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Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Natural Dyeing and thoughts on permanence...

Silk bundle with leaves and rusty nails being unwrapped

It's been a while since I last posted, I've had lots on as usual and haven't had much time for writing. I've not had a lot of time to experiment either recently which is quite frustrating as I have a head full of ideas. However, I have been doing a little bit of playing around with natural dyeing.

Making a dye bundle

Making a dye bundle

Natural dyeing has become an increasingly important part of my practice over the past 18 months or so and the more I do the more intrigued I become. There are many reasons I enjoy it; it's a slow process forcing you to take time and consider what you're doing, the resulting colours have a lustre and subtlety lacking in fabric dyed with synthetic dyes and I enjoy going out and collecting materials to dye with, I really appreciate the connection with the natural world. As we become increasingly aware of the damage our actions and the materials we produce cause to our planet I find I want more and more to work with natural resources in a sustainable way. 

Steaming bundles

Steamed bundle 'resting'

Heuchera and iron on silk

One of the other things I really like about natural dyeing is the unpredictability both of the results you are likely to achieve and also the unpredictability of how the colours will change. Whilst some colours are fast and the use of mordants can improve fastness there are so many other factors that can influence the results and their longevity. As a species we have permanently scarred our environment, everywhere there is the trace of our actions. I'm finding that I want my work to have the opposite effect, to fade gently back in to the landscape.

Cochineal on silk and cotton

Cochineal on wool, cotton and linen

This is, of course, somewhat problematic as making my work impermanent effectively makes it un-collectable and difficult to sell as when people buy art they want to buy something that will last (not unreasonably.) Textiles have always been difficult to conserve, being sensitive to light, temperature and moisture much more than other materials so curators of textiles and textile art are rightly concerned with how a fabric has been treated before it comes in to their care and how that will effect its future. As always there is a balance to be found, I want to be able to sell my work and I do want it to last, just not forever and when it does crumble and disintegrate (hopefully many many years from now, long after I've crumbled and disintegrated) I want it to leave no harmful traces. 

Cochineal on silk

Cochineal and iron on wool, linen, silk and cotton

The work I am making at the moment uses mostly naturally dyed fabrics. Over time these will fade and change slightly but I think this is part of their beauty, they will not lose their colour it will simply alter. I hope that this can be appreciated along with the recognition that the creation of the work had very little environmental impact. 

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Owl Moon

Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

Sometimes I have an idea for a piece of work and I get started and make it right away. More often though it takes a long time (years sometimes) for an idea to become a reality. On our first night in Islay on holiday three years ago we were lucky enough to get very close to a Tawny Owl. It swooped down and landed on a fence post right in front of us as we gingerly drove down a track to what we hoped was our accommodation for the week. It wasn't terribly impressed with us stopping to admire it but the experience stayed with me and since that moment I've been wanting to make a piece about that owl.

Tawny Owl, Islay 2015

Layering up fabrics

Layering up fabrics

As much as I love owls, I've resisted making any pieces with owls for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I only really make work about birds I've seen and been able to observe properly as I want my work to capture a bit of their spirit and to do that I have to get to know them. It's hard to observe owls in the wild as they mostly come out at night and they're very stealthy! Secondly, owls are very popular (I own many owl embellished items myself) and I didn't want to fall into the trap of making a 'cute' owl.

Building up the owl, using my drawing as a template and photograph as reference

Rust dyed silk for owl wings

Starting to add machine embroidery

For our exhibition 'Wingspan' at RSPB Geltsdale Visitor Centre, Mr. Stitches has written a poem about an owl hunting, called Owl Moon. This poem captures the wildness and skill of the owl and inspired me to finally get around to making my owl piece. As I mentioned, the idea for the piece had been in my head for some time so Nick's poem was just what I needed to kick start the process.

Detail: Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

Detail: Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

Detail: Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

I'd found some interesting metallic fabric on a trip to Bombay Stores in Bradford and I knew that's what I wanted to use for the moon. I also knew that I didn't want it to be too shiny so I experimented with layering up pieces of silk organza that I'd dyed with logwood, giving a beautiful deep purple colour. I also used some indigo dyed organza and used some indigo dyed linen as a base as I felt the piece needed a more solid ground than the organza. For the owl I used pieces of organza that I'd dyed with rusty pins as it had just the right texture and patterning for an owls wing.

Detail: Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

Like a lot of my work this piece was built up in layers. As always, I started by drawing and sketching my ideas before I started to play around with layering up fabrics. Sometimes the pieces of fabric come together really quickly and other times I spend a long time arranging and re-arranging until I'm happy. I used running stitch and star stitch to secure the background layers and chose to leave a lot of raw edges as I think this emphasises the wildness of the subject.

