Tuesday, 26 January 2016

Tex 1 - Assignment 5 - Theme book continued

I have tried to keep the theme book going while I was working on the tapestries. It now has sections on rugs in interiors, examples of trees and landscape painting, and a bit of art work I have been working, including colour matching and mixing exercises. 

Here are some examples of the contents:

 On the theme of gothic architexture as vertical 'tree'-like structures

Photographs and colour mixing tests

 Preparation for the spring-inspired tapestry piece, photographs and colour mixing

 A couple of scribbled flowers

Another page of the book looking at trees growing in a churchyard

I have quite liked working in the book, and will probably continue having a theme book running alongside my other workbooks. The tree theme has not yet been exhausted and there is plenty more to do on it. However I am running out of time on this project so will be submitting a book that has not yet been fully filled.

The 3rd and final piece I am developing as part of assignment 5 is the book cover for the theme book. This is not really the final piece, but more an addition to the theme book. I have used some phorographs from a beech wood, and a sketch I drew up based on one of these:

And here is the project in progress; I have been laying out strips of opaque fabric over some transparent, shiny organza, laid onto a dyed blue base fabric:

I sewed some suggestions of leaves onto the base and have placed the brown 'trunks' over them. I am planning more of these leaf suggestions, however first I need to do something about the trunks, which have only just been attached using automatic stitching from my machine:

So, this is clearly work in progress, and needs a lot more work to it, I am just hoping that I get it done in time - my course is coming to and end in February! You can see some cotton base fabrics, a bit of furnishing fabric (tree trunks) and organza to reflect light. Hopefully this enables some subtle contrasts in matt and shiny to lie close together to add interest to the surface.

I am reasonably satisfied with the final book cover. It fits well, the embroidery is not too thick and its looks good enough:

In sewing the 'tree' elements and 'leaf' details the fabric pulled together in places. I had ironed on some vilene on the back, but did not use a frame and so there was a bit of unintentional 'pleating'. However in the end these creases along the width of the piece have worked well, as they add to the texture, add some shadow effects and three-dimensionality to the surface. As the thing scrunched up I had to attach a 'frame to add to the size of it, and used some dyed cotton in a colour I hadn't really liked. The brown fits in with the tree theme, so that also has worked reasonably.

I used a lot of different green coloured threads (8 or more) and a slightly lower number of browns and green for the tree trunks (6 or a few more), a couple of areas had loose silk and other threads scattered and attached with stitchery to suggest more dense foliage. I like the idea of using the stitching both as line and as mass colouring and I used this across the applied fabrics. The pictures don't show the work off properly, it looks pale in the bright light, but is actually quite rich and glowing from the colours and organzas. 

I have submitted the work now, two days before the deadline for final submission of the whole course, and thin the book cover probably took a bit longer to make than I expected.

The cover folded over the book is held together by two strands of machine stitched cord. Closed together like this the tree theme is obscurred a bit by the framing fabric. I still think the verticality of the trunk theme continues though.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

West Dean FDAD - A drawing course

I have decided that I need a different way of learning art and design, so have booked onto the Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at West Dean College. This means I need to do 10 short courses over a maximum of 2 years and write a short essay at the end. It starts with an introduction to creative/experimental/expressive drawing, and I have then chosen a number of textile and drawing courses over the next few months.

The introductory course led by the painter Frances Hacth and the print maker Dale Devereux Barker started on Friday evening with a group project. We were asked to react to music using first drawing materials and then large pots of paint, mainly emulsion, splashed all over the paper as we walked around the strips and then had our mark-making implements given and exchanged as we went along.

This is what we made, a lot of paint in layers sometimes mixed, with bits of paper and wool stuck to the surface:

The next day we had a session thinking about our anticipations for the course and then went on to work with different art materials and in various media to introduce us to the possibilities of drawing.

The first exercise was to work on a large piece of paper using ink, applied using natural materials we would find in the garden near the tree we were asked to select and draw. The final drawings were then set up so we could discuss the work, and some had included drawings in sketchbooks which were also compared:

My drawing is the one on the far left in the above picture, and my sketchbook drawing is the one in the middle top in the picture below.

This was a very enjoyable and freeing exercise. I used some twigs I found and a couple of leaves. These left either loose line type of marks and the leaves could apply more ink and could be ground into the paper which gave the marks a more earthy substance.

Other exercises we did on the second day was a discussion of our hopes for the course, including pulling out 5 words that reflected this from newspapers to glue into our sketchbooks, and further drawing exercises.

