Saturday, 22 October 2016

Craft & Design day

Farnham Maltings recently hosted a day of talks by craft makers and a representative of the Crafts Council on the maker's career and business development options.

I was very surprised at the low attendance - it was a free event and getting to ask the Craft Council questions and hearing of opportunities for development is not that common unless you count whatever is out there on the Internet.

Anyway, I quite like going to Farnham, it is always worth going to the New Ashgate Gallery and getting to see how makers had developed themselves and their work was worth a visit. Some of the makers at the talk were quite far down their career paths and were experts in their fields, in glass for example. There were perspectives from makers whose work went beyond borders, to North African filigree jewellery work, and there were young people who had graduate a few years ago. All makers had some connection to the University of Creative Arts, Farnham, and there were also an opportunity to learn a bit more about their MA so I was pleased to have gone, because that is one option I have been considering for some time in the future.

In the Q&A sessions topics such as working with galleries, how to develop your skills and what you can do to move on with your career were discussed. It is interesting how there is such a gap between the people who train in art colleges and people who do craft as a hobby. When I look at what some of my Guild colleagues make and look at what professional makers do there is sometimes very little difference in quality, but I guess one of the key factors is motivation - hobbyists are not necessarily wnatign a career in their craft, they may be at a stage in their lives that making is a way of developing themselves and their creativeness, and whilst professional maker are compelled by the same or similar motivation, they seek a lifestyle that will allow them to earm a living making. Certainly at the craft day the makers talking there were more keen on their own expression than commercial compromises, although there were gentle suggestions of thinking about what market niches your work fits into.

When you are as far down your life as I am am for example, having spent a fair bit of time in education already and now working, looking at taking up full time education in the crafts or arts would be such a huge step that it would need serious thought. But, working full time also means that developing your level of skill takes so much longer, and the benefit of being in a nurturing environment such as an art college, with all the materials and technology in easy reach are missing. Developing a critical slant to your work that is also enabling is difficult to establish when you work by yourself, and perhaps that best thing to do is to find some groups to join that are at the level or even just beyond the level you aspire to be at. At least there would be a social network behind your work, and as one of the speakers explained, being in a groups harnesses resources and helps get exhibitions and so on.

So there was a fair bit to inspire further thought, and also some pictures of fine works that the makers had made that were shared with us on the day. I try to find out as much as I can about cultures of making and getting a view form the insight of how to develop your professional life in the arts, and this day was a good introduction to some of the issues that arise on your way if choose that way.


Saturday, 17 September 2016

West Dean 6th course - Knotted tapestry

First I will add in a few pictures of plants that I took during my afternoon wanderings around the garden waiting to check in - a bit gratuitous, but I hope pleasing in their way:

This is now the half way point of my FDAD course - the 6th course is the first step into the last half of the programme and I am now thinking about what the whole feels like.

For the 6th course I chose to do a knotted tapestry course with Anne Jackson. Anne is a  tapestry maker who uses a knotting technique rather than weaving, which allows her to create uneven outlines as she does not use a loom, but confines her grid to a series of warp threads onto which the knots sit. This creates a flexible way to build up the work and even allows for 3D shaping, which I had a go at towards the end of the course.

A knotted tapestry technique sits well with the experimental textiles that I use at the core of all my work, and as I am hoping that one day there will possibilities to work at a large scale, this is a way to think about scale and volume; even worked small this knotted technique is useful, as it can suggest shapes that are expandable and it could be useful in creating maquettes, I think.

So, the course really was a way to learn and practice the technique and we created some samples practicing starting by setting up the warp, knotting and knotting shapes, vertical lines and working with the warp in various ways.

I had brought some drawings to work from and interestingly there were different schools of thought on how to use the original drawing as a guide for the work: someone suggested using the traditional way of developing a cartoon from the drawing using tracing paper and focussing on the key elements, having the drawing as a colour guide on the side; others favoured using the drawing directly under the work as guide for design as well as for colour choice. 

I tried both: first using the drawing under the work, then later swapping the drawing for a tracing. As my drawing is quite complex I think in this particular case the tracing was probably the best way to work through the design, as I could examine the colour study more closely separately. It may be that when drawings are simpler and if colours were studied in more depth over longer time between the drawign and the yarns, then using the drawing directly in the knotting process could be a real option.

So, here is the very start of the 'weaving' when I was using the drawing as the guide under the work:

As you can see the technique requires you to use robust pins to hold the warp and certain knots in place, and the other thing that separates this technique from tapestry in the gobelin/Aubusson sense is the way the knots work - you have to simplify the design quite a lot, lines become quite chunky, and would probably work better in large scale works. Also, the work builds up from the top down, rather than being built up from the bottom up as in weaving.

