Wednesday 30 September 2015

Raining Dragons and Trolls

One of our Dragons

One of my 'day jobs' is working on Prism Arts Studio Theatre project and we are about to start touring our latest production 'Raining Dragons and Trolls' which is linked to the national Family Arts Festival. We will be performing in a variety of venues, including Keswick's Theatre by the Lake, and we are all really excited about the tour. Since we began Studio Theatre back in 2012 we have come a long way and I never cease to be impressed by the ideas, work and commitment that the group shows.

Initial designs

Developing characters with drawing

Set design ideas

Our starting point for this production was the BBC 10 Pieces, ten pieces of classical music selected to encourage and inspire creative responses. The project was mainly aimed at schools but we thought it would be an interesting starting point and this proved to be the case. From the music a story grew, we use a lot of drawing to help develop our ideas and it is often not until very near the end of the production process that we have anything solid written up.

Mecamecal (mechanical camel)


A lot of things change over the course of making a production, characters come and go (sadly, the mecamecal or mechanical camel did not make the grade this show) story lines change and evolve but eventually a piece of theatre emerges. The constant changing can be difficult for some people but overall it is a positive thing, keeping the group inspired and fired up and allowing new and better ideas to come through.

Felt making: in our productions we use a wide range of techniques and materials. 

Felt making

This production has a strong environmental message, something we all feel very strongly about and which is an important issue. Although there are a lot of fantasy elements in our productions (dragons, trolls, a friendly minotaur) the story is very much about humans and how we interact with each other and the world around us. The main characters in the show have to convince people that unless they change their ways and live in a more sustainable way the world will be in serious trouble.

Making prayer flags for one of the scenes

Prayer flags

I work on the backstage elements of the show, the drawings, props, scenery and costumes. Theatre Skills runs two days a week, one day being focused on production (the day I lead) and the other day focused on performance (led by Vicki Maxfield.) Obviously the performance day leads what we make on the production day but there is a constant flow of ideas back and forth, the two days are very much connected.

We make and use a lot of puppets. Here are the Trolls!

And two mini dragons in a boat

And one of the main dragons (detail)
And we use a lot of shadow puppetry as well

One of my favourite pieces that we have made for this performance is the Sea Guardians cloak. In the story the sea guardian has become trapped in discarded plastic waste and fishing nets and in struggling to escape he is creating huge waves and terrifying the fisherman. To represent the waste he is trapped in we used my favourite technique of crocheting and melting plastic bags to create a large net like cloak that the actor wears. We added further strings of crocheted plastic to give a really tangled up look and add movement. I think this piece of costume works really well and I'm looking forward to seeing it in action.

The Sea Guardians Rubbish Cloak

Crocheted cellophane

Melted plastic

I'm not going to write any more about the production but I hope that if you're near where we're performing you will come and see us and be transported to another world!

Saturday 26 September 2015

Bird Portraits

Grey Heron, 2015

Since January I have had some of my work on display in Gallery Artemis in Cockermouth. This has been a really good experience for me for several different reasons. Firstly it's always a good confidence boost if someone else likes your work and wants to show and sell it, secondly it's given me a good reason to get on and do more work and thirdly it's made me concentrate more on how I present my work. And of course it's always good to sell some work and make a bit of money!

Wren, 2015

Blackbird, 2015

Bluetit, 2015

Knowing that I'll need to frame my work to take to the gallery has meant that I now consider the scale I'm working on a bit more carefully. In one sense this places limitations on what I'm creating but in another way it gives me some boundaries to work within and can make me focus a bit more.

Scruffy Crow, 2015

Tree Pipit, 2015

Swallow, 2015

The first pieces of textile work that I took to the gallery were either quite large or very heavily embroidered (or both) and so as a consequence were quite expensive. I also took a small machine embroidered picture of a Black Redstart which was less expensive as it did not take me as long to create. This piece sold fairly quickly and so the gallery owner suggested I did some more smaller, quicker pieces in time for the Christmas (sorry to use the c word.) So, I took her advice and did a series of machine embroidered portraits of some of my favourite birds. This seems to have been a good move as two of the pieces have sold already!

Black Redstart (I forgot to take a photo of the finished piece!)

These pieces are a different part of my work; smaller, more controlled. I still have my ongoing interest in crows and my desire to make big drawings and layered and embroidered pieces and I will continue to develop this work but making the bird portraits helps me develop my skills, explore my love of birds and get my work out there. Everything is connected and these pieces are just one of the strands that make up my work...

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Feather Drawings...

In Circles, 2015

Over the past 18 months or so I've developed a bit of an obsession with drawing feathers. This is partly because I find them very pleasing to draw and partly because I am interested in their symbolism in relation to my art work.

