Sunday, 17 July 2016

Vikings! Weaving based adventures

Weaving

One of Prism Arts big projects this year is a project exploring our Viking heritage in West Cumbria. Funded by the Heritage Lottery and working with Studio Theatre West the project has involved researching dialect, landscape, warfare, textiles and many other aspects of Viking life. There have also been lots of research visits, including a trip to the Isle of Man.

Inspiration from the Isle of Man

Inspiration from the Isle of Man

Inspiration from the Isle of Man

I have been involved in the project in a small way looking at textiles and taking part in the Isle of Man trip. I've really enjoyed working on this project, it's given me different avenues to research that I wouldn't have necessarily come across otherwise.

Inspiration from the Isle of Man

Inspiration from the Isle of Man

Inspiration from the Isle of Man

During my first session on this project a Viking reenactor visited to demonstrate some natural dyeing techniques the Vikings would have used. Natural dyeing is something I've been interested in for a long time and it was really interesting to hear about different processes and dye stuffs. I think that this is an area of my personal practice I would really like to develop more so I enjoyed the session and it gave me some new avenues to explore. Since then I've been playing about more with plant dyes and am currently making a list of dye plants to grow at home.

Viking reenactor: Natural Dyeing

Viking reenactor: Natural Dyeing

Natural Dye-stuffs

My main contribution to this project has been to run weaving sessions. Almost every Viking homestead would probably have had a loom set up and cloth would have been made for clothing, the home and for trade. I've really enjoyed these sessions, seeing how each individual child and participant has approached the weaving in a different way has really inspired me and encouraged me to 'play' more in my own work.

Drop spinning!

Drop spinning

Hand-spun yarn and felted cords

For my first hands on session I did some felt making and a bit of drop spinning with the children and participants. Whilst we may not have produced a huge amount of usable thread it was hilarious and everyone enjoyed trying to keep the spindle going and draw out the fleece at the same time. I got the children to work in pairs and it was lovely seeing how absorbed they were in the task and how proud they were when they got it working!

Weaving on cardboard looms

Weaving on cardboard looms

Weaving on cardboard looms

I then continued my sessions looking at weaving. Because time was relatively limited I made simple cardboard looms so that everyone could have a go and learn the basics. I also took along some larger simple frame looms and peg looms so that if people really got into it they could take it further. I only had a half day session with each of four groups of four children (16 all together!) but the Studio Theatre West Coast participants were with me for all those session so got two full days of weaving.

Weaving on cardboard looms

Weaving on cardboard looms

Weaving on cardboard looms

As I mentioned before it was fascinating seeing the different approaches everyone took and it was also fascinating seeing which ways of weaving worked best for the participants. The children created a range of imaginative and beautiful weaves, with varying degrees of technical skill, and enjoyed experimenting with incorporating different materials, such as ribbons, twigs and feathers.

Woven on a cardboard loom

Working on a frame loom

Sculptural Weaving on a frame loom

I was really pleased with how well the Studio Theatre participants took to it, I didn't expect them to get so involved but one of the participants (who no one expected to go for textiles) produced the most beautiful and unique pieces by manipulating the warp threads and working tightly in small sections back and forth. I love the structural quality and careful colour choices of the work he's made. Interestingly the other participants struggled with weaving on the frames but worked really well with peg looms. I find it endlessly fascinating how different minds work and it just goes to show that it's always worth putting the effort into finding a different way that works for you.

Working on a peg loom

Working on a peg loom






Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Cumbria Decorative and Fine Arts Society: Romans and Printing

Printing using polystyrene tiles

One of the things that I really enjoy about my work is the variety of people I work with and the different groups and organisations I work with. Recently I did a workshop at Tullie House for a group of children with additional learning needs from Whitehaven school. The workshop was organised and paid for by Cumbria's Decorative and Fine Arts Society with the aim of giving the students an opportunity to explore the museum and work with an artist, a chance they may not otherwise have had.

In the Roman gallery

Sketches made in the gallery

Developing sketches into designs

We began the day with a visit to Tullie's Roman Frontier gallery. The gallery assistant had a selection of objects for us to handle and was very knowledgeable and helpful. I gave each of the students paper and a clipboard and asked them to make sketches or notes about any object that particularly caught their attention so that we could use these as starting points for our prints in the afternoon.

