Just as the new buds are unfurling in the woods I am using last years leaves. I am working on my largest leaf stitching piece so far. This is a sort of experiment, just to see what happens when I try to scale up something that I’ve been doing previously on a hold-in-the-hand scale. These leaves are pretty fragile, although they were collected at a point when the winter hadn’t completed its job of weakening and breaking down the fibres. Pressed and dried flat they are generally doing what I want them to and I am learning all the time what the boundaries are. As I work on this piece in the studio my Leaf Stitching book is finished and at the printers. I hope it will be available in the next couple of weeks.
Time flies: I realise I post much less frequently here than I used to and than I would like to. I have been away for much of the last three weeks and seem to have spanned a great deal of the country in the process. I had a wonderful few days teaching in Eastbourne (on the South coast) before Easter. As a group we explored the beach, collecting in different ways and then used what we had collected in a variety of techniques – great fun and a chance to explore an area I didn’t know.
Easter saw me in North Somerset (in the South West) with my family in the beautiful Mendip Hills. I snatched an opportunity for a bit of mud lurking – more on that another time.
Then we had a few days in the depths of Snowdonia, off grid and off everything else apart from a tent and whatever we could carry. We were blessed with the most amazing weather and managed to get the whole party (youngest 6) up to the top of Snowdon (the highest mountain in England and Wales) in glorious spring sunshine with a dramatic helicopter rescue (not one of us!) to add a bit of drama.
After a night at home I headed north to give a talk just over the Scottish border. I spent the morning on a windy walk overlooking Lindisfarne and its causeway in Northumberland. Serenaded by skylarks and calling waders the colours and creeks of the salt marsh were brought to life in the clear air.
Meanwhile, an article by Wendy Feldberg on artists using rust in their work has been published in Fibre Art Now and is available here.
I’ve just posted off my entry to this year’s Sketchbook Project. My book is called Contemplating the Badger and is made up of drawings of a dead badger that I met last September. Encounters with wildlife in this way provide a closeness that we are never afforded when they are alive. It may seem morbid to want to study an animal that has met with an end like this but I see it as an opportunity to understand more about them. It was particularly moving to find this young badger freshly killed (by a car) within days of the badger cull being re-started in the area of the country I was visiting, something I strongly disagree with. Very sad. One of my all time favourite books is a collection of drawings from wildlife by Keith Brockie. Many of his studies are made from dead animals: the model stays still! I have had his books since childhood and I go back to them again and again.
In order to fit my badger into the small format of the standard Sketchbook Project book I took the book apart and laid the pages out together so that I could work on a larger scale. I drew from a series of photos I had taken. The pages were then re-constructed back into their book form. The drawings are therefore broken up and somewhat abstracted. I have also included on my pages words from a poem of the same title as my book by Nigel Morgan:
I stopped the car I was alone,
I snapped it three times
with my phone and now
it lies here on his desk,
three shots of this dead thing,
its dark blue pool of blood
that spills half on the road
half on the grass, from deep
inside its side it’s dead,
and really still,
it has a such beauty,
This weekend there was a magpie dead on the road near my house. My daughter told me it was there so we went to look. It was laid out in the middle of the road. I removed it from its undignified position and spent a couple of hours drawing it.
Contemplating the Badger will eventually be able to view either as part of the Sketchbook Project tour or via the digital library, once it has arrived and been processed. Previous contributions to the project can be seen here and here.
I’m looking forward to talking about my work in Durham this Saturday (7th March). The talk is organised by Interface Arts and is open to anyone. It will start at 2pm at the DLI Museum and Art Gallery. More info here.
I’ve just spent a really inspiring and thought-provoking weekend with the Textile Study Group, of which I am now a member. We meet twice a year to learn together and this weekend we had Lesley Millar with us to guide our study and discussion. Members of the group are given a professional review every five years and, being new, I was included in the rota of reviews this year. I had a very worthwhile session with our mentor Jane McKeating, which as left me with a lot to think about. We discussed my recent work and future direction and developments. Selecting the most relevant work to bring together for something like this is a useful exercise in itself. To have it looked at by fresh (and such experienced) eyes is a little daunting but so useful. I feel very lucky to be a member of such an interesting and active group of artists where sharing, developing and educating (of others and each other) is so embedded.
By the way, if you wish to vote for me in the 2015 Craft & Design Magazine Selected Maker awards you can click on the badge on the right or go here. Voting is open until 31st March and you can vote for as many of the makers as you want to.
