Wednesday, 7 December 2016

As the Crow Flies



Exhibition Poster

It's fair to say I've been a bit remiss with my blogging recently. I've had lots to write about but I just haven't felt like it. There have been several quite big projects I've worked on and haven't blogged about and because I haven't written about them it put me off writing about other things until I had, which is a bit silly really but there you go.

Wire sculptures: Flight I and II

Flight II

Sculptures and drawings

Anyway, for the past few months I've been busy working on my first solo exhibition. This has been both really exciting and really stressful! I often find that my personal practice gets shunted to the bottom of the 'to do' list so having this exhibition has been a great opportunity to move it up the list and to spend some time in the studio working. The exhibition is at the visitor centre at RSPB Geltsdale, it's a lovely little gallery space with great light and as it is quite an irregularly shaped room there are lots of small wall sections, allowing me to break the work into 'mini exhibitions.' The reserve itself is also very beautiful and there are lots of good walks.

My Magpie triptych. From left to right: Curiosity, In the Shadows, Hail to the Thief

Detail: Curiosity

In the Shadows

Having this show has given me an opportunity to review my work and processes as well as to try out some new things and consolidate some existing ideas. I decided fairly early on to not attempt too dramatic a departure from what I'd been working on and so have focused on refining some of my ideas and techniques and developing current ways of working. It's also provided the perfect opportunity to build a coherent body of work, something I've been trying to do for a while.

Cyanotype pieces

I chose to focus my show on my crow pieces because this has been the main focus of my work for a long time now and this seemed like a good chance to bring it all together. The show is a mixture of drawings, textiles and sculpture.

Chough (applique and machine embroidery)

Rook (Paint and machine embroidery)

Jackdaw (paint, dye, print and machine embroidery)

I was really nervous about hanging the show, Although I'd planned it all out I couldn't be sure how it would all work together and what it would look like but I'm really happy. It came together better than I expected and I'm pleased with how all the pieces work together. There are of course always things that could be improved but overall I feel good about my show and I'm excited about it. I also feel that it's given me a confidence boost and a good incentive to keep going and move my work forwards.

Jay (fabric pastels and hand embroidery)

Crow (fabric markers, paint and hand embroidery)

Some practical notes: If you'd like to visit the exhibition it is free (although donations to the centre are gratefully received.) There is a free car park and the visitor centre (Stagsike Cottage) is about 1 mile walk along a reasonable track from the car park. You can park up at the centre by special arrangement, please contact them for details.

View from the visitor centre

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Life Drawing 15.11.16


Pen, continuous line

As often happens on Life Drawing days I had a quite stressful time at work and so really didn't feel like dragging myself out again but, as usual, I was glad that I did. I've written before about how the personality of the model and the artists all affect the atmosphere of the sessions and this session was a good example of that.

Pen, continuous line 
Pen, continuous line

Pen, continuous line

Our model is very politically minded and it was interesting how over the course of the session we ended up with a bit of a narrative through the poses; one of her first poses was a head in hands despair type pose and she then moved through curled up hiding poses to more open, calm poses and finally quite a strident action pose. This prompted quite a lot of conversations and laughs and also some interesting discussions about whether you could use Life Drawing as a political statement. It also highlights one of the reasons I believe Life Drawing is both an exciting and important part of any artists practice; because you are working with another human being there is always the possibility of something unexpected happening and of being influenced in ways you may not have anticipated.

Pen, continuous line

Pen, continuous line

Pen, continuous line

Pen, continuous line

I wrote last time that providing poses for the model made me think about what interests me about drawing the human body. When our model asked if we had any preferences I asked for something with a bit of twist which backfired somewhat as I ended up with some extremely challenging foreshortening! However, it was a good technical challenge and whilst I didn't quite manage to get it right it did stretch me and that's the only way to improve.

Extreme foreshortening: Blind Drawing

Blind drawing

Pen, continuous line

Pen

I was pleased with my drawing this evening. I set out just to draw and enjoy the process so this helped me relax and not worry about the outcome which in turn meant that my drawing was quite free and probably better that if I'd been focusing really hard. I did a lot of blind drawing and I'm surprised at how accurate these are becoming, I like the odd proportions that sometimes emerge but also the fact that generally they are recognisable as the pose set. 

Pen, continuous line


Sunday, 13 November 2016

Somme Commemoration Quilt


Children looking at the unfurled quilt, 11th November 2016
(Photo from Cumbria's Museum of Military Life)

Earlier in the year I was commissioned by Cumbria's Museum of Military Life to make a simple crochet and knitting pattern for a poppy for an installation they were planning as part of their commemorations for the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. The poppies have been displayed from the windows of the museum building, each month more poppies have been added to the display, corresponding with the number of men who died each month in the Somme 100 years ago.


Somme Poppy banners, Cumbria's Museum of Military Life 2016

Another aspect of the museums commemorations has been to commission Prism Arts to create a community quilt. The aim was to work with schools and community groups from areas that recruited for the Border Regiment (which Cumbria's Museum of Military Life represents.) Making a community quilt is often a good way to work with multiple groups as it lends itself to being made in sections (if you make a patchwork or pieced quilt, obviously.) 