Transferring designs onto the polystyrene

Transferring designs onto the polystyrene

Transferring designs onto the polystyrene

As we were looking round the gallery I found lots of objects that I was interested in too and I made a few sketches. As time goes on I find more and more that everything is connected and I try now to use any opportunity I can to match up my personal art practice with my participatory practice. I particularly liked some of the sections of armour in the gallery, they were like scales or feathers and I was drawn to the rusted and decayed surfaces.

Printing

Printing

Printing

After looking around the gallery we started working on designs for our prints. Because I had no idea of the level of ability I would be working with until I met the students on the day I had planned an activity that could be adapted to suit a range of needs. I had planned to use polystyrene tiles as print blocks, they can be marked with pencils to create an effect similar to lino prints but without the carving tools! This is a good activity for a range of abilities because simple mark making can create interesting prints but students with more experience and skill can make more planned designs.

Printing

Printing

Printing

Designing their prints was the part of the process the students struggled with most, with the biggest barrier being a lack of confidence. Once they got going and with a bit of encouragement they made some really lovely designs. I tried to encourage them not to worry about drawing the objects exactly but to pick out the details that interested them. In this way some of the students were able to produce some really effective and inventive designs.

Printing

Printing

Printing

Once they'd made their designs we transferred them onto the polystyrene tiles. As before I encouraged them to experiment and try different ways of marking the tiles to produce different effects when we printed with them. We then moved onto the printing which is my favourite part of the process. I like printing because you can produce multiples but each one is unique, little quirks in the way the ink is transferred producing a slightly different effect each time. I also like the anticipation of making the first print, seeing if it's worked and the satisfaction of a successful print or figuring out why a print didn't work.

Finished prints

Finished prints

Finished prints

This was also the time the students started to come out of themselves a bit more, with some of them getting really enthusiastic and fired up and experimenting with mixing the inks and even printing in stripes! Each student produced a successful print and I was really impressed with some of the finished prints. I really enjoyed the day and working with the students and I hope they got something out of it too.

Finished prints

Finished prints

Finished prints

Finished prints

Finished prints

Finished prints




Thursday, 23 June 2016

Life Drawing 19.6.16

Pen, continuous line

I was beginning to get a little concerned about this session as the first model I had booked had to cancel due to a double booking and then the model I booked to replace them came down with tonsillitis. Luckily, model number three stepped up at short notice and turned up on time and in excellent form and gave us some great poses. I'm very lucky to have a great pool of models who as well as being talented models are very nice people.

Pen, continuous line

Pen, continuous line

Pen, continuous line

Pen, continuous line

Pen, continuous line

I was definitely in a hand drawing mind set for this session. Recently I've been focusing on faces to try and improve that area of my drawing as it is my weakest area but for this session I just really wanted to draw hands, so I did. I also didn't draw with anything other than my trusty pen. It's good to try new things and challenge yourself but sometimes if it ain't broke don't fix it!

'Blind' drawing

'Blind' drawing

'Blind' drawing

As usual I did some blind drawings to help me properly look at each pose and I'm pleased with some of the results of this process, my observation and eye hand communication is improving with each session. I did some more drawing with my non-dominant hand again this session, another thing I've been experimenting with. I was really pleased because it's becoming more and more natural to draw like this, I no longer have to fight the urge to swap hands and again I was very pleased with some of the drawings I produced this way.

Left handed drawing

Left handed drawing

One of the things I like about life drawing and about letting the models set their own poses is that sometimes they come up with something that sparks unexpected thoughts or responses. Our model for this session is very solidly built, I like trying to capture this strength and solidity in my drawings. However, for one of the poses he used a stick as a prop and modelled it as if he were using a walking stick. This created such an interesting contrast, this solid strong person with a walking stick, suggestive of frailty and the need for support. This made me draw in a different way, with much more scribbly and sketchy lines rather than than the strong confident lines I usually use.

Left handed drawing

Pen, continuous line

Drawing on multiple sheets

A couple of days before the session one of the artists emailed to ask if he could ask myself and some of the other artists some questions about life drawing as research for a writing project. The questions he posed prompted some interesting responses and got us all thinking about why we do it. As I write about my experiences each month I do tend to spend quite a bit of time thinking about life drawing and why I do it but having specific questions to answer led me to consider other aspects that I may not have thought about otherwise. I'm looking forward to seeing how he uses our responses...