Friday, 27 February 2015

About to start the stitching.

Well, that's one part of the garden done, ready for stitching.

In case anyone was wondering, I didn't die yesterday.  Hurrah.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

That'll be a fail then!!!

You see, there I am helping to produce a fab magazine, run a website, and help organize exhibitions, doing my quilts, and all those other things we busy folk do, so I hope you'll allow me a fail now and then.

Now you lot out there know I'm not the biggest whizz in the world at cooking. Today I made marmalade - the proper stuff with seville oranges - and burnt it.  After all that shredding etc it was such a shame, but I was able to bottle the jam that wasn't to close too the burnt bits and have 4 jars of orange flavoured toffee spread.

But that's not all.  I've been in hysterics.  I bought a fresh dough pizza kit for tea, and it said to put it on non stick baking parchment before putting on the tray.  I didn't see the non stick bit.

DH is slightly depressed and a bit empty, poor love. He carefully picked off all the pieces of paper that were welded to the dough.  Here's what's left of DH's pizza. He's just asked if we have any Spam.

I'm not hungry at all because I ate the pizza including the paper.  If you don't hear from me for a few days though, I could be dead of congestion of the chitterlings.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Life 16 - Poisonous Plant - Monkshood (starting the applique)

A gardener collapsed and died after apparently handling a highly-poisonous plant on the £4 million estate of a wealthy businessman, a coroner has heard.

Nathan Greenaway fell ill after brushing against the deadly flower aconitum, also know
n as Devil's Helmet and Monkshood, which was growing in the grounds of Millcourt House, owned by retired venture capitalist Christopher Ogilvie Thompson and his wife Katherine.

A pre-inquest hearing was told that Mr Greenaway, 33, died in hospital from multiple organ failure.

The gardener was rushed to hospital but despite frantic analysis of his blood, doctors were unable to work out what was wrong with him and he died five days later.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Originality? Technical Ability? Emotional Response? A discussion in 3 parts

Emotional Response

"Great art is that pure expression of our imperfection on the path to truth." I might never make great art, but I am seeking truth.

Sleeping or dying?  Life 3 - Switching Off (detail)

Not everything in the world is nice. It's a horrible place and we're daily surrounded by death and destruction, wars and cruelty.  We have people being beheaded and shot for daring to speak out loud, and being mutilated, abandoned, and bombed by invading armies.  Even if we leave war out of it for a moment,I'm frequently reduced to tears at the treatment of children. Some things make a raw hole in your heart, like the child who was force fed salt as a punishment and died.

You cannot forget these things, and they form part of who you are.  For me that means bringing my pain and that rawness into the work I do.  It could be cathartic, but isn't.  It's about how I feel, about my emotional response to something I've heard or seen and is my own personal truth. I don't sit and think how can I make this powerful, or more intense, I just allow whatever is there to come out and temper it into a story.

A lot of people would prefer to forget the grotty things of life and certainly not put them into their work.  There are more cheerful things in the world after all and much that is good and heartening, and whilst emotional response to a picture can be anything from it's subject matter to the colours it uses,a play of light on a face or a flower, my own work is about my personal response to life I lead, and things I can't get away from. They do also contain a bit or irrepressible humour sometimes, that sneaks in without me putting it there. I have no idea how it does that.

Life Stories - a funny old mixture of rawness, and sometimes humour, and an effort at truth.

Technical Ability

Technical Ability

Heres part of what Idaho Beauty had to say in a recent comment:

The other thing I "think" is that most people, artists and non-artists alike, get it into their heads that the finished piece of art work they are looking at just happened because of the talent of the artist. Easy Peasy if you have the talent. It was so helpful to me, for instance, to find out that you had not stitched that stone wall without any markings. I know that there are machine quilters that COULD do that, and I thought perhaps that's what you had done because I think your quilting is so good, but I surely cannot, and sometimes even get chided for being so "uptight and concerned about perfectionism" when I mark a lot of things ahead of time. Has nothing to do with perfectionism but more with avoiding an unhappy outcome or even disaster. 

