Sunday, 15 July 2018

Tidying up

No, not tidying my work room, though that's much needed (and my husband would be delighted). This time, I've been concentrating on three of my sketch books or work journals. I've blogged before about these here and many times in passing elsewhere. My sketchbooks form a record of my thoughts and the processes I go through to develop and finish a piece and are very important to my practice.

This tidying up, ahead of an attempt to join a new stitch group, has made me look afresh at what I've been doing in the last couple of years - a very useful exercise indeed. It has forced me to look at everything I've done recently, whether taken to fruition or not. It has highlighted some pieces for future completion that I might otherwise have overlooked and some areas where a lot of new work could perhaps bear fruit.

So, very useful then, and I include here some of the pages I've come across as I looked through in this case the first of my Structures sketchbooks. Here I explored shapes, patterns and forms in high rise and exceptional modern buildings in Queensland and Sydney, Australia. This visit was especially meaningful for me and triggered the development of a new approach to my work and further exploration of the use of my own photographs as a basis for stitch.

Starting with the exploration of metal and fabric structures found above in a cultural performance space near Cairns in Queensland and below in the Sydney Opera House,

then exploring circles,

and near circles or ovals,

and then the beginnings of some work ideas,

and finally, exploring colour in the Red Centre and Aboriginal art.

I have been surprised at just how useful I've found this process to be. It has focused my mind, made me consider further the nature of my practice and its effectiveness and uncovered several pieces of future work, and perhaps even suggested new directions.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Pictures and a book

A small pamphlet style book was my solution for this month's meeting of the Stroud Artist's Book group,

and Mondrian the chosen artist. I felt unable to select just one of his paintings (the actual brief) and chose instead to try and represent the essence of his geometric work which I find fascinating. 

This proved to be surprising difficult. My original intention had included shaped and cropped overlays printed onto card and good quality tracing paper so that images could be overlain and some ghosted images seen through several layers. My printer, however, had other ideas. It disliked the tracing paper intensely, devouring it at every opportunity. After a morning of experimentation, I largely abandoned the idea, although the shaping and cropping remained.

The 'seeing through' idea still appeals though and needs mastering on my supposedly 'clever' printer - so I now need to invest in another roll of freezer paper to use as a carrier, and no doubt more time perfecting the art. 

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Studio Drift

When we were in Amsterdam last week, we visited the Stedelijk, a most exciting museum devoted entirely to art from 1900. There was so much to see and to think about that we spent the whole day there.

I could write about so many of the things we saw but there was one section right at the end that fascinated us particularly. This was a series of 8 studios set out under the general title of Coded Nature. Each contained a single installation by a pair of Dutch artists, Lonneke Gordijn and Ralph Nauta, who work together under the name Studio Drift (also on their website here) We found their work exciting and beautiful and, just occasionally, unnerving.  It was one of the most fascinating and extraordinary exhibitions of new work I've seen for a long time. Sadly, I don't think my photographs quite portray the size and impressivness of the installations we saw.

However, here is a selection that has stayed particularly in the mind, beginning with Amplitude (2017), an installation exploring the pulse that occurs in all living things.

The movement of the articulated glass tubes which were hanging from the ceiling was computer-synchronized and was triggered by a weight that slid back and forth in each tube. It gave the impression of a bird flying in slow and silent motion. To me, it also suggested waves gently and relentlessly approaching a beach.

In a nearby gallery, and also controlled by computer,  there was an installation called Shylight. This piece explored the changeable character of nature, and in particular what is called nyctinasty. This is the circadian rhythmic movement of plants which enables certain flowers to open and close in relation to daylight and nightfall. The flowers in Shylight were made from layers of silk which were raised, lowered and opened in a balletic choreography facilitated by motors and moveable arms. The light levels in the gallery were raised and dimmed to reflect the passing of the day.

The effect was mesmerising and we stood and watched the movements for some time. I now regret that I didn't join the small number of visitors who watched lying flat out on the gallery floor immediately below the display thereby gaining a whole new perspective!

Another which impressed us was the thought-provoking installation Materialism (2018). This involved the dismantling of obects large and small, analysis of the materials used and then the construction of variously coloured blocks which were sized proportionately to the amounts of  each material in the object. The installation worked on so many levels. It revealed just how much material goes into the making of each product and the use of very rare and scare resources and it prompted consideration of the total impact of each object on the planet. It was also very pleasing in its simplicity as a sculptural display.

The objects shown below (from left to right) are the VW Beetle (the list of materials was long and varied - not a surprise), the Dyson vacuum cleaner and a bicycle. Among other objects (not photographed) were a pencil, a plastic carrier bag and a plastic bottle.

