Monday, 30 December 2013

New life

Today I held our latest grandchild, William James - less than 24 hours old and freshly home from hospital. It is always such a joy, this first meeting.

He brings the total to four grandchildren for us, two for each family. They are all under 4 years old, and such fun everyone of them.

We will go and visit properly next week when they are ready for us. Till then I have this hastily-taken photo of him in his car seat taken as I left to give the family time to adjust to the new life.


Saturday, 28 December 2013

Photoshop

... Adobe Photoshop Elements 12 for Christmas ... the signs were read and interpreted!

All I need now is the time to work out how to use all its features.

I will post interesting results as they happen ...

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Happy Christmas wishes

Thanks to all of you who read this blog and whose blogs I read for the hints and advice and for the pleasure of looking at your work. All the bloggers I follow inspire me. I learn so much from what I see so a thousand thanks to you all.


Happy Christmas and good wishes for 2014. May it be a happy and creative year for you.
Margaret

Friday, 20 December 2013

Black and white and framed again

And here is another piece of the Cotswold Hills in black and white pattern. I have in my minds eye the patterns of footpaths, hedgerows and contours as they wind across the hills close to my house and - as seen from the air as birds might fly - haphazard and somewhat random.


It's similar to the last - framed and still small but this time with a printed motif to suggest stone walls. I gave the last to a friend - always a pleasure.

This time it's to be a small present for my son. I just hope he likes it ...

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

A good find

During a very much needed tidying session this morning, I picked up a book and put it on a bookshelf and then noticed its neighbour - a book on the art of the first peoples of the Pacific coast of Canada. I took it off the shelf and it returned me instantly to the two years I spent teaching on Vancouver Island in the early 1970s.

Looking again, I remembered how much I had loved the stylised, dramatic, graphic representations in the masks, totems and other objects - mostly in black and white - produced by the Cowichan people. I haven't thought about them for so long, although I don't know why, considering how much I've been playing with black and white recently. Perhaps this visual treat from more than 40 years ago is the source of this current preoccupation - who knows how the mind works?

Of course, I stopped the tidying to look at the book, and then to google ... who wouldn't? Now I thought I'd share with you some of the images in the book and the websites I came across.

This is one of the most dramatic images from the book  - a woven spruce root hat from the Tlingit of the northwest coast of the mainland of British Columbia...


Putting traditional art of the Cowichan people of British Columbia into google yielded a lovely montage of photographs and this website:
http://www.cowichanvalleyartscouncil.ca/artists.php

It provides an amazing list of artists that I will investigate at my leisure. It also gives a large hint about how far the art of this area has gone in the 40 plus years since I lived there..

When I think more widely, I also find it quite fascinating that the art of first peoples across the world shares so many of the same elements - simplicity of image, stylisation and of course references to their complex belief systems ... even more to investigate and explore.

PS the book is by Bill Holm and is called Northwest Coast Indian Art - google him and his book too and you should get another wonderful photo montage.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Reading - Ruth Issett

Although I seem to be finding little time to stitch right now - and especially to plan or start new work - I have been reading in my small snippets of down time.

One book that has especially enthralled me is Ruth Issett's beautiful new book A Passion for Colour. The book sings with colour and an irrepressible enthusiasm for exploring the possibilities.

As in her earlier books, she explores the use of print, dyeing and stitch on paper and fabric but the examples shown in this book seem particularly vivid and exciting. Every page shows unexpected juxtapositions of colour and, towards the end, there are some beautiful examples of her work together with explanations of how each piece was developed. I found all these fascinating.

Within the book also, I found many hints and ideas for developing my own use of colour and I will be trying these once Christmas is over and I have more time.

This is a beautiful and exciting book and one I know I will return to again and again for inspiration and ideas.

PS There are hundreds of pictures of Ruth's work out there on the web on this link and many others so I haven't included any in this post - I just couldn't choose between them all. If Ruth's work is new to you, you are in for a delightful surprise ... enjoy!


Monday, 9 December 2013

Stitching fields

Between recent family visits and reunions and making Christmas cards, I've been stitching in the intuitive way I so often do. This time, the inspiration has been the vegetation and summer growth in a Cotswold meadow.

