Tuesday 26 June 2018

Remembrance 100 at Cumbria's Museum of Military Life

Flow: Memory
Naturally dyed fabrics, feathers, shells, beads and hand embroidery. 2018

With 2018 marking 100 years since the end of the First World War there are, unsurprisingly, a lot of exhibitions and events exploring remembrance. One of these is 'Remembrance100' at Cumbria's Museum of Military Life. As WWI starts to slide out of living memory it is an important anniversary to mark and is an interesting time to look at how the way we remember changes.

Remembrance100 Exhibition

My work (top left)

Remembrance100 is an open art exhibition curated by Jamie Barnes. I think having an open exhibition to explore this diverse area is a really good idea as remembrance is something that belongs to us all, it's great to have an opportunity anyone can apply to so that a range of interpretations can be seen. I submitted and had accepted one of my small textile banners. This piece is entitled 'Flow: Memory' and is part of an ongoing series looking at the concept of flow and part of a wider body of work exploring memory.

Flow: Memory (detail)

I am fascinated by memory and the way how we remember can change. We have a tendency to think of memories as fixed and unchanging but this is not the case. Our memories, both personally and our memories (or remembrance) as a society, are constantly changing and evolving. They are affected by the physical and biological changes that occur within our own bodies as we age and they are affected by the changes that the society we live in goes through. Our experiences and constantly changing emotions also change our memories. Memories are fluid, ephemeral things that ebb and flow like the tides; each time a little different.

Flow: Memory (detail)

This idea of change, ebb and flow is something I'm really interested in exploring in my work. By creating a piece of work about memory I'm trying to fix in a tangible way something that is intangible, I hope by using layers of naturally dyed and sheer materials I can capture an element of this or at least provide something to get people thinking about memory and the nature of remembering.

Flow: Memory (detail)

The exhibition is on until 2nd September and features work by lots of excellent artists, both professional and amateur. If you go before 8th July you'll also be able to see the incredible 'Weeping Window' ceramic poppy installation at the castle.

Weeping Window

Weeping Window

Weeping window

Saturday 23 June 2018

Life Drawing: A catch up

Pen, June 2018

I've been a bit behind in my blogging recently as there's been lots going on. I've been particularly lax about blogging about my Life Drawing sessions so I thought I'd do a quick catch up post for the last few months. I really enjoy my Life Drawing sessions and I've built up a great group of artists and models. Before each session I almost always feel tired and fed up and wonder why I do it but by the end of the session I always feel re-energised and glad that I keep it going. I really enjoy catching up with everyone and sharing news and I know I'd really miss them if I stopped the sessions.

Blind drawing, June 2018

Experimenting with adding shading, June 2018

There's always a good atmosphere at the sessions but I find it interesting how much it changes depending on the group, sometimes relaxed and sometimes more energetic. The June session was really busy, we had to squeeze in a bit but everyone was very good humoured about it. There were also a couple of new faces and a couple of people who'd only been to one or two sessions before so it felt quite new and fresh, it felt like quite an energetic session.

Continuous line, May 2018

Continuous line, May 2018

The model also has a big effect on the atmosphere and each model brings something different to the session. I love drawing different people and I find it fascinating how my drawings change depending on who I'm drawing, I find I want to draw each model a little differently depending on their personality and the poses they choose as well as how they look.

Blind drawing, May 2018

Blind drawing, April 2018

Over the past couple of years I've been working on drawing faces as it used to be my weakest area. The only way to get better at something is to practise it and so I have and I'm finally at a point where I'm reasonably comfortable drawing faces and there's some drawings I'm even quite pleased with.

Pen, April 2018

Pen, April 2018

I've also been continuing with my 'blind' drawings (drawing without looking at the page) and these drawings are now an important part of my process. Working in this way is particularly useful for challenging poses as it helps me really observe and understand the pose so that I can then go on to create a better, more accurate drawing.

Pen, March 2018

Continuous line faces, March 2018

I'm not going to be running Life Drawing sessions during July and August because the Prism Arts studios are going to be very busy and full of puppet making activities for Carlisle's Puppet Pageant Parade (Saturday 1st September.) I'm hoping to restart the sessions in September but as we're in the process of moving house at the moment it might be October, depending on how smoothly it all goes! If you'd like updates about the sessions and to be informed when I have new dates you can sign up to my Life Drawing mailing list here.

Blind drawing, March 2018

Wednesday 20 June 2018

Processions 2018

Me (far right) Katie Lock (far left) some of our Prism Arts Processions group and our Banner in Edinburgh. 10th June 2018

2018 marks 100 years since the Representation of the People Act which gave most men and a few women the vote, after a long and sometimes violent struggle. Last year Prism Arts were approached by Artichoke to submit a proposal to work with participants to make a banner to be part of Processions 2018; four simultaneous processions in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh and London to mark this centenary. The Processions project involved 100 artists working with 100 arts organisations to create 100 banners to take part in these events; individuals and groups were also encouraged to create banners and attend the Processions.

Discussions and designs

Discussions and designs

Discussions and designs

I was really keen to be a part of this project, I believe very strongly in being an active citizen and in exercising your voting rights and I was keen to take up the chance to honour and remember the people who fought so hard for us to have those rights. Textiles and banners have a long and important history in campaigning for peoples rights and I was excited to be part of a project continuing this heritage. It was a slightly strange process for me, I wrote the proposal and application for the project in my role as Lead Visual Artist at Prism Arts and I was writing myself in as the artist we'd like to work with; it's a bit odd writing a proposal to employ yourself! At Prism Arts we thought this would be a great opportunity for professional development so I also wrote our Graduate Artist, Katie Lock, into the proposal as my Supporting Artist for the project.