I also worked on a small sample to develop a 3D piece to see who you can develop a more sculptural shape:

You can see here that I am working on the side that is reducing the need for warps. This requires you to tie off the warps as the knotting proceeds - I found this a bit tricky to judge when to take them in and you need more knots to fill the area out than you expect.

This work is now in progress and once it is finished I will show it in a later post. In the meantime I have been called onto a different project that I have been pondering about for a while and just wanted to try out, so the two pieces will need to run in parallel. Whatch this space for more updates.

Here's a taster - Nails hammered into a block of wood before warping up: 

A bit wobbly, but will be OK once the warp is tied on

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

West Dean 5th course - Intuitive drawing

So, it has been a while since I did a course at West Dean and in late August I attended the 5th course in my series of 10. Half way through, and having looked back at soem of my work for the OCA I have to say I think the work is improving, and going to West Dean somehow gives you permission to think in a focussed way about what is happening with the work.

The tutor was Christopher Gilvan-Cartwright. A thoughtful and inspiring teacher who brought us many techniques to try out to give us a tool box of ways of creating surfaces, textures and mark on paper with charcoal, graphite, acrylic paint and ink. There were flattish marks and heavy textures, there were analyses of line and working over te paper in blocks of colour or mass of substance in charcoal or ink.

We each got a table and an easel and he pointed out that we could think about how we want to work - at three levels: on the table, on an easel or on the floor. I tried all three and they each gave something different to how the work developed: in the table  or floor your pour ink, on the easel you can sit back and really look at the work as it progresses.

Here is my table and bit of the floor with work in progress in sketchbooks and on paper (drying where ink or oil bar was applied):

Surprisingly I tried to keep tidy, as the space on the table was quite limited. We were mostly working on A1 or A2/A3 depending on whether finished work was being made, or test pieces to try out techniques were being made.

The 'intuitive' bit in the title suggested we were going to work with Dada automatic drawing, which we did do on the first day, but after that we simply worked very freely with the new techniques being taught. He did mention the idea of the exquisite corpse drawing and I read in the course description that we would be sharing work, but in the end we didn't do much of that, and just got on with our indendent work.

I used up paints in mt sketchbook, used collage and added to some books I had brought that needed to be thought about in a drawing sort of way. The tutor gave some very valuable feedback for the FDAD side of things, so overall it was a helpful and valuable course.

Here are some works I made over the weekend:

A lot of the work was done in black and white, but I did use some of my XL graphite as it leant itslef well to the large scale of the work and sits well with the charcoal and ink,

These long coloured things are the concertina books I had brought from home to add to - I have also started stitching on them, so this brief piece of work was just to add a bit of texture in paper or paint.

A drawing based on the moon's light that looks better in reality - the black sugar paper is already greyish, but looks even more so here.

Sunday, 7 August 2016

A collagraph course

There is a relatively new arts venue in Newbury, City Arts, that offers art courses. Last week a three day workshop working on collagraphs took place, and I managed to get on it at short notice.

Over three days we were introduced to the technique, made a series of plates practicing textures and trying to make 'finished' designs and printing, using proper printing presses. on Youtube people show collagraphs being printed pressing by hand, but they work with plates carrying very heavy relief panels weheras this workshop used a more shallow relief. So, the mark making included cutting into the plate, removing the surface of the card plate and adding materials. 

We painted the shellac to seal the plates ready for printing on the second day.

Here are some of the sealed plates, drying:

You can see various materials: sandpaper, textured wall paper, sawdust, nylon lace and so on. My plate in the middle, bottom was a practive plate with these materials to see what prints they would leave. I was interested to learn that you can 'draw' with glue, and any hard pressing of pens mark the surafce of plate that can also bring out the ink. Very interesting and so exciting.

Here are some of the prints drying - some of us also printed onto the fabric, which in most cases also picked up the ink well:

On the left you can see my very first attempt at printing using the sampling plate. I put too little ink on and/or wiped too much of it off. On the right is a pinkish print where I used straws of grass as a relief device and they worked very well.

And here are some examples of some prints I made that look more complete:

It was a very good workshop and we printed a lot of prints. The ink is still drying 3-4 days after printing, which is quite a long drying time, and I am getting a bit impatient for these prints to be ready. Nevertheless when they are ready they will mostly be good prints and once franed they will look complete and finished. I enjoyed the whole experience and will perhaps do some myself one day, as the prints may also be helpful in thinking about design.

Monday, 25 July 2016

Printing and dyeing

Usually I lean toward constructed textiles as my main means of expression and there are several techniques such as tapestry weaving, knitting and felting that I find most stimulating. These techniques can be quite slow and thinking about designing using these techniques needs a wider exploration of design and art sources. 

