Archives for July 2015


I was in London for a few days last week for work. I had a longstanding arrangement with my art-hound friend Laura to go to the Dulwich Picture Gallery on Saturday to see the exhibition of paintings by Eric Ravilious. Ravilious paintings at DulwichI’d never been before, but had the impression that it was a difficult journey. However, not so. It’s 12 minutes on the train from Victoria to West Dulwich and then you walk for a while, and then you’re there. Easy peasy. It was less easy to get a coffee and something to eat beforehand. We were seated very quickly in the café but then found that whatever we asked for was unobtainable or had just run out. In the end I invited the waiter, a young man of rather harassed appearance, to tell us what was actually available, in an effort to save time. Once we’d negotiated the purchase of two coffees and a biscuit (for a larcenous bill of nearly ten quid) we went in to stand in a long and disorderly queue for tickets. It’s all very badly organised, and by this stage we were beginning to wonder if the trip had been such a good idea. However, once equipped with tickets, the whole experience started to look up. The paintings are remarkable. I know very little about Ravilious except that he died comparatively young, and it emerged that his plane was lost over Iceland during WW2. I’m so pleased I went. Ravilious painted almost exclusively in watercolour, using a dry brush technique, which is amazingly effective combined with his excellent drawing. The colours are attenuated, and the effects are subtle, but the parts all come together into a very convincing whole. As we went round we became more aware of the slight distortions in some of the composition. Together with the almost complete absence of people, the effect is almost surreal. I liked it very much. Some of the more remarkable paintings are of scenes at night. It’s quite an achievement to make night scenes convincing in watercolour, but Ravilious was able to do this. Here’s an example of back gardens lit up by Bonfire Night revelry:Ravilious fireworks

It’s a great painting. And the longer you look at it the odder it seems. So, if you’re anywhere near London and you’ve time to spare, you might find a trip out to Dulwich to be worthwhile. I’d go again, but I think I’d try and find a coffee and a bite to eat elsewhere.




White alliums

So, white alliums. Or should that be white allia? I’m not a big fan of blogs that major on photos – Wordless Wednesday and the like. Personally, I prefer the balance to be towards more text and fewer garden photos. However, I’m making an exception to the rule by putting up a photo taken in my garden today. White alliums

The alliums seem to have been on the verge of flowering for ages, but they’ve finally come through and they are spectacular. The stalks are very long – up to around 4 feet and the white flowers look wonderful against the background of the hornbeam hedge. I put these in last autumn in great abundance. I’ve discovered the truth of something I first read many years ago – that if you want your garden to look amazing you should plants lots of a few things. I used to buy one or two plants of a particular type, stick them in and then wonder why they didn’t make much impact. Pretty obvious really. I planted around 150 allium bulbs, enough to make a bit of a splash, and sure enough they look great. I wonder why it is that it takes so long for the penny to drop sometimes….

All well here, although not much stitching getting done. I’ve been away in London – more on this next time.

Composition with cochineal

Sticking with the pink theme for the moment, I’ve been putting together a composition with cochineal. These sugary pinks can be a bit much, but I’ve set out to use the cochineal-dyed fabrics as a kind of creative constraint – what can I do with them? Can I create a successful and interesting composition?

Here’s where I’m at with it – see the photo. Using cochineal-dyed fabricsI started with a base of lightweight calico and then tried out some bits and pieces of fabric until I was happy with the result. The piece of white silk gauze on the top right hand side of the picture is something I picked up off the floor – it must have fallen out of a drawer. Serendipity? Or just too lazy to find a place for it.

There are some recycled fabrics in here. The luscious raspberry coloured piece off to the left is linen. Once upon a time I had an unlined, white, linen jacket which I loved to bits. And wore it until it was literally falling to bits and I had to consign it to history in its function as a garment. I cut out all the pieces I could from it and have used it to great effect for dyeing ever since. The striped fabric is leftover from a City & Guilds project. I made a draught-excluder out of a couple of old shirts I bought at a charity shop. This took ages as it was all kantha stitching but I was quite pleased with the result. Our house is well-insulated so we don’t actually need it, but my daughter has been making good use of it in her draughty maisonette in North London.

The other fabrics are scraps of new materials that I’ve dyed. Most of the stitching is going to be with commercial threads that I have lying about although there is a bit of cochineal-dyed thread I can use, and some bits and pieces from my logwood dyeing sessions. Below the fabric in the hoop is a glimpse of the drawing that I was describing the other day, where I’ve worked through some ideas and got used to the idea of the colour contrasts. I’ve lined up some scarlet threads and hope I’ll have the bottle to use them.

This is turning into a bit of a series – it’s the fifth piece I’ve worked on that uses the Paul Klee-inspired approach to stitching that I wrote about in a post last year. I’m still getting a lot out of it, so I think I’ll just carry on until I want to move on to something else. I don’t even particularly like satin stitch but I do like the effect of these little blocks. I’m working this one in a hoop which should help to keep it reasonably flat. The last one I worked on, which was quite a large piece, had a lightweight felt padding, so was more substantial and I worked it in the hand. As expected, it turned out quite irregular and textured, which was fine. But this time I wanted to achieve a slightly different effect. I’ll keep on working on this in odd minutes here and there and I’ll let you know how I get on. I’ve got a few train journeys over the next few days, and I expect I’ll be hauling this out to fill in some time as the train whizzes through England.