Detail: Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

Detail: Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

I then moved on to making the owl. Again working in layers I built up pieces of rust dyed organza, using my drawings as a template to cut out specific areas such as the wing feathers. I then worked several layers of machine embroidery in various shades of thread to build up the pattern and texture of the feathers.

Detail: Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

Detail: Owl Moon, 2018
Hand and machine embroidery on metallic fabric and naturally dyed silk and linen

I'm really pleased with how this piece has worked out, I think that it is starting to marry together different parts of my practice;  the work I've been doing on my feather banners, my bird portraits and drawings and my increasing interest in and experiments with natural dyeing. For me this piece feels like the start of something, as well as the resolution of an idea that I've had in my mind for a long time.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Life Drawing 20.2.18


Continuous line

Usually it seems like no time at all between sessions but I did feel like we'd had quite a big break this time as it was 6 weeks rather than the usual 4 as I'd had to shift the dates around. As usual I was tired from a busy day at work but I was also looking forward to drawing.

Hand

Hand

Feet

It always interests me how the atmosphere changes depending on who turns up. For this session I was the only female which was unusual as normally there is a mix. I found that the atmosphere was more intense than normal, but that could have been the personalities present as much as anything else. This change in dynamic is one of the reasons I like the Life Drawing sessions, it alters each time and so changes my drawings too.

Blind drawing

Blind drawing

Blind drawing: faces

Although I have mostly been keeping up with my daily drawing practice I felt really rusty for this session and wasn't particularly happy with any of my drawings. However, I enjoyed the discipline of being there and drawing and working through the disappointment with my sketches. I really enjoyed 'blind' drawing too, I've found this really helps me when I'm struggling with a pose as it makes me really focus on the pose rather than the drawing and I notice things I might otherwise miss.

Blind drawing

Drawing with my non dominant hand

Continuous line

Interestingly, looking back on the drawings after a week or so when I came to photograph them I was a lot happier with them and there are some that I think are actually quite good. One of the poses meant that I had some extreme foreshortening to contend with but I'm pleased with how some of the sketches from this pose have worked out.

Extreme foreshortening 

Extreme foreshortening 

Extreme foreshortening 

I was very impressed with some of the charcoal studies some of the other artists had done and I think that next session I might have a go with charcoal, it's been a while but it might be good to break out of my pen habit and try something different.

Hands

Continuous line

Continuous line

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Wingspan: An Exhibition of Art and Poetry


I'm really excited to be exhibiting at the RSPB Geltsdale Visitor Centre again. In the winter of 2016/17 I had my show 'As the Crow Flies' there and it was a really important moment for me. 'As the Crow Flies' proved popular with visitors and I was delighted to be asked back. It's a lovely space to exhibit, very light and quirky and set in a beautiful location.

Stagsike Cottage

Stagsike Cottage

Mr. Stitches and an empty gallery

My partner, Mr. Stitches aka Nick Robinson, is a writer and as I'd be dragging him out bird-watching with me he'd been writing some poems inspired by birds and the nature reserves we visited. I asked him if he'd like to do an exhibition with me; my artwork and his poems as we are both inspired by the beautiful and wild places in Scotland and Northern England that we visit. He thought this was a good idea and so we went for it.

Exhibition view

Exhibition view

Exhibition view

I'm really pleased with the exhibition, I've made some new pieces and there's more colour than in a lot of my previous work. As I've been exploring natural dyeing recently a lot of these experiments have made their way into my pieces and are an important part of how my work is evolving. More and more I'm interested in our connection and relationship with the natural world and I want to explore this in my pieces.

Exhibition view

Exhibition view

Exhibition view

Nick explores some similar themes in his poems and I think that his poems and my pieces complement each other well. It's been great working together on this project and I think we've inspired each other. I'd had the idea for Owl Moon in my head for a long time but when Nick wrote his poem 'Owl Moon' I finally had the incentive I needed to make the piece.

Owl Moon, 2018

Edge, 2017

Little Egret, 2018

Little Egret (detail) 2018

We've also made a book to go with the exhibition. This has more of Nick's poems and illustrations and some of my artwork in. It's available to buy through blurb or we have a few copies for sale at the exhibition.

Our book

Our exhibition is on until 21st May 2018. If you'd like to visit it is free (but all donations to the RSPB are gratefully received.) The car park is about a mile from the visitor centre at Stagsike Cottage but it's a lovely walk. You can park up at the centre if necessary, please contact them to arrange this in advance (geltsdale@rspb.org.uk or call 01697 746717.) If you visit I'd love to hear what you think so do please get in touch.