These quilts that we make take a lot of doing.  You have to get your head around a great many techniques in order to make them work, and you have to practice them and gain experience before you can relax and know you will be able to achieve the effect you want; but it's a means to an end, and that's my point. Achieving technique on it's own is worthy of course, and I'm not belittling it at all, but it doesn't have to be the be-all and end-all of what you do.  It's useful for quilt shows, I'll give you that, and if you're making a bed quilt then it's a bit of a fail if it falls apart on the first wash.

If you are a perfectionist and need to put lines to quilt on, like Idaho Beauty for example, then so what? Who is going to know when you've done? That ability, that value, I suspect lies no further than with the maker. Looking at the bigger picture, it's not the mastery of technical achievement that's important in the end.  A successful piece of art can have work which isn't perfect because it trancends the ability to make, and stretches out and speaks to the viewer in some way; to cause an emotional response of some kind. As the posting above suggests, that could mean a response to the colour used, or the concepts the artist is seeking to convey. It's a roused gut feeling and not easily quantifyable.

When I look at a quilt, I don't stand there and wonder if they put pencil lines in to stitch around - it's irrelevant to me.  I can appreciate technical achievement, and can look at piles of perfect quilts but not be touched one iota. 

As for perfectionism, or any other ism, then if it's part of what makes you who you are, then use it in your work.  If making a completely perfect object is your goal then go for it but perhaps highlight the need to be perfect in some way, and use it to tell us about yourself.  Your voice is what is important not the techniques you use and if you stay true to yourself you will be heard.


For years now, Originality, Technical Ability, Emotional Response, has been my tag line - but without the question marks!

A recent comment by The Idaho Beauty on the Working in Series post, needs a reply I think, as it brings up some interesting points especially relating to technical ability and it's place in artistic endeavour!

But first, Originality.

Copying. Well maybe we are all guilty of it slightly even if we don't know it!  We are all influenced by what we see around us, hear, think.  Take a heated political debate for example.  You listen to all the points and they influence you or anger you etc., and you reach your own point of view agreeing or not wherever you think fit. Your thoughts are your own work albeit influenced by others.

Taking that idea, we can see how playing around with something to make it your own can be how art becomes original. Being influenced and studying others work to make something, is not quite  the same as copying.I have sneeringly heard the word "derivitive" used by art critics, but in my book everything is derivitive. Nothing is new.

The quilt on the left is original in everything except those two last minute lizards on the frame; put on at the request of someone who likes lizards a lot! Whilst I was thrilled with the ultimate effect of the quilt I had created, it was spoiled for me by the addition of the lizards. I certainly wouldn't do that again! How awful of me. But in my poor defence, the quilt was a gift and it wasdefinitely not for sale. I think it was taken from my all time favourite quilting book here. but I can't quite remember.

Taking money by running copycat workshops or selling orginal designs passed off as your own is simply not on. It's stealing. Even if they are slightly altered, and not exactly copied, if there is part of the piece that can be recognizably someone elses work you can be guilty of copyright infringements.  We were taught at college that you could do this providing not more than a certain percentage was copied. This is simply NOT true. And what an arrogance to teach other people's work without even asking.

The latest Through Our Hands, The Magazine, which will be out very shortly, has an article by Laura and Linda Kemshall, as part of the Soapbox series, and it discusses copying under the title "Deja Vu"  It's not too late to sign up for your copy here.

Friday, 13 February 2015

Paranoia - such a scintillating topic! Life 16 - Poisonous Plant

"Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they're not out to get you."

I used to work many years ago for a large Police Force in one of their civilian offices. I was only about 19 so not massively experienced when dealing with people.

There were 5 other women in the office, all older, which was isolated from the rest of the very large police station, so we were largely left to do our own thing. Unfortunately this wasn't a very happy experience for me - or I imagine anyone else -because of the ill will that seemed to pervade the whole setup.  As soon as someone went out of the room, even if only to go to the toilet, everyone else downed tools to talk about that person's shortcomings.  It was if, by pulling other people to pieces, or spreading unfounded rumours, or reporting conversations slanted in their favour, they felt better about themselves. They formed a clique whose members changed daily; they made themselves part of a group and a united and comforting front, against the other person. 