The theme for the day was 'growth' as felt through contact with trees and natural things. We were each given a small seed pod or nut and were asked to draw it to a large scale using chalk and charcoal on black sugar paper, assuming a light source from the top left hand corner, we used a slice of bread as a rubber having dusted the paper with chalk first. I drew a walnut, which was fairly successful:

We were then asked to break open our seed pod or nut and draw directly on top of our previous drawing the inside of the object:

I didn't like this drawing much, but in hindsight I think that it was probably better than I felt it was at the time. I made the mistake of not stepping back and looking at it from a distance. Large drawings need to have a bit of distance. When I am at home I sometimes just leave the work for a while and return to it, which is not possible on a course. So I in fact I cut my drawing up into smaller pieces:

As the days progressed, our work was attached to the wall to add to the feeling of development and growth:

Then there was a compositional exercise using a grid as below and selecting 8 pieces from the large floor piece we cut these out and glued them into individual compositions in our sketchbooks. The below shows the squares I selected before they were glued in:

A further development included choosing one of the 8 squares and blowing it up into a drawing using charcoal and chalk on white paper:

The last exercise using the painted lining paper was a sculpture type challenge, to somehow build a sculpture using the park as a backdrop. I chose to use the paper in rolled shapes, wanting to keep things simple. In the end the final 'sculpture' looked a bit like something Frank Gehry might have considered - someone talked about Scandinavian simplicity, but actually I was more worried about making a mess of crumpled shapeless paper. Smooth paper and its defined edges can make interesting shapes when rolled and placed in relation to each other, which was what I tried to do. There were two horizontal planes a vertical 'tower' type structure.

I chose to use the holes that were already in the paper, only ripping one section to enable bits to be joined:

And from this three dimensional work we then had to do some small, very short (1 min), drawing exercises on the grid we had been given. I did not enjoy this exercise very much. I got out of synch with the timing of every timed drawing and there was very little time to both select, look and draw a reasonable sketch before the time was up.

There was also a basic colour theory session where Frances Hatch demonstrated colour mixing using water colours, discussing qualities of paint, granulation, and so on. This was a very useful exercise and she suggested we might want to do colour mix studies on cold, wet days when we couldn't go out to draw (she is a plein air artist).

She also shared how she uses her colour mixes by laminating the ones she want to take out with her when drawing or painting - a very handy tip:

On the last day we got a short lecture on themes and topics that artist might choose, including examples by various artists to show some of the wide span of styles and expressions possible.

And a couple of last exercises drew the course to and end. First a lump of clay was to be shaped into something that resonnated with a word, in this case 'energetic':

And an exploratory exercise to respond in drawing what came to mind from feeling an object hidden in a paper bag. I quite enjoyed this exercise. It was free, and I think it would be useful as a warm-up thing to do, or to just get into the swing of things, but one might need someone else to choose an object so that there is no pre-arranged mental image of the thing before you start the drawing.

My object was a bull-clip, with a largeish smooth section and sharper edges, and then wiry metal strips attached with compressed small areas on the smooth section:

And that was the weekend - a good grounding in various techniques, some of which I think will be very handy when I look at my own work looking ahead.

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

Assignment 5, Project 10: second tapestry (Spring)

Over the Christmas holiday I moved into a studio and I have found it a really useful place to devote good time to create.

This means that I was able to concentrate on the second tapestry, again using a photograph as a reference point and selecting yarn colours that would evoke the image. At this point I would like to say that I have always worked with process as well as design when required or the work needed it. The pieces for the fina project are process driven in the main.

The photograph is of a magnolia stellata in our garden. The magnolia is a strange and wonderful tree. There are no leaves on the tree when it blooms. It sprouts these bright white, soft petals for a very short time (3 weeks or so) and then it turn into a dull tree that disappears into the garden greenery until the next spring. I re-worked the image to be more blue, modifying it from the orginal:

Here is the original picture:

This is a detail of the blue photograph blown up to show the colours that were useful suggestions for the tapestry. I placed the image above on a table in daylight in order to ensure when I matched the yarns they would be as close as possible. You will see that there are various greens, browns, purples, blues and in the white are certain soft rosy pinks and blues in the image, and I had a go at mixing various blends of yarns to suit some of this.

I stuck these pictures into the theme book to look at the colours in different ways:

The background is quite abstract, an assortment of organic shapes, layers of foliage and branches - colour masses that can be stylised in tapestry. The question then arose how to create the petals of the magnolia. From the outset I thought it might be interesting to apply fabric strips that would suggest these bright and luminous white flowers.

So here is the work in progress. This is a bit late in the development of the tapestry. I was playing with colour masses, choices and the placement of these across the tapestry surface. During the making I had to continuously check how the colour balances worked aganist each other when colours lay next to each other, but also to weigh the balance across the piece, looking at where greens, blues and brown were set and echoed each other from left to centre to right, from the bottom to the upper areas of the piece.

