Paleo Paisley: Life Before the Dinosaurs

Ray Troll stands in front of his piece “Paleo Paisley: Life Before the Dinosaurs,” which is a part of his exhibit “The Fabric of Life/Drawn from Nature” at The Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council’s Main Street Gallery on May 3.

Staff photo by Christopher Mullen  

Ray Troll’s exhibition of original drawings and textiles called “The Fabric of Life / Drawn from Nature” will be live at the Ketchikan Area Arts and Humanities Council’s Main Street Gallery through Friday. Troll’s new collection of intricate, iterating, biologically accurate patterns are taking on a life of their own. 
Troll has been working toward printing textiles for his new solo show since as early as the 1990s. In about 1994, Troll created his first textile pattern called “Fabric of Life,” which shows a sequence of life evolving. The California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco silkscreen printed the pattern for a 1995 exhibit that included many of Troll’s works. 
Troll told the Daily News that this early experience creating a textile print put him “in the mind of doing something different with line drawings.” Throughout his prolific career as an artist and illustrator, Troll has dreamed of developing his two-dimensional works into fabrics.
“I’ve been drawing T-shirts all these years, and it's always been a dream to go to the next level,” Troll said. “There's surprisingly a whole bunch of people out there who just never ever wear T-shirts, at least not out in public.”
Troll’s art draws from his extensive field work as an ichthyologist and paleontologist. Troll spent months completing each original drawing that centers on a specific topic or theme. He studies creatures that he’s curious about as he works to depict them on paper in a realistic way, according to information posted in the Main Street Gallery.
“It’s just simplicity: totally analog boomer of a guy, one piece of paper,” Troll said of the design process. “I sit down with my pencil and my pen and just go from one end of the paper to the other and just fill it out and teach myself something as I did the drawing.”
Troll worked with a team of collaborators in Ketchikan to prepare many repeating textile designs for digital fabric printing.
Grace Freeman transformed Troll’s original drawings into endlessly repeating digital prints. 
“We have to design the patterns so they can repeat endlessly so the end of the drawing just keeps going on and on,” Troll explained. “To find that point where it repeats was a technical challenge I had to face, and I faced it by handing it off to Grace to figure out.”
Freeman also digitally colored Troll’s hand-drawn, naturalistic designs. Freeman colored 121 unique dinosaur drawings of Troll’s that compose a pattern called “Dinosaurs Galore.”
Troll printed the patterns with Spoonflower, an online marketplace that turns artists’ digital works into fabrics, wallpaper and other décor with custom, on-demand printing. 
As of Monday, 14 of Troll’s works can be purchased in fabric from Spoonflower. Troll said that the site offers 8”x8” swatches, quarter-yards and full yards of fabric, as well as custom items such as pillows and wallpaper.
Troll said that another dream of his career has been “to wear a trilobite shirt to the opening” of his own textile exhibit. Trilobites are an extinct marine arthropod with a small, spiny exoskeleton that dominated the seas more than 500 million years ago.
"The shape of them, the variety of them has always fascinated me," Troll said of his obsession with trilobites. "They're just vastly underappreciated, I'm kind of drawn to things that maybe other people aren't."
"It was also fun to express my fascination with these creatures by just drawing them for a few months, surrounding myself with, you know, trilobite books and reaching out to a few trilobite experts," Troll said."
Johanna Collins custom sewed a black-and-white trilobite shirt that Troll wore during the exhibit opening, as well as other collared shirts, banners and pillows that have been for sale at the Main Street Gallery.
Another "sewist," Chaz Staunton, created placemats and napkins for the exhibit from the Spoonflower fabrics.
Each design is its own “conceptual fabric,” according to Troll.
“There's a concept to the pattern in pretty much each one,” Troll said. “The dinosaurs are arranged in the period they lived in and evolved in. Birds are scattered in there because birds are dinosaurs.”
“The raven pattern is from iPhone photos I was taking of ravens,” Troll said of the "Ravens in Flight" pattern. “I fed them down along the waterfront. They would meet me and I would throw them a peanut or two out there. They would gather and as they flew over me I would take iPhone photos and work from that.
Those are Ketchikan ravens!”
 “Dinosaurs are easy to love from the prehistoric past, they are the charismatic megafauna,” Troll said of his obsession with trilobites. “It's the little ones that are underappreciated that I'm drawn to.”
 "Echinoderm Extravaganza" explores a diverse, ancient phylum that includes sea stars, sea urchins, sand dollars and sea cucumbers.
 "Red Ammonite Banner" displays many ammonites, which are the extinct relatives of squid, octopus, cuttlefish and nautilus.
 Troll reached out to local marine biologists Gary Freitag and Barbara Morgan while creating "Plankton Powered Planet" over the course of about four months.
 "I borrowed a big stack of books and did a crash course on learning all about the zooplankton (the animals) and phytoplankton (the plants) that dwell in the ocean," Troll explained in gallery information. "By spending so much time drawing a subject like this I learn a lot as I go. It's my belief that the very act of drawing is a powerful learning tool."
 Troll said that he proposed the exhibit with Main Street Gallery about a year ago, not realizing that it would overlap with his "Cruisin' the Fossil Coastline" archaeology art exhibit at the Tongass Historical Museum in Ketchikan.
"It was good that I gave myself that challenge because I wanted to frame the originals and to have items made from fabric," Troll said. "That meant that there had to be a final push and that's what it was; it was pretty intense here for the past month and a half to get the fabrics proofed, and dial in the right colors that would work."
 Brandon Hoyt of Starboard Frames, Ryan McHale, Tom Fowler and Jamie-Lee Mitchell helped Troll finish preparing the Main Street Gallery show.
Now, Troll's fabrics are working their way into the worlds of his Spoonflower customers. He expects that artists will incorporate swatches of his textiles in works on display at the Blueberry Arts Festival this summer, as well as the Rainy Day Quilter's Guild showcase next winter. 
Troll quoted one quilter as saying: "Yessssssssssssss! With all this new Ray Troll fabric my quilts are about to get a whole lot nerdier."