Of course, although I left, I came across this behaviour in other places. You probably have too. It's  very interesting but, like at the police station, it can sometimes gets out of hand and people suffer. The fear and anxiety of being talked about is not irrational, but it sometimes causes that person to talk about others in turn, and then it can spill over into paranoia. Paranoia is almost as common as depression and is frequently an accompanying symptom.

What makes it paranoia rather than the truth (as in the opening sentence) is if these thoughts are based on no real facts or evidence. Or perhaps a wilful misinterpretation of what was said. So if you do overhear, or if you know, your co-workers or friends talking about you behind your back, you’re not paranoid, they’re just horrid.

Apparently paranoia itself isn't a mental health problem, but it frequently accompanies other things that are such as schizophrenia and bipolar. It's also quite useful to have paranoia-ic thoughts.  It protects you from harmful situations like walking through a gangland at night, and checking behind you or crossing the road to avoid others.

The thing about these quilts of mine, is that I'm learning a lot. 

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Stitching a wall

Thankfully the dizziness has abated and I have been able to get on with Life 16 - Poisonous Plant.  I've been thinking about perspective for the walls and paths in "my garden."  This all depends on finding an eye-level and working it out from there.  This is quite important because it can give you a different feel for the piece - Are you looking down on the garden?  Are you looking up at the faces?  All that kind of thing.

The easiest way for me to work it out is to put a piece of masking tape on the studio wall, roughly where I want the eye level to be. This is my vanishing point.  I then use more masking tape to position paths, walls etc and see what they look like.  It takes a moment to change of course, and when I'm done I simply run a pencil down the side of the masking tape.

In Life 7 I deliberately skewed the perspective to try and give an odd feeling to the piece. I'm not sure it worked that well, so am sticking to the normal way of doing things!

So, having decided on the perspective, I could start on putting in some bits and pieces, starting with the wall you see above.  I began by lightly sketching the stones of the wall, and then stitching over them.  It became a challenge to do the stitching without stopping and starting - I don't like too many ends!  I'll paint this bit in a bit later when the vegetation is sorted out.

Here's some words: I'm not sure if these are going to be the ones I'll use - still mulling that over.  It's taking quite a bit of research!

A Poison Tree

I was angry with my friend; 
I told my wrath, my wrath did end.
I was angry with my foe: 
I told it not, my wrath did grow. 

And I waterd it in fears,
Night & morning with my tears: 
And I sunned it with smiles,
And with soft deceitful wiles. 

And it grew both day and night. 
Till it bore an apple bright. 
And my foe beheld it shine,
And he knew that it was mine. 

And into my garden stole, 
When the night had veild the pole; 
In the morning glad I see; 
My foe outstretched beneath the tree.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Falling a bit in love again.

No, I don't mean snatched moments with gentlemen other than DH. We're both quite happy, as long as there's adequate pie and cake of course.

I mean with quilts!  I don't always feel a connection with quilts from the past.  I admire traditional and older quilts of course, and as a lover of all history and cherisher of artifacts, would respect them for that alone, but I am guilty of not truly being "in love"with the quilts themselves!

I make quilts because I like the technical challenges, and handling fabric, and I like the colours and textures that dye give to cloth. There's a kind of clarity about them.  I like the way the stitched wadded cloth sits against a wall, and, even if I don't like some of the quilts, I like the emotional connection with women who have used them to express themselves and their creativity, which for me, is a little different to liking the quilts themselves. 

The other day, the Kindle battery ran out and I forgot to charge it, so I was reduced to rummaging in the bedsite cabinet for a book.  Yep, an actual book!  The cabinet was stuffed full of quilting books that were left after a recent clearout of the studio, and I just sat in bed for a hour pouring over the coloured pages.  There were so many many beautiful quilts, that I was quite shocked, - and of course, inspired!  

How could I have stopped looking around me at the wonderful work out there? Was it lack of time to look or being too focused on my own work.  Tut, I'm ashamed. It does tend to make one feel inadequate though! Perhaps that's why I stopped, but I shall make time in future "to stand and stare". 