In this picture (above) some areas of brown and blue are shown, which I knew when I went home for the night were not right. This had happened in other areas of the tapestry, where somehow the colour areas did not really work, being either too big, or not intermingled properly. These areas I un-did and reworked and this mostly ended up as something much better. Working with materials and process in this way, measuring, balancing tones, hues, masses and blends, thinking about how they relate, this is a way I really like working with. It means you make decisions throughout the work and there is still a clear link to the original design at the end. It worked in this piece because it is small (26 x 31cm), but I am not sure whether in larger pieces it would work as well, I think that large tapestries need design and carefull working out.

Here are the yarns I used to create the blends. The yarns varied greatly, from silk, wool, linen and nettle to cotton and rayon. Some were handspun although most was commercial. A few vintage wool embroidery yarns were amongst them and some I had dyed, including the linen weft.

Below an image of the back of the work, I have included it to show how many times colour blends were changed.

The front is taking shape here. I was unhappy with the flower on the left, it just didn't seem to work as a flower and there were a fair few trials with different petal widths, lengths and angles.

And in the end the final piece looks quite interesting with the white petals shining on the surface. I used white silk with some Inktense stains in pink and blue to ensure they related to the background colours, to give them more body I ironed on some very light interfacing to make sure they had some definition. You will see that there areborders at the top and the bottom of the piece. When the work started I had planned these to be folded back, but they work well in the way they create a frame against the coloured central motif.

A detail to show a flower and some of the surface detail - I included some wrapped areas across single warps and some across three warps in some areas.

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Textile 1 - Assignment 5 - A Piece of your own - Final reflections

Can you see a continuous thread of development from your original drawings and samples to the final designs? 

Of the two samples the first is the most spontaneous and impressionistic of the designs and follow in the same vein as my method of loosely photographing leaves and trees. I am quite satisfied that this way of working allowed for free choices of colour, with some determination of what would sit where, and trying out a new technique. In that way the final piece was really a sample, but I decided some time last year that I would make beautiful samples as much as possible, as partial samples lacking coherence leaves one a bit dissatisfied; and so in that way I think this piece was satisfactory.

The aim of the second sample was to be a more finished item. It was designed from a photograph I had altered, of magnolia flowers in the spring, where the pixels had been turned more blue than they could ever have been in reality. From these I selected various blends and placed areas of colour across the surface of the work. I knew this would become a background surface, so the designing was again fairly improvised, but the placement of coloured areas was much more controlled than the green sample had been. Choosing how the petals would be rendered took some thought and trying out. In the end I think this also worked as I could add petals and move them if they didn't quite fit.

The book cover is not really part of the final submission but has ended up being quite  substantial piece of work, so I am not how this fits in. It is machine embroidered so not a 'constructed textile'. It was good to make it, I wanted to try to make a book with properly sewn together sections and that has worked well as it proved itself as the theme book. I also like the size of the book and the final cover in its whole. I am less convinced when the book is folded up, although the cover does suggest something a bit precious lies within.

Do you feel you made the right decisions at each stage of the design process? If not, what changes would you make? 

The green sample would probably have benefitted from a bit more control of the greens I chose. For example, I could have chosen shades and tones of similar greens and yellows as in the photographs, but to be honest, I wanted a stronger contrast than just tonal variations, so I am not worried about the final selection.

I had a two month break from this work as I had exams to study for, for work. These types of breaks cut the creative continuity that I need to create a consistent piece of work. However, despite the break I had decided some time ago, when I was photographing trees and leaves, that I would have a go at the three dimensional technique and I think that was the right thing to do.

In terms of the second piece I in the end chose a different image to work on from what I had originally intended due to shortage of time. I worked directly from the photograph of the magnolia and a landscape from the early 20th century. I laid these on a table and then brought yarns across to the pictures and blended against the colours in the pictures. Then once the work was in progress I continued to blend, matching against the original colour selections, but here the design of the tapestry then changed to be one of weighing the balance of browns and blues, darker and lighter shades across the surface of the piece. Occasionally I had to undo certain areas if they became too dominant, created an imbalance or something was missing. I tried a few additional techniques such as wrapping over a single warp and in short sections across three warps, and I like how these break the surface up a bit and create a different texture to the weave. And I have to say, that I love the tapestry weaving process for the way the weave progresses, and when a certain amount has been built up I find myself stroking the surface, pulling at the edges and warps to adjust the width, checking the back and so on, I do enjoy the making and the materials and how these elements make a new thing.

