Monday, 28 March 2016

Starting life drawing and felting

Well, the two are obviously not directly linked: life drawing is a way for me to learn to look properly, get proportions right and to do something art related that isn't directly textile related. Felting is at the moment at the sampling stage to understand how different wools work.

First the life drawing: I did some as an absolute beginner in 1990 and have done nothing like that since so am still a beginner. This means that I am pretty terrified at the prospect of trying to draw the body, getting things wrong and so on. And of course my first drawings in the first class were wonky, out of proportion and not confident at all. The tutor was very helpful and she suggested ways of looking and marking up elements of the body to enable an appropriate set of reference points to get the drawing straight. 

Here's an embarrasingly wonky pose just to give you an idea of how un-confident I am, it is drawn with pencil, so the lines are a bit feint:

The very last drawing was the hardest. For some reason I got the worst possible position - an extremely foreshortened perspective with the model lying with the crown of her head towards me and her right shoulder uppermost. Needless to say I had no idea how to get that shoulder right, and the tutor adjusted things a bit for me. However I am happy enough with the result to show it here,although it is obviously a weak drawign made by a learner. The legs and the twisted body bits of her lower section are mine.

And now to the felt. I am pretty happy with the set-up in my studio, the table is big enough to take a large piece of fabric and wool and I have space for moving along the length of the table. So I laid out some pure white wool on a loosely woven wool fabric with a bit of colour to create interest and a bit of very hairy wool in places to create texture. But oh dear, the white wool has clearly been treated and doesn't felt and the creamy hairy wool is heavy on lanolin and so felting has been inconsistent with only the coloured merino properly taking. A lot of the wool has lifted and I need to remedy this first stab - and that on a very large 'sample'!

This picture is deceiving - it suggests the felting is working, but I am going to have to change the whole thing radically to get the wool to catch the base fabric. You can see I have been using a plastic holder to aid the felting. Someone advised me that the plastic holders that meats come in from the supermarket are useful for this and it is. You can keep your hands soap-and-water free during the felting which is useful if you, like me, easily get dry hands and split skin from the soap. Well, it is probably better that I add wool to the unfinished peice, the thing is a bit thin and I would like a bit of substance to it. More pictures to follow when it has been finished.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Third course at West Dean College - Experimental textiles

West Dean College offers a great range of course from calligraphy to drawing, to stone carving to textile courses. I am working towards their Foundation Diploma and as part of that I choose drawing and textiles courses.

Recently I attended an Experimental Textiles course with the tapestry weaver Philip Sanderson and the embroiderer-mixed media artist Michael Brennand-Wood. They have worked on a project together, a tapestry which they showed us, having asked each of the attendees to go through what we had done and what we might want to do during the weekend.

The course was set up to be pretty free. There were wooden frames in different sizes, rectangular or square, warp yarns, drills, nails, fabrics, ropes and other things that might inspire. I had not had time to think about designs, and am happy that I didn’t as it might have been inhibiting on the development of the work over the weekend. Instead I had brought a couple of Japanese obi, with tsuzure flowers and mushrooms. This was just meant to be the trigger ideas and my work that weekend went off at a tangent at one point.

It was a very busy weekend, and I didn’t finish the samples I started. I began by painting a large frame with India ink and attaching this large black grid created by a net. Within this grid I then tied a warp of thin linen in different colours, pinks and purples, but instead of just making a vertical warp I wove into it as well. This was to continue the idea of the grid from the black webbing, but it caused a fair bit of trouble when I came to weave, as I could only cover one or two warps at a time when I started weaving in the weft. It did mean that I could weave from all four angles, which was interesting and opened up a different way of thinking about the design. I could turn the frame and weave from any side, which is very different from weaving from bottom to top.
 I had brought a bunch of wools, cottons and novelty yarns, commercial and hand-spun. I tore some fabric to create some fabric 'yarns'.
Here's the frame mounted in the workshop ready for weaving with the warps added, below is a close-up of the warps woven over the black net. Michael showed me how to do a type of chain stitch that I could tie across the black netting, that is the thicker blended yarn you see toward the lower half of the image.

