Whitework

It may be a reaction against all that cochineal that I’ve been using recently, but I found I felt very much like concentrating on white for a while. I’ve been away from home for a few days, with just a limited range of materials. I’ve got a box full of various white fabrics: silk, linen, gauze, calico, silk velvet. And a box of threads (see photo). And a small box of lace, which I love. Years ago, when my children were very small and I was at home most of the time with them, I used to get time off on a Monday evening to go to a lace-making class. And then, at intervals during the week, I’d find time to make a tiny bit of lace. But it’s very time-consuming making bobbin lace, and once I started full-time work I really didn’t have any spare time for it. However, it’s left me with a diminishing legacy of hand-made lace which I use occasionally in projects. It’s lovely to incorporate materials with which you have a very close connection. And there are few connections closer than a thing of beauty which you’ve made yourself using only fine thread. Threads for whitework

I’ve probably mentioned before that I’m interested in the crazy patchwork that was in vogue in Victorian times. Rather garish, some of it, but an interesting example of the whole being greater than the sum of the very tiny parts. I thought it would be interesting to strip all the colour out of this style of work and to produce a piece using only white or off-white materials. Without colour, the only scope for interest is texture and the minimal contrast provided by the neutrals. You’ll see that I perhaps didn’t quite manage this: the neutral linen comes out looking surprisingly dark in contrast to the white, and I used the silvery pale grey silk gauze folded in four, so it too looks quite dark. But mostly it’s white. In the bottom of my tin of white and off-white threads I found a few beads and a washer or two so I’ve incorporated them as well. This was not a particularly taxing piece to do. I put very little thought into composition (it’s crazy patchwork, after all), and just added embellishments as they occurred to me. But I did enjoy it making it very much. Whitework - crazy patchwork - detailWhitework - crazy patchwork

Student Art Guide

I was having a quick look through the daily Pinterest update (for boards I follow) and my attention was grabbed by some student sketchbook images. I followed the link through to the Student Art Guide and was mightily impressed. I read some of the pages while I was having coffee, then afterwards as well, and have spent quite a bit of time on it. It’s a comprehensive website that covers topics of interest to those studying art and related disciplines (so, yes, textiles as well) at high school level. The website was founded by Amiria Gale in New Zealand, an experienced art teacher, but it has obviously grown quite a bit and now contains articles both by her and by other teachers.

I’m guessing that most of the people who read this blog are somewhat older than most high school students, but I think Student Art Guide has articles of interest to most of us, whether or not high school is a very distant memory. Much of the advice on putting a sketchbook together, for example, would be very helpful to those studying City & Guilds, and the tips on how to create excellent observational drawings could be helpful to anybody.

The examples of sketchbook work completed by high school students (A and AS level here in the UK) are both wonderful and inspiring. If you are putting together a sketchbook I urge you to have a look at these impressive pieces of work. If you have school age children who are studying art, and they don’t already know about this resource, please tell them.

Cochineal Dream 3

Well, it’s really taken me rather a long time to get round to writing a post about the completed Cochineal Dream 3. It was completed before Christmas. When last you saw it, it looked like this – i.e. very raw and basic in its early stages:Putting together Cochineal Dream 3

The finished version looks like this:Cochineal Dream 3

I’m pleased with it, although I must say that I was also pleased to complete it and feel that I could give cochineal a rest for the time being. This dense stitching really does take some time and working at the rate I do means that I have to live with a piece for a long time. I like the effect of the three pieces together and I’d like to exhibit them as a group. I did offer them for an exhibition but was turned down. I wasn’t especially surprised as the exhibition was seeking somewhat larger pieces than these, and didn’t feel particularly disappointed. However, I will look for other possible outlets as I think they are worth exhibiting. I haven’t had them framed yet, but I know what I want and will probably sort that out in the near future. I was going to take them to a framer just before Christmas, but then the flooding happened in the north-west of England and getting about became difficult and even dangerous in places so I decided not to risk it. The moment passed and has not yet recurred.