If I had had more time I would have done more drawing work. I still haven't fully worked out how I figure-in drawing as part of my design technique. I like finding pictures of art from the history of art, painting, textile art and so on, and looking at the way for example landscape is rendered. I think that is very important to the way I look at colour and how I would like to think about my selection of techniques - this research seems to build up over time, some sort of inner pictures of what I would like to work on grow and intertwine, and they are then triggered when I look and feel materials for projects. I also thought that I might start using a felting machine and making small samples using that, as well as support these by wet felting and embroidery to enhance the design of the tapestries. That is, using these textile techniques in the design process before I start a piece. This is something I have just started working on - felting/fusing a black sample and then putting out a variety of black yarns and a certain pale minty greens on a table where I can walk past it and consider how this might work. This is then supplemented by looking at textile art on the web and in books, 1970s fibre art, embroidery by Junko Oki (I have just discovered and am absolutely fascinated by).

Were you able to interpret your ideas well within the techniques and materials you chose to work with? 

I am happy with the choices of materials. Wool, silk and linen are all natural materials and using second-hand or stash materials in the main, mean that I did not have to go out and purposefully buy new materials.

I have probably covered the answer to this question in the above answer.

How successful is your final design in terms of being inventive within the medium and coherent as a whole?

The first, green, sample was a test of a technique I had seen, but never woven before. It was new to me, but as it really was something Fiona Hutchinson uses I cannot claim to have invented it, although using greens and shades of brown to represent dappled light in leaves that was my take on it.

On the other hand I think that my use of fabric as suggesting petals on the Stellata piece was quite inventive, and had its roots in embroidery rather than weaving, as I think tapestry weavers in the traditional vein will normally seek suggestions in the weave structure rather than embellishing the surface.

In both cases the pieces are coherent, although placed next to each other they probably would not be seen as part of a meaningful series.

I have thought a bit about 'voice' in art. I look at some work and think how neat and precise some people's work are. Or some re-interpret similar themes many times over in similar techniques and seem never to tire of these, or others again work spatially, conceptually with esoteric themes (although I am tiring of the concepts of memory in textiles, this really has become a bit of a cliche of itself in some works I have seen - this will be seen as a bit philistine I know). Being a novice I think my 'voice' is just starting to develop. I think that in the end my work will have a certain heft that I have seen in some fibre art that uses heavier materials. In a way I am disappointed about that, I would love to be able to make small, fine stuff, but it simply is not part of my language and may never become so. I just need to accept whatever comes through the design developments I work on in the end.

Friday, 1 January 2016

Some changes and new books

As mentioned elsewehere, the last two months have been spent studying and working towards an exam, but once all of that was over I very soon moved into a studio I have rented to help take the pressure of storage off the house and to allow me to go to a dedicated space for working on textiles. I think this will help develop creative work in a more focussed way, as the home environment has its own distractions.

This studio is now being filled with equipment, wool and fabrics, craft items, beads and threads. It is all very exciting and I have started weaving there to see what it would be like working there. I almost immediately installed a radio as sitting alone in a room in a fairly isolated place is a bit empty, and so now I can listen to great music and audio books as I work - it is great.

Here are some pictures from the studio, a corner with some of the furniture - opposite this, out of sight is the table I am working at, ths is where I put out wools and fabric and sewing machine. The corner here is where the wool is stored and where a few books and craft materials have been placed:

I hung up some pictures of woodland and a drawing to help me work our how to place some textile for a books cover.

The clothes horse holds some skeins of wools and linen from various dyeing projects, thatare waiting to be wound into balls. Not my favourite project so I do a few at a time to get through them.

Some work in progress on the table - more about that on the theme book post.

Christmas - presents!

It has also been Christmas and I wanted to mention that here, as I got all the books I wished for this year - the latest books by Kate Atkinson and Margaret Attwood, two of my favourite authors, and a book on knitting by Carol Brown. 'Knitwear Design' is a book that reads as if the target audience is a knitwear fashion student. It has a lot of good-sized pictures, with short text pasages in sections themed on colour, texture, various knitting techniques, using a sketchbook for designing and so on. It is a useful short-hand to the design process as proposed by art colleges, but it also shows that despite the process prescribed by such writers and schools of textiles, the actual designers such as Sandra Backlund, will design experimentally directly on the figure. The book does not explain whether these designers also draw, but describe their design process as making up costumes and fashion items of fantastic ingenuity and creativity as committed to samples and testing experiments in situ. I guess designing is a bit like learning to cook - there are a lot of rules, recipes and certain things cooks will prescribe, but once set free in the kitchen, you actually just do what you need to do to satisfy your own free thinking.

For more details See Carol Brown, Knitwear Design, Laurence King, 2013