Monday, 30 September 2013

Come up and see my stitchings

Sometimes I feel like my creative streak is one of those joke "can of worms" where a bouncy snake pops out. Only in this case the snake is constantly methodically working at the lid and cackling deviously to itself. I like to think that's where the figurative meaning of "unhinged" originates, but perhaps I should digress.

In any case, what I'm erratically trying to say is, I think artists are a little more unhinged than your Average Joe. Our brains are more porous, and this porosity works both ways, or at least it does in my case; art goes in, art comes out (or perhaps more accurately, everything goes in, everything comes out; not always a good thing).

It makes me think of my favourite French word: entrouvert/e, meaning "ajar" or "half open".

It has vert in it, too, green; the colour of new life, new hope.

Now I am training to be a tutor at the Royal School of Needlework (unimaginably far-off though the intended end result may currently seem), I'm having to keep a lid on my creative can of worms for a little while. It's a wise person who said that one has to learn the rules to break them, and that's what I am slowly, falteringly doing; learning stitches at a staggering rate, learning history and composition and my way around the Palace, and just about keeping my head above water (though my legs are working frantically beneath).

And my days working from home are spent up in the loft wedged between computers and their entrails, plonked in front of The West Wing, stitching until the light gives out. 

I like that dependence on the light; I like that it roots me within nature's rhythms, and connects me to needlewomen of the past, who stitched by the guttering of candles until their eyes were ruined.

And I like that endurance and dedication too, that almost obsessional dedication. That refusal to settle for "almost good enough", that tiny, painstaking delicacy.

"Passitivity and obedience, moreover, are the very opposite of the qualities necessary to make a sustained effort in needlework. What's required are physical and mental skills, fine aesthetic judgement in colour, texture and composition; patience during long training; and assertive individuality of design (and consequent disobedience of aesthetic convention). Quiet strength need not be mistaken for useless vulnerability." - Kate Walker (feminist embroidery artist)

I am all too aware of how vulnerable I am now, at the start of my journey; I'm like Bambi in the snow, wide-eyed and open mouthed wonderment at drawers filled with thread every colour of the sun, archival boxes of ancient textiles, the living history of Hampton Court and above all the inestimable knowledge that pours from those around me.

But I intend to soak it all up, like a sponge, like a door flung not half, but fully open. And I've begun my own efforts, paltry though they may be... slowly, slowly... stitch by stitch...

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Book Marks

A wealth of wit, literary references and life's big themes are on show in the current exhibition at E17 Art House. Those literary references are particularly apt as the exhibition is entitled Book Marks, and is part of Walthamstow's inaugural literary festival, Words Over Waltham Forest.

Paens to literature, reading and writing in the exhibition include quick-witted visual puns (an orange with a piece of clockwork inserted where its stem should be), conceptual riffs on the sanctity of literature (a Bible which warns that God is watching you via a security camera in the front cover, another with legislature scrawled over chapter and verse), and the more straightforward, though no less charming (sculptures and photographs of readers enjoying a quiet moment with a good book).

From the moment of glancing at the title of How To Deal With Problematic Neighbours, the reader's mind is set racing guessing what the solution may be. Its contents are almost predictable, though still tickle the funny bone; a pistol conveniently concealed inside for dispatching with annoying acquaintances.

J. Thomas's artist's book was one of a number of offerings lining what I affectionately refer to as 'Conceptual Corner' in the exhibition, and is the next door neighbour of my contribution. Big Teeth, the artist's book which consumed me for around a month and a half, is a hand sewn exploration of the women's language of cloth in fairytales, and of what happens after happily ever after.

To the right hand side of Big Teeth was another artist's book, this time for sale in an edition. Subtitles (of Life and Death) by David Barette also happened to be my favourite piece in the show.

It's a simple idea; collate quotations on life and death in the form of screenshots and subtitles from a variety of classic films. But it works. 

The screenshots take the form of postcards that one could "cut (or rather, pull) out and keep", or keep as a complete work of art. Perhaps it appeals particularly to me as part of an image, iconography, pop culture obsessed generation; the Tumblr generation, if you will. It's certainly very accessible and instantly gratifying.

Between the Lines by Wendy McMillan, UK Law transcribed over Biblical Text

1984 by Francis Long

Insect Travellers Author/artist unknown. This artist's book disperses advice and adages alongside scientific illustrations of insects.

Bible Cam - God is watching YOU by Pure Evil

Genre - Mystery by Hannah Battershell. What tales could this abandoned typewriter tell?

A Soul of a New Machine by Jonathan Thomas
The artist E. J. England uses  book covers as their canvases; of course, one would need to read the words enclosed within to know whether these paintings are illustrative, or what is suggested to the artist by the books' titles.

The Stars Look Down by E. J. England. Gouache paint on vintage book.

The Lion by E. J. England. Gouache paint on vintage book

Of Love and Other Demons by Divya Venkatesh
I've been in a number of exhibitions with soft sculpture and embroidery artist Harriet Hammel, but the attention to detail and accuracy of her illustrative comic book embroideries exhibited at Book Marks never fails to astonish me.

Beano Embroidery by Harriet Hammel

Dandy Embroidery Fragment by Harriet Hammel
Another favourite piece was Jonathan O'Dea's book-sculpture Burning Back the Layers. Created as a tangible embodiment of the artist's struggles with reading as a dyslexic, the work also reminds the viewer that books come from trees; it reminds us of the lengthy process the materials have undergone in order for a book, perfect and complete, to be placed in our hands. The longer I spent with this piece, the more of its layers I unpeeled; a very appropriately titled work.

Burning Back the Layers by Jonathan O'Dea

Reading by Esther Neslen
This exhibition is rich and beautifully curated, many of the pieces situated in such a way that they have a profound dialogue with one another. I am sure book based art is a genre I will return to time and time again over the course of my career; books are my first love, after all (and what better first love to have?) As one of the art works in the exhibition mused, in the immortal words of Morrissey: "There's more to life than books you know, but not much more." Quite.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Sketching For Stitching

Remember Nicola Jarvis's incredible exhibition at the William Morris Gallery? Well, last week, the other Future Tutors students at the RSN and myself were lucky enough to have her teach us the principles of embroidery design over two days.

Now, I haven't drawn in over three years, beyond very basic line sketches (mostly traced from photographs, I am ashamed to say!) for my embroideries. But two days of drawing with Nikki, and I was in love with the medium all over again!

I'm enjoying following my instincts about colour, and just choosing tones which seem to fit together. I'm really attracted to jewel-like tones of magenta, purple, lime, coral and sapphire at the moment, partially due to a 1920s flapper dress from the Royal School's collection which put me in mind of a coral reef; inspired by this, my design for Canvas Work (a technique I'll be embarking on learning in a month), is an underwater scene.

From looking at and handling the collection and listening to the experiences and advice of my peers and tutors, I'm beginning to learn more about which stitches and techniques are appropriate for different designs. I can't wait to try out Turkey rug, feather stitch, stumpwork and trellis stitch... so much texture!

My design for Jacobean Crewel Work is in rich purples and blues, chosen from three crewel wools I snatched almost as soon as they were put on the table; they're simply sumptuous! Jacobean Crewel Work traditionally depicts a tree of life laden with fantastical, oversized flora and fauna. I've chosen an oak leaf, acorn, thistle, a sprig of berries, and a snail crawling up the Tree of Life's trunk. To balance the right hand side of the Tree, I've drawn a spiralling branch on the left which echoes the snail's shell. The three hillocks are also a traditional feature of Jacobean Crewel Work.

 I've definitely caught the drawing bug, but I can't wait to get back to my real love; tomorrow is my first day of stitching! I'll share the results here very soon.

Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness

Now that I've started at the Royal School of Needlework, I'm always on the look-out for visual inspiration. I'm particularly drawn to natural forms, and so I took the opportunity to go on an early autumn walk with my family.

This star moss had intense green tendrils and was springy underfoot, buoyed up with the rain

Autumn is my favourite season, visually (if one discounts truly wintry days); mist and dew descends over the landscape, brightly lacquered leaves line the earth, and nature's harvest swells.

These incredibly sculptural bracket fungi were almost as large as chairs

I got the idea that I would stitch a wild mushroom for my silk shading (essentially photo-realistic painting with threads) module, and so I got out my camera and scanned the forest for interesting fungi.

This little cep mushroom was the specimen I felt most inclined to stitch

There had been a heavy rain just prior to our walk, and water droplets hung from all the plants, and polished the mushrooms.

Sumptuous beefsteak fungus

The tannins and reflections in the leaves below turned these water droplets caught in a spider's web into liquid gold and bronze

As autumn continues and turns into winter, I must make the time to take these walks, observing, recording, and enjoying the season...

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Back To School

Originally I was going to title this post "Back To (The Royal) School", but over the past two days I've begun to realise that I have so much to learn in the field of needlework that it really is like being a teary four year old in the infants' playground all over again (well, with less crying).

The view from the classroom window earlier today

Other first impressions are that the entire School runs on tea and biscuits and is full of bright, bubbly, formidably skilled and talented young (and, er, not quite as young) women... I'm yet to discover many men!

The tea and biscuit-positive culture is a particular draw for me...

After class (which consisted of lots of colour and shading work to get us thinking about how we'll use tone in our Jacobean Crewel Work), I had a wander 'round the grounds.

And that's when it really began to sink in. I will (fingers double crossed) be spending the next three years (at least) in the most beautiful setting...

I can't even begin to describe how overwhelming and wonderful and inspiring and humbling and exciting and terrifying this experience is. I have a funny feeling it will be like that the whole way through...

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Crystal Ball

You might remember a number of posts (spanning from all the way back in February to more recently) all about a certain quilt I was (mostly failing at) working on.

Well, now that Big Teeth is finally finished I can set to work on The Constellation Quilt. This quilt is more of a story book or comic strip, telling the tale of the fortune-telling but unlucky in love witchy siren Polly Kettle (a performative alter ego of mine).

As well as spelling out Polly's name letter by letter in square patches, the quilt has a narrative, typewritten below:

In between the narrative and letter patches will be illustrative, playful patches portraying Polly and her accoutrements (crystal ball and all!) Here is one below. It's stitched on to hand screen printed linen by Room39:

And the first (though not chronologically) of the narrative patches, complete with iridescent sequins for shading:

I haven't quite decided which patch to stitch up next; possibly an appliqué of Polly herself. The quilt may have to take a bit of a back burner once again, however; I'm starting my training at the Royal School of Needlework next week, and imagine I'll get fairly busy fairly quickly! A post on that to follow.