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.

Book review: Claire Wellesley-Smith – Slow Stitch

I’ve been looking forward to seeing this one, and I’m pleased to report that it’s been worth the wait. The book is in the usual 128 page hardcover Batsford format. Its full title is ‘Slow Stitch: mindful and contemplative textile art’. The quality of the images is uniformly excellent and the text is well-written and thoughtful. It’s divided into four sections: Slow, Materials and Techniques, Cross-cultural activity and Contemplative. It’s redolent of a particular philosophy and approach to the process of stitching and it’s worth reading carefully and, well, slowly.Slow stitch

The first section (‘Slow’) relates slow stitch to the Slow movement in general, and discusses the related issues of sustainability and use of resources. ‘Materials and techniques’ identifies sources of old and new materials. It also has a relatively brief section on dyeing using native plants. I expected there to be much more about natural dyeing in the book, but actually there are plenty of other sources of information about this and there’s no particular need to explain it in any greater detail here. ‘Cross-cultural activity’ looks at some relevant stitching traditions, including Kantha and Japanese boro. It also contains a good section on mending (both practice and philosophy) and on piecing and patching. Finally, ‘Contemplative’ is perhaps the most important section of the book in that it expounds the benefits of mindful practice, together with some practical suggestions for developing ideas. I especially like the idea of the stitch journal as a means of daily practice in stitching. I, too, feel that there’s something about stitching that helps in problem-solving, and with the flow of ideas. The process of stitching contributes to creativity and the flow of ideas.

It’s always interesting with these books to see the range of work that the author draws upon for illustration of ideas. Claire has included examples of the work of some of my favourite artists, for example, Judy Martin (if you don’t know about the Mantoulin Circle project, do follow the link and have a look), Roanna Wells, Mandy Pattullo and Christine Mauersberger, to name but a few. And above all, there are lots of examples of Claire’s own understated and calming stitched works. All are beautifully photographed. If you’re familiar with Claire’s website you will know how good at photography she is, and I expect these are her own photographs of her own work.

This is not a ‘how to’ book, although it does contain some guidance about using plants for dyeing and suggestions for e.g. stitching a square and producing kantha stitches. As much as anything, it’s a book about ideas and a particular approach to stitched textiles that I, for one, find very appealing.

Prism

Some excellent news yesterday: I’ve been accepted as a member of the Prism textiles group. Woo hoo, as my daughter would say. I’m very pleased indeed.

More on Amazon

My friend Laura tells me that if I’m trying to avoid using Amazon I can’t shop at Book Depository because it’s owned by Amazon. And so it is. The tentacles of Amazon are many, and very long and snaky, it seems. Laura tells me she’s been ordering from hive.co.uk Looks very good, and there’s an ebook section, which you can use if you download the Hive app. Well, good, I’ll do that. I ordered 3 books from Book Depository and actually, the service just wasn’t that good. One of them was Claire Wellesley-Smith’s new book, Slow Stitch, which at the time was due out any day but had not yet been published. So in that case there was a valid reason for delay. But I’m not sure why there was a delay on the others. So next time I’ll try Hive. I’m busy reading and absorbing the Slow Stitch book, and I’ll put a review on here in due course. In the meantime you could read the review of the book on Judy Martin’s website.

One of the other books I ordered and recently received was ‘Edward’s Menagerie’ by Kerry Lord. This contains the instructions for crocheting 40 animals. I have taken time out from stitching to pick up a crochet hook after many, many years, and I’m rather enjoying it. One of the nice things is just following a pattern – it requires no creative input whatsoever and is really rather relaxing. So far I have made a charming sheep and I’m currently on with an elephant. Such fun.

Amazon

I’ve decided to use Amazon less from now on, and will try to use other sites for ordering books and media. What’s prompted this? Well, a few weeks ago there was an article in the New York Times about Amazon’s working practices which are really repellent. The working environment is aggressive and employees are monitored constantly. Little, if any, concession is made to major life events such as having a baby, getting ill, your nearest and dearest being ill etc. And they use an annual system of performance review colloquially known as ‘rank and yank’, where the people who are perceived as the poorest performers are sacked each year. The late, unlamented, Enron used the same system, as did General Electric. GE subsequently dropped it. It’s neither an efficient nor an effective way of managing staff; it ensures that people spend far too much time on internal politics, jostling for position and Machiavellian manoeuvres to stay in a job/get somebody else chucked out of their job.