Participants ranged in age from 3 to those in their 80's

Patches from summer drop in workshop

Patches from summer drop in workshop

The museum did originally suggest that perhaps a patch for each fallen soldier from the Border Regiment could be made, as that would have been in the region of 1700 patches (and I knew I'd be the one sewing it together) I said maybe that wasn't the best way! The other issue with having a set number of patches is that, especially with community groups, you never know how many participants you will get. My feeling was that this project was about remembrance rather than numbers so I wanted to come up with a concept that prioritised this aspect.


Patches from Helena Thompson Museum Craft Group

Patches from Helena Thompson Museum Craft Group

Patches from Helena Thompson Museum Craft Group

During the First World War there was a 'recruitment line' from Carlisle to the West which more or less follows the route of the A595. The schools and groups we've worked with are all roughly along this route and I thought that rather than making a traditional blanket shaped quilt it would be interesting to do something different. I was also thinking about lists of names and roll calls and came up with the idea of making the quilt in a long thin strip that could be rolled and indeed unrolled. 


Patch from Prism Arts Studio Arts group

My patch

The next issue was imagery for the patches. As the museum had already done a poppy installation I didn't really want to go down that route so after discussion with the other Prism artists we decided that anything to do with the Somme could form the imagery. We put together a set of images (animals, comforts for the troops, insignia) avoiding weaponry and decided to limit the palette to the colours of the Border Regiment so that the finished patches would have some coherence. 



Patches from Tullie Textiles

Patches from Tullie Textiles

Whilst researching for this project I cam across the 'Christmas tins' that Princess Mary had sent out to each of the troops. Carlisle has a history of metal box making and I thought the tins would be an ideal size for each patch (12.5 x 8.5 cm.) As it turned out this was a bit small so after the first workshop we made the patches bigger (15 x 10 cm.) Although this size lacked the conceptual link it was much more practical! 


St. Catherine's RC School, Penrith


St. Catherine's RC School, Penrith

St. Catherine's RC School, Penrith

We worked with five schools, two community craft groups, two of Prism Art's groups and we ran a drop-in session at the museum. I thoroughly enjoyed the workshops, I was so impressed with how much thought, care and effort every participant put in. One of the wonderful things about textiles is that they are familiar and non-threatening, this means that whilst working with them people feel relaxed and comfortable and are able to talk about really quite difficult topics. We found this time and again on the workshops, alongside comments such as "this is so relaxing" we were able to talk about conflict, loss and sacrifice. I think we also inspired several of the children to take up sewing, I heard more than one of the students saying they were going to ask for a sewing kit for Christmas!

Brook Street School, Carlisle

Brook Street School, Carlisle

Brook Street School, Carlisle

The schools workshops were really interesting, we were working with Year 6 students mostly (and some Year 5's in the smaller schools) and it was heartening to see how thoughtful they were about the whole project. We had deliberately not included any weaponry in the image packs but even so I was pleased at how little emphasis there was on the mechanics of war. Discussion focused much more on the soldiers and the animals! For the school workshops parents were invited to join their children and when this happened it was lovely to see them working alongside each other. The Somme still looms large in our collective consciousness and I found it interesting how everyone reacted to the project with great respect.

Victoria Juniors School, Workington

Victoria Juniors School, Workington

Victoria Juniors School, Workington

Once all the workshops had taken place it was time to construct the quilt. I had asked each artist to sew the patches from each workshop together so that I would have several strips of patches to work with. I backed the strips of patches with khaki felt to represent the uniforms of the soldiers and to tie it in with the soldier puppet that lead artist at Prism Arts Ali McCaw  had also been commissioned to make.


Original embroidered postcards from WWI, from the collection of Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery

Original embroidered postcards from WWI, from the collection of Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery

Original embroidered postcards from WWI, from the collection of Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery
We had 353 patches, which when all sewn together created a strip 46 metres long. It was very hard physical work manipulating all that fabric, we tend to think of textiles as a very gentle art but actually it can be very physical and demanding. I couldn't lift my arms above my head for two days after making this piece! I constructed the piece roughly along the route of the A595, so that the patches from Carlisle workshops were at one end followed by Penrith, followed by Keswick, then Cockermouth, Workington and Distington at the far end. As I was rolling up the piece it struck me that not only was it like a roll call but also a bedding roll which was a connection I hadn't thought of before but that worked well.

Making the quilt

Making the quilt

Making the quilt

As part of the Remembrance Day events at Cumbria's Museum of Military Life the quilt was unfurled. All the schools were there performing songs they'd written with Prism Arts artist Mark Newport and Prism Arts Studio Theatre company performed part of their 'Tales of a Long Conflict' production. After the performances they were able to walk the length of the quilt, searching out their patches. The quilt will now tour each of the schools before coming to live at Cumbria's Museum of Military Life. This has been a very demanding project to work on but has also been very rewarding. The time, effort and thought that participants have put into their patches has been inspiring and I feel proud to have been part of this project. I think it is a very fitting way to remember the men who fought in the Somme 100 years ago.

The quilt rolled up

To see more pictures you can look at my Flickr album, Somme 100.