I worked on pieces of painted and printed silk with Madeira machine thread. I quite often use machine thread to hand stitch when I want an understated effect and especially when I'm using seeding stitch.


And a small snippet from the resulting pieces is here ...



There will need to be decisions about where to go next ... Do I cut the work into even narrower strips and invert some, or hang them in a frame as they are? How to edge the pieces?

I have a very good stitching friend locally who will, no doubt give me her views when I meet up with her on Friday.

When I've decided, I will post the final result.

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Glimpses of the tail end of Autumn

I took a walk around our garden on Sunday afternoon with my camera round my neck, seeking out the last colours of autumn. There were some - just a few - leaves lingering on the trees - amazing for the first day of December. I don't ever remember autumn being so late.

First of all, looking across the fields beyond the garden, a sycamore (maple) and an oak ...


... then a silver birch in the garden towards the house ...


clematis over the stone mower shed ...


and a splash of rich red berries, waiting for the annual flock of fieldfares ... just hope I catch them visiting ...


Towards the end of the week, a brief cold snap is forecast so this I'm sure will be the last of the golden leaves for this year.


Sunday, 1 December 2013

Further card play

I have a one track mind right now - landscapes, small, simple - and this time with a vague hint of Christmas.

The card images from Friday have changed somewhat as they always do, with colour and balance different but only slightly so far. I've had fun arranging the latest batch of little landscapes into a grid before sticking them down onto their cards ...


But now, I think I want to change the colour more dramatically so there's another grid with landscapes haphazardly placed upside down to help me look at them differently. Inverting and enhancing the colour has taken me still further ...


... and now, I've turned them on their sides and played further with the colour ...


I've had trouble getting the colours to look icy and cool enough but this exercise seems a real help. I quite like the way the most distant colour is strong and dark. Now I want to try them out on a white ground which may prove different. If they're worth posting then I will post - if not, I'll (thankfully) stay silent!


Friday, 29 November 2013

More card play

Those wandering lines in a simple landscape have caught up with me again - this time on Christmas cards. I seem to be compelled to make lines wander whatever I do just now. It seems almost beyond my control.

Although I've added a star, I'm not sure how Christmasy these cards are, but maybe it's helped by the later colour choices. The family censor seems to like them and they've got his vote so they're an accepted choice for this year and I making a batch.

However, they don't seem to me like the end of the road for this year and I may well get bored with repeating the same design many, many times so there may be others to follow. I will blog them if they seem like they might be interesting.

How did I make them? I printed the papers with acrylic paint, a roller and a print block, then tore and stuck the shapes. A simple punch cutter gave me the star, I added the greeting and here they are ... very simple but perhaps that's their appeal ... for now ...



Monday, 25 November 2013

Never dismiss a doodle

Following on from the post on Outsider Art from two days ago, I've been thinking.

So much of the work we saw seemed to be about the recording of a stream of internal thoughts as they poured onto the page. The techniques the artists used reminded me so much of what I do when I'm doodling - just working idly in an unpressured way and enjoying myself.

I've posted several times about doodles and, as regular readers of this blog will know, I doodle regularly in stitch. The word is not ideal and seems trivial and unconsidered but I don't have another word for what I saw happening as these untutored artists worked. They seemed to be finding the same great feeling of freedom I find in doing them.

Judging from the programme on BBC 4, doodling can lead to extraordinary places if you are sufficiently uninhibited and willing to go with your feelings.

So now, I made a rule for myself - never dismiss a doodle or idle playing, in pencil or stitch. You never know where it may lead ...

Another thought occurs to me - if you can doodle on paper or with stitch, can you doodle on a PC? I've been playing again (another word not to be dismissed!) and these are the results.

... some doodling over black and white work done a while back (itself a doodle) and playing in Photoshop...


... more Photoshop play on some cut outs ...


... inverted and then edges found ...


and the with polar co-ordinates applied ...


So, are these doodles? I guess it all depends on how you define a doodle. That sets me thinking still more ...


Saturday, 23 November 2013

Outsider Art

Yesterday I watched a wonderful programme on Outsider Art with Allan Yentob on the BBC 4 arts channel. This was a whole new idea to me. All the artists featured have had little or no contact with the mainstream art world and are largely untutored. Many have psychiatric problems and began to work in art as therapy. The result, judging from this programme, is amazingly spontaneous and uninhibited - all of it extraordinary, both in its inspiration and its execution.