Monday, 9 February 2015

Working in series - some thoughts.

I've had an ear problem in the last few days which has meant dizziness and a short term inability to sew or paint.  So I've been reduced to the internet where touch typing means I can keep my head still!

Most bloggers get the occasional surge in stats - visitors to their site - and I traced a recent one back to a workshop with the title Working In Series. I've heard the term many times of course, but hadn't considered myself as intentionally working in series; in my mind, I was just working!! 

Prior to the Life Stories, I used to work by making what I wanted when I wanted to, and on the right are a number of past quilts.  Most of the time, each piece is different from the last one and there is no real continuation between them.

Working like this is probably fine for the person doing it, but I guess for the viewer it can be disjointed and lots of different works say nothing about the person making them; their philosophy, themes, concepts, interested topics etc.  I suppose you could just about find a theme on botanical subjects, or the colour orange if you really wanted to, but it's a little vague!

Why is that important? Maybe it isn't unless you want to try and push yourself into exhbitions and selling etc. It's much easier to look at, understand, and judge someone's work, if not overwhelmed by disparate variety.  Too many choices means it becomes difficult to understand what makes the artist tick, and what they're trying to say.

Working in a series is not boring.  It's about allowing yourself explore what's in your mind, to investigate, to think about particular ideas and themes, to play with compositions, concepts or topics in a far deeper and more meaningful way.  By comparison, a one-off piece of work feels like a brief encounter - a passing moment and nothing more!

This doesn't mean you do the same thing over and over.  You find new ways of saying the same things, of making connections between pieces, and ultimately, working in series like this, adds clarity to your work, and people will understand you and hopefully appreciate you more.

Perhaps when your sitting at your machine busily stitching away at a new piece, things come into your mind:  "Shall I use this colour thread, should I move that over there, what would happen if I did this, or shall I do this bit in the middle a bit bigger and put something else around the edge?"  I'm sure you know what I mean!  Why not keep a notebook by the machine, (don't rely on your memory), and write your ideas down the minute they happen. Don't alter the thing you're working on, rather keep the ideas in your book for a new piece of work when you've finished.

If you find working in a series difficult, try choosing a subject -perhaps the coastline, or beetles, or palm trees, anything, and try working on several pieces at the same time, right from the word go. Start with a separate plan for each piece and then stick to the plan and don't jumble your ideas up. Be focused and disciplined.

My original plan for the Life Story series was to do 20 quilts.  I often feel like a change would do me good, and I have other plans in the pipeline, but the series will never be finished, and any new topic I investigate, will also be a series.  So yes, I guess I do Work In Series, much as I hate the label!!

Friday, 6 February 2015

What's on your iPod

Through Our Hands, The Magazine, has a section where we ask an invited artist several light hearted questions about themselves, including "What's On Your iPod"?  The answers vary of course from, complete silence to Wagner's Ring Cycle!

But, it often makes me wonder what I'd play.  I get bouts of obsession about certain sounds, and the most recent has been Nick Cave's Red Right Hand. We can thank the BBC and it's series Peaky Blinders for that one!  (above if you want to listen.)  But, today, we went to visit the home of 2-Tone which is just down the road in Coventry, to The Coventry Music Museum.

It's listed on TripAdvisor as the top visitor venue in the Midlands, but to my great shame, I'd never heard of it. It's delightful.

Coventry, bless it, couldn't be described as the most cultural destination in the Midlands, but it gave 2-Tone music to the world, and is justifiably proud. You may also have heard of The Specials, The Selector, Madness, The Beat, Hazel O'Connor, The Primitives, King, Dave Willetts, Lieutenant Pigeon, Stereo Nation, and loads more, and all from Coventry.

The museum is quite small reflected in the admission charge of only £2!  It's staffed by very knowledgeable and helpful volunteers, and we left with a feeling that it was a labour of love for all of them.  If they didn't know the answer to something, they'd certainly find out for you.  There's LOADS of memorabilia from stage costumes and guitars to tickets and photos.  They even had the Lennon Bench, which John Lennon and Yoko donated to Coventry, on a visit, which commemorates the "Acorns for Peace" event in the 60's.

