Sunday, 17 September 2017

Circles and Spirals: Round and round we go

Stitched spirals; work in progress

My last couple of posts have been going into a bit more depth about my work; how it's created and some of the reasons and meanings behind it. Continuing that theme this post is vaguely about recurring motifs, specifically circles. Throughout human history and across cultures there are certain images, ideas and motifs that regularly recur, albeit in different forms. One example is spirals which are found decorating the artefacts of many civilisations across the millennia. The spiral is frequently seen as a symbol of life and evolution, I like this symbolism and find I can relate it to my own life and experiences.

Stitched limpet shell sample, Westray 2017

Stitched limpet shell sample, Westray 2017

Stitched limpet shell sample, Westray 2017

I've always been drawn (literally and metaphorically) to circles and spirals. At school my books were covered in spiralling patterns, expanding to fill every available space. These shapes and forms have continued to appear in my doodles, drawings and textile work sometimes as background pattern, sometimes as the form of the work itself, such as my 'nests.'

Sketchbook page, Westray 2017

Sketchbook page, Westray 2017

Sketchbook page, Westray 2017

Sketchbook page, Orkney 2017

When we were away in Orkney earlier this year we visited several museums and I found myself repeatedly drawn most towards the Pictish artefacts and some of the earlier Viking pieces. One of the recurring motifs was small circles which appeared on all sorts of artefacts including pots and combs. Similarly the carved stones and rocks with circular and spiralling patterns intrigued me. There are many good examples in Orkney although they are also found across Britain.

Fly to the Sky (Dusk)
Stitched textile banner 2017

Stitched spirals; work in progress

In my current work these spirals and circles continue to make an appearance. I've been working a lot on hand stitched banners; small scale textile pieces composed of hand dyed fabrics, threads and feathers. These banners are held together with meandering, often spiralling lines of running stitch which represent our journeys, both physical journeys and emotional/spiritual journeys.

Fly me to the Sky
Cyanotype and hand embroidery on cotton 2017

Circles to the Sky
Pen on paper 2017

Sky Feather Collar; work in progress.

Continuing with the feather theme I've also been working on a series of drawings and textile pieces based around feathers in circular formations which relate to collars and capes. The druids, amongst others, believed that birds had a direct connection to the heavens and the spirit world and wore capes and cloaks made from feathers in order to channel the birds spirit and to be able to transcend to the heavens. This is something I've been exploring in various ways and has led to some of the pieces I'm most pleased with.

Felted Nests, 2017

Felted Nests, 2017

Felted Nests, 2017

I've also been working on small felted vessels, nest-like forms that I want to explore further. I have an exhibition opening at Farfield Mill on 5th October which I'm really excited about but which has meant a certain amount of my focus has been on completing pieces and getting organised rather than exploring new ideas. Once the show is up I'm looking forward to developing the felted nests a bit further and possibly working more with hand made paper.

Saturday, 2 September 2017

Sunshine and Feathers: Cyanotypes

Cyanotypes on watercolour paper drying outside

Last year I did a little bit of experimenting with cyanotypes; mixing the chemicals myself and preparing the paper and fabric for printing. I really enjoyed the process and the results and a couple of the pieces I made I showed in my exhibition 'As the Crow Flies' at RSPB Geltsdale. I've got another exhibition coming up in October at Farlfield Mill and I really wanted to make some more sun prints for it, carrying on some of the ideas I'd been looking at last year.

Cyanotype on watercolour paper

Cyanotype on watercolour paper

Cyanotype on watercolour paper

During the summer in Cumbria it doesn't really get properly dark, at least not until very late. To prepare the solutions and fabrics/papers for cyanotype printing you need darkness as the solution is light reactive. This had been causing me a bit of trouble as our house is very light and our curtains are pretty but not that effective at keeping out all the light! However, I was lying in the bath the other night and noticed that it was actually getting quite dark (this was about 9.30 pm.) I was seized by the urge to create some fabrics ready for cyanotype printing. I got out of the bath, closed all the curtains in my studio and began mixing chemicals (in a health and safety conscious manner of course.)

Preparing the chemicals

Preparing the materials

Preparing the solutions isn't that hard, it just requires a bit of careful measuring and mixing. Painting the prepared solution onto the paper and fabric is also not that hard (however, I was now starting to lose my earlier enthusiasm and wish I'd gone to bed instead!) What is a challenge in our lovely light infused house is keeping the fabric in the dark so that it can dry properly. Using a combination of a fan and getting up at silly o'clock to check on the drying progress I managed to get most of my prepared materials dry and packed away before the sun came up.

In the sunshine

In the sunshine

In the (mostly) sunshine

The next step is to wait for a sunny day. Of course it is usually very sunny in Cumbria but as with all things when you really want it to be sunny it rarely is. I was working in the studio on some embroideries and checking the weather; which was decidedly cloudy and threatening to rain but there were sunny spells. I reached a point where I couldn't carry on with the piece I was working on (I'd run out of fusible webbing) so was feeling a bit irritable and fed up. I decided to risk having a go at doing some sun printing. I closed the studio curtains again and blacked out the kitchen window, gathered my feathers and started arranging feathers onto my prepared fabrics and papers. This all had to take place in the dark so I didn't activate the cyanotype chemicals.

