Monday, 27 October 2014

What counts as a Sketchbook?

I often include pages or single drawings from my sketchbooks in my blog posts and they are an important part of my practice. I've been asked by a friend to give a talk next month to a local art group about sketchbooks and how I use them and this has concentrated my mind - that and the buying of an iPad, and the small amount of time spent playing with it recently.

All this has prompted me to consider how I define the word sketchbook and to think about how I use my variants and why.

In general, for me it's a storage method for all those ideas, experiments and workings around things (I love that especially) that happen as a piece of work evolves. I include notes to myself that record thoughts as I work or reflections on what I've done. Some of my sketchbooks contain casual drawings, textile samples (like this one here), photographs I've taken or collected, scraps of memorabilia, visual amusements, photos of work by other artists and things that idly catch my eye and get recorded. These may never be used further or they may pop up, often unbidden, to be used at sometime in the future.

Sketchbooks, of course, come in an enormous range of sizes and formats and I own many. I love them all. I own large ones that I use more like journals to record my progress towards work, tiny ones that fit easily in a pocket or a bag for carrying around for those casual on the spot drawings when I'm out and about, and various square shaped ones that seem particularly adaptable. One of these is a favourite one of medium size that seems to be a particularly good receptacle for more considered and planned drawings. This one feels to me like a silent and listening friend and is particularly precious to me right now. I have shown pictures from it on this blog many times before.

I enclose above a page from a recent large journal, showing some of my 'working around the subject' of the recent black and white pieces. It also shows work by Denise Jones that seemed relevant to me. I came across her work last year in the Pop Up gallery at a favourite haunt of mine, Brewery Arts in Cirencester. A quick look at her work on the website (that I'd not seen till now) shows a rather uncanny similarity to some of my recent thoughts ... 3D and more trees!

Of course, the storage of material may not be in book form at all. Some of this stuff may be too big, too bulky or oddly shaped to fit in a book and finds itself stored in a box or on a 'record shelf' in my work room with associated things. Earlier this year I made some 3 D pieces and I have kept the paper mock-ups of those. Another one is planned (but not yet made) and shown here.

There is something special about the book form though. It is beautifully tactile. It has a special sense of entity that holds the work together - a sort of cocoon protecting the work - and provides a record of all the time spent.

It also has a great advantage for me - I'm inherently untidy and things get lost. A book keeps everything together, is easily carried about and can be flicked through as I search for ideas or reflect on what I have been doing.

To this range of storage possibilities, in my mind I will now be adding my iPad. I plan to use it for quick sketches and drawings, particularly when I'm out and about. So far, with very little time available, I've tried out the little package called Paper that I mentioned in a previous post. It seems very limited in scope but I do like the way it organises and displays completed drawings - in a book-style format with 'pages' that can be turned over with a brush of the hand. As a way of storing drawings in an accessible way, it certainly seems to qualify as a sketch book.

Also, of course, now I've taken this tack, there is my long-used PC. It stores thousands of photographs I've taken - some just because I like what I see and want to give it permanence, others deliberately for a particular project. I have special files in my directory for all sorts of textile-related topics so that I can find what I want quickly and easily (at least that's the intention!)

This then has set me thinking still further. There is of course blogging - definitely a diary of what I think and do but is it an online sketchbook? It has become part of my process and  I can certainly look through my blog and review what I've done in the past.

It seems to contextualise my work and give it a presence, offering a way to receive feedback and reassurance. Perhaps, in fact, that is the special contribution of the blog post. It records thoughts and gives the work a presence in a way nothing else does.

There are lots of other thoughts on this topic buzzing around in my head just now ... I may post further later when I have more sketchbook work to show.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Glimpses of an exhibition

I realise there's been very little work output shown on my blog recently. I haven't been idle but almost no new work has been done. I haven't even had time to think much about what is to follow from here - and certainly not had time to do significant experimenting that might be interesting to show.

I have been much too busy finishing, preparing and framing my work for - Stitching A Cotswold Art in the Subscription Rooms, Stroud, Glos at the beginning of November. Further details can be found right in the thumbnail and in a post from last month.

To show something of what I'll be exhibiting, here is a selection of snippets.

Of trees ...

... of walls ...

 ... and of a (not yet finished) geology panel with heavy hand stitching.

And now back to work ... I can put it off no longer!

Saturday, 18 October 2014

White ... and black

As those who visit my blog regularly will know, white is currently a recurring theme for me - along with black. I find it hard to consider the one without the other. They are the ultimate opposites.

White often seems to be linked to beginnings - marking a new period of life perhaps, or the clean white slate ready and waiting for images or words. So, for this post today I have photos of white newness, of the start of things - but often photographed with black for contrast.

