Sunday 30 March 2014

Coats Crafts: Make it Coats Review

Granny Squares by me

The internet is a many splendoured thing, it is a treasure trove of knowledge, ideas and pictures of kittens. Through this blog and my website I sometimes get contacted about different things, some of which are related to my work and some not so much. Recently I was approached by Coats Crafts who asked if I would be interested in writing a review of their 'Make It Coats' site. It seemed like a reasonable request and as it is relevant to my area of work I felt happy to do so. I have not received anything from them and do not expect to so rest assured this review is my honest opinion and not endorsed or influenced by anyone or anything else.

Make it Coats Screenshot

The site is divided into different sections; discover, learn, share and product explorer and also has sections for different crafts (sewing and quilting, knitting, crochet and embroidery.) There are mood boards, projects and free patterns, articles and links to other sites-mainly crafty blogs. It has a nice, clean feel to the layout with lots of enticing pictures without being too cluttered.

Filter Menu

At the side of the screen is a menu which allows you to filter results to make them more relevant, for example, if you are only interested in crocheted fashion items you can activate those filters and so bypass all the other bits. This is a really useful feature if you are looking for something specific or have a specific interest and if you want to see everything the menu is easy to dismiss. There are also other ways to filter results, such as choosing to see only tutorials in the learn section.


If you're looking for a bit of inspiration then start with the discover section which has a selection of mood boards and articles and features a range of projects. In the learn section there are a range of tutorials, varying from practical techniques to finished items, and articles to help with technical issues such as irregular stitches on your sewing machine.The share section features lists of events and blog articles about different designers/artists/makers, including some high profile names such as Amy Butler and Kaffe Fassett.

An embroidered owl by me

Overall, the site is easy to navigate and has some nice projects and articles. As you would expect there are a lot of references and links to their products but the marketing is not too in your face and it is easy to filter out the bits you're not so bothered about. The free projects are nice but I haven't seen anything amazing or that you couldn't find elsewhere on the web, but this is a personal thing.

Where I think the site could be improved is in its interactivity; there are a lot of articles and projects but a user gallery in the share section, for example, would make me want to check the site a bit more often. As it is, I feel very much like I'm browsing a store and there are other places on the web I would go first for project ideas and inspiration. However, as I said at the start this is just my opinion and what I want out of a website and what other people want is likely to be quite different!

Life Drawing 27.3.14

Pen, continuous line

Pen, continuous line

Pen, continuous line

Despite having a very busy week and being a little bit shattered I really enjoyed this session, I got into my drawing quite quickly and was pleased with some of my sketches. Drawing is a very good form of relaxation for me, when I'm drawing (or knitting or crocheting) I'm not worrying; as I discussed with one of the other artists it is the best form of meditation as it allows the mind to focus on one thing and not be pulled off in all manner of odd directions.

Water-soluble graphite

Pen, continuous line

Pen, continuous line

As usual I mostly worked with pens this evening but I went back to the water soluble graphite, inspired by a conversation with another artist earlier in the week and seeing some of the amazing drawings he'd produced using this medium. It's not my best drawing but I enjoyed it and it was good to change from just working with pens.

Overlapping sketches

Pen, continuous line

3 pens together

Friday 28 March 2014

No Borders Exhibition

Chicken Prints

Interiors Project

Last week the No Borders Art group that I and other artists have been working with had their exhibition '60 Days of No Borders' at the Prism Arts studios in Carlisle. The work looked fantastic and was beautifully presented, a number of projects that the group had undertaken were represented. I think the work really speaks for itself so I have decided not to write much about it but just to share some pictures with you.

Interiors Project

Solway Wetlands Project-Nigella the Natterjack Toad

'We're Too Fancy' Animation Project

Music and Print Project

Inside Out Library Project

Exhibition view

We're Too Fancy Animation Project

Sunday 23 March 2014

Arts Award Part 2: Painting on Canvasses

Some of the finished canvasses displayed together

I posted before about the skills session I did in preparation for an Arts Award workshop at The Hut in Brampton. This week I did the workshop and had a lot of fun in the process. Following on from the skills session where we looked at colour theory and texture we focused in this session on creating a finished piece of work, inspired by artist Gillian Ayres. The plan was for each student to work on an individual canvas and then all the canvasses could be put together to make one big piece.

Drawing to music

Drawing to music

As well as the primary school students I worked with before we were also joined by some of the students from William Howard secondary school as this is part of a transition project helping make the move from primary to secondary school a bit easier. All the students were great and worked really hard for the whole session. One of the things I was really pleased with was that at the end it was hard to tell which pieces had been produced by the younger students and which had been produced by the older ones, they all really got the idea and produced some fantastic work.

Drawing to music

Designs for canvasses

To get everybody warmed up and into a creative frame of mind I started off by asking the students to draw to music. I played three different pieces and asked them to choose their colours and the type of mark they made according to how the music made them feel. Although I think some of them found this quite difficult I think it was a good exercise to get them thinking about colour and mark making and how it relates to feelings in a piece of art. It was also interesting watching them as the atmosphere in the room changed considerably with each piece of music.