I’m a little uncertain about what to embark on next as a project, and am having a good think and working on samples and ideas. Something that isn’t pink seems the most promising direction at the moment…..

English wood engraving

If you’ve looked at my Pinterest boards you may know that I have a particular affection for wood cuts and wood engraving. I know that I’m not alone in this – lots of people have Pinterest boards on the subject and I do have some followers of this specific board. I’ve just been updating the board with new images by Clifford Webb, Gwen Raverat and others. I’ve got plenty of other artists to explore, thanks to a book I’ve recently been reading on the subject: ‘English Wood Engraving 1900-1950’ by Thomas Dalston, published by Dover Editions. I originally became familiar with some of the Dover editions output when I developed a keen interest in the work of Karl Blossfeldt (if by any chance you don’t know about him, do look him up on Google images) and acquired a Dover editions book of Blossfeldt’s photographs.

The English wood engraving book is a little gem. It was first published in 1950 and then was reissued by Dover last year (2015). Here’s a photo of the cover. English wood engraving

The book contains many fine examples of wood engraving from this period which was obviously something of a golden age for the art in England. Some of the artists’ names are familiar to me, e.g. Clare Leighton, Eric Gill, John Nash and Paul Nash, Eric Ravilious and so on. But there are plenty of examples of the work of lesser known artists (lesser known to me, that is). I was very much struck by the stylish work of Robert Gibbings, and that of Tirzah Garwood, for example. The essay that accompanies the images is very readable and full of information that is new to me. I liked the book very much indeed, and I’ll continue to work through the artists’ names looking for images for my Pinterest board.

 

Profile picture

I’ve read lots of advice about setting up websites and blogs. One piece of advice that crops up quite frequently is that it’s important to publish a profile picture so that your readers know what you look like. I set up my website over two years ago, and have managed to ignore this advice so far. However, the time has come, I think, to get over my reluctance. I spent some time this morning taking selfies with my iPad, deleting almost all of them instantly. Somewhat to my surprise, I found I actually preferred the ones where I’m looking cheerful. So I’ve selected the one I consider to be the least hideous and most cheerful and you can see it, if you so wish, on my ‘About Me’ page.

Grundformen

Yes, Grundformen. That’s the German for ‘basic forms’. For Christmas I was given a marvellous book, the English version of ‘Grundformen’ a book of photographs by Bernd and Hilla Becher. Here’s the front cover of the book:Grundformen becher

The foreword (by Gunilla Knape) opens as follows: ‘Bernd and Hilla Becher are two of the most influential visual artists of our time. Since the beginning of the 1960s they have documented industrial buildings whose architecture is totally dictated by their function. The Bechers’ passion for these industrial structures has resulted in photographs that are a priceless treasure of cultural and technological history from a vanishing industrial era…. Their subjects evince an unexpected and controlled beauty…’.

If you put ‘Grundformen Becher’ into Google images search, you’ll find many, if not most, of the images from this book so you’ll be able to see what I’m talking about. I was thrilled to bits to receive it, particularly as it’s completely new to me. Apart from a six-year period in my young adulthood spent in the south of England (mostly London), I’ve spent all my life in the north where, I suppose, I’ve absorbed the architecture of the industrial revolution without much noticing it. Some of these forms were present in the background to my childhood, especially the pithead winding gear, several examples of which are shown in this book. As an adult I moved to Lancashire where I’ve been for many years, and where mills predominate. The first industrial form I scrutinised very closely, however, was the gasometer. When I studied drawing at Blackburn college we’d sometimes draw or paint what we could see from the windows on the upper floors of the Victoria building. What we could see was the steep valley sides covered in mostly terraced houses, a surprising amount of green from trees, the tops of the moors, churches and mosques, and some industrial buildings including old textile mills. The feature that drew my eye, again and again, was the gasometer which, as I looked more and more at it, took on its true form as an artefact of great beauty. How pleased I was, therefore, to discover several examples of gasometers in this book, and to realise that other people, i.e. the Beckers, found them as compelling as I do.