I don’t drink a lot of beer but I seem to find a lot of beer bottle tops when I’m out and about. On a recent walk along the nearby canal I came home with a little stash in my pocket. I love the way they get squashed by cars and their crinkled edges go in different directions. They are all at slightly different stages of going rusty. After completing 25 Beer Bottle Tops I decided to make a scaled up version and am now part way through its making.
This time there are 49 Beer Bottle Tops. The number isn’t significant, but these fit nicely into the dimensions that I decided to work on, four times larger than the first piece. They are arranged in a grid, again, not for any specific reason, but I find the arrangement pleasing. I often arrange things I find in lines like this in the studio. It is a way of sorting, of getting to know the objects, cataloguing them almost: they are like collected specimens laid out for inspection. Once trapped and stitched around and then allowed to stain their surroundings their regimented lines will contrast with the random stitching and the marks that they make.
The stitching is now in progress. This is slow and repetitive. This kind of stitching marks out the passage of time. Each stitch is similar to the one before but unique in its detail.
I’ve spent some time updating the project pages on my website today. This is something I’ve been meaning to do for ages, but it is the kind of job that always falls off the bottom of the list. Today I can tick it off and it is good to see some of the recent projects I’ve been involved in, or that are ongoing, summarised. I always have a number of different things on the go at the same time. Sometimes it can feel like I flit between them and never really progress, but there are small steps forward all the time. And of course there is always planning for the future going on, things that aren’t yet at a stage I can share my thinking on but that are bubbling away in the background. It can be misleading to have to present things as discreet ‘projects’. In reality each thing leads to the next and all of the things I am working on are inter-related, part of a continuum of thinking and exploring.
One of the newly recorded projects is Leaf Stitching. This is not a new activity, but one that has been going on in spare moments for quite some time. This is an adventure in playing with materials really: materials that are sometimes fragile and sometimes surprisingly robust. It is an exercise in treating those materials with care and precision and really getting to know them in the process. There are other leaf stitchers out there producing some beautifully embellished pieces: Christine, Hillary and Susanna.
Back in December I showed the beginnings of some tapestry weave on a frame. This slowly grew over the last month or so and I ended up with two separate pieces done on the same warp. The main piece was relatively successful and I managed to keep things fairly even. The second ended up being badly pulled in at the side and I learnt a lot during the making of it, persevering when things went awry, but then giving up on it eventually. I was using the same linen for the warp and weft and I realise that this was probably not robust enough a warp. By the time I got well up the frame it was probably stretching and distorting. I have so much to learn. Most of my weave has been on a small scale so far, and working that way I can get away with a lot. My challenge is to be able to work on a larger scale and still be happy with the results.
I ended up with a beautifully white construction with slits that break up the surface. The intention was always to mark the surface with ink, but I did enjoy it in its pure state for a while first.
The walnut ink was applied with a roller. I knew there would be some unevenness and I like that unpredictability. The ink catches the surface of the weave, revealing the pattern of lines where the weft rolls onto the surface and then leaves it again.
This comes with wishes for a happy, healthy and peaceful 2015. The holiday time brings a necessary pause, a change in routine and a chance to relax and reflect. Walks each day this week have been wonderfully varied. The same walk done a few days apart was invigorating in very different ways – first with a few inches of snow transforming the landscape into a monochrome graphic version of itself, the second in wind and rain with russets, greys and greens of winter wood and moor. More images are here.
The Society of Designer Craftsmen annual exhibition takes place at The Mall Galleries in London from 8th to 17th January. My 25 Beer Bottle Tops will be in the special 25th anniversary section of the exhibition. I have some invitations for the preview on 9th January. If you would like one of these send me an email and I’ll pop one in the post to you.
I am well and truly in a weave phase at the moment. My studio wall has a growing number of samples pinned up and I’m enjoying exploring a variety of (mostly) linen yarns and the surfaces and structures that they produce when held under tension on a warp. I am constantly delighted by the simplicity of plain weave and the simplicity of the technology that produces it. I’ve been working on my table loom, but even then I have tended to beat things hard so that the warp is covered, producing a surface almost like tapestry weave.
This warp is now off the loom and the samples separated. I did enjoy them as a strip though, and it was tempting not to separate them. The linen formed these lovely curved bridges between the weave.
Most of the samples will be dyed, dipped or stained in some way. I have also been weaving on a frame and this piece is growing a little each time I get to the studio.
This, too, won’t stay white all over. I have plans for it to meet some walnut ink. but more on that another time.