Friday, 30 May 2014

Trees and a poem by Robert Frost

In my most recent piece of work, I took inspiration from two places - The Sound of Trees, a favourite poem by Robert Frost - and my own photos of the beautiful oak trees in the woods and hedgerows near where I live, converted to black and white silhouettes. When all the landscape is exposed and bare in winter, oak trees with their gnarled and twisted branches and somewhat squat habit are my favourites, I think.

The use of a poem was provoked by an exhibition in our nearest town, Malmesbury, that I wanted to submit for and which had the stipulation that work should reference the thoughts in a poem. Finding the poem came easily because of my current fixation with trees.

The whole piece is 1 metre wide by 40 cm and doesn't fit well into a Blogger page so I've included a detail only.


I will admit that this piece does not feel like the most successful piece I've done recently, though it's been interesting to do and the problems are not such that I feel I don't want to own up to it. It's more that I feel it hasn't really taken me forward in what I want to be doing.

But that will have to wait now for the next time.


Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Silk paper and a lesson

For sometime, I've been telling myself not to book onto any more workshops unless they seem  unmissable and to be appropriate to the way I want to work at the time. However, on Saturday, enticed by the phrase 3D in a workshop title, I found myself making silk paper in a village hall near where I live.

For anyone who hasn't tried it, it's a messy process involving a glue-like medium and lots of silk tops, the fine fibres of which attached themselves to my fingers with irritating tenacity. The colours of the tops were, being silk, delicious which was the saving grace of the whole thing. Playing with the colour possibilities was quite enjoyable.



I made several pieces of paper, roughly A4 in size, and a small bowl (the 3D element in the day). The resulting paper is very fragile and it may perhaps find its way into small cards when I next want to make some and feel like a different approach.

The bowl was formed around a blown up balloon and the finished result has the quality of translucent papier maché. I'm afraid it's not very appealing to me, especially as the inside surface has a very smooth, almost plastic-like feel to it because of contact with the balloon.


Maybe I was just not very good at it all but I don't think I'll be repeating this technique in a hurry. The most positive way of looking at this situation is to remember that there is no knowing what will be useful or enjoyable till you try.

However, I've made a mental note to myself that workshops are only useful if they go places I'm interested in ... and next time, I might actually remember!

Friday, 23 May 2014

Stroud International textiles and Alice Fox

I have long admired the subtlety and texture of Alice Fox's work. I follow her progress on her blog and it's always a real pleasure. Alice works mainly in textiles, printmaking and in weave and takes her inspiration largely from the natural world.

The variety of techniques she uses is fascinating - dyeing, printing, weaving, and stitch - often combining several of these in one piece. She uses stitch sparingly but always to great effect - definitely a lesson for me.

Sometime ago, I purchased a small piece from her which I love. The piece I bought, Pavement Piece #31 is shown here. It's from a series of work she did using the surface features, objects and debris she found in the streets near where she lives and works.

It illustrates beautifully for me both the simplicity of her colour palette - all that delicious rust and tea dying - and the complexity of her abstract imagery.

On Tuesday, I went over to Stroud to the International Textile Festival, especially to see an exhibition of Alice's work.  The exhibition was a delight - peaceful, meditative and delicate and more than lived up to my expectations. I spent a long time looking at the work and talking to Alice ... gleaning, amongst other things, some very useful tips on rust and tea dyeing ...

In fact, I was so taken with what I saw that I bought another one of her smaller pieces, this time called Tide Marks #25 and part of a large series of work on the Yorkshire coast that she has been involved in for sometime. I will now have the pleasure of looking at it as I sit in my work room.

Sadly this has not photographed well as it is behind glass and there are reflections slightly obscuring the image and somehow bleaching out and changing some of the subtle colour.






The last photograph here is of the wall in the gallery showing her work in Stroud and shows the delightful series of quirky little weavings using small pieces of rusting metal Alice found on the beach. I was seriously tempted by one or two of these ...


Alice will also be exhibiting with Prism at the Mall Galleries in London and, I believe, at various other venues later in the year.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Scots Pines and a loch

Following my return home, I've been playing with some Scottish photos taken at Loch Kinord in Aberdeenshire, a much photographed spot. Here especially, I seem always to be after the perfect shot.

There's been more time spent with Adobe Photoshop and converting to black and white and playing with contrast.

In the first, I was fascinated by the interplay of those upright, strong, tall pine trunks and the shadows they cast on the ground.


In the second, it was fragility of the silver birches that caught my eye.


And in the last, it was that wonderful, bent birch framing the view down the loch and too tall and etiolated for its own strength.


Forgive me if you've seen similar before, but I can never resist them.

Friday, 16 May 2014

Soft gentle blue views

This time, as I catch  up with myself after our time away, I'm posting with a seaside theme in pale gentle blues and a small pop of stronger colour at the end. There was no time this month to go seeking local blues in unusual places.

These photos were all taken in favourite spots in summer in either eastern Scotland or Devon in south western England. The colours, as so often in the evening around the coast of the UK, are muted and slightly misty but seeing them again brings back lovely memories of places enjoyed and peaceful time shared.

The first is the view towards low tide in early evening on the beach at Morthoe on the north Devon coast near Woolacombe.


The second is a close-up of foam breaking on the same beach after a storm.


The third shows a succulent plant in aquamarine and a tiny hint of pale cornflower blue taken in the grounds of the hotel where we were staying.


Now, a change to Scotland for water glittering in sunlight on a favourite beach at St Cyrus on the Aberdeenshire coast.


And, last of all, some nylon rope coiled on the beach in amongst the seaweed and looking strangely appropriate.