The photographs of these massive forms are all in black and white. Most of the objects photographed are very large indeed, as you can see from the occasional house or tree in the background. They are often strikingly beautiful, minimalist and strictly functional in design. As regular readers of this blog will know, I am drawn to geometry, system and line and so the attraction of these forms for me is unsurprising. The forms in this book are presented with only the briefest of description and no commentary. But there is an underlying human element that is hard to ignore. These are not just a collection of geometric forms; they suggest their own underlying narrative history, and in most cases this is a sad history of human exploitation. What would it be like to work in or near such places with their dirt and dust and in the shadow of the massive architectural forms? Some of my earliest memories are of the pit town in the North East where I was born. The things I remember best about it are the pervasive smell and the polluted air and atmosphere. There were no doubt positive human elements in these places – the camaraderie and the sense of community and purposefulness. But there’s no getting away from the fact that mining coal is a desperately difficult and dangerous business. I appreciate the beauty of the engineered forms, but at the same time I can’t avoid reflecting, rather sadly, on what they represent.

HNY to all my readers

Happy New Year to everyone who reads my blog. It’s a good point at which to say thank you for reading. Production of blog posts has been somewhat sporadic of late, to say the least. Fact is, 2015 has been a very difficult year for me, and it’s been a struggle to keep up with the stitching, never mind blogging about it. I’ve referred in previous posts to on-going problems with neck pain, but have not recounted anything like the full story (fear not, I’m not about to recount it now – you’d be bored sick). Yes, the neck pain is a continuing hassle, but at least it goes away for reasonably long periods from time to time. A worse problem is the one of continuous pain in my jaw which I’ve had for the last 18 months. Thinking it was likely to be a dental problem (I get lots of those and I’m used to dentistry) I’ve had huge amounts of dental treatment during 2014 and 2015; unfortunately, none of the many procedures has alleviated the pain one tiny bit. I finally went to see a specialist in November, a maxillo-facial surgeon, and he pronounced the problem to be Atypical Facial Pain (or he said it could possibly be Atypical Neuralgia). These are chronic pain problems that take some shifting, and can plague people for very long periods. Sigh.

It’s taken me a long time to get any perspective on this problem. The fact that I can step back a bit is thanks to the medications prescribed by my GP which, since late September, have ensured with some reliability that I get a reasonable sleep for around 7 hours per night. Previously, I’d been getting by on around 4 hours per night which was making me very crabby indeed. So, thank you doctor and thank you drug companies (not something I’d often say in respect of drug companies, but credit where it’s due, I suppose). Mostly, of course, the problem and its effects are entirely negative, but I can see that feeling weak, ill and vulnerable is actually quite good for a person from time to time. I now, in retrospect, very much appreciate having had a largely pain-free life. I’m in awe of people who cope with acute and chronic pain problems. One of the textile artists I most admire is Emily Barletta and I was reminded recently of something I read about her having suffered much pain and illness from an early age. You can read an interview with her and you can see some of her marvellous artwork, if you’re not already familiar with it, via her website. Her work is wonderfully inventive, surprising, colourful and altogether delightful. If you’re not aware of it, I feel very pleased to be able to put you on to her.

I’ve finished Cochineal Dream III and will post a photo shortly. I can’t seem to take half-way decent photos with flash, and I’ve developed the habit of photographing work outside. There was a brief period of brightness this morning but I was busy doing something else so didn’t grasp the opportunity to photograph outside. And now it’s gloomy outside and will soon be getting dark (it’s 3pm here in the North of England and bad enough. I don’t know how the Scandinavians and others in latitudes even further north cope with this). And it’s rained and rained for what seems like months. The flooding here has been very bad indeed. I’ve not been personally affected because we live on higher ground, but people living near rivers have not been so fortunate.

So, more soon, I hope. Thanks for reading.