I started with weaving-in the flower inspired by the obi. The weft was made of blends of pink, with silvery colouring in the spaces between the petals. Hence I now have a section of woven flower and a larger section of loosely woven warps which I need to integrate in some way. Philip had suggested I look at developing some baroque or rococo style swirly sections that would evoke some swirls on the obi. And so to try out some of the techniques Michael showed us I had a go at wrapping aluminium rods with other blends which I bent to shape.

The woven flower in progress. It was looking good in a chunky experimental sort of way, it is clear how the wefts have been woven from all four sides.

The sample in progress, I had loosely woven yarn on the left to prepare to add other elements. I also started to wrap strips which I will continue to make to make a denser area to the lower half of the piece. The 'S' shapes are the wrapped aluminium elements.

Half way through the course this sample I decided to make another sample made of bits being taught on the course, so I would have something to refer to. So, I started wrapping the frame, dyeing the warp with ink, weaving rolled newspaper, thick velvet ribbon on a small frame. Then I was going to place it somehow within a big frame, but I borrowed a book from the college library and got diverted by a fantastic technique I wanted to try out, so ended up warping up the large frame with two thicknesses of warp and started weaving textured structures and stayed within the grid of the weave.

Small square frame with fabric wrapped around it, I tried out rolling newspaper and wove in paper sticks and broad velvet ribbon.

Trying out a chunky weft and pulling out the weft to make a loose wavy surface. I added a wrapped element to create a bit of interest in the blue and wove in a strip of felt, rolled newspaper, fabric yarn and more conventional wool weft. I tried out winding wire with fabric and winding aluminium rod, which became a quite organic shape I liked, I will use this again at some point in the future.

The main theme for me of the course was the experimental nature of the techniques, materials and tools. There was no real design approach being espoused, but a permissive environment of ‘try it and see’ which was valuable in allowing all manner of ideas and testing to be done by everyone, and the resultant works were therefore very different. I think mine looked a bit rough, but I think this is due to the nature of the materials and testing of techniques – and both samples are still unfinished. The work was process driven and it enabled a variety of responses and will be a useful point to work out next steps. Right now I am thinking about how I now will integrate the two sides of the large sample and have got some coloured wefts to finish the other sample. In the long run I think there will be space in this approach to permit myself to try out new things and not be too worried about getting a perfect think out of it from the start.

BBC's The Art of Scandinavia

So far 'The Art of...' programmes headed by Andrew Graham Dixon have been interesting and have given us some great views of German, Russian and Spanish art history in short bursts. At the moment it is Scandinavia's turn, and I have a personal interest in this from my Danish background. However my heart sank a bit when I saw from the first programme that Finland was not going to be included and neither would Iceland. I love the Finnish early 20th century landscape artists and I had hoped they would be covered. I know these programmes come in threes and so I guess that is why these particular countries were chosen, I just hope that Dixon will find a moment to explore Finnish art in a separate programme one day.

Anyway, the first programme covered Norway and apart from a contemporary photographer and a brief interlude to look at national romantic painting there was nothing much to be excited about. There was the Gostad viking ship, previously discussed on many a programme on the Vikings, and there was the well-known Edvard Munch's The Scream suggesting his neurotic response to the world. I enjoyed the programme, especially the wooden church with its ancient carvings, but had hoped for something else I think, maybe more about the contemporary as well. It is worth noting as well that although he is interested in visual culture Dixon's programmes ignores textiles which in the more ancient times of the Vikings, would have been a way for them to make representational art alongside wood carvings. It will be interesting to see whether, when he gets to Sweden, he will include something like the Överhogdal Tapestries in his discssion.