Fragile Future, first seen in 2005, is in the Stedelijk in several forms. It is a beautiful series of light sculptures of dandelion heads individually glued (yes really, apparently) to LED lights in what was described as a form of 'slow design'.

Last of all we came to Drifter (2017), an extraordinary and slightly eerie film in which large concrete monoliths hover over a valley in the Scottish Highlands and an unnamed war torn city, multiplying, merging and constantly moving. Like Materialism, it invites us to reflect on the impact of technology on our society - and here to consider whether there is still a difference beween the real and the virtual world. It was mesmerising, if rather disconcerting.

All this and much else besides was seen on the first of four museum days ... and so much more was to come.

Monday, 28 May 2018


I have just returned from a week in Amsterdam with my husband and some friends. Having enjoyed a visual feast of museums and art galleries that delivered one delight after another (more of those in future posts), we are left wondering why we have never visited the city before.

While I process what we saw, this post gives my general impressions only of a relaxed and lively city with much to absorb and amuse. First of all, is a large open space behind the Rijksmuseum, full of people from all over the world enjoying warm sunny weather in a friendly and uplifting place.

Then, there were the canals and bridges. We had of course expected them but were surprised to discover after interrogating Google that, with its 100 km of canals and its huge harbour area, Amsterdam is 'the most watery city in the world', more so even than Venice. It has great charm and boasts 1281 bridges of all shapes and sizes.

But the most surprising impression that we have been left with is of bicycles everywhere and, new-commers beware, ridden at great speed and some personal risk on pavements and bike lanes by Amsterdammers of all ages. All around the town, bikes are left in huge heaps, chained to lamposts, bike racks and anything handy. That central image shows a purpose-built mulit-storey bike park near Central Station that holds 9,000 bikes!

Google informs me that there are in fact over 880,000 bikes in Amsterdam - amazing in a city with a population of 851,000 people. This total is four times the total for cars and, apparently, 68% of traffic to and from work or school is by bike. Many bikes (between 12,000 and 15,000 a year) end up in the canals by one means or another and have to be fished out at regular intervals by Waternet, the Dutch Waterways Agency. Bike fishing has been described as one of Amsterdam's unique tourist attractions. All extraordinary and no photo quite does justice to the impressive melée on roads and pavements which results.

The medieval area of the city is quite fascinating.

Every building lining the canals and the streets, though built of the same red brick, is unique in design. Many are very narrow indeed as tax was payable based on the width of the houses' street access. Some lean irregularly owing to the fact that all the houses were built on wooden piles sunk into the mud. Others lean slightly forward as it was thought this made them look bigger than their neighbours. Some are painted and have shutters and all have amazing gables and / or decorated fascades to echo the profession of the original inhabitants. It all makes for a wonderful and eclectic mix of styles which we greatly enjoyed.

The area round our hotel was more recent in age but still fascinating.

Although we didn't have time to venture outside the city on this visit, we spotted a distant windmill on our way to the Maritime Museum. Having gone all the way to Australia two years ago and not seen a single wild kangaroo, this was very satisfying!

We noticed this endearing piece of  quirkiness in a tree beside the canal near the Leidseplein (that's a miniature saw he's holding),

... and this large plastic cow and her calf on the sloping roof of a house boat.

We stayed with our friends in this charming small hotel on a quiet street within walking distance of the Museum Quarter and and were looked after most kindly.

All in all, it was a very pleasant time.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Stitch trials

Experimenting with stitch and colour this week, I've stitched on a length of hedge using two groups of colours.

Various things were going through my mind as I stitched. In this naturally-themed piece, should I use colour to mimic or reflect nature. Or perhaps I  should use a range of colours I liked, maybe to suggest ideas and thoughts, to reflect the seasons or to create imagery. Then there was also the problem of drawing the eye, giving focus and depth, and enhancing perspective. 

I was also working to develop and suggest randomness, allowing stitches to grow organically as in nature while at the same time maintaining balance and cohesion. these two, randomness and balance always present me with a difficult tension, since being deliberately random is almost impossible, a contradiction in terms. It is a quality that happens without conscious thought, yet I’m using thought to create it. 

In all this, I was working to maintain sparseness and restraint of stitch - I battle all the time not to overstitch.

There was a lot going on in these small pieces. 

Monday, 14 May 2018


Two dandelion clocks, perfect, delicate spheres in the warm evening sunshine ...

... until my husband cut them down. 

We have a difference of opinion about what should be allowed a small unfettered space to grow in our garden. 

Is it a man thing?