone molds/resin casting. I've never really been satisfied with the fairly narrow scope of that project/unit though, and this year i've decided to switch it out for a new project focus, which i'm calling Small Hand Props for the Crafts Artisan.
Since Decorative Arts is the class in which we address parasol production (which IME often falls to the craftsperson because the parasols usually match the dresses and are designed by the costume designer rather than the scenic designer), I thought, why not do a unit on the OTHER things that are technically props, but which costume production artists are often asked to create for similar reasons? Namely, reticules and other period purses, chatelaines and other functional-but-worn jewelry items, and fans.
Fans! What fun! As someone who carries a fan in her purse all summer, you could say i'm a fan. Hur.
Anyhow, I've made quite a few fans to match gowns, and even written a blog post on the topic with a ton of useful links
. Today's post is similar, but involves the services of the excellent digital fabric printer Spoonflower
When thinking about this project and what sorts of options my students might wish to consider, i figured, clearly you can take a fabulous fine fabric and make a fan with it, but the more i researched period fan designs and read about historical fan production and the incredible popularity of fan painting as an art, the more i thought, I have to do a sample fan to show them which incorporates that element.
I found all kinds of wonderful images of elaborate fan leaf designs (even some by famous artists like Gaugin and Degas), but i decided upon an image from 1885, painted by Jean Beraud, depicting a crowded city street cluttered with bowler-hatted men sheltering bustle-dressed ladies with large umbrellas from a rain-goddess storming upon them. I found a great image of it in The Fan: Fashion and Femininity Unfolded by Valerie Steele
, which is a wonderful resource book for such things.
I scanned the Beraud fan painting at a high resolution and then fiddled with it in Photoshop until i got it to be the proper size and scale for the fan frame. The original is very painterly and precious in its brush-strokes, so i tossed a couple of filters on it as well to sharpen some lines and contrast and "age" the image a bit to make it look better from a distance when mounted on a fan frame. Then I uploaded it to Spoonflower and ordered it centered on a fat quarter of silk crepe de chine
. Five days later, I had my beautifully-printed silk Beraud fan leaf! Thanks, Spoonflower!
But, rewind. Another thing i wanted to address in my sample project was the sturdiness and operation of the fan monture (that's the proper term for the frame structure of a fan).
When you're making a decorative fan, or even a delicate fan for a "regular person," the action of the mechanism is not always the primary concern. If a fan is going to hang on a wall, or if someone wants to carry it around at their wedding, it may be the case that the look of the monture is more important than that it withstand violent snaps open and shut.
Actors are a whole different ballgame. If you give an actress a fan, it will become an essential part of her creation of character--she will open it violently to get someone's attention, snap it shut in frustration, even smack someone with the closed fan. I've worked on two productions of The Mikado
where fan choreography was employed for an entire chorus, two dozen actors snapping and popping and cracking their fans open and shut on cue over and over and over. You HAVE to work with a monture that can go the distance.
In my experience, the best fans to cannibalize montures from for "ornate looking" designs for stage purposes are these inexpensive plastic-stave fans
which you can usually find for around $5 apiece. The sticks are resilient and the hinges are strong enough not to drop apart with dramatic use, but not so stiff you can't firmly snap them open and shut with the flick of a wrist. The leaves (a "leaf" is the term for the fabric portion of the fan) are typically easily peeled free from the frame intact and can be used as a pattern for your replacement fabric. They come in a range of colors and while the gold detailing looks cheesy up close, it actually looks great onstage. If you plan to use the fan in a close-range situation (strolling performers or a house where the audience is very close to the action), you can tone down the metallic ornamentation with a rub-off treatment using some FEV or enamel paint for plastic.
The rest of this is best illustrated in a series of photographs. ( Read more... )