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 ( or call 01697 746717.) If you visit I'd love to hear what you think so do please get in touch.

Saturday, 10 February 2018

Embellishing Printed Fabric: Workshop for Dumfries and District Embroiderers Guild

Fantasy Broccoli: Work in progress
Fabric markers and hand stitch on printed fabric by a member of Dumfries and District Embroiderers Guild

I get lots of workshop bookings and running workshops is one of my favourite parts of my practice. Usually I'm booked up 3-6 months in advance and most bookings come with that kind of notice. Some groups work much further in advance, planning their schedules a year or two ahead so sometimes I take bookings for a couple of years down the line, it always seems so far away when I take the booking but it always comes around sooner than I think! This was the case with a recent workshop for the fabulous Dumfries and District Embroiderers Guild

Setting up

Adding colour

Creating individual designs

When I took the booking back in 2016 I was running my 'Embellishing Printed Fabrics' workshop quite often; I find that I tend to run the same workshop several times in a short space of time and then it swaps to a different workshop. It was really good to come back to running this workshop after a bit of a break (I only ran it once last year) as it's a very relaxing workshop and offers a good opportunity to experiment and try out new stitches and colour combinations. 

Artistic license onion!

Choosing threads

Using home made stencils

I developed this workshop as I found that a lot of people wanted to do hand embroidery and stitching but weren't confident drawing or creating designs and this was holding them back. I had some lovely black and white printed fabric from Ikea so I started using fabric markers and pastels to 'colour in' the design and use this as a starting point for stitching. It's a great way to practice stitching and is a lovely mindful activity; it involves colouring in and stitching both of which have proven therapeutic benefits. 

Choosing colours

Work in progress

Work in progress

I always feel a little nervous running workshops for Embroiderers Guild groups; many of the members have far more skill and experience than me and it can be a bit intimidating. What I can offer though is a different way of approaching things and hopefully some new ideas and inspiration, not to mention my impressive printed fabric stash. It was great working with the Dumfries and District Embroiderers Guild, they were so friendly and welcoming and everyone was very positive and enthusiastic. It was lovely working with a group who are so open to new ideas and trying things and who have so much going on. I was asked to join the branch and if it wasn't for the fact that it clashes with my work at The Heathlands Project I'd have definitely taken them up on the offer! 

Work in progress

Work in progress

Work in progress

As always when running my workshops one of the most inspiring things is seeing the different ways people interpret the same idea. Everyone did something a bit different and I was pleased that I could provide that starting point and hopefully a bit of creative advice and inspiration along the way. One of the lovely things about hand embroidery is that because it is quite a slow process it allows time for conversations and thoughts to flow, often along quite unexpected lines!

Work in progress

Work in progress

Work in progress

I finished the day tired but full of positivity and enthusiasm (and delicious carrot and bean soup from Cafe Hubbub at Gracefield Arts Centre.) The group has an exhibition coming up along with The Dumfries and Galloway Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers and the Solway Quilters. The show is called 'Hanging by a Thread' and runs from 14th April-12th May at Gracefield Arts Centre, I'm looking forward to visiting. 

Work in progress

Work in progress

Work in progress

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The January Challenge

Weird Auto-Collage of The January Challenge images

In my 'end of year' blog post I wrote about the Instagram challenges I'd taken on and how I'd found it a good way of keeping up with a regular creative practice. With this in mind I decided that I'd do 64 Million Artists 'The January Challenge' to kick off 2018. The basic premise is that everybody is creative (something I believe very strongly) and the challenge gives you a prompt/small task everyday to get you thinking and creating. I'm also trying to keep up my daily drawing (so far, so good) so I was hoping that the two might tie in together quite nicely. 

Day 25: Potion
Solar Dye Jar

Day 28: No Place like Home

The challenges were not at all like I expected, I had been expecting more of an artistic challenge but many of the challenges were much more along the creative/try something new line. This is not a bad thing, it just wasn't quite what I expected. Some of the challenges I really didn't enjoy; mainly the ones to do with dancing and noise but what I did like is that all of them made me think. I've enjoyed having a 'focus' each day as often it's been something I wouldn't have come up with myself. I didn't share all of the challenges but I did do them all, even the ones I didn't like. Doing the challenge is definitely good for mindfulness and I think there are a lot of things I've seen and learnt from this challenge that I'll continue to think about and maybe develop going forward. 

Day 10: Paper

Day 14: Sink or Swim
Boat made from baking parchment and yarn
Day 24: Quote

Not surprisingly the challenges I enjoyed most were the drawing and making challenges. I particularly enjoyed Day 19: Over my Shoulder challenge which was to draw with your non-dominant hand what you could see over your right shoulder. I really liked this as it made me draw things I wouldn't normally and pushed my drawing practice. I also really liked Day 10 which was to create something from a sheet of paper. I twisted and wrapped a piece of A4 paper to make a little bird, something I've been meaning to experiment with for a while but not got around to so it was nice to have that incentive.

