Gallery of past work

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Line, contrast and drawing without looking

I've recently come across a fantastic book on drawing (via Amazon the great enticer). Drawing Projects: an exploration of the language of drawing, is by Mick Maslen and Jack Southern. The book approaches drawing from, for me, really unusual angles, providing all sorts of activities for freeing up, trusting eye and hand, and developing types of mark and mark-making. There are also features on well-known artists to inspire.

I love to draw and often choose to work in pencil to create line drawings. For me, there is something delightfully spare and simple about using line to evoke a mood or a landscape. It highlights the rhythms of the vertical and the horizontal, the straight and the twisting, and the visual relationships between them.

This book has been great as I've been exploring line in landscape. One of the many ideas developed in Mick Maslen and Jack Southern's book is to draw without looking at the results produced on paper - you merely look very carefully at the object you are drawing and draw in response to what you see - no visual checking back or elaborating as you go along. All the time you feel very carefully what your pencil is doing and ask yourself whether what you feel relates directly to what you are seeing in front of you - but you don't look....

In later exercises, you are allowed to 'take a sneaky look' at your drawing as it progresses, perhaps for example to work out where to put your pencil in relation to what you've already drawn. Even then you spend only perhaps 10% of your time looking at your results on paper.

Scots Pines and Silver Birches
by Loch Clarack, Dinnet, Aberdeenshire
I've been drawing in this way recently, both in Scotland, and also since I got back last week, using some of the photos I took while I was away. The pine trees and silver birches are always so drawable. They provide such good contrast for drawing - and also for photography.

Pencil drawing of birch trees and view across
Loch Clarack - drawn taking a sneaky look
The scots pine trunks have a controlled, architectural quality about them. They are strong and straight and branches are sparse so there is a long length of trunk and few low-growing leaf branches to obscure the view of them.

In contrast, the birch trees are fragile and random, reflecting the wild and unchanging nature of this landscape. Their leaves are fine and delicate and the slim trunks and branches twist at unusual angles and lean and interweave.

I have tried to capture all these qualities, especially recently the brittle branches and delicate leaves of the birches. Suggesting their haphazard nature was especially difficult.

Tree outlines Glen Tanar, Aberdeenshire - much drawn without looking,
but I allowed myself one or two sneaky looks

It is impossible to draw every tree trunk, branch or leaf but this approach has seemed to help me suggest the mood and the random nature of growth, if nothing else. Whether I've achieved this in the drawings in this post I'm not sure, but they've been a pleasure to do.

I suspect, like all other art work, it's work in progress ...........

Saturday, 20 October 2012

The Dee Valley in Autumn

We've just come back from ten lovely days in Scotland, staying in Kincardine O' Neil on Deeside, west of Aberdeen. The Dee Valley at this point is wide with fields running down to the river but the mountains gradually encroach on the agricultural land as you drive up towards Braemar and beyond, until the valley climbs and narrows to become moorland.

Autumn at Brig O' Feugh
We've been many, many times to this part of Scotland and I have a large bank of photographs to remind me of the beauty of the place. It's never far from my mind and images of the area seem to find their way into all my art and textile work, one way or another.

This time, we stayed close to home and revisited many of our favourite local places. The colours were working their way up to being truly spectacular, with the help of heavy overnight frosts - although we had to return home this time before the process was totally complete.

Rosebay Willowherb
near Kincardine O'Neil
Rosebay Willow Herb
colour inverted and enhanced
In the woods near the house where we stay, there is always a clump of Rosebay Willow Herb under the pine trees on the track down to the river. In autumn, it turns to a glorious, but subtle, range of yellows, oranges and pinky browns and has beautiful soft cream wispy seed heads. I took more pictures again this year - the colours always seem slightly different - and have had fun enhancing and inverting in Adobe Photoshop, giving thoughts for future stitching .....

Loch Clarack looking west
Long shadows enhanced
and colour removed in Photoshop
On another lovely sunny afternoon, we drove west to Dinnet, up the valley, and walked along the side of Loch Clarack to Loch Kinnord. The colours and especially the shadows cast by the scots pine trees in the gently slanting sun were wonderful. I've seen (and photographed - and blogged) similar before but this afternoon seemed especially beautiful and the shadows particularly crisp.

Silver Birch trees near Loch Kinord

I also love the silver birch trees around the loch and we found some twisted lichen-covered trunks, sitting in pools and casting fascinating reflections. At risk of being repetitive again, I had tree trunks like these in my mind's eye when I worked the hand-stitched piece I posted in July.

Dead Birch tree, Loch Kinnord
Further round the loch is this dead birch tree. I recently manipulated the photographs I took when we walked this path last year. The tree was silhouetted against the sky and taken from several angles. This was the inspiration for hand stitching on a transfer dyed ground. I always like to have what I regard as 'stitch doodles' on the go and this was one of my most recent. I'm not sure it's one of my best pieces and I've yet to finish it but it was great fun to do and reminded me of this lovely place.
Dead Tree - Loch Kinord
Seeding stitch on transfer dyed ground

So much of what I do seems to be inspired by memories, in one way or another. Now, perhaps, I'll begin to consolidate my photos and memories from this visit - drawing, painting and creating paper images before I stitch - I can't wait... I'll post some of the results in coming weeks....

PS At the risk of turning this blog into a travelog