Getting access to images from the programme was not easy but I've included here a photo of a piece by a Romanian outsider artist Ionel Talpazan whose art is an attempt to make sense of an encounter as a child with what he thinks was a UFO ...


... and this extraordinarily detailed drawing by Johann Garber who lives at Gugging in Austria, which is home to 14 psychiatric patients  ...


Much, much more was shown in the programme - all of it amazing - and some disturbing - but if you can't access the BBC channel, much is to be found at the Henry Boxer Gallery and on the website outsiderart.co.uk - and more still from Art Brut and Outsider Art at http://artbrutandoutsiderart.blogspot.co.uk/

... including this painting by Mark Ashton Vey who paints trees in extraordinary colours - I couldn't resist all that exuberant colour ...


All of these artists are largely self-taught and their work seems to pour from them in profusion - incredible, inspiring and to me, much of the work resembled doodling ... I'll think about that  ...


Tuesday, 19 November 2013

On trying to make art that sings

"To make art is to sing with the human voice. To do this you must first learn that the only voice you need is the voice you already have". 

David Bayles and Ted Orland, Art and Fear


I follow avidly the work of Fiona Dempster on her beautiful blog Paper Ponderings. She describes herself as a book and calligraphic artist but her work also includes wonderful prints which seem to demonstrate all the things I would so like to be able to do in my own work. It is the (deceptive, I'm sure) simplicity of her work that particularly attracts me, together with the stunningly controlled execution. 

Every Thursday, she posts a quote that focuses on some aspect of creativity and the creative life. This week, she posted the quote above, of which I have only taken a small part. I did this because I felt that the comments she made herself in response spoke to me even more strongly.

She said: In different ways and in different places, you come across the idea that your voice or your making is precious and special because nobody else in the whole entire world is going to make what you make, in the way that you make it, with the dreams you have dreamt of it, with what you bring to it, with the spirit you imbue in it and the experiences that have wrought it. Nobody else can make your work and that is the gift you bring to the world.

What wonderful, encouraging thoughts and what it says about her own conviction is so inspiring. I will remember it when I seem especially to be struggling and hope perhaps that it will bring me comfort. 

My problem especially is that I feel I have yet to find anything that I can call my voice (though I would so much like to do so) and can only play on in the hope that something good and true develops ... but perhaps that is the case for most people. Finding oneself in an artistic way takes may years of hard work and, I hope, lasts a lifetime.



Between the Lines
Hand stitch on hand-dyed scrim
I don't know whether the small piece above sings or not but it's a favourite piece made a while back so I bring it to you as a part of the long work in progress. 


Sunday, 17 November 2013

Playing with cards for Christmas

I've posted before about making my own Christmas cards. I block print, stitch, transfer dye, paint and manipulate fabric, monoprint or paper fold as takes my fancy. I've been doing these little cards for 15 years or so now and I know our friends and relations appreciate receiving them (or those who don't say nothing ...).


I must admit though, it gets harder and harder every year to think of something new. Still, I enjoy the playing and thinking but many of my thoughts are just not practical for producing over 100 in a couple of weeks.


Everything has to be done in a production line, completely by hand and card by card - without a press for printing or any other aids and this really cramps my style. Any tips or hints on short cuts would be gratefully received!



In the last few days, I've been trying out a few ideas and some of these are posted here. I've tried them in various layouts, some more successful than others ...


First of all, I played with some small commercial print blocks in my stash that suggest perhaps holly and mistletoe.


While I try things out, I've printed with some of the Ranger Distress Ink pads to give colour. These are produced by Tim Holtz in the USA in a range of 36 good muted colours. They seem mostly to be available in crafting shops here in the UK and give very quick, un-messy results.


Then I've experimented with printing up my own repeating papers for paper folding. Too complicated, these more ornate and fanciful ideas often end up as individual cards to be given to special people only.














These last two are indeed too time-consuming and I think there is still quite a way to go on the overall design - though I rather like the simplicity of them all.

Next I'll cut one of two print blocks of my own and try printing them on painted grounds, lightly washed with colour. I'll also try out some other, more textured papers.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Black and white and framed

A small piece - on the way to a much larger one - which resulted from a recent workshop in Marlborough.


