Friday’s Field Trip::Penland Surface Design Class

by heatherkp

I’m finally getting around to sharing the ART part of my experience at Penland.  It was such an inspiring time.  I loved the energy of working in the studio every day with a variety of other artists.  I don’t really have a studio space at home so I often feel guilty if I leave my art supplies out for a long period of time but for me I need to be able to walk away and come back to my work.  I learned a lot about how I like to work while I was there.

Knowing yourself as an artist means knowing how you like to work, for what period of time, when to step away from something and knowing when to push through and let the inspired moment sweep you away.  Being in a class for the first time since some graduate classes I took back in 2004 offered the balance of exploration and structure which also helped me grow as an artist tremendously.  The irony of this is that as a designer I was trying to loosen up and allow myself to be more free and expressive (and abstract).  Each day our instructor began the class with short exercises that allowed us to be gestural, free, expressive and not to over think what we were doing.  These were fantastic and fun.  I didn’t always like the outcome of what I created but that wasn’t the point.  It was about just getting out of my own way and letting whatever creative expression inside the chance to escape.  Some of the works created by the class in these short exercises are below.

Another fun aspect of the class was that our instructor, Jason Pollen (check out his amazing work if you don’t know him!) used Astrology as an inspiration for us to focus our creative energy on.  Each day we discussed a different planet, the corresponding sign and the energy surrounding it.  In this way we were encouraged to channel certain emotions or energy to put into our work.  This class was primarily a surface design class and we began with limited materials and an 8″ x 8″ format using black backgrounds.  The way we see color on black is different and this encouraged each of us to shake free of the “normal” color combinations we might use.  We started with only gesso and color and eventually were encouraged to add stitching, collage or whatever else we wanted to.  I find it tremendously helpful when I’m creatively stuck to really limit my options, within more restricted boundaries I find my self stretching to explore those limitations.  After a few days experimenting and playing in this smaller format most of us began to explore other mediums and formats for our work.  A group of us in the class began raiding the iron departments scrap pile and we began experimenting with rust dying.  There is a good description of this process over here if you want to learn more about the technical aspects.  I loved how as a group we got swept up into this creative process together.

Rusty metal pieces laid out with fabric for rust dying.

Completed pieces of rust dye fabrics.

Another process we began to experiment with was Encaustic painting.  Although this was not a class in Encaustic one of our classmates was using encaustic and there was also a class being taught so those of us interested in experimenting with this process got the chance to give it a try.  As you can tell we covered a lot of ground in this class.  It was so freeing and inspiring, I came home with several new materials, techniques and ideas to work through more thoroughly.  Both Jason and our studio assistant Debra Smith were fantastic about assisting and encouraging each of us in our own directions.

Jason working on one of his stitched pieces for the auction.

Debra’s scarf and a collaborative piece by Jason and Debra, donations for the Penland fundraiser auction.

Debra modeling a purse made by one of the students for the fundraiser auction.

Below are a variety of samples of fellow classmates work and working shots.  My class mates ranged in age from 18 to over 75 and came from both the east and west coasts with all different backgrounds.  Each one of them was an inspiration to me.  I am so glad we all got to meet and work together:)  Thanks to each of you!!One of the final projects I worked on was a collaboration with 3 other students which we donated to the Penland Session 4 fundraiser auction.  I love to collaborate and this piece turned out well.  I wish I knew who bought it…

Next week I will be back to share some of the work I began personally in class.  Some of what I started is still incomplete but hopefully won’t be by the time I post again.

82 Responses to “Friday’s Field Trip::Penland Surface Design Class”

  1. Wow…the rust-dyed fabrics were interesting. Who knew rust could look so pretty? 😉

  2. This looks like such an amazingly cool, outrageous, creative experience — I’m jealous!

    Beautiful artwork — and fun post…


    • Mikalee, don’t be Jealous, it took me over 10 years of wanting really bad to go to finally make it happen. If you want to go you should check it out and apply for a work study scholarship!

  3. Thanks for sharing! I would wear the shirt 🙂

    • I know right? That top was amazing and she didn’t get to wear it. She made it for the auction (to wear herself) but didn’t end up going through with it. I need to get a photo of her modeling it!

  4. This is an incredible Post. I attended college at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan, NY and this kind of bloging just consumes me. Thanks so much for posting! Looking forward to your upcoming posts. Enjoy the class.

    Also, where did you find out about classes like this? I would love to sign up for one by me.

