Sunday, 17 April 2011

Assignment two done at last

I have had the equivalent of writer's block for the last two months, but at last I have completed this assignment. I am not sure what it is about it that has been so difficult, given that there were elements of it that I really enjoyed. Playing with colour was good fun, particularly having read an article in Artists and Illustrators maintaining that cyan, magenta and yellow are the primary colours and not the traditional red, yellow and blue. I spent quite a while experimenting with these three colours to see how many colours I could get, and it shouldn't really have been a revelation that I could get any colour I could think of: these are our printer colours after all. After that, I read as many different versions of primary colours as there were books/websites I could find: that there are three primaries (the usual or the cyan, magenta, yellow theory), or that there are actually six (warm and cool versions of each of the primaries), etc, etc. I don’t think it really matters, but one article I read suggested that whatever you do as an artist, only ever include colours in your palette that you love. Wise advice, I thought, as I threw out the raw sienna (I have never liked that colour!). I also found a few new colours I love: Windsor blue (green shade), potters pink and cobalt turquoise light amongst them. The cobalt turquoise is expensive, but I dare you not to smile when you pop it on the paper or fabric and let your mind drift back to beach holidays past. Anyway, once the colour exercises were done, it was on to design work then stamping, lino-printing and fabric dyeing. I made a load of stamps of all shapes and sizes (no problems with copyright if you create your own!), and discovered the joy of gouging chunks of lino out to make pictures: very therapeutic. I think these were probably the most successful of the various bits of this assignment. The first time I tried it, I did it freehand direct onto to the lino with no thought of what I would get, but ended up with a landscape which printed perfectly straight away. It was really quite exciting seeing the reverse image staring back at me after only an hour or so. My next few goes were far from constrained affairs: sketched, designed, traced, traced onto the lino, carefully cut and so on…but the excitement at the end wasn’t quite the same (the lino owed me after all that effort!) Then came fabric dyeing. I scrunched, tied, twisted, dripped, resisted, discharged my way through the packets of dye, and learned this: when they tell you to wash fabric first (to remove the factory finish), they are not wasting your time: If you try it without washing first, it’s you wasting your time! I used Dylon dyes in every shade under the sun, and they worked wonders. I didn’t really follow the instructions that closely, and found that if you drop tiny amounts of non-diluted powder onto wet cloth they can create a really nice effect depending on how wet the fabric is: you can’t control it though, so it would need a few experiments and some patience. My favourite achievement is my repeated design (brown fabric paints on beige dyed silk). It isn’t perfectly printed, but I quite liked the effect of the varying tones of brown that emerged. The emergence of this design from a 2” by 2” thumbnail sketch from a fossil photograph was great fun. Making the stamp took forever, as I had worked out by now that unless you have some decent printing kit, printing or stamping on fabric with fabric paints using most of the types of stamp materials I had used, just didn’t work well. I used a thick foam (kid’s section of well-known chain hobby store), which seemed to produce a better print. Tricky to cut, though! Anyway, onto the next assignment with a sense of relief…manipulating fabric here we go…

Thursday, 3 March 2011

I have been busy...

Since my last post, I have actually been doing something. Painfully slowly, perhaps, but then work is always busy this time of year. I have been busy drawing/painting/mixing colours/dyeing fabric/making stamps and linocuts etc, etc etc. I have also been busy spending money - this course is expensive, but I guess once I have all the basic kit it all gets a bit cheaper. I now have an embroidery thread and paint collection fit to start a hobbycraft shop of my own. Not to mention a million types of paper. Anyway, I am just going to stick up some pictures of my endeavours on this second assignment of the course as a reminder to me to actually write some more on here very soon...

Monday, 17 January 2011


Visit to an exhibition - Stitch and turn: Highcliffe Castle, Dorset
I visited this exhibition in early December 2010. The venue for the exhibition is an old country house which is in the process of being renovated. The exhibition was held in the former library, a very cold room with a high ceiling with exposed beams and with plenty of natural light from the large windows. The exhibition is a combination of Heather Lipscombe’s textile work and a local woodworker’s turned objects. The juxtaposition of two crafts in this way was very interesting, and seemed to work very well.
The wall space was very light, and the textile art was relatively tightly packed into the space. It is worth noting that the works were for sale, and as I found out, anyone buying anything could take the piece away on the day, hence the exhibition would have changed from one day to the next in content and space. On the day I visited, there were eight major works still remaining, probably due to their high cost, but a large variety of other smaller pieces.
Heather works on three main themes, being fantasy mermaid/sailor scenes, foliage, and letters. The former is based on her own thought that it would be nice to think that sailors have underwater saviours ready to come to their aid, and the latter apparently more childish in their colourful, simple delight.
 I chose three pieces to study in detail, due to the very different techniques used:
1.      Textile column:
There were two textile columns, one four feet high, the other three foot.   It was clear that the pieces had been worked flat and then attached around a thick wood column. I suspect this was to tie in with the wood craft on display; however, there were no notes to this effect.  One in particular used numerous techniques and included found objects: shells, pebbles, bark and pine needles. The use of thick resin to cover quite large areas was common to a number of her ‘sea inspired’ pieces, and was included here. She used a number of different fabrics, hessian, cotton, gauze and netting. The theme was definitely beach-inspired, with fabricated seaweed (dark green cotton), and thickly built up with layers of material in places. The use of dye in each piece was widespread, but not so evident in this piece, other than perhaps in the crafting of the individual items attached to the columns. The overall impression was one of an encrusted seaside scene, but imaginatively displayed in the round.