If you're not sure why blue is my theme for this post, details of Roy G Biv searches can be found here


Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Improvisation and stitched sketches .. or doodles if you prefer

The heart of improvisation is the free play of consciousness as it draws, writes, paints, and plays the raw material emerging from the unconscious    Stephen Nachmanovitch

Inspired by Connie Rose, I've just begun reading Free Play by Stephen Nachmanovitch, from which the above quote is taken.  The book so far has been a discussion of the significance of improvisation or 'free play' in creativity across the arts. I think it's going to be a fascinating read (thank you very much for the recommendation, Connie).

It occurred to me as I read the initial chapters that improvisation in stitch is exactly what I'm up to when I do my stitch sketches or doodles, the most recent of which is shown here. I am playing in an unconscious way with fabric, needle thread and my thoughts.

For these little pieces, there is no prior planning, focused photography or sketchbook work - just a hint of preliminary thought about how things might go before I pick up my needle and start, but that is all. They are truly a wandering across the cloth, a taking of my needle for a walk, based on what is going on subconsciously in my head.

I begin with a piece of fabric, often printed simply and in an abstract way and not more than 8 or 9 inches square. Then I find suitable threads - maybe contrasting, maybe harmonious, but always in a limited colour palette. Too many colours and I lose that improvised edge and think too much about what I'm doing.

With this simple starting point I look in my fabric for the initial suggestion of where and how to work and begin to stitch. My hands and my eyes may tell me where to start but after only a very few moments, instinct takes over and I find myself drawing a picture and telling a story. That story may be an abstract one but I always have something of a story developing in my head as I stitch.

As I work, it seems to be all about creating balance and subtle contrast in the image I'm making - but unexpected, unpredictable in terms of stitch and pattern. I like to surprise myself as I consider 'what ifs' and possibilities.

My choice of stitch is usually made from a small repertoire of marks - running and its straight stitch relatives, seeding (both real favourites), French knots, and perhaps sorbello. The chosen stitch, though, is not really of great importance as it is the resulting image that concerns me. The stitch is merely the mark I make to represent the image I feel the urge to create.

So far, all my sketches have been hand stitched but I'm sure the same approach could be taken with a machine though I'm not sure machine stitch would bring me personally the same reward. As I've said so often before, stitching by hand has for me a meditative quality and in these little pieces that sense is magnified as I tap into the quiet of my mind.  I like the feeling of the cloth directly in my hand and, on a practical note, I find the decisions about where to stitch next are easier when there is no machine foot to get in the way.

I find stitching in this way enormously satisfying and it was great to see that my recent post has enticed blogging friend Sharron Deacon Begg  to have a go and to post the results on her blog, Threadpainter's Art. I hope that she and anyone else who feels moved to try finds as much pleasure in it as I do.

Monday, 12 May 2014

Scottish walls and other delights

Given my current fixation with stone walls, it was small wonder that I sought out the moss-covered granite walls in Scotland. The moss is a particularly strong acid green at this time of year.


This wall was photographed during a walk around a Forestry Commission plantation called variously Mulloch Wood and Garroll Wood near Banchory in Aberdeenshire - the name seems to vary with the website you visit.

Within the plantation there is an ancient stone circle called Nine Stanes. It's a wonderfully peaceful place which, as the website in the link suggests, is strongly atmospheric of the ancient people who built it around 4,000 years ago. On the morning we visited, we were the only people walking there and we could enjoy the quiet without interruption. We could imagine the tapping of ancient tools and the calls of the people as they went about their business. 


Further around the walk, there are beautiful views from the track, looking out between a line of scots pine trees across the farmland and gently rolling hills towards Aberdeen. I loved the way the pine trees framed the landscape to make ever-changing thumb-nails of the view as I walked.


Finally, as we completed our walk and returned to our car, there was a glimpse of a very different landscape - the barren but beautiful heather-covered hills to the west towards Lochnagar and Balmoral. On the day we visited, the very tops of the hills were still dusted with snow.


It's a beautiful and remote spot that we've visited before and once again it didn't disappoint. I know we'll be back. 

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Visiting Aberdeen Art Gallery

Staying in eastern Scotland right now, I spent a delightful hour in Aberdeen's lovely art gallery yesterday morning. I always try to visit the changing exhibitions when I'm in the area as well as viewing again familiar pleasures.

This time I was drawn by a special exhibition in the rear gallery commemorating the start of the First World War. As well as moving artifacts from soldiers who fought in the war, there was a small collection of beautiful etchings by James McBey  a war artist at the front (more of his work in another post). The exhibition featured his etchings, one of which was enlarged dramatically onto the gallery wall to form a striking backdrop to the rest of the exhibits.

Despite dodgy wi-fi and no Adobe Photoshop, I include some images to tantalise ...


After viewing the temporary exhibits, I revisited favourites in the rest of the gallery, a motley selection of which I include here. 

First of all, is a fascinating piece called Inner Light by Sarah Taylor. This combines traditional weaving techniques and light-emitting optical and other unconventional fibres to give a range of subtle colour effects which change as you watch ... lovely , though not shown to its best advantage in these photos. Just shows what I could do with weaving - much food for thought ...!



And here is a real favourite - James Gutherie's (one of the Glasgow Boys) delightful oil To Pastures New, which caused quite a stir when first shown, and has a haunting beauty in its unusual composition.


Others I looked at and couldn't photograph satisfactorily include a lovely oil by  Joan Eardley, Harvest Time. This is a wonderfully rich evocation of the landscape around Catterline where she lived. It now sadly lurks behind glass which collects reflections that make it almost impossible to view, let alone photograph. 

There are also several maquettes by Henry Moore and two lovely small sculptures by Barbara Hepworth..