Working on our design

Working on our design

Working on our design

Excitingly, our proposal was accepted and we were commissioned to create a banner. The next step was bringing a group together. One of the stipulations from Artichoke was that the workshops must be free and should be for women (including those who identify as women or non binary.) As mentioned before, Prism Arts wanted to make the most of this commission as a professional development opportunity so we invited all our female artists and staff to take part along with our volunteers. We also approached Cumberland Embroiderers Guild and my Tullie Textiles group and we very quickly had a group. We set some dates and then the really interesting part of the project could commence.

Tracing our lettering

Cutting out design elements

We ended up with a very interesting and diverse group and our first couple of sessions involved a lot of lively debate. We talked a lot about our experiences of equality (or the lack of it) and what we would like to see happen in the future to make a fairer society. It was really interesting that although we had a range of backgrounds, ages and experiences (our youngest participant was 11 and our most senior 70) what came through most strongly was that what we really wanted to see was a society that was more respectful. We wanted to see a society that recognised, for example, that the arts and the sciences were equally valuable and useful. We wanted recognition and respect of peoples choices and an acceptance that there is not one 'right' way to live, that we need diversity and a range of skills and approaches.

Cutting out letters to applique

Being very silly

We also spent quite a bit of time looking at the history of the suffrage movement and in particular the banners and marches. When we came to draw our ideas together and start designing our banner we quickly decided there were certain things we wanted to include; where we're from, what we wanted to see in the future and a reference to our history. Past, present and future, in summary.

Machine stitching the letters on

The base of the banner

Ironing around curves

This led us to decide to include 'Carlisle' and 'Border City' prominently in our design (although the group were not all from Carlisle we chose to use Carlisle as a focal point as it is Cumbria's only city.) We did discuss including local landmarks but in the end we settled for a subtle representation on the castle and citadel buildings by creating a castellated design with the hanging tabs at the top of the banner. On the tabs we also decided to include the initials of all the people who'd worked on the banner. Too often 'women's work' remains unattributed and so is seen as less important and this was not what we wanted for our banner, we're proud to have been involved in it and we want people to know that. We also wanted to include the years 1918 and 2018 as one of the purposes of the banner was to celebrate this important centenary.

Adding the couching to 'Carlisle'

Adding the couching to 'Carlisle'

Adding the couching to 'Carlisle'

We also decided that 'Respect' needed to feature in the banner as it was such a strong theme throughout our discussions. We'd talked about 'power' as being like a pendulum; traditionally men have held the power but we have seen approaches such as positive discrimination that have caused the sway of power to move more into the female court. We felt that what needed to happen was for the pendulum to settle, so that power was not held by one 'side' or the other, so that there was respect and equality for everyone. This also gave us a really nice visual to work with so we developed a design of a hand holding a pendulum that has settled in the centre and is entwined with the word respect. Either side running stitch pendulums (echoing the shape of the main pendulum but more faint) represent how power has swung back and forth.

Tracing the design onto cloth

Adding design elements

Stitching the pendulums

Finally, we wanted to reference the banners of the past and our strong local arts and crafts heritage without creating a replica banner; it was important to us that our banner was relevant to us now and said something about what we were looking forward to as well as recognising where we'd come from. This led us to use Art Nouveau inspired fonts and motifs for our lettering and to create a stylised pendulum. We chose to use a heart as it is often seen as a 'girly' symbol but it is also one of the most important organs in our body; we chose it to represent strength, compassion and courage. We chose to use the suffragette colours of green, white and violet highlighted with gold.

Embroidering initials onto the tabs

Embroidering initials onto the tabs

Embroidering initials onto the tabs

It was a really interesting experience drawing all our ideas together to create our design, we spent a long time discussing all sorts of details and I'm really pleased we spent the time on this as it meant when we came to the making we knew exactly what we were doing, mostly anyway! Katie's background in illustration and graphic design was invaluable; she had lots of great ideas and her skills really helped us put the design together very effectively. She also did a great job of drawing out the different lettering and I think this is one of the real strengths of the banner.

Adding the dates

Adding stuffing to the pendulum to give it more shape

Once our design was complete we were able to get stuck into the making. We used applique, embroidery and couching to realise our design. Naturally we encountered a few problems but we overcame them and worked together to get everything done. The group included a wide range of abilities, from people who'd barely threaded a needle before to very experienced seamstresses and embroiderers. One of my favourite things about the project was watching the women with more experience gently guiding those with less experience. Throughout all the sessions there was a lot of fun and energy but also a strong sense of respect, support and belonging.

Final stages: adding 'Border City'

Almost finished, just waiting for its backing

Seeing the banner come together was really exciting, I think we all felt like we were part of something very special and when it became obvious that we weren't going to finish within the allotted sessions everyone was immediately working out when they could come in and how they could help finish it without me even asking. This was one of those projects that truly belonged to the group, I might have set the ball rolling but it was definitely 'our' banner not mine. Because of this we did get it finished in time with not too much stress and I think the final piece speaks for itself.

The finished banner

Detail: hand holding the pendulum

The actual Procession on Sunday 10th June was the part of the project I was least looking forward to, I'm not a huge fan of crowds and big public events. However, I actually really enjoyed the day. Just as in the sessions, the atmosphere was really positive and supportive. It felt like we were all there together to enjoy the event and to be part of something much bigger. I really did feel excited and proud to be part of the event, especially to be one of the 100 artists, and to be marking such as important centenary. We were also lucky to have fantastic weather which helped but it was much more that that.

In Edinburgh, ready to join Processions

Gathering at The Meadows, before we set off

This has been such a great project to be part of; I feel honoured to have been part of something so special and to have been able to work with such a fantastic group of women and girls. I enjoyed working with the group so much that Prism Arts has invited the group to meet again to work on one of the puppets for this years Carlisle Puppet Pageant. Watch this space!

Marching through Edinburgh