2.      Sailor saved by mermaid
This piece was large, about 3 feet by 2, presented in landscape. The scene is of a sailor apparently being rescued by a mermaid. It stood out for me in its use of lots of gold padded appliqued detail. The figures themselves also stood out due to the resemblance of their features and positioning to Aztec and Mayan sculptures. The background itself was hand dyed in various shades of blue, then covered in fine netting, which had also been dyed in various sea blues and greens. A fine green cotton had been cut into a seaweed shape, with random stitching all over in variegated green machine embroidery thread. The padded gold applique was cut in teardrop shapes to form part of the wave pattern, which was otherwise represented very simply with very large herringbone stitch to suggest a wave pattern and movement.  The mermaid’s tail was also made of padded gold. The overall effect was very bold and unusual. The sea theme was concentrated in the middle section of the exhibition, across two opposite walls and a middle section, and included the columns shown above. This was quite effective
3.      Fabric frolics:
Please note the picture shown below. This piece is an exuberant piece with foliage, berries and pods all pre-made and attached to the final piece.  It is a foliage design, with a much larger repertoire of stitches than the two pieces described above. Heather also uses a very large variety of threads and yarns in this piece. The base is dyed linen in various shades of blue, green and pink. Behind the foliage is a large piece of netting, which appears to have been dyed in blue. Besides the attached fabric constructions, the piece is embellished with yellow petal flowers embroidered in standard cotton thread. In a number of places, thick variegated yarns have been randomly couched onto the backing fabric, giving the appearance of moss on a wall. There are a number of pine needles placed all over the background that have been very tightly couched, creating raised interest reminiscent of branches. There are a very small number of hand stitches randomly placed around the piece, often in the same colour as the background, so can only be seen up close. They are all detached straight stiches, including a few done with very fine ribbon pulled through. Each of the leaves is achieved from cut-out cotton satin fabric, each one machine- stitched around the edges (I tried to get the effect on my basic machine and had to set the zigzag to minimum stitch width to get anything near this). The berries are constructed of padding covered in a very fine nylon stretch mesh fabric, with black cotton thread detail. There are also some beads attached in the same netting, hanging from the top leaves. Hanging from the bottom are some ‘pods’ made from a self-stripe orange-yellow polyester material. This was one of my favourite pieces, so much so that I bought it. This made it a very expensive exhibition, but having it on the wall at home to study closely has proved very useful, and will serve as inspiration for me in my future studies.
Link to Heather Lipscombe’s site showing her setting up a 2006 exhibition at the same venue:

