Sunday 21 May 2017

Fabric Painting at Wiggonby School

Painting Flowers

This is another of my 'catching up' posts! Last year I spent a lovely day at Wiggonby School doing felt-making with Key Stage 1. They must have enjoyed it too as I was very pleased to be asked back again, this time to work with the whole school. They chose to do some fabric painting and as it was close to Mothers Day they wanted something the children could take home. I decided that teaching them some different techniques that they could combine to make flower pictures would be a good option.

I chose to share two different methods of fabric painting, one to create a background and one to create flowers, that could be combined effectively to make a piece of floral textile art for the children to take home. As often happens, the best laid plans don't always work out so although I had time to do both types of fabric painting with both KS2 (in the morning) and KS1 (in the afternoon) we didn't have time to put the pieces together. I tend to avoid painting in most of my workshops for the simple reason of drying time. Although we had a great time and I think most the students enjoyed it and learnt something it is frustrating not being able to finish something because it's not dry (that and finding space to dry 60+ pieces of fabric!)

The first technique I showed the students was using watered down paint on wet fabric to create abstract, watercolour like backgrounds. We talked a bit about colour theory and I encouraged them to choose one primary colour and one of the complementary colours including that primary (e.g. blue and green or blue and purple) and to see how many variations they could get using just those two colours. Choosing colours this way also helps prevent all the colours being mixed together into a brown sludgy mess! We added a bit of detail to our watery backgrounds by flicking thicker paint on top, always a fun method of painting and good to help loosen up those students who can get a bit stuck with fear of getting it wrong.

The second technique I showed the students was using the fabric paint more thickly and blending the colours on the fabric (again choosing two colours that would not create brown) to create flowers. We did this on a separate piece of fabric so that when the paint was dry the flowers could be cut out and stuck onto the watercolour backgrounds to create a unique piece of art. This was the bit that I didn't get to do with the children as the fabric wasn't dry in time!

One of the things I find really interesting as I'm working with different groups and in different places is people's different perceptions of what is 'good' art and in schools in particular this often means neat and realistic. One of the things I try and encourage in all my students is a willingness to try things and take risks. Creativity is not always about getting it right, it's about trying things and finding solutions to challenges.

I often find that the students who I'm told are 'really good at art' are not the most creative, they are often technically skilled but are also often quite set in their ways and unwilling to try new things as they've found a way that works and is perceived as good so why would they do something different. This was particularly noticeable amongst the older students, when we moved onto the second technique and I asked them to sketch out some flower shapes I was met with the familiar line of 'but I can't draw.'

There are lots of arguments about drawing and the 'I can't draw' scenario and the blame is often laid at teachers doors for not being supportive or encouraging enough, however, I've never found evidence of this in a primary school. I'm inclined to agree with Joanna O'Neil (whose drawing workshop 'Sonnets and Shopping Lists' I attended at Cumberland Embroiderers Guild last year) who believes it's down to personal perception; at a certain point children realise that their drawing does not match the object they are drawing. Their perception and understanding exceeds their technical ability, for some people this is an almost insurmountable block to carrying on with drawing.

Overall it was a very enjoyable day, we had a lot of fun painting and some of the students who thought they weren't so creative found out they were and we produced some beautiful effects.

Wednesday 17 May 2017

Life Drawing 16th May 2017

Blind Drawing

For this session we had a model who used to pose quite regularly for us when I started running the sessions but since we swapped days (2 or 3 years ago) hasn't been able to model as frequently. I was really pleased she could make this session as she is one of my favourites to draw with lots of interesting curves. As a former rugby player she can also hold some unusual poses which is always interesting and a challenge.

Pen, continuous line

Pen, continuous line. Layered drawings

Pen, continuous line

I've not been doing much drawing at all recently, I've been focusing on other things (mostly dyeing) and I've also been a bit 'at sea' creatively, lacking focus and direction. Life drawing is really helpful when I'm creatively stuck as it gets me drawing and thinking. I've written a lot about the benefits of drawing and one of the key benefits for me is that helps stimulate my creative thought process.



This evening I had another go at a shaded pencil drawing but even as I was working on the drawing I was thinking about why I don't normally draw like this! I'd sketched the basic pose out before I started shading and I found that what I actually really liked about my drawing was the delicacy and insubstantial nature of the sketch rather than the form of the shaded sections. Once I start adding form the drawing becomes heavier and more real with less room for the imagination, which is (in my opinion) the appeal of the sketchy line drawing.

Blind Drawing

Pen, continuous line

Pen, continuous line

One of the other benefits of life drawing when I'm a bit stuck is that it's good to work with other artists and see how they approach things. I love seeing everyone's work at the end of a session and how we all have totally different styles and approaches. I'm often inspired by this part of the session to try something different and it's also interesting (and reassuring) to hear about what other artists struggle with and what excites them about drawing.

Blind Drawing

Blind Drawing

Blind Drawing

One aspect of my drawing that I'm really happy with at the moment is how my 'blind' drawings are developing (drawing without looking at the page at all.) I find it a great way to help me understand and map out a pose, especially if it is a pose I'm struggling with. I'm finding now that my blind drawings are starting to become quite accurate, sometimes more so than my other drawings. It can also produce some quite comical results!