Picking one area of a design

Simplifying shapes and applying paint

After this exercise we had another look at Gillian Ayres work and this time I asked them to focus on the different shapes as well as the colours and textures. I then asked them to work on a design for their individual canvasses, focusing on bold abstracted shapes. For a lot of the students this was very difficult, they are used to observational drawing and being asked to make things look 'real' so to then have to change to making something abstract was quite a challenge. One of the ways I encouraged them to get round this was to pick a small area of their design and make it bigger so that it became abstract and to simplify their shapes as much as possible. I was very impressed with the students because it was quite a challenge for them but they all managed it really well.

Adding flour and sand for extra texture

Colour mixing

Once they had their abstracted designs we moved on to painting the canvasses, drawing on the skills session to encourage the students to really think about how to apply the paint and how to create lots of texture. There was a really good atmosphere in the room and everyone got involved and some fantastic pieces were created.

Bold colours, shapes and textures

Different approaches

It was great at the end of the session to lay all the canvasses out and see how much work they had done, they worked through all morning without a break (or complaint) and the finished pieces are very impressive. Hopefully they are all going on display in Brampton and I can't wait to see them. I thoroughly enjoyed working on this project, the teachers and students were great and I think they've created a beautiful piece of work.

Some of the completed canvasses

Finished canvas

Finished canvas

Wednesday 19 March 2014

Life Drawing 13.3.14

Pen, continuous line

A very quiet session this week, in that there were not very many of us. It wasn't quiet in terms of noise due to our line dancing neighbours! I really struggled to focus this session and this is reflected in my drawings; there aren't any that I'm happy with but sometimes that's just the way it goes.

Pen, continuous line

Pen, continuous line

Drawing with loops

Our model, Martin, was excellent as always providing us with a range of interesting poses and so it was frustrating that I couldn't find my drawing mojo. I played around with different pens and tried to get some different line qualities so there are some interesting bits and pieces that have come out of the session but overall not my best drawing day.

Permanent marker, continuous line

Pen, continuous line

Pen and water

One of the good thing about life drawing (in my opinion) is that even though this session wasn't very productive for me I don't worry about the results as they are just a snapshot; there will be other sessions where things will flow and I will produce drawings I'm much happier with. It is all good practice and just like with everything else sometimes you have to take the rough with the smooth. I still enjoyed the session and if anything it's made me a bit more determined to get my drawing back up to scratch (I think I'm mixing a few similes and metaphors here but you know what I mean!)

Pen, drawing without looking at the page

Pen, continuous line

Sunday 16 March 2014

Arts Award Skills Session

Creative approaches to paint application

I had a fantastic time at Fir Ends School on Friday where I ran a skills session in preparation for a workshop at The Hut in Brampton. I was working with Year 6 students from three different schools (including Fir Ends) plus the Year 5 students from Fir Ends. The workshop I'm doing is going towards the students Arts Award and the Arts Award project is being done in conjunction with William Howard School (the local secondary school) as a transition project to help the students move from primary to secondary school. I think that anything that can help students through this difficult time is a good thing and having just done my Arts Award Advisor training I was really pleased to get involved with an Arts Award project.

Colour theory

The students were looking at artist Gillian Ayres, an abstract painter who works with vibrant colours and bold shapes. For the skills session we looked at some basic colour theory and then at ways of creating texture using paint, pastels and other media. I wasn't familiar with Ayres work before and I very much enjoyed researching her life and work, it is always good to be introduced to new artists and although my work is very different to hers it is always interesting to learn about different artists approaches and thoughts.

Colour mixing

Colour mixing

To help demonstrate colour mixing and show how secondary colours are made I used jars of water with food colouring in. I asked them what would happen when we mixed pairs of primary colours (red and blue, blue and yellow etc.) and then we tried it. I then asked the students to make their own colour wheels and to mix the secondary colours themselves using either pastels or paint. They picked it up really quickly and it was great seeing them experiment.

Adding sand to paint

As the work of Gillian Ayres is very textural the second part of the skills session focused on looking at how to apply media and how to mix materials to create different effects. I'd brought lots of different things for them to experiment with and it was great watching them get stuck in and try things out. I was really keen to get them to think about different ways of using familiar materials, so rather than applying paint with a brush getting them to try applying it with a knife, for example. I think this approach makes art a lot less scary as it removes some of the fear of getting it 'wrong' and it also makes it fun. I believe that taking a creative and experimental approach is not only good in art classes but helps students think creatively and become better problem solvers in other areas too.

Using different tools

Using different tools

As always there was a wide range of approaches taken by the students but it was great to see them grow in confidence through the session and start to really experiment. I love it when they find something they like and come over to tell me about it, one of the things I talked about was the importance of finding your own personal approach to art and to see them take that on board and put it into practice is incredibly rewarding.

Using different tools

Using different tools

I was also asked to give a small presentation about my own work and what it is like being an artist. I was quite nervous about doing this but it was actually quite a useful exercise as it gave me an opportunity to look at my work and think about how it has progressed and developed. I was also happy to be able to talk to the students about 'real life' as an artist; at school I loved art but didn't think you could do it as a job, hopefully seeing that people can make a living from art may help one or two of the students further down the line.


Different approaches

Different approaches

I'm really looking forward to the workshop, I had such a good time at the school working with the students. Sessions like this are so inspiring as you never know what new idea or way of doing something the students will come up with and it's great being able to share my skills and see the students all fired up and enjoying themselves. I love my work!