Some statistics

I keep an eye on Google Analytics to see how many people have a look at my website and blog, and to mark my recent two-year blogging anniversary I thought I’d share some statistics with you. Over the two-year period I wrote and published 144 blog posts. While this looks like a big number (or at least it does to me as I’ve written them all) this is just under 1.4 per week so nowhere near the target I set myself of publishing two posts per week. There have been gaps for illness, though, and of late I’ve mostly averaged around 2 per week. So, no more than C for effort. Although I do keep an eye on visitor numbers I’m nowhere near as assiduous about this as I used to be, and I’m less bothered if numbers are low. I get relatively few visitors at weekends, for some reason. What are you all doing, I wonder?Google Analytics logo

In total, over the two years from 21 October 2013 to 21 October 2015 I got 7343 visitors, almost exactly ten per day. I’m suspicious of this number, though. There was a spike in visitor numbers over the summer months earlier this year and a peak in the bounce rate (which is usually very low), so I think there was probably something wrong with the way Google Analytics was tracking and counting visitors. The visitor numbers have since returned to more normal levels. Disregarding the spike over the summer, there is a gradual upward trend which is pleasing. Just under 29% of my visitors are from the UK, with the US second at 22% and, surprisingly to me, Brazil third on 5.6%. Welcome, Brazilian readers! I’ve had visitors from 126 countries – isn’t that just wonderful?

I like numbers, especially simple ones, and I find statistics really quite interesting. I wish I were good at maths, though. Recently, while I’ve been stitching I’ve been listening to old BBC Radio 4 broadcasts, and have been very taken with Marcus du Sautoy’s ‘A brief history of mathematics’. There are ten brief programmes of 15 minutes each where MduS explains the work of one or more famous mathematicians. Usually, he loses me pretty early on in the broadcast as regards understanding the maths. It’s not that he’s bad at explaining, but rather that this stuff is so inherently complicated. I remember slogging through geometry, including 3 dimensional objects when I was a girl, but I really can’t begin to understand what he’s on about when he explains objects in multiple dimensions. I understood what he was saying about Gauss and statistics because I’ve done stats courses and I can cope with the jargon. But most of it’s way, way above me.

I love listening to the radio or to stories while I’m stitching. More and more, it’s been music on Radio 3 (the BBC’s classical music channel), but there’s not much to beat a really good story.  I may squeeze a bit of stitching in towards the end of today, but for the moment I cannot procrastinate any longer and must get on with some work.

Writing my artist’s statement

Yes, well, I suppose sooner or later I was going to have to engage in writing an artist’s statement. I’ll preface my remarks in this post to point out that I’m no stranger to writing. Not only do I blog (fairly) frequently which is good writing practice, but also I write for hard cash and have had a lot of experience in writing for publication. However, I’m definitely not a creative writer. Don’t look out for the novel any time soon.

But the artist’s statement presents a unique challenge. Earlier this year, I found that if I wanted to apply for membership of Prism, I would have to get my head down and put some serious thought into a plausible statement. Needs must, and so I gritted my teeth and got on with it. I expect you understand the problem: so much of what is written about art, often by artists themselves, is incomprehensible garbage (to put it mildly).  Faced with a challenging piece of art, you may find that the artist’s statement, far from elucidating the work, serves only to obscure it still further.

There is an amusing artist statement generator which I’ve just completed as a bit of a jape. The Market-O-Matic 1.0 (Fine Arts Version) invites you to add your name and a few choice adjectives to a standard list provide, click on the ‘Crank out the Crap’ button and sit back to enjoy the results of your complete lack of effort. However, this cynical approach, while good for a laugh, really won’t do. How, then, to proceed?

Before attempting to write the statement, I did a fair bit of reading around the subject of artists’ statements. There’s a useful guide on textileartist.org, a website I’ve praised previously. Joe, of Joe and Sam, who write many of the articles, has come up with a ten-point list to help the aspiring artist to write ‘a great artist statement’. (‘Great’ would be, obviously, great, but I’m really looking for adequate at this stage…). Number 3 on the list is: ‘You do NEED an artist statement’. This struck a chord with me, as I had until this point assumed that artists’ statements were a pain in the butt and you only needed one because somebody else said you needed one. Number 4 on the list emphasises the usefulness of the artist’s statement in answering questions. They say: ‘The artist statement serves as a de facto answer to common questions about your body of work, as a whole or in a series, and it allows for more in depth conversation about your concepts’. Useful advice further down the list includes a strong recommendation not to bore your audience with jargon, to keep the statement short and to avoid showing off. All this seemed very sensible, so I set to work.