To enhance my design sources I thought I might explore monotype development a bit more. Since I did some 'monoprinting' for the OCA course, I have thought about it quite a bit and have explored certain artists and web-sites - and of course Youtube to learn more about the possibilities of the technique. And so I found that Paul Klee used the monotype to imprint lines to enable him to create tonal areas around his printed defined lines. Other artists such as Degas used the monotype a lot in a painterly way (I am not going to discuss the difference between the 'monoprint' and the 'monotype', it doesn't sound like a great difference in any case, but if you are a purist it might be worth looking at some web-sites that will explain it from a technical perspective), and certain quilting designers use 'monoprinting' as a printing techniques to enable them to create unique patterns or images. At West Dean College a class on monoprinting was oing on when I was a different course and I thought they showed great variety and inventiveness in their work.

I said in a previous post that the lower parts of a boat, the outer sides of the hull, can reveal interesting marks that develop from the patina and scratches that touch the painted surface. I found a boat in a marina that had a very good blue surface (in fact, these three images may not be from the same boat, but I don't remember now how many boats I looked at - it wasn't many, perhaps 2 or 3):

As you can see the marks are varied, from broad volumes of colour to lines and a sort of mottled dottedness.

And so it is with the monoprinting technique - it is a free way of using paint or ink to create unique prints. Although you can print a 'ghost' print from whatever paint is left on the plate, the print you first take from the design you lay down on the plate (glass, acrylic or some other flat clearish surface) is the only print you can achieve.

That way of working suits me quite well. I work intuitively and freely and like to work exploratively. I got myself a couple of acrylic sheets of different sizes and have an old glass fridge shelf that is useful as a plate. As I am a novice at this I am not expecting miracles on these first forays into printing and I am not using ink, so have had to experiment in making acrylic dry a bit more slowly using glycerol. This is probably not ideal but will do until I decide this is definitely something I want to continue to work with.

And so for the results - I am satisfied that using acrylic paint can be used to print on paper and on textiles. I printed on bits of old white sheets, and will move onto dyed cotton and other materials at some point. I think the prints on paper, especially the ghost prints, lend themselves to being drawn over, or added to in some way.

Here are details of the print on cotton:

 At least as a detail this section evoked the ships' hulls in some way

 In this photo you can see a part of a ghost print. It does not show up any details, no lines or scratch marks, but just soft suggestions of colour. I think I may overprint this piece next time I get the paint out.

I have also spent a great deal of time dyeing. There has been vegetable dyeing with ash and walnut wood, ivy (which was not a good colour), lichen and ragwort  which gave a bright yellow, but I am not sure how colourfast this is. As you might know, I also did some synthetic dyeing and some of that was tie-dyed to create pattern:

I have been reading Claire Wellesley-Smith's book, Slow Stitch, and wonder about simplicity and care. She represents the idea of slow craft can be ecologically sound, healthy for the individual and communities as a social bridge, and her work is very simple using the most basic of stitches, mainly running stitch. My work might benefit from some of this awareness of quietude and I will ponder this some more as I read more.

Recent holiday to Germany

It has been while since I have written about something of interest. Not because there was nothing to tell, but because time is passing with busy things to do, both at the weekends and after work - vegetable dyeing, acid dyeing, knitting and felting. So for now I will add a few images from a holiday we had to Germany in June. We went to Hamburg and Lübeck. Both cities are great for different reasons: Hamburg is a big vibrant city, with fine museums, a large river, the Elbe, and an interesting history. Lübeck is a smaller city with an ancient city centre on an island in a river, the Trave, with many, many churches and great old buildings. We also spent a period further north and went for walks on the coast.

I should say that I don't take many long view photos of cities as I always feel that they look flat when I get home, and by focussing instead on particular details you can find new interesting things that may be useful for future art work.


We have been to Hamburg before and have done some touristic things like sailing on the Binnen Alster boat that gives you views of the city from the large lake in the city centre, whilst this time we returned to the Kunsthalle and the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe. This time we went for a walk to parts we hadn't explored before and found some amazing architecture to explore - Chilehaus and the building that houses chocolate museum (which we did not visit), both lie in the Speichertsadt, which also includes canals and warehouses.

Here's a detail of the Chile Haus - a solid dark bricked building with a jagged sharp-edged facade.

The building opposite was softer with a curved facade running along the road and sculpture by Lothar Fischer:

Near the historic office distric which is now a Unesco world heritage site the old warehouse buildings sitting next to the canals still look grand. I am guessing that many facades somehow stayed standing even after the bombing of WWII as the walls and brickwork looked old and not at all 'renovated' and some looked quite run down, although other are clearly now being used as trendy techie offices.

