Art and the Scientific Method


Steps in the Scientific Method

  • Step 1: Ask a question. 
  • Step 2: Do background research. ...
  • Step 3: Construct a hypothesis. ...
  • Step 4: Test your hypothesis by doing an experiment. ...
  • Step 5: Analyze the data and draw a conclusion. ...
  • Step 6: Share your results.

I was recently in a workshop with Betty Busby at Art Quilt Tahoe. The workshop  focused on learning processes to paint/alter fabric.

If I had to describe the experience, I would call it a week of “science camp” for the artist. 

 Participants completed a series of experiments. Like a science lab there were supplies that had been tested and a step by step procedure was demonstrated. Students then attempt to duplicate the experiment. When students completed the process they shared their results.

Although the class created a variety of beautiful cloth, the results were as varied as the individual. This is what I love about art and artists. There is no way to keep unique perspective at bay.

When I returned to my home studio, I began a series of my own experiments. I started, as a true scientist would; with a question.

“Can I replicate the process I learned at this workshop in my studio with different materials?”

I modified my acrylic paint with water to create a similar consistency to fabric paint. Then I repeated  the process I learned in Betty’s class of painting on scrunched cloth, letting the cloth dry and finding a pattern similar to shibori cloth. 

I found that the result, without fabric paint was disappointing. I went back to Step 2. Research. What if I took my cloth and soaked it in soda ash? This would be similar to what one does with dyes. I made another batch of cloth and found the results much improved. 

“If this process works with standard acrylics, then what other water soluble paints will it work with?”

I have a collection of liquid watercolors. These are bright transparent colors and made some beautiful samples. The issue with the set I used is they are washable.

"How do I make washable permanent?"

I tried heat of an iron. That didn’t work. I tried adding soda ash to the water color. Didn’t work either. Then I read an article in the recent quilting arts and found an article about  painting textile medium on the cloth and then watercolor......

My experiments are ongoing. What I know as a teacher is that learning is not replicating. To simply repeat a process is like knowing how to add and subtract but never adding up check at a restaurant. As an artist I apply the knowledge learned in a workshop and take it back to my studio where I change that process to work within my own environment. 

The final step in the scientific method is to share. I share with my local art quilt group and here on my blog. Sharing helps me gather valuable feedback  to take to my studio and make further modifications.

Next time you watch an “how to”video, take a workshop or read an article think about yourself as a scientist.

Go back to your lab (studio) and do a few experiments with the process you learned. 

Until next time....