First of all, close to home, there is the much-enjoyed black and white 'cow' mug bought for our young grandchildren when they visit us - the next generation - definitely a sign of a beginning.

Then, in my effort to upgrade myself digitally (definitely a new beginning), I've bought an ipad air - white, of course - and in the most beautiful white box, lovely to the touch. Apple sure have design and marketing licked - very satisfying. 

And onto the ipad, I've loaded a free drawing app called Paper, recommended by a friend, though the first trial suggests that there may be better drawing apps.

Someone else mentioned Brushes 3 and on searching for information, I saw a link to an article discussing the 22 (yes 22) best ipad apps for drawing and painting. There are so many new things to explore ... though I don't think I'll bother investigating all 22 drawing apps ...

I've posted before photos of the black shadow patterns cast on the deck of a graceful white pedestrian bridge over the Delaware River. Today, I have the whole length of the bridge to show. As well as the shadows I'm very taken by the perspective angles on those cables, criss-crossing the image. The patterns in these images could mark a new direction in work for me. 

On a shelf, I have a small pile of Pink Pig sketch books ordered earlier in the summer in an on-line sale and full of fresh white or near-white pages, but with covers in lovely muted colours.

All sorts of new possibilities here - some exploration of those bridge shadows, no doubt - lots of plans for the future and much work to be done.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Grounds for Sculpture, NJ

In a previous post, I mentioned a visit we made with friends to Grounds for Sculpture, a wonderful 42 acre sculpture park in Hamilton, New Jersey. Now I've had time to reflect on our trip to the US and download my many photos, I've chosen my favourite sculptures from the around 270 pieces we saw in the park - not an easy task.

On the day we visited there were more than 150 of Seward Johnson's lifelike outdoor sculpture installations spread naturalistically around the park in a truly extraordinary retrospective of his work covering over 50 years.

Johnson describes himself as seeking to capture human gesture, and works in a highly accessible style, usually in painted bronze. He says of his work I use my art to convince you of something that isn't real. You laugh at yourself because you were taken in, and in that, change your perception.

This was exactly my reaction throughout the park. On noticing what I thought were groups or single figures in the distance, I then looked again to realise that they were life-size representations of people caught in common poses or interactions, or perhaps representations of iconic American figures or well-known Impressionist paintings. It was in essence sculptural trompe l'oeil - although to that comment, I would add that quite often I found the work unsettling in its realism or in the approach it took.

For this post, I've chosen three of my most remembered pieces of Johnson's work - though later in the week, I may post again to show some of the other very different, mostly abstract sculpture we saw.

Of all the pieces in his Celebrating the Familiar series which accounts for the main body of work shown, I very much enjoyed these two. The first here is of a grandfather with his grandson, fishing, and entitled A Day Off. It was extraordinarily realistic and gentle in feeling, but its position secreted amongst the trees made it particularly convincing and disconcerting.

The second is of a young man asleep on a park bench. I don't know its name, but it is typical of much of Johnson's work - simple, natural and utterly believable ... till you take a considered look.

There were many others I could have included but the most impressive of all for me was a 26 foot (almost 8 metres) tall sculpture of Marilyn Monroe, called Forever Marilyn and part of the Icons Revisited series.  Modelled on her performance in the 1955 Billy Wilder film The Seven Year Itch, it is a representation of that famous image of Monroe - when she coyly holds down the flyaway skirt of her white dress.

Completed in 2011, this sculpture has previously spent time in Chicago and in Palm Springs, California, where it often provoked controversy as being too revealing. Under the heading Art or Trash, a posting on the CBS website describes the piece as 'risqué' and inappropriate.

I found it most memorable if somewhat disconcerting, and found myself returning to it to look at it again at the end of our visit. Perhaps this was as much because of its sheer size as for the exactness and liveliness of the representation.

I think probably that some of its appeal lay in the extraordinary logistical problems incurred in moving it from one place to another. Made of painted stainless steel and aluminium, it weighs about 14 tons (15,000 kg) and comes apart in three pieces which have to be lifted with a crane on and off low-loader trucks for transportation.

There was so much that was true of human form and interaction in all these figures. This style of modern sculpture is not what I usually seek out, as I instinctively prefer the abstract, but I found it surprisingly beguiling and there was an element which stopped it tipping into the banal and stereotypical.

For all its realism, it had a shiver down the spine feeling to it which I can't quite explain. Perhaps it was the frozen moments of personal time and space we were invited to observe closely and to share, in a way not permitted to us with strangers in ordinary life. It felt like intruding but at the same time provoked great emotional reaction - sympathy, empathy or even distaste. I was drawn into wanting to interact directly with the pieces, and to touch the smooth, tactile surfaces, yet I felt a need to keep my distance and show respect ... extraordinary and unforgettable.