There were quiet moments for coffee and looking out into court yards with beautiful trees 

And on the way to the Kunsthalle we came across a grand building that must have been an important building as a kind of providential society or other:

We also came across a place that looked like a closed bar - it had a large folded paper polar bear in the window which was quite a fantastic thing:

The Kunsthalle was showing a temporary exhibition of Manet's work, which was good, with many small works and interesting connections made to for examle Berthe Morisot, and then we went around finding things that might inspire - this time I concentrated on the modern collections and was happy to find work by Gerhard Richter, Robert Morris - a very impressive piece of felt folding down by force of its own weight - and a white painting by Robert Ryman. Then on to the historical collections to see the German impressionists including Lovis Conrinth, and a room dedicated to Caspar David Friedrich, whose work I never tire of looking at. They also have fine modern art including a fish by Paul Klee I like and next to a Giacometti sculpture they had a painting by him to again make connections I guess of influences and how stylistic characteristics echo across media and disciplines.

We took a boat trip this time as well - but on the Elbe - along a couple of canals and then out onto the river proper to see the port. A huge place, with ship building, repairing and all manner of freight and blossoming culture. I did not take too many long views, but looked at the side of the canals and the concrete walls running along the river in places, some conceret decaying:
 Here's more decaying paint and iron:

Paint work on boats can be very painterly.... but it also so very available and visible, it is almost ubiquitous in harbours and in old yards of different types.

There were many cranes and large metal structures to study on the river:

Along the coast to the North

There was also a trip to the more Northern parts and I walked nostalgically on the beach, enjoying the sunshine of summer and listening to the sea and the wind in the trees. These environments were some of my favourite places in the past, and it is great to go back and enjoy them again:

And the seaside always have wonderful things to look at and touch and pick up -

A dried up section of orange:


On a ferry we took, some thick rope - which is a great source for thinking about thick textile objects:

Sea cabage:

And lovely seaweed floating in the water:

We took a short trip to the Nolde Stiftung again, it is a great place and every year they put out a new set of paintings and water colours, so it is worth a re-visit. Nolde's work really is some of the best water color work I have seen. I am always amazed as the way he used his colours.

And there was also a day trip to Schloss Gottorf on the outskirts of Schleswig: a large castle on an island with great collections acorss the full spectrum of human culture - achaeological collections, including the Nydam Boat, historical collections, decorative arts (a set of Jugendstil gallery and a brilliant modern art collection, with expressionist work based on a collection, Sammlung Rolf Horn. There was so much to see you couldn't possibly see it all, so I concentrated on the most important things that I thought might inspire my own work.

On the way to Schleswig we stopped by the Dannevirke wall, which is a Viking-medievan earth work which was built to protect the Norther lands from certain tribes:

There was a small informative museum narrating the history of the building and the archaeology of the site. Some sections were also used by the Danish army during the war with Prussia in the 19th century - a real gem. If we had had more time there could have been a good walk along the wall, but we were headed to Schloss Gottorf, and that was itself a gem of a place.


Lübeck is an old Hansestadt. It is famous for its old Holsten Gate, which appears on postcards - of course without the busy roads that run on each side of its gardens, so here's a reality check:

The city is very beautiful, there are many old buildings and many churches to visit. Again we had been to Lübeck before, but that was to go to the Christmas market several years ago, and new museums have opened since then, and and there was plenty to do in the summer sun.

So we visited churches - these grand old places of spirituality and power. A lot of effort went into church architecture and so there is always some interesting architecture and art to study in tese places.

Here's a small example of the fine puppets in a museum devoted to puppetry:

This museum has both Western and Eastern puppets, a lovely Indian puppet elephant, and when we went they had an exhibition on Pinocchio with a puppet from a Soviet film from  the interwar period, and sections of the film on a loop showing the 'making' of Pinocchio. I love puppets and it was good to see a few films of stop-motion animation and so on, as puppets hanging on their strings look a bit sad. They are so much better animated and telling a story.
There was a church near the Puppet Museum which had been whitewashed and in its simplicity looked very grand:

We also visited the St Marienkirche, which is where JS Bach went to learn organ music with the local organist. This church is very grand with large areas of reproduction medieval murals. It is also a very beautiful place. In one corner the churchbells which fell during the bombings of WWII have been left with a candle as a reminder of peace and reconciliation:

In one church there was an ancient set of benches with carved wooden arm rests of head of monks - they had worn away with time and looked soft and shiny in the light:

Oh, and then there is the occasional piece of functional street furniture that is worth a mention, like this great door handle-cum-door lock:

As usual I took many photographs and will probably use some of them in the future, but just to end this short story of my visit I will add one on a rococo ceiling detail from a museum:

And a single example of a quick draing I did one evening in the hotel: