Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Christmas Exhibition


Because of the nature of what I do, I don't generally exhibit my work, but all of a sudden that is changing and it's rather exciting.

As well as the tree paintings I have had on show recently at Yellow Arch Studios, as part of the Sheffield Tree Action Group's mixed show, Fallen Boys, Standing Trees, I also have my Coffee House piece in a Christmas exhibition called Unique Beauty at the Cupola Gallery in Hillsborough, Sheffield. It's another mixed show, with a really wide range of artists, showing work including print-making, ceramics, glass, jewellery, sculpture and, well, all sorts, as well as the painting, drawing and of course textiles. There are all sorts of interesting things there to see and maybe a Christmas present possibility for someone (or yourself...).


It's open until January 6th, so get yourself down there.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

24 Hour Urban Sketching to SaveTrees



On 11th November, Armistice Day, I took part in a unique event, bringing together lots of different things I am involved with. We even made it onto BBC telly - who spotted Andy Kershaw above?


Street Tree Art Sheffield (STARTS) have been organising flash-mob style sketching events for a few months now, to raise awareness locally about the thousands of trees being chopped down in the streets of my home city. I have been along a few times and created the paintings you see above and below.


But the trees on Western Road are extra special. They are a living memorial. The avenue of 53, hundred-year-old trees were planted for the WW1 dead of the local school. Incredibly, almost half of these trees are under imminent threat. So, to try and shame the local council and to get media coverage, STARTS arranged a memorial event followed by an all-day, mass sketch-in under the trees.


This is artist Dan Llywelyn Hall (he's painted the Queen!), who also helped to set the event up and who created this massive painting of Western Rd:


It was a fabulous day and a huge success. Even the littlest people were able to get involved:


I've been told that near to 200 people registering to sketch, including local artists, people who just love trees and lots of children. Some people dressed up:


I got involved because I love trees too, but also because of an interesting coincidence. This year is the 10th anniversary of Urban Sketchers and they have been arranging different events to celebrate. The latest, the 24 hour Global Sketchwalk was scheduled for November 11th. See where I'm going with this..?


Luckily, their idea didn't involve anyone sketching for 24 hours - phew! The plan was to set up sketchcrawls around the globe so that, at any one time over the 24 hours, there would be people out sketching somewhere in the world. There was a live Instagram feed, where all the photos and sketches appeared, as the event swept around the globe. Amazing idea. It inspired so many regional Urban Sketchers groups that each was featured on the live feed for just 15 minutes!


Anyway, I decided to combine the two events and invited Urban Sketchers Yorkshire to take part in the mass sketch-in. Here we are at 10.30, getting ready to get stuck in:


STARTS allocated a specific tree to everyone who took part, so we would spread out down the long street and all the trees would be immortalised, just in case the council get their way and bring in the chainsaws. Mine was tree no 48. I wrote onto it the names of the men it was in memory of:


The local pub, the Cobden View was brilliant. They supplied tea and coffee on tap all day, to help us warm up, with a bounty of biscuits. Yum. They also provided the welcome reward of hot samosas and spring rolls at the end of the day.

Many of those hardened sketchers who braved the cold and stayed all day painted bonus trees too. This is my second tree: no 49. I worked a bit bigger than usual, because I knew that the artwork was going to be put into an exhibition...


... an exhibition which is opening on Friday!

It's going to be fantastic - there was so much fabulous work created. STARTS collected it up at the end of the event. The exhibition is called Fallen Boys Standing Trees, and is at Yellow Arch Studios. There is a celebratory gala day at the show on Sunday November 26th. Come along, see the wonderful tree pictures everyone created, have a glass of wine and listen to some live music.


Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Lions and Lords...


Sorry I've been silent for longer than usual. No good excuses, just busy with things, plus trying hard to focus more on getting studio work done and spending less time on the computer. I'm guessing you all know what I mean.


Anyway, I wanted to share with you an interesting day I had earlier this week, where, amongst other amazing things, I got to look at some embroidery from the 18th century, which hadn't been seen for 40 odd years!

On Sunday, John and I drove down south - I was doing a talk on Monday morning to illustration and publishing undergraduates at Kingston University. I still mostly get booked to work with children, so I really enjoy the occasional events with adults. Here I am, strutting my stuff:


It went really well. Everyone was very interested and hung around for ages afterwards, asking questions - always a good sign. Then, when I was done, John and I took a train into London for two very unusual activities.


The first was at the Palace of Westminster. The husband of the Course Leader who booked me for the talk at Kingston, was Yeoman Usher at the Houses of Parliament. He met us at a side door, Black Rod's Gate, where we had to go through airport-style security, then he took us on a personal tour - a real honour. This is him, on the left, with the ceremonial mace, which we watched him carry later that afternoon, as they processed into the House of Lords to open business for the day:


It was fascinating to be guided through the maze of corridors deep in the building, to be shown all the important rooms and have the history and ceremonies explained. Every wall was lined with paintings like an art gallery, every ceiling was exquisitely decorated, in fact pretty much every surface was either intricate gilding, mosaics or carving. Unfortunately you can't take photos.

We were taken for lunch in the House of Lords restaurant (an opportunity for spotting several famous faces), then shown into a private viewing area in The House, to listen to the Lords questions and debates. It was so interesting, we stayed for about an hour and a half. I asked if I could sketch - unfortunately not, so nothing I can show you.

But that was not all! At 6pm we had an even more extraordinary honour - an appointment with Garter Principle Kings of Arms, at the Royal College of Arms. This is where new Peers of the Realm have their family's coat of arms researched, designed and archived. Each lord's heraldry is also hand embroidered onto ceremonial tabards, which was my connection and particular interest.


The College of Arms is not open to the public, but a group of 8 of us were offered this special opportunity. We were mainly Royal College of Art embroidery graduates, including course leader at Hampton Court's Royal School of Needlework, so I was honoured to be invited.


The Garter and his assistant had gone to great trouble. They had burrowed into the archives and chosen tabards for us to look at which ranged over 100s of years. Some were embroidered onto velvet, some on silk, some damask, depending on the person's importance. The newer ones gleamed with lions, horses and harps densely sewn in golden thread, but I liked the really old ones, where the colours were faded and the wear and tear added another set of textures:


I was struck by how contemporary the illustrated element of the heraldry was: the stylisation of the faces, the almost comical lions, the funkiness of the stitching. I took photos of many these wonderful characters from lots of the different tabards. It was really inspiring.



We spent about 90 minutes asking Garter questions and poring over all the tabards, which were laid out on every available surface in two wonderful old rooms, stuffed with huge, crumbly tomes, full of heraldry and genealogy. When we were done, Garter even gave us a glass of champagne, to thank us for our interest. How nice.



What an unusual and memorable day! Thank you so much to Alison Bavistock, for setting things up.

Friday, 27 October 2017

Creating a New Textiles Piece: Start to Finish


Having finished my coffee house piece, but with no particular plan in mind of what to do next, I have decided to go back to pure experimentation. This is always especially exciting, as it pulls on pure creativity, but it's also really quite challenging too. Where to start?

As it happened, I had a bit of a play around with tea and dye-splotting during my recent residency and produced a few pieces of background cotton, which I put aside for an occasion just like this. I started by pinning a couple of different colours of organza on, to break up the space and start a more interesting composition, then chose some initial thread colours:


I then played. I like the way blanket stitch can create interesting curves. I am also very into stitched crosses. The blocks of running-stitch were brought across from my coffee-house piece. I got inspiration for the large sweeping marks from one of the mark-making pieces I created ages ago. I still keep the pile of squares by my desk. They have been so useful, if ever I'm stuck.


I built it up, adding more sections of colour, to create more layers and give it depth, expanding the stitch-colours, trying new marks on top of what I'd already done. It was looking really interesting, but I felt it lacked something. It needed more powerful contrast, a bit of 'oomph'.


Over the last couple of weeks, I have been gradually going through rag-boxes that a couple of people gave me when I first started getting into textiles. I've been ironing what I want to keep, and sorting the bits and bobs into warm and cool colours, patterned and plain, so I can find things more easily. At the bottom of one box I found a tiny tangle of wonderfully lumpy wool. I was about to store it away. Then I placed it on the piece.


I have 'couched' in some wool before, on the first map piece I created, and was really pleased with the textural contrast it provided. This seemed like it was well worth trying...


I didn't overdo the couching, as I didn't want to flatten the wool's lumpiness, so I stitched just enough to keep it in place and to add a subtle glimmer of mustard thread, to tone down the white and help it 'belong'.


One final bit of work I felt it needed was a few stitching additions to the mustard stripes top left. I softened them into the piece by stitching across with some pale blue, which really did the trick and echoed the couching of the wool.


I am pretty sure it's done now. I'll live with it for a bit.

I am really pleased with the overall effect, but also with the way sections of it work, when you focus in on details. It's so hard to photograph this work - you can't really appreciate the layering and detailed stitching when you take a picture of the whole thing, especially with the larger pieces.

Hope you like it! Now... Tea-bags and wax...


Friday, 20 October 2017

'Costa Coffee', in Wool, Organza and Thread



Last time I talked about my textiles work, I said I would try to finish off the piece I started, while doing my Orchard Square residency, within a week. Well, that did indeed prove overly ambitious. It's not that it has taken over a week in actual sewing time, it's just that so many other things always crop up. 


I also did a little bit of unpicking and reworking. It's often the way: by the time I am nearing completion, I can see that areas I did early on are not quite right. In this case, I was unhappy with the weight of the stitching in certain key areas, like the crockery on the table top. It looks better now.




The main thing that is experimental about this piece has been the inclusion of coloured wool. I bought myself some felt-makers wool and played with different ways of sewing it into the piece. I started by using sashiko running stitch to anchor large areas of colour, to create a bold but soft-edged effect, a little like watercolour.


I anchored it very loosely for the writing on the wall. This was a complete experiment too, but ended up working really well as a contrast to the more controlled type above.


I also trapped smaller bits of wool under layers of organza. I love the almost smoky effect you can get, by keeping the wool very thin. You can achieve a very painterly mark by this means too, as with the ceiling light fitting, which I just wanted to suggest, rather then illustrate too literally.


This understatement of the various elements within the scene was important to me. Having moved away from representational pieces in recent months, I wanted to create playful semi-abstractions in the piece as much as was possible, while still allowing the overall effect to conjure the place and the atmosphere. You can see this in the reduction of the information which makes up this man and the way textures and colours flow through and past him:


Also with the other man's bag, which is about lines, texture and marks, rather than solid form, but is hopefully still readable in the context of its position by his chair:


In the original watercolour sketch the piece is based on, I painted the fridge at the back of the room, then a customer came and stood at it. I drew him in line only, over the top, to get the sense of his transience. I took this approach into the textile interpretation, keeping it pretty close to the sketch:


The finished piece is 47 x 39cm, but it will be bigger once I get it mounted up onto a stretcher. I am very pleased with how it has turned out. It's a good halfway-house between the more obviously representational pieces, like the church and the commuters, and the more recent map work.