I’ve read disturbing things previously about Amazon’s working practices, but this was the one that tipped the balance for me. Amazon has grown so huge and omnipresent that it’s difficult to avoid, and I’m not making a complete commitment to avoiding it in future. I’m working on a project to self-publish and although I’m happy to do so via Kobo, I think I will have to at least consider using Amazon as well because it’s just so ubiquitous. However, I will aim to use other sources for purchasing where at all possible. My recent book orders have gone to Bookdepository. The books are slightly more expensive (although once you take their free postage commitment into account, the difference isn’t that great), and they take a little longer to arrive. But I think these are minor drawbacks, and it’s important to take some kind of a stand on this.

Until recently, when writing this blog, I’ve linked to Amazon whenever I’ve mentioned a book. But no longer – the last couple of links have been to Bookdepository, and I will aim to spread the links around a bit to other sites. OK, it’s not that big a deal. It’s not like gazillions of people read this blog and are likely to be influenced. But still…..

 

Keeping it clean

That’s the problem with whitework: keeping it clean. Since completing my first piece of Mountmellick work I’ve been much more careful to prevent the work getting grubby. As I said in the earlier post, Tracy A Franklin and Nicola Jarvis in their whitework book recommend using a pale blue pencil to draw the design lines. I’ve done this with the sampler piece I’m currently working on and it really does seem to be effective. You can see the lines, but they do fade gradually, without leaving a faint grubbiness. 1-IMG_0881

Other things that I’ve found effective:

  • I’ve been keeping the threads in a resealable plastic bag (see photo) and I open the bag only when I’m cutting a new piece
  • I am taking care to cut only short lengths of cotton. This means that I have to change the thread more often than perhaps I otherwise would, and that there’s more waste. This goes against my natural thriftiness with materials, but there’s no point cutting and using a long length only to find it turning grey towards the end.
  • I’m washing my hands thoroughly before starting work, and I’m not applying any hand cream. This is a nuisance as I like hand cream (especially Burt’s Bees honey and almond) and I don’t like the feeling of my hands being dry.
  • I’m keeping the work in a plastic bag at all times unless actually working on it.
  • I’m trying to keep the cat well away from operations. This is difficult as she’s a most affectionate creature and loves being on a knee, but if I’m to keep my whitework white, she’s got to make some sacrifices.

Anybody out there got any other useful tips? Do leave a comment if you have.

I’ll be plugging away at the whitework and hope to report back on progress very soon.

Off sick

Many apologies to those who check up regularly on this blog. I can see from the stats that there have been lots of visitors, but unfortunately there’s been nothing new to see for rather a long time….

Well, I’ve been poorly over the last two to three months. Some of you may be inclined to scoff when I tell you that the cause of my absence is toothache – but such is the case.  Any of you who have had serious toothache, however, may well understand. I’ve had constant toothache since mid-October and it’s been driving me round the bend. I’ve had all sorts of strange dental complications, have been treated with lots of antibiotics and have been trailing back and forward to the dentist every few days, for weeks on end. So far, there’s no definitive explanation for the toothache; it’s all a bit of a mystery although the dentist has done her absolute best to help me. I’ve been referred to see a specialist in dental pain, and hope to get to see him next week. I don’t think the pain has diminished, but I’m perhaps getting better at coping with it, as I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that I’m probably going to have to live with it for a while.

I’ve discovered that pain and any kind of creativity are polar opposites. It’s been really hard to do anything much, but in the last couple of weeks I’ve been making an effort on the days when I have a bit more energy. Once I get going on stitching something, it really does help. The problem is getting to that point. I was reading something on a website the other day about coping with chronic pain; the writer recommended setting a couple of targets each day and achieving them. The targets can be quite easy things, but the main thing is to set them and then to follow through and achieve them. I’ve found this really helpful advice. If you achieve your two targets then you are rewarded with the sense of achievement, but also I’ve found it’s more likely that you’ll feel energised to do some more things. So, for example, today I set myself the target of filling in and sending off a couple of forms that have been hanging around for some time, and then doing some reviewing work for a couple of hours. I did both of these things, then walked to the post office, and then when I returned I felt like doing some stitching. I’ve stitched for an hour or so, and now, finally, I feel like writing a blog post. So. that will be quite a lot of things achieved.