No time recently for concentrated thinking and working time. Much too busy today helping my local art group (Cirencester Art Society) hang their exhibition. This small piece - 10" x 10" features in it.

And then it'll be Christmas and card making and present buying and a long list of other stuff I know I should be doing.

I feel really impatient for some undirected creative playing time ....

Friday, 8 November 2013

Colours in Aberdeenshire

I seem to have been away from my blog for ages. Busy times since I returned from Scotland have meant that I've only just downloaded my photos and thought what I wanted to post.

The silver birch, larch and beech were wonderfully rich in the soft northern light so I've chosen photos of them, mostly taken in our favourite and often-visited valley - Glen Tanar.


This year the acid colours of the larches and the rich ochres and browns of the beaches seemed especially pronounced ...


Then, there was the extraordinary pinky red of an ornamental rowan tree with its pale salmon coloured berries ...


On our way back to our cottage, we diverted to the pretty town of Ballater on the River Dee - to collect a consignment of black pudding (deliciously wicked ...) from the excellent butcher - and saw more strong rich yellows by the river ...


And lastly, there were the deep maroons and russets and the pale pinky-biege seed heads of the Rose Bay Willowherb in the ditches and waste ground where little else seems to grow ...


The weather was cold for much of our visit and hinting at winter. If you look closely at the mountain in the background of the last photo you can see snow ... definitely time to come south and hunker down with the heating switched on - more stitching and blogging and visiting my favourite sites - lots to catch up on there ...

Monday, 28 October 2013

Autumn Gold

Recent mild autumn weather has had me out with my camera and searching for autumnal photos. Here are a few to tempt ...

A local hedgerow ...


The Colne Valley ...


... and the wonders of Westonbirt Arboretum - both the last two in Gloucestershire ...


Soon we're off to Aberdeenshire in Scotland - always a favourite place for us and a place where the autumn colours sing. I think it's the combination of the low, gentle northern light, the regular frosts and the mixed woodland. Acid green larches stand next to delicious copper beeches and Scots pine. 

My camera is waiting to be packed so more may follow.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

On stopping and naming

I named it only when it was finished, as it was not until that moment that I knew what it was about. My needle at the moment of completion, became silent.

I recently came across the work of  Denise Jones and her fellow artists in the group Quinary12 in a small exhibition in the Pop Up Gallery in Brewery Arts, Cirencester. The exhibition was their first together since graduating and I really enjoyed what I saw and had an excellent time talking to the artists.

Embroidering between print and ink -
Denise Jones on the group blog of Quinary 12
Together, the group have set up a blog where I found this lovely thought - and the work shown left - from Denise which really seemed to speak to me - the thought that her needle was silent at the moment of completion. She only knew her work was finished when the needle had nothing more to say.

Her thoughts summed up for me what it is like to stitch spontaneously and instinctively as I usually do. Though I work round ideas a lot, I often don't plan an individual piece of work in detail. I decide on colour, form and stitch and then just see what develops.

In the end, I generally know when something is finished though I can't predict the moment when this is going to happen. I just stop when it feels right and balanced but, when I get it 'right', there is that special little bit of the unexpected.

Also, I seem to feel this need very strongly to find a title for my work that says something about what it's about; that summarises it in some way. Perhaps, there is a need to explain a little - or is it a lack of confidence that the work will stand on its own without explanation?

And then sometimes when I'm free stitching, I have no idea at the start what the work is going to turn out to be and often change my mind several times as it develops. Like her, as I finish, I find its name and its meaning - at least for me.



Thursday, 24 October 2013

Contours, colour and wandering holes

I've been busy trying out another landscape experiment in paper with contours, colour and holes wandering across the page.



This time, I've cut the paper into three strips which could be mounted together to form one piece - or become three separate pieces side-by-side.

It's extraordinary how much busier it looks photographed and on screen. But then it is about twice the size in reality. I must look again critically and at a distance to see whether that's how I want it or not.

I'm still working in paper - though I'm not sure why. I seem strangely reluctant to translate all this into fabric. Maybe it's trying to tell me something. Things so often do if I give them time.