Day 19: Over my Shoulder

Day 2: Five faces in five minutes
Five 'blind' self portraits

Day 20: Advert

I also surprised myself by really enjoying the writing challenges. I like writing and spend quite a lot of time doing it but I rarely do any 'creative' writing. I often write things in my head but I never get them onto paper so I enjoyed the challenges as it gave me a chance to do this. I really enjoyed the challenges involving poetry, as I created 'accidental' poetry and I really love the random, unpredictable nature of the process. For instance, for Day 12 I created a poem using lines from the books by my bed. I chose a line from page 64 (for 64 million artists) and then pages 12,1,20 and 18 to make up the date. The resulting poem was mostly nonsensical but I enjoyed it! 

Day 12: Our Poem

Abominable is described,
Wearing a pretty painful glove
And over every living thing
Dare to suggest
The most important rule

Day 23: Blackout Poetry
Page from a gardening magazine

One of the things that I have enjoyed most about the challenge is seeing how other people have approached things. Part of the aim of the challenge is to share what you do and I've been really inspired by seeing how differently people approach things and I've enjoyed being part of the community, sharing ideas and inspiration and quite a lot of humour. I've enjoyed taking part in this challenge but I must admit that I'm pleased it's finished! I'm looking forward to keeping up with making a little creative time for myself each day but I'm also looking forward to focusing more on my drawing again.

Day 26: Spirit Animal

Day 16: Story
The light fades fast, the sunset unseen behind dense banks of cloud drifting at speed across the wide sky. Still she sits, waiting patiently, a solid still point in a spinning world.
Darkness gathers but street lights and headlamps keep it at bay. Waiting still, the world slows a little as curtains close and doors shut.

Then the turn of the key in the lock, the sound she has been waiting for. Slowly, carefully, she gets up and stretches out, ready to greet him. They have stories to share and the world keeps turning.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Machine Embroidery Workshop at The Eden Workshop: January 2018

Work in progress during the workshop

Last year I ran a couple of Machine Embroidery and Applique workshops at the lovely Eden Workshop in Plumpton, just outside Penrith. It's a lovely place, Jane has made it feel really welcoming and cosy but the work space is light and airy at the same time. I like running workshops here as it has a very friendly, relaxed atmosphere and Jane makes sure everyone is well looked after. She runs a whole range of workshops so if you're looking to try a new craft or art technique I'd recommend you have a look at her website. 

The view when I arrived

About half an hour later the snow started

I'd been a little bit nervous in the morning as the weather forecast wasn't great and driving isn't my favourite thing but I arrived safely and was enjoying a nice cup of coffee when the snow started coming down. The day before I had been moaning because we almost never get snow in Carlisle and I love snow, unless I have to drive in it so it's true what they say; be careful what you wish for! Fortunately everyone arrived safely and by the time the workshop finished there was barely a trace of snow but at one point it really was coming down so thick and fast you could barely see.  

Practising embroidery with the sewing machine

Creative mess
My trusty Bernina 

Despite the challenging weather first thing we had a productive and enjoyable day. The workshop is based around the way I create my bird portraits and uses simple applique and machine embroidery to build up an image. It's a great way to get to know your sewing machine and we spent most of the morning practising using the machine as a drawing tool. I always find this bit of the workshop really interesting as I like seeing how different machines cope and figuring out how to adjust them if they're not behaving. The best machines for this type of embroidery are the really basic mechanical models, the fancy computerised ones have so many different possible adjustments that they usually take the longest to get set up and performing. I use my trusty Bernina that my Granny gave me, it's solid and weighs a ton and is a great deal older than me but stitches beautifully! 

Work in progress

Work in progress

Work in progress

Once everyone was reasonably confident with embroidering with their machines we started to create our designs. This bit is really fun as you can play around with different fabrics to get the effect you want. I usually just choose one or two sections to applique and use embroidery to add detail and bring all the parts of my design together. I had several templates for people to use and one person had brought her own design as she wanted to create a Staffie. We used fusible webbing to hold the appliqued fabric in place as it makes the stitching so much easier. Once all the fabric had been bonded in place it was time to start stitching! 

Work in progress

Work in progress

Almost finished

This is the part where peoples individual creativity really has a chance to shine. Even when people use the same templates they always come out differently as each person has their way of putting things together and stitching is a bit like hand writing-everyone's is a bit different. I'm always so impressed with what people create, I love that I can show people something and they can take it and make it their own, creating something unique to them. One of the people on the workshop today had done the same course with me last year but since then had got a new machine so wanted to have another go. As with everyone on the course it was great to see her confidence grow throughout the day and I hope everyone went away pleased with what they'd created and keen to carry on.

Finished piece

Finished piece
Finished piece (detail)