Sunday 14 May 2017

Making Sketchbooks

Handmade Folded Sketchbooks 

I'm off to The Orkney Isles at the end of May with Mr. Stitches and a couple of friends. We're running our own, very informal, artists residency and I can't wait. I'm looking forward to lots of bird watching, exploring, drawing and maybe a bit of natural dyeing experimentation. I've wanted to go to Orkney for a long time and I'm curious to see how it compares to the beautiful Hebrides which I love so much.

My origami sketchbooks

My origami sketchbooks

My origami sketchbooks

In preparation, I've been making lots of little sketchbooks. I love making sketchbooks, it's so satisfying creating something to use in your work and it gives you endless opportunities for experimenting with different papers, sizes and formats. I have two 'standard' sketchbook types that I like to make; my origami sketchbooks and simple stitched sketchbooks. I also like making other types but these are my main 'go to' creations.

Different types of sketchbooks

Simple folded and stitched sketchbooks

Different types of sketchbooks

I like working in sketchbooks, I like the compact, portable nature and the fact that the work is hidden when the book is closed. A sketchbook is a very personal thing and I use mine in different ways; including sketching, planning and sampling. Often, they end up with a lot of writing in and it's interesting to go back sometimes and see what I was thinking and in doing this I frequently find ideas I want to re-visit.

Paper selection

Lovely ripped edges

Different papers in a folding sketchbook

Recently I ran a sketchbook making session with my Prism Arts Studio Arts group (a visual arts programme for adults with learning disabilities.) I've been encouraging the group to use their sketchbooks as much as possible and to make them personal; making your own sketchbook is the logical next step! We had a lot of fun making the books and it was interesting how different formats engaged different people. I'm looking forward to seeing what they do with their books.

Sketchbook making with my Prism Arts group

Sketchbook making with my Prism Arts group

Sketchbook making with my Prism Arts group

One of the most popular workshops I offer is Handmade Sketchbooks. In this workshop I show people a number of ways of making simple sketchbooks and encourage them to make them personal by choosing different papers and materials. I'm running this session for Brampton Art Club in September which I'm looking forward to. If you'd like to book me for a workshop you can have a look at my 'Workshops' page on my website and get in touch. I love running workshops, it's one of the best parts of my job!

Thursday 11 May 2017

Natural Dyeing: An Experimental Approach...

Natural Dyeing: Results from a steamed bundle

I've always been interested in dyeing my own materials and since school I've experimented with colouring the cloth I use in my art. I've also always liked the idea of natural dyeing and have done bits and pieces but I was always a bit overwhelmed by it and worried about using the right mordants on the right fibres and all the many permutations out there. Last year I treated myself to India Flint's book 'Eco Colour' and I was really inspired by her textiles and her 'try it and see' approach. Her advice is very practical and it's inspired me to stop worrying about having exactly the right quantities/mordants/tools and so on and to just give it a go.

Solar Dyeing: Jar of water, rusty nail and random leaves and twigs

Solar Dyeing: Jar of water, rusty nail and random leaves and twigs

Solar Dyeing: Jar of water, rusty nail and random leaves and twigs

There is a lot of interest in natural dyeing at the moment; along with crafts of all sorts it is seeing a resurgence of interest as people look for ways of reconnecting with the natural world and with using our hands in our increasingly technological and digital world. One of the things I think is great is that a lot of what I've learnt about natural dyeing has been online, marrying the best of both worlds.

Dried Marigolds collected last year, boiled up with frozen marigolds (also collected last year) to make a dye bath

Fabric and threads in with the marigolds

Simmering the marigolds

Another reason for shying away from natural dyeing was that I wasn't aware of which plants to use to get the colours I wanted (you can get an awful lot of yellows from plants, not a colour I use a lot of) and I wasn't confident about the colour fastness. As my work has grown and developed these concerns have become less important and my knowledge of plant dyes has grown through reading about them. I'm now more willing to embrace chance in my work and I'm not so worried if the work changes over time, I see this as part of it's evolution.

Fabric dyed with marigolds drying outside

Fabric and threads dyed with marigolds

I've also become increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of my work. I've always been interested in green issues and have tried to 'be green' as much as possible. Using natural dyes is another step towards living a more sustainable and ecologically sound life. It also gives me a great excuse to spend more time growing things and going out and about collecting things (in an environmentally conscious way, I only collect if there is an abundance of it and it's a common plant and I never take more than two or three leaves from each plant.)

Black beans: Soaked to create a dye

Fabric in the black bean dye bath

Colours from black beans

With all this in mind I've been doing lots of natural dyeing recently. I've adopted the 'give it a go' mentality so rather than using a plant to create a specific colour I'll use a plant to see what happens. By adopting this highly unscientific approach I've created a range of colours that I have no idea how to repeat again, which is part of their charm. I've been experimenting with solar dyeing (stick stuff in a jar in the sun and leave it for a month) steaming (wrap fabric and leaves into a bundle, steam for half an hour, see what's happened) and more traditional dyeing; making up a dye-bath of plants and immersing fabric in it.

Fresh out of the black bean dye bath, fades to blue and grey

Solar dye jars

Solar dye jar

It's really exciting colouring fabric this way, it's unpredictable and the subtle variations add a character hard to achieve with other dyes. It also requires patience, making me slow down and appreciate and think about the fabric and the colour and the work I'm creating with it.

Leaves laid onto cloth, ready to be bundled and steamed

Steaming the fabric bundle