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Its been a long time coming

It would be fair to say that I have struggled for inspiration in the last month. It would also be fair to say that when the one person in your life to whom you look for guidance is no longer around, things slow down. I have realised that sewing is a major antidote to stress. There is nothing quite like sitting and sewing to make you feel calm. I have added four pictures. The first is a drawing of my paintbrushes in their pot. I chose what I thought was a normal HB pencil, and half way through realised it was a purple colour pencil. I actually liked working in this pencil, and the end result was unusual. In the pictures it just looks like normal pencil, but it looks and feels very different in reality. The next picture is my interpretation of my sunset sketches/pictures in stitch. This is done almost entirely in straight stitch, but in lots of colours. It was inspired by my black and white stitching (first picture at the top, third down on the left) and by my review of works by Van Gogh, specifially 'Starry Nights'. I have always liked this painting, and the energy conveyed in his thickly worked, circular brushstrokes felt like something I could convey in stitches. That, combined with time on my hands and lots of lovely coloured threads (for christmas), led to my thinking about doing something simple (in terms of drawing) and yet hopefully complete in terms of a sewn piece. The next picture is what will hopefully be my admission for the first part of the course, an interpretation of my starfish sketch. I finished this in a cancer hospice at my mum's bedside. The memory of that will always be with me, in a good way, and I achieved what I hoped to achieve: Something simple, plain, using a few textural stitches that painted the picture as I wanted. I found, oddly, that chain stitch was probably the most effective stitch, but somehow that did not seem enough. I looked up stitches that would give me what I needed, and I found a version of interlaced herringbone which formed the main area of the piece, providing a good textural representation of the starfish, but not necessarily giving me the volume I wanted. Anyway, for many reasons, I quite like this starfish, and I will finish it as a picture later, for fear of ruining what is already there. The last picture is more properly the beginning of this exercise. It represents mark making on fabric, and shows the impact of the more basic stitches. The first (left hand hand square) shows a straight stitch graduation from far apart lines to close together. Clearly this shows a simple tonal effect from dark to light. The next square was rather lazy, and because I just used extremely long stitches for speed, the stitches sagged somewhat, but in so doing, gave the piece a charm of its own. I understood the point of the exercise, however! The other squares were experiments. The 'Van Gogh' inspired straight stitch piece led to the 'sunset picture', as described above. Other than that I was just generally playing with threads to see what I could achieve. Anyway, I am now putting together my stuff to send off my first assignment, so will be on to the second section on colour very soon. Happy New Year to everyone.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Inspiration at last

I live in an area with lots and lots of trees, so if I wanted to draw lots of trees that would be fine.  So, with not a lot to photograph other than trees, leaves and bark, I have resorted to a few magazine clippings I have collected, and at last I have managed a ‘proper’ sketch of a starfish and some shells, which has enough detail in it to perhaps transfer into a textile piece. I have also made some headway with the textiles elements now, with five items completed. So far I have had problems with getting some decent strong cotton to hand embroider. The stuff I do have is too flimsy and won’t stretch flat to work on, so I will see what I can get at the weekend. In the meantime, I have worked on some padded cotton and felt, as it holds its shape nicely to work on. As ever, my desire to run ahead and create a whole piece is hard to surpress, but I am trying to keep it under control and get on with making marks and recreating texture in stitch.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Day 15 in the haberdashery house…

Ok, so have decided to ditch working in pencil for a bit, as I seem to work better in coloured pencils and other media. Got my first bit of inspiration from something other than a magazine or a work of art, so decided to play with it a while:

1.      Quick sketch of a sunset – done in oil pastels, with silhouetted trees (just like the real thing). Very quick sketch, and the oils range I have wasn’t quite enough to really capture the vibrant colours (best sunset I’ve seen since we moved here a year ago). So I thought I would try something else with this scene…
2.      Same sunset, but with Tissue paper and black card. I saw bundles of the stuff for 79p a packet (10 large sheets per packet), so I got some, then hey presto, the sunset beckoned. It was fun randomly playing around with the effect of overlaying the translucent colours, and lends itself so obviously to layering organza, so there is a possibility this could be translated into a project piece…
3.      Just for fun, I found some glaze and decided to go with the opposite effect. I drew the outline of the scene with the glaze, waited a couple of days for it to set, then did a watercolour wash over the top. Once dry, I cleared the excess paint off the glaze, and the effect was quite nice. I imagine it is not far off a wax resist print effect, so again, could provide inspiration for a transfer to fabric.


I have now collected some materials for the course. I have a selection of muslin, linen, cotton, velvet, poly cotton, net, and a very interesting rubber non-slip material that looks very much like counted embroidery canvas. I find that I have to have the materials generally in order to find inspiration, so am looking forward to working with them. I also have some silk and voile. I have some fabric paints, drawing inks and acrylic inks. I have tried them out on paper, but yet to see what they do on fabric. The cotton is going to be very handy, as I have enough to try out all sorts of dyeing techniques. I have researched the careers and works of Vanessa Bell, Paul Klee, Picasso and Van Gogh as well. Bell, I find intriguing, although I only actually like one of her works, Klee I have always liked, Van Gogh I have never understood (and am unlikely to, Starry nights and Kinetics aside), but Picasso is a revelation. Before I add this work to the blog, I need to work out how to acknowledge the Bridgeman Education website, before I breach every copyright law in the world.

I have created a couple of paintings purely in trying out my new acrylic inks (pearlescent, and lovely to work with), and my drawing inks (equally lovely on watercolour paper). There is something about each new material that inspires a new idea. I have tried to keep up my sketchbook, but so far, husband and cat pictures are very uninspiring. Husband looks like a 60 year old Van Gogh (he is only 30), and cat looks decidedly unfinished. I seem to do better on loose sheets of paper.