Was the Matthew Harris course good?

Was the Matthew Harris course good? Well, ‘good’ doesn’t seem to quite sum it up: maybe excellent, amazing, inspiring would be better descriptions. I felt exhausted by the end of the two days, because I’d been concentrating and thinking so hard. Reflecting on it since, I think it’s fair to say that the fundamental idea underpinning the course was about the importance of establishing constraints in design from the endless array of choices available. Matthew pointed out that, faced with choices, we tend to make the same ones, going in the same direction each time and that this can get rather predictable. He encouraged us to look in unexpected places for inspiration, and to use chance in determining the shapes, lines, colours, textures and forms that we developed. Now this really appealed to me because I’m very interested in numbers, probability and chance and I was ready and willing to seize the concept.

I won’t tell you any more about the mechanism of how we arrived at our random choices. As I said in my post the other day before I went on the course, I think it’s unfair to spill the beans about the detailed content when somebody has gone to the trouble of designing a course. But I will tell you a bit about the outcomes. Matthew emphasised from the beginning of the course that we should not expect to go away with a finished piece of work, and it’s true that hardly any of us did. What I think we all went away with, though, was a set of new ideas about constraints, and some specific design ideas, unique to each of us. Here are some photos of the work I came away with. During the end of the first day and the morning of the second day I developed some drawings that focused upon one of the shapes I’d selected, at random, for further work: Matthew Harris course

And below is a detail of the same drawing.Matthew Harris course

I did most of my drawings on Khadi rag paper using Derwent Inktense pencils. I bought half a dozen of these in an art shop in Corbridge a few months ago but haven’t really got the hang of using them until now. They are just lovely, and they work beautifully with the Khadi paper. I borrowed an Inktense block or two from the person sitting next to me (thank you Kit) just to experiment, and both pencils and blocks are excellent. I’ve asked for some of the blocks for a birthday present.

The next stage for me, was to keep the drawing media, but change the surface to lightweight calico. Here’s a photo of my design using red Inktense on calico. I was all for cutting up my first piece for samples, but Matthew advised me to produce three, and then decide which one I wanted to cut up. I produce three in different colours, and this all-red one is the one I decided to cut up.1-IMG_0685

And finally, I got into stitch right for the last hour or so of the course – see the fourth photo below. This was just doodling, really. I have other ideas to develop and several bits of calico to work on.

Matthew Harris course


Matthew is an excellent teacher and Bobby Britnell‘s studio is a beautiful location for a course. If he does another course there – and he seemed amendable to Bobby’s suggestion that he should do another one – I will hope to be one of the lucky ones who gets to go.

A bonus was the opportunity to see some of Matthew’s work close up, and to hear him talking about them, as he brought a few of his smaller pieces with him. These were lovely, and I almost bought one, but the one I really wanted went to someone else. He’s got an open studios event coming up, but it’s in Stroud which is some distance away and I won’t be able to make it. However, I shall keep this in mind and hope to acquire one of his pieces before too long.

Any downsides? Not really. The weather was rather vile, as expected. Bobby’s house and studio has lovely gardens but mostly we had to stay in and listen to the rain lashing down on the studio roof. But that’s a minor niggle. I can highly recommend the location, and Bobby runs a very full and interesting programme of courses. Do have a look at her programme if you’ve not seen it before.

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