Before rinsing

Rinsing

Rinsing

I then headed outside and let the magic begin! I used glass to weight the feathers down as being feathers they're very light and liable to blow away otherwise. I love watching the chemicals that I've painted onto the paper or fabric reacting with the light. The feathers block out the light and this is what creates the print, it is interesting using patterned feathers as different colours allow different amounts of light through so the chemicals react to a greater or lesser extent, which shows up in the final print. As it turned out the sun continued to shine brightly, allowing me to print all of my prepared materials and the clouds drifted off elsewhere.

Experimenting with splashing before rinsing

Resulting print

When I think the print is fully reacted I cover it up and take it inside (where it's dark) to 'set' it. I carefully remove the feathers and wash the print in water to remove the excess chemicals. At this point the classic blue and white emerges. When printing on silk you can hardly see the print until you rinse it when it seems to appear out of nowhere. I love this part of the process, seeing a print emerge and judging whether it was a good print or not so good. I also experimented with splashing water on some of them before rinsing, a technique I'd seen used by H Lisa Solon on Instagram.

video

I was really pleased with some of the prints I produced, especially some of the ones on paper and a big print on cotton that I'd been planning for some time. There were casualties, I'd tried printing on tracing paper which was very effective but unfortunately I was a bit rough during the rinsing stages and it all fell apart. I'll have another go next time!

The remains of a cyanotype print on tracing paper

Cyanotype on watercolour paper

Cyanotype on watercolour paper

Cyanotype on silk

Much of my work at the moment is about the sky in the sense that I'm interested in the human desire to transcend and to our tendency to look skywards for inspiration. The feathers I use represent birds which in turn represent us being able to fly up to the next level. Cyanotypes suit these ideas well as they have the blue of the sky and require the sun to create them. Mr. Stitches said that my big print on cotton reminded him of a witch doctors costume which I was really pleased about as this is kind of what I'm aiming for, a shamanistic approach to exploring our need to look beyond what we have and where we are.

Cyanotype on cotton: Exposing

Cyanotype on cotton

Adding stitch

I've started stitching into some of the prints already and I'm looking forward to showing them at Farfield mill. I'm using gold thread to represent the gold of the sun and red to represent blood/life.

Cyanotypes on silk with hand embroidery

Cyanotype on silk with hand embroidery

Cyanotype on silk with hand embroidery

Cyanotype on silk with hand embroidery

Friday, 25 August 2017

Feather Banners: Journeys, Connections and Meanings

Flow: Connect 2016
Indigo dyed fabrics and threads, feathers, beads, hand stitch

Last year I made a piece of work called 'Flow:Connect' which I exhibited as part of Prism Arts C-Art exhibition and which was also on show as part of 'Random Acts of Art' at Gallery Artemis earlier this year. It's a small textile banner, hand stitched and embellished with beads and feathers. The piece explores the idea of everything being interconnected and a journey. This was an important piece for me as it gave me a new way of working and over the course of this year I've been exploring and developing these ideas and techniques.

Experimenting with layouts

Experimenting with layouts

Starting to stitch

As I wrote in my last post the natural world and our connection to it has been increasingly important in my work and in my life generally and it's something I've been thinking about a lot and exploring in these pieces. I've been doing a lot of natural dyeing and I've started incorporating these fabrics into my work, adding another layer of connection. The colours achieved by using natural dyes rather than synthetic dyes are much more subtle and variable and I like the slightly unpredictable nature of using natural materials.

Work in progress (on the train!)

Tea and threads

Work in progress

All of the banner pieces incorporate feathers, most of which I have collected (another connection to the journeys I make.) As my work is developing I'm also developing my own set of meanings for the materials I use. Feathers are signifies for birds which in turn represent us or more specifically our spiritual selves and our desire to transcend and move up to the 'next level.' Throughout human history people have tried to find out what (if anything) lies beyond our physical world and still today we are always pushing the boundaries and trying to find out more. Birds have often been used to represent the soul, their ability to fly connecting them to the sky and the heavens (in many religions, cultures and philosophies the 'next level' is above us in the skies.) I'm fascinated by this idea and our desire to move upwards and I'm intrigued by the idea of a spiritual self; this is one of the things I am exploring in these feather banners.

Of the Earth 2017
Naturally dyed fabrics, feathers, hand stitch, twig

I've shied away from writing about this element of my work before as I've worried that by talking about the spiritual I will put people off. However, I have decided to have the courage of my convictions and one of the great things about art is that it doesn't matter if it means different things to different people; it's not important that other people see (or don't see) the meanings as I do.

Fly to the Sky (Dusk) 2017
Naturally dyed fabrics and threads, silk paper, feathers, hand stitch

Fly to the Sky (Dusk)
Detail

Fly to the Sky (Dusk)
Detail

The different elements of the banners are held together with hand stitch, mostly running, feather, fly and cross stitch. The stitched lines represent the lines of our journeys, both physical and spiritual, and join up all the different layers, connecting the whole piece together. Because they are hand stitched it's very time consuming to make these banners but that's also one of the things I like about them. Working on them forces me to slow down and gives me time to contemplate what they mean to me and what they might mean to others.

Work in progress

Work in progress

Work in progress

I will be exhibiting my work at Farfield Mill later this year along with artist Daniel Cooper and I'm hoping that these banners will form a significant element of my part of the exhibition. Details to follow!

Ready to Fly 2017
Indigo dyed fabrics and threads, feathers, beads, hand stitch

Ready to Fly (detail)