I’ve known about for quite some time, but have only recently started having a really thorough look at it. If you don’t know about it, do click on the link as it’s well worth a look. The site is really professional and it looks great. It’s run by Joe and Sam Pitcher who are the sons of textile artist Sue Stone. She must be bursting with pride….

There are lots of interesting interviews with artists. I’ve been looking at it most days over the last month, and I still haven’t read them all. Also, there’s some brilliant technical stuff. I was very interested in the article about how to photograph your textile work and how to avoid the obvious pitfalls. It’s actually a really difficult thing to do and I learned a lot from the article. I still haven’t really bottomed my camera and I need to put in some serious time on it, but the last batch of photos of my work that I took looked better than previously, so the article obviously helped.

Another great feature is a set of articles on how to build a website. I do wish I’d been able to read these before I built mine. I’ve written previously about the process I went through in building this site and I won’t bore you with it again, but I would really have appreciated the kind of specific guidance provided by the chaps Joe and Sam. I’m pleased to see, as well, that they thoroughly recommend having a blog. Blogging is quite a lonely business, as some of you will know, and sometimes it’s tempting just to leave it or to throw in the towel altogether. But I feel encouraged to continue because of their recommendation.

Keeping a blog and a website going, even on a somewhat skeletal basis (like this one!) is quite a lot of work. But the chaps at must put in a huge amount of work to achieve what they do. Well done them.

Cool red, warm red

I’m quite a fan of the cool red/hot red colour combination. Most of the stitching I’ve done recently has been in greys and earth tones, and having finished a large piece just recently, I thought I’d splash out into bright colour for a change. I’m thinking about produced a sample using some of the fabrics and threads that I dyed with cochineal last summer. I’ve not managed to find any use for them so far, and it’s about time I did. As a taster for this, I decided to use a couple of sketchbook pages working with the reds. Here’s a photo of one of the pages:Cool red/hot red

For this I used Derwent Inktense blocks and pencils. You can use these on paper and fabric, with or without added water. I laid down some block colour and then used my new waterbrushes to add water in a fairly precise way. (I wrote about waterbrushes in my last post). You’ll be starting to think I’m sponsored by Derwent, but actually, no. (If anyone from Derwent is reading this, I’m open to suggestions!) – I just think these are really good products.

The black is two different widths of fineliner which I applied once the page had dried out. The design is based on something I did years ago. I used transparent acetates and permanent marker to make three different random designs – just a few blobs and shapes. Then I laid them over each other until I got what I fondly imagined to be a pleasing composition. Great fun to do with little time or effort involved. Anyway, I used one of my drawings taken from the acetate shapes as a basis for this design. I don’t suppose I’ll do anything with it in any direct way, but at the moment I just want to play around with the colours before I move to fabric. Finally, here’s a detail: Cool red/hot red detail

The Derwent waterbrush

Well, June passed in something of a blur…. I had lots to do. Still have, for that matter, but work is not quite so pressing at the moment. So I’m picking up the threads of my blog, once more, and making time for some creative stuff. When I was in London in the middle of May, I did a whirlwind shop in Cass Art on Charing Cross Road – I think I may have mentioned this. I bought a few things I wanted/needed/had planned to buy, but of course if you’re a fan of art shops you’ll know how difficult it is to come out without something extra. On this occasion the extras included a set of Staedtler fineliners (and what a useful thing the fineliner is) and the subject of today’s post, a set of Derwent waterbrushes. You’ll see from the photo that I paid £7.50 for these.Derwent waterbrushes

A couple of days ago I got round to trying out the waterbrushes. I thought they would be useful for spreading a bit of water about when using the Inktense pencils. And I’m pleased to report that they are indeed useful for this. I had a bit of trouble at first working out how to take them apart. I know it sounds pretty dim of me, but I couldn’t see how to get the tops off at first. I pulled them about a bit, then realised you need to give the tops a twist and a tug, at the same time, and then the protective caps part company with the rest of the waterbrush, revealing the actual brush. I realised afterwards that they must have been designed this way – you need the top to fit pretty snugly otherwise any water in the reservoir could easily leak out. The brushes are made of white nylon, and come in three sizes – fine, medium and a broader chisel shape which is useful for covering larger areas. You unscrew the water reservoir, fill it with water and screw it back together again. Very easy. Then you give the flexible reservoir a gentle squeeze till a drop of water comes out, and away you go. It’s a very good product and a snip at £7.50.

I’m wondering about using them for bleach to lift colour off fabric, but I haven’t yet tried this. I suspect you might need an extra set to use for bleach only. I might shell out another £7.50 sometime and try this. Next post, I’ll write about the sketchbook work I was doing that involved the use of these waterbrushes.

Does anyone reading this have any experience of using the waterbrush? Do let me know if you have any tips to share.