And you know what? It was a surprisingly useful exercise and I’m pleased I did it. I was only ever going to undertake it with a metaphorical shotgun to my head, but when forced to the point I derived some benefit from it. It made me really think hard about what I was doing, and why, and it’s helped me to discover a focus and direction in what I’m creating that I didn’t have before. I did keep it short, at 220 words which includes a list of artists who have influenced me, and quite a bit of it was factual, explaining the range of materials I use. It wasn’t easy to write, and it went through several versions before I had something I could consider satisfactory. Another key point is that it’s for one point in time only. As Joe, on textileartist.org explains: ‘It’s a good idea to constantly revise your [artist statement] to ensure it appropriately represents you as you now!’. I’ve not revised it since I wrote it, about five months ago, but I do take it out from time to time and I think about the extent to which it’s true, and how I might change it. It helped me a lot to realise that a statement doesn’t have to be the last word on what you’re doing. It’s flexible, aimed at a moving target.

So, I suppose, I’m a convert to the cause. Who’d have thought? What I still have an issue with, and it’s one I’ll discuss in a later post, is the whole problematic business of describing myself as an artist in the first place…. as ever, watch this space.

Starting out

This post is about starting out on my third cochineal piece, just to show you how I actually get these pieces out of my head and into reality. First, I cut a piece of lightweight calico. This has to be sufficiently large so that I can comfortably use a small hoop. Then I gather together a selection of likely-looking fabrics. In this series the fabrics have mostly been those I’ve dyed with cochineal or logwood (for a bit of contrast), but I feel these are my pieces so I can include what I want. For example, in each of the three pieces, I’ve included a piece of silk gauze as an overlay for part of the piece. The reason for this is that I like a very small amount of low-level bling – nothing vulgar or showy – just a small hint of something glitzy in the background.

I lay out my fabrics on the work surface and have a think about them, trying out various combinations. I give the pieces a quick iron, if necessary. Everything is ironed before it’s put away in my storage system but it’s amazing how creased fabrics can get just sitting by themselves in a drawer. Once I’m happy with the combinations and placing of the pieces I pin them out on the lightweight calico ground. That’s the point I’ve got to in this photograph:Putting together Cochineal Dream 3

The very bright pink piece is a leftover piece of silk (bought from The Silk Route some while ago and partially used on a City & Guilds project) which I’ve been wanting to use. It’s not dyed by me, unlike most of the other pieces, but I wanted it there so I’ve used it. The slightly duller pink on the right is lightweight cotton lawn, and the stripy bit in the middle is one of the last fragments of recycled men’s shirt that I have. I rather like using this. The pale pink at the bottom is another piece of cotton lawn, from when the cochineal dye bath was pretty much on its last legs. Similarly, the very pale grey up at the top left is the product of the 8th or 9th immersion in the logwood dye bath (cochineal and logwood dyes are expensive but they both go a very long way). Barely visible, also up on the top left, is a square of silvery silk gauze and a piece of pale grey muslin. I measure a rough square and mark around its perimeter with pins, and that’s pretty much it. Ready to go.

While I’m assembling all this, I’m asking myself about thread colours. My intention here is to make a lighter, brighter, piece, so there will be quite a lot of whites, creams and pale pinks and greys. I’m using the same thread basket as previously. I probably won’t use the darker colours in it, but they will be there if I need them. The next stage in the process is to get rid of the pins by basting. If there’s a pin in a work I will draw blood with it, so it’s important to see them off as soon as possible. These pins, incidentally, are quilting pins, so longer than the usual dressmaker’s pins. I find the quilting pins very useful for appliqué work, as they anchor the fabrics more securely. I do as little basting as I can get away with (because it’s a tedious part of the process), but it’s important to put enough basting stitches in place to hold the fabrics securely.

When I’m putting these appliqués together I’m thinking about harmony and composition, but I don’t agonise over these elements. If I’ve got an odd-shaped piece of fabric (as in the case of the darker pink cotton lawn on the right, which was an offcut from something else) I’ll just use it if I feel like it. Not very scientific, is it? Or very artistic, either. Still, these are my choices, and I’ve become more confident about making them over the last two or three years. I’m less bothered than I used to be about things going wrong. If they do, they do. Laid back or what?