The programme on Danish art again took some traditional routes, Hans Christian Andersen's paper cuts - although I hadn't seen the hanged people piece before - Thorvaldsen, Eckersberg and Hammershøi (whose name Dixon pronounced in a very odd way). And I think that extremely belatedly the penny at last dropped for me. In an effort to shape these histories of national art into a way to describe a 'national' expression, the selection of art works shown are just that, selective. The focus is on artists who somehow show a certain national sensitivity and I am not sure that is always the case. In the Danish case he ignored the postwar artist Asger Jorn who was looking internationally at expressionism and helped establish the COBRA group together with artists from Bruxelles and Amsterdam. A counterpoint to the national romantic image of a Danish female warrior from Denmark's 19th century national romantic era is a great painting by J F Willumsen, En Bjergbestigerske (A Mountain Climber (female)) from 1904, which shows a proud Valkyrie of a woman who is free of corsets and is letting her hair down, a modern self-contained woman for the 20th century. In fact ignoring Willumsen and the Skagen painters (a group of artists working on impressionist and social realist art) suggests that there might be merit in balancing the discource of national sensitivities with a study of those artists who sought international streams either for the sake of widening the perspective of art (Jorn) or to use in a local context for personal uses (Skagen painters). 


Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Assignment 5 - Further reflections

My tutor asked me to expand a bit on my reflections of the work in assignment 5, she included some questions that may provide a useful starting point:

What are your thoughts on this body of work; blurred photo, drawings, colour palettes, collage and textile sample conclusion?  What did you learn about the design process? How did the drawing work affect your thinking?  Where did your ideas come from and how did you respond to them?  Was the final outcome what you expected, not just in regard to techniques but also in its aesthetic? 

I am relatively happy about the work I did in my ‘tree’ theme book, which contains various scribbely drawings, photographs of trees, both ‘straight’ and more experimental, responses to colour in mixes, some wool wraps and collages. (I had also included a sections on rugs used in interiors to show that the notion of the heavy woven cloth for interiors is still valid – although I did not look at where these things are made, they are more likely made in India and China to keep costs low; raising questions of tradition, fair trading and what happens with tapestry weaving in the West when such imports become more common) .

I was fundamentally inspired by the texts by Herman Hesse in a small book called ‘Trees’ – Bäume (in German) which contains some beautiful passages on his responses to trees and nature (see this post). I am interested in nature and natural things and the way we as a human race are affecting nature so dramatically. To contain the work I wanted to work on the tree theme, working in tapestry. 

My work is mainly experimental. I like to play with materials and with the technology of the camera and so some of the work in the theme books reflects this. I am not sure the drawing work directly influences what I do. I need to learn to look and so to draw more, but in fact when working with process the main point is the materials and the technique as starting points, although for the final pieces it was the photographs that directed the colour choices. You don’t always know where you are going with the work when responding to materials, but in the case of assignment 10 I knew I had limited time, I had decided to contain the work by using tapestry technique and used photographs to lead the colour decisions. 

Overall I believe I have already spoken of my inspiration (the theme book, the pictures) in various posts, but I might need to comment a bit on the final impressions of the pieces. Both the green piece and the flower piece are separate works with their own individual integrity. They are contained by their sides, although the green sample is more open and experimental in its expression, as it was a test-run of a technique I had only seen worked by others. The colours work well together and the green sample shows that using a coloured warp will help create interest both from the weaving and its structure. The final sample works as a sample and reflect my intended experiment with pulling the warp to tighten the weft, and it has resulted in something, which if mounted on a dark background, might even be seen as a final piece.

The blue sample with the flowers also works quite well. Again, it is a sample to try out sewing with the silk strips, and seeing how the smoothness of the silk against the textured woven background creates a sense of interest and tension that evokes the lightness of the petals against the hard ground on the photographs. Of the two samples this is the ‘pretty’ one, the flowers evoking white flowers in general, whilst the green sample is an abstracted sense of the green in leaves, just as the photograph indicated.

I enjoy photographing and considering colour. I do not necessarily contain the final piece in my head before it is made, althouh I sometimes do, and so the final sample may look incomplete as its function is to practice and work through thoughts. In both cases I think this has worked well, and I am content that they stand alone, each an expression of a particular mood, ‘Spring’ and ‘Summer’, density of leaves, lightness of petals, trees as element sof growth and change, affected by the seasons, the weather and how we see them.