Right: The Curator asked for our photo in front of a Rude Boy's bedroom set-up.

There's a small cafe, and a few shops forming a "village" round the museum where you can buy T shirts and memorabilia.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Painting a Portrait - Day 3, the final 2 hours.

Well, it's sort of like him, but not quite, but will do for now!  I've learned a lot about painting with acrylics and trying to get a fine blended finish.  It's a bit more resolved than the other 2 portraits I did just after Christmas.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Painting a portrait - Day 1, the first 3 hours.

 I did this pencil sketch from a photo a while back and was very disappointed!  I'm not so good with pencil sketch for portraiture.  I think you either need to be incredible subtle, or go the other way with vigorous markmaking. It was a timed sketch aimed at speeding up, and I did it in front of the TV.

But, waste not want not.  I used the sketch as a tracing onto canvas and started to fiddle around with an acrylic portrait.  Obviously not finished, but thought I'd show the process of the first day.

My method of painting, is to go round and round the space adding refinements as I go, until magically it tells me it's finished.  I don't complete the painting in one part and then move onto the next part, so bear with me!

Sunday, 1 February 2015

"Figuring" it out!

 (above: a photo from flickr. I have the owners permission to use this for a portrait but haven't done anything about it...yet!)

Readers to my blogs over the years will know I have an interest in learning about portrait painting. The interest comes and goes but at the moment is riding high on the crest of a wave! I’d love to learn more and get better at it.I've been using acrylics recently as they speed things up a bit, but I have tried oils and prefer them, but they're not much use on fabric as they can cause the fabric to rot.

 I read recently that Grayson Perry thinks there's nothing left to shock in the art world. Presumably this is largely due to the emergence a few years ago of Brit Art and the likes of Damian Hurst and Tracy Emin and others, whose work includes pickled half cows and unmade beds, and appearing on TV blind drunk.

Just before that happened though, art seemed to be about the abstract, and before that, traditional styles of painting were in vogue. So if it can't find anything new, art will presumably keep reinventing itself ie it's subject to fashion like anything else Figurative painting isn't very fashionable at the moment and hasn't been for years, although there are notable exceptions of course. Sculpture to me seems to be especially strong figuratively.

There seems to be a constant pressure on artists to try and do something new yet at the same time ride the crest of a popularist wave. But, when you think about it, all traditional artists continually try to experiment, use new materials, paint in different ways with various techniques, to make their work stand out, and recently, all those conceptual artists have been bringing paint and technique back into their work.(Damian, I believe has experimented with realism for example) So they both appear to be moving closer together, and figurative work is seeing a slight resurgence. Could it be the next most fashionable thing? Is the cultural divide closing? Maybe not, but it's an area that interests me a lot, and appeals to the way I work which, I guess, can be quite graphic.

So what is figurative work?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines figurative as follows:
1) Departing from the literal sense of words; metaphorical. 2) Representing forms that are recognizably derived from life.

In art, this is generally taken to mean figures, forms and faces, animal or human, either representational or abstract. Figurative art is not necessarily synonymous with "art that represents the human figure," even though human and animal figures are frequent subjects.

Lots of Open Competitions, and galleries hosting figurative shows, have criteria and interpretations which vary enormously. Clearly then, work can be abstract if desired, providing it is derived from a figurative starting point. It certainly doesn’t have to be representational or a realistic portrayal, just contain those elements that were in the original source.

Why does this matter? It doesn't really, but a good ponder now and then does you good.

I've noticed that in the Quilt Art Masters at Festival there's a decided lack of anything figurative or represenational on show, although there are plenty of really good figurative artists out there making quilts that fit the criteria given in the competition rules. It's down to the judges taste, I guess and they are subject to fashionable thought the same as the rest of us, but one would expect a broader outlook. I do hope this years event will be a bit more comprehensive in it's choices. (No, in case you were wondering, I'm not entering! It's an objective viewpoint only)