    • Kristina, I heard about Penland while attending SCAD over a decade ago. I had a friend who attended several years ago as well who recommended it. There are quite a few other schools like this across the country but I’m mostly familiar with those on the east coast. Haystack is in Maine, Arrowmont is in TN and John C Campbell is somewhere in the Carolina’s I believe. I’m thrilled you liked the post. If I were you I’d just google art/craft schools, workshops etc. I also discovered that Ringling has a program in the summers in NC in the mountains. Good luck and let me know if you find something to attend! I would think that FIT should have some info on other workshop schools as well:)

  5. love the various colors and materials and mediums. great blog and thanks for sharing!

  6. wow, Its very impressive

  7. I want to be in this class! I want this class to be in my neighborhood…

  8. You must have had a lot of fun just going all wild with the projects. Encaustic painting sounds cool 😀

  9. Very creative art and craft work! Thanks for sharing!

  10. Love the creativity. Very nice.

  11. Looks like a very inspiring class! Such colorful work, beautiful.

  12. Rust dyeing fabrics looks like a lot of fun. The piece in the last photo is amazing.

  13. I like what you say about knowing yourself as an artist and knowing how you like to work. I think for real creativity and great art to happen you need to allow for the ‘spaces between’ – the times when you’re not necessarily ‘doing’ anything but absorbing ideas and gathering inspiration…

    • Umm, this is so true and has taken me many years to understand. I use to get depressed about the times I didn’t feel like making anything but life is a creative expression in and of itself and it all is a balancing act.

  14. Thanks for this post…i enjoyed it and wish i could touch creativity through art… i have done a lil of things like tie & dye, batik basics i try to paint on fabric but this is what i would love to do ..use materials available and create magic out of it…i think kids here in India don’t get this opportunity :)) thanks again

  15. Lots of creative stuff here! I especially like the images on the black background, with how the top color pops against the black. Sounds like you and the class had a great time exploring lots of creative approaches. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and images!

    • Thanks, I agree seeing how the colors pop on the black background was a major part of why we were asked to work on black I think. I did have a great time and I feel it opened up my ability to express my creative ideas!

  16. I just happened to be reading some of the Freshly Pressed entries this morning and the title of your post screamed at me. I’m not 100% sure, but it sounds like you’re referring to the Penland School of Art located in the mountain county that I live in. I’ve never been there, but your post makes it look very interesting. Sounds like you had a really good time there. I may just have to check it out sometime.

    • Lucky you! Yes this is Penland School of craft near Spruce Pine NC. I would totally encourage you to go since you wouldn’t have to pay for lodging! It’s almost like a secret little art community but the secret is out now!

  17. Düzenli kirliliği anlatan resimler. Çok farklılar.

  18. This really need patient and rare talent…great post! Bali Property

  19. For some reason I can’t see the pictures which is very frustrating as it sounds great!

  20. Hi Heather, love your art. Congrats on the fresh press.

  21. I’ve always loved design class, it’s definitely a great place to express everything inside us ( and yeah I do agree, it doesn’t really matter if we like our artwork or not ).
    Great post, must be such a great time you spent there! : )

  22. Wow, your work is very beautiful! So are the pieces of your fellow artists!

  23. Great, inspiring work. Am now following this blog.

  24. Wow! I especially like the drawings on the black backgrounds.
    I also have the same habit of just leaving all my art supplies sprawled over the table, and something half in progress 😉

  25. Is an amazing, outrageous, creative, beautiful artwork

  26. My head is spinning. I thought the Yellow frock very fetching.

  27. wonderful post – inspiring.

  28. what an awesome post and great photos

    thanks for sharing


  29. Hey there!!!! nice art and specially the fashion designing!!!!!! that yellow frock was simply out of the world……. please can you visit my site too……. My sites name is I hope you like it I will love to have your feedback .

  30. I can see that you are putting a lot of time and effort into your blog and detailed articles! I am deeply in love with every single piece of information you.

  31. wow.. awesome.
    i like it, a lot 🙂

  32. Very very cool! I went to Penland a few years ago and loved every minute of it. I enjoyed reliving the experience through your post…thanks!

  33. This was a wonderful post! So full of life & fun. We get older and learn about addressing everyone else’s needs (especially women) & leave our own instincts wanting. You described that so well talking about discovering how you work in a studio environment & understanding your own preferences. Good stuff!

  34. Wonderfully creative! I like the hat made out of cards!

  35. I have gone to visit and walk around Penland a few times with my Grandparents. It is a beautiful place, and I would love to go and be an artist there, not only a walker/sightseer. So glad you shared your experience.

  36. We can call these things are art. I like it. Thanks for your sharing. I hope your blog will have more nice things like this.

  37. looks like a great class! wished i could be so creative!

  38. So much creativity 🙂 I wish I could be so creative! Thanks for sharing.

  39. It’s great to see the process, helps understand everything much better, thanks


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