If anybody out there has more useful advice about coping with chronic pain, I’d love to hear from you.

I’ve got a few photographs of pieces that I’ve been working on, so in the coming week I’ll aim to produce another post or two with some stitching in it.

Oops

Oops, I’ve been away from the blog for too long, although I do have several quite good reasons. For most of the last three weeks I’ve been busy with several work trips and a series of family birthday celebrations, but the really unfortunate bit is that I’ve had a very nasty cold during most of this period. Once the cold got better I then developed a general faceache. I thought for a while it was toothache, but I think it’s more probable that it’s been sinus trouble to which I am prone. So I’ve been feeling rather sorry for myself, and not much like doing anything apart from what’s absolutely necessary. However, I did get on with a bit of knitting. I completed a jumper and then stitched it up using mattress stitch which is my great new discovery. Any of you out there reading this who know about knitting have probably been using this for aeons, but it’s new to me. Here’s a link to a video tutorial that I found very useful for learning how to do it. It’s a quite magical stitch. You stitch away quite loosely, and then pull the wool gently and, voilà, the two pieces of knitting come together making an apparently seamless join. Well, what  a good thing! One of the reasons I gave up knitting years ago was that, even though I might be satisfied with the knitting, making up the garment always left me dissatisfied. But mattress stitch gives it a really professional look, and I’m very happy with it.

Anyway, that was all a bit of a digression, as I keep repeating that this is not meant to be a knitting blog. I’m having to resist the temptation to buy more wool, because I know it will deflect me from my true purpose which is getting on with things like stitching, dyeing and drawing. So, more on that in due course, I hope.

Blogging statistics

I meant to mark my one hundredth blog post in some way, but it passed me by, as does so much else…. This is the 106th post, and it’s just a few days under one year since I started blogging. I’m pleased that the average works out at two posts per week which is what I originally aimed for, although I’m aware that coverage has been a bit patchy at times. Never mind, I can always resolve to do better.

Looking at Google Analytics today, I see that 1006 people have visited my blog over the year. Many of them have not come back, but the bounce rate is very low, so at least they mostly stick around for long enough to read a few pages. I seem to have more regular readers in the UK than anywhere else – of the top ten cities in the analytics list, six are in the UK, two in the USA and one in Australia. The tenth is described as ‘not set’ meaning, I suppose, all those computers that are not identifiable by location.

Anyway, just saying…. I find this all moderately interesting….

A lovely collection of textiles

A couple of days ago I had the opportunity to see and handle a lovely collection of textiles. We were invited to lunch with some friends and fell to talking about textiles. I knew they had collected some examples on their extensive travels in the Middle East and Africa, but hadn’t actually seen much of their collection. Below are photos of a couple of the pieces from their collection. I’m afraid the photos are, as in the last post, not top quality as they were taken on the iPhone in less than optimal light conditions. The first image is a detail of a Persian woven rug/hanging. The bright red is one of the most colourful sections of the rug which successfully combines a vast range of colour in the most skilful and striking way. The piece is around 2m in length and 1m across. It’s absolutely lovely, and the colour combinations are obviously the work of someone extremely skilled.

Persian rug/hanging detail

The second piece is a detail from a large embroidered hanging which our friends bought near the Egyptian/Libyan border. Embroidery - African?I think I’ve seen something like this before in John Gillow’s African Textiles book, but I’ll have to wait until I get home to read up about it. In the meantime, if any of you know more about this type of embroidery, please leave a comment. If I do track it down via John Gillow I’ll let you know.

The collection included some other striking items from India and Africa. There was a beautiful example of mudcloth from Mali. I’ve bought a couple of these as presents for significant birthdays recently from the African Fabric Shop, and would dearly love to have one myself. Maybe one of these days….