Monday, 21 October 2013

Contours in Black and White

Another lovely day was spent with Chris Cook down at Marlborough Embroiderers' Guild on Tuesday. I've signed up again this year for her six Design for Stitch sessions, one a month till April. It will keep me thinking and learning and challenged I've no doubt.

For this session we were printing and concentrating on creating and handling tone - no colour, just black and white ... so right up my street.


My piece, as so often, took on a landscape persona. I couldn't resist a long, narrow format or my favourite contour and hillside running stitch.


This time I threw in some machine stitching and couching as Chris suggested. The result is most definitely a sample with far too much happening in one piece but I think there is potential in the idea for developing my Cotswold Edge work.

One possible approach might be to add one or two lines of red stitching to give some pop - or I might take the scissors to it and cut it into small pieces for gridding in some way. I will get out my windows and try and see if I can abstract any small gems. If neither of these works, it will go in my samples box for future use.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

Visiting Bath

I spent yesterday in the city of Bath with my husband and a good friend. Especially, we visited Holburne Museum, a small but fascinating museum in Sydney Gardens near the centre of the city.

We both love the city of Bath - a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and extraordinary in its extent and in the beauty of its buildings.  These date mostly from the second half of the 18th century and were built using the lovely local honey-coloured stone.

We used to live in the city in the 1970s - just round the corner from the Holburne, in fact - and have visited the city regularly since but we haven't been to the museum and gallery since its recent refurbishment - and beautiful it was too.

Most of the objects we saw on display were bought by a private collector, Sir William Holburne, in the 19th century. Wealthy collectors like him have amassed a hugely rich heritage for us and we love visiting the various museums and galleries around the country that house the objects.

The eclectic collection shown includes silver, ceramics, paintings, textiles and a wide variety of other objects. There were some delightful pieces to see and, as always, I've included what I can of my favourites - though photography was not all always that successful and that has limited my choice.

First of all, one of a pair of bronze candlesticks on a windowsill and taken looking out of the window and straight down Pultney Street to the centre of the city ...

 and then a lovely silver cow creamer - surprisingly modern-looking ..


... and some wonderful embroidered gloves dating from the end of the 18th centrury ...


There was also a fantastic oil painting by Pieter Brueghel the Younter - called The Visit of the Godfather - that I couldn't photograph and lots of beautiful, highly decorated silver which I would love to be able to show. All was beautifully displayed and accessible. It was a lovely visit.


Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Doodling in Stitch

I doodle in stitch - but never with a pencil. I have no idea why.

It's where I go when there is not a lot else to do or when down time is needed. It's where I can stitch in repose without explanation or justifying to myself the time spent. I just work the needle as the spirit moves me, making marks and shapes in response to the cloth - and such therapy it is.



Here is the latest little morsel - a response on a simple little piece of monoprinted cloth that I blogged about in September. In reality, the stitching is more visible and gives much more surface texture - but it seems unwilling to let me photograph it properly.


To me, it suggests perhaps a Cotswold stone wall, warm in the sun, with its nooks and crannies and secrets ... but then really it matters not at all what it is. Being something is not its purpose.


Monday, 14 October 2013

Monochrome woodcut

I recently bought a lovely, delicate woodcut that I would like to share.

It is by artist and engraver John B Souter who trained at Gray's School of Art in Aberdeen in Scotland in the 1920s. I know nothing about this artist - and Google unearthed only the bare bones for me - but, in my current black and white phase (well, some of the time), I was very taken with this little print.


I don't know the title or where it was done but it has a calm and nostalgic air and gives a glimpse of farming in the age before mechanisation. I love the clarity of the execution and the composition. Somehow Souter manages to pull off the half and half division of the piece, perhaps because of the bright contrast in the water in the foreground which occupies roughly the bottom third. Or maybe it's because of the diagonal edge to the pond on the right hand side which draws the eye in to the gate and the open barn.

Over the years, we have bought other woodcuts as well as many etchings by Scottish artists such as Alec Fraser and D Y Cameron. I'm always surprised at how cheap these woodcuts and etchings are. They can often be bought framed for as little as £100. To me, they are wonderfully graphic and I love the contrast and simplicity of the monochrome. They also seem to sit well in modern interiors in white or cream mounts and simple black frames, despite their traditional subject matter and realism.

I will share some of these etchings on another occasion.