Daily drawing

Daily drawing

Daily drawing

I find drawing feathers to be quite a Zen sort of thing to do, to capture the different shapes and textures of different feathers requires a certain degree of concentration but there is also a natural rhythm to the drawing process which allows the mind to wander a little. The sound and feel of the pen gliding over the paper is also very calming so all in all it's quite a meditative process.

White gel pen on black paper

White gel pen on tracing paper

Silver gel pen

One of the reasons I started drawing feathers is my interest in birds. It is often hard to draw birds 'in real life' as they don't stay still for very long but feathers can be collected and drawn later. The feather stands in for the bird but is also slightly uncanny (I have a long running interest in the uncanny) as it is no longer attached to the bird, prompting us to think about why it is no longer attached. Like hair there is something slightly unsettling about it when it is detached from the body.

Daily drawing

Daily drawing

In many cultures feathers are associated with the sky and transcendence. For example, the Celtic Druids wore feathered cloaks to invoke the power of the sky gods. They believed this would help them transcend the earthly realm and enter the celestial realm. Again the association with birds and therefore flying means that feathers can be seen as  representative of flight and escape or transcendence.

Feather Fan, 2014

Four Feathers, 2015

Study for Icarus, 2015

I started out just drawing feathers, I then started arranging the feathers and this is something I have been developing recently and is an area I intend to develop further. I have a few ideas and I suspect that as I start to explore these ideas new ones will come along and suggest themselves.

Friday 18 September 2015

C-Art 2015 Wrapped: Response work

Wrapped, 2015
September in Cumbria means it's time for C-Art, when artists and art organisations across Cumbria open their studios to the public. At Prism Arts we've been busy putting together a display of work by the groups we work with and this year we also have a new strand to our displays. All of the Prism Artists were invited to produce some work in response to the work of our participants and this work is on show in our small studio (which is just across the corridor from our big studio.) We have also got 'Skyground' on display in the small studio and it's interesting how differently it works inside (previously it was on display in Tullie House gardens.)

Skyground, 2015

Work by No Borders

I chose to respond to work by one of the members of the No Borders group that I regularly work with and I created a series of branches wrapped with different threads, yarns and fibres which I then dyed using indigo. So, as well as responding to the work of another artist I also used this as an opportunity to explore a technique I'd been wanting to try for some time; indigo dyeing. I had already done a bit of work inspired by this person so this was a good opportunity to develop it a bit further.

Exhibition view, small studio

Earth Spirits (detail) by Leah Cameron

Jan Hicks

Celia Burbush

When we (Prism Artists) all came to install our work it was interesting to see how well our pieces worked together. Leah's beautiful 'Earth Spirits' were already in place and as soon as I saw them I knew I wanted to display my branches above them, which was lucky as that was the space I'd been allocated! Further along we hung Jan Hick's beautiful bird piece, all of our pieces referencing the natural world. Opposite the indigo blues of my branches are matched by the vibrant blue skies and beautiful seascapes of Celia Burbush. None of us had spoken to each other about our response pieces so it was really lovely how all the work came together so well.

Wrapped, 2015

Wrapped (detail)  2015

Wrapped (detail)  2015

This is my statement, accompanying my work:

Delivering projects for Prism Arts gives me the opportunity to work with a wide range of people in a variety of settings. Often my own art practice is greatly influenced by these projects. I am often inspired by the ideas, approaches and sheer joy of making that I see in many of the participants I work with. The projects also give me an opportunity to play and experiment with materials and techniques as I often produce sample pieces to take to workshops.

Magic Tree by Jackie, 2014
When all the Prism Arts artists were invited to make a piece of work in response to the work of our participants I knew immediately that I wanted to respond to the work of Jackie from the No Borders Art Group at Carlton Day Service. During one of the projects I'd been working on with this group I had introduced them to thread wrapping as a way of exploring colour and texture. Jackie took this idea and developed it, creating a beautiful thread wrapped branch. Her intuitive use of colour and texture and her focus on her work really inspired me and led to this series of indigo dyed thread wrapped branches.

This piece of work ties in with previous pieces of mine exploring restraint and containment but would not have come about without Jackie.

Wrapped (detail)  2015

Wrapped (detail)  2015

Wrapped (detail)  2015

As I mentioned in my statement this work explores the dichotomy of wrapping; it can be both protective and restrictive, a restraint or a comfort. I like these two conflicting interpretations and have tried to emphasise this element of the work further by my use of materials, both delicate and strong, natural and fabricated.

Wrapped (detail)  2015

Wrapped (detail)  2015

Wrapped (detail)  2015

I have really enjoyed working on these branches, it is a very therapeutic process and I like the finished result too. Working with natural materials and experimenting with natural dyeing is also a very satisfying process, creating a feeling of connection with the natural world. It is quite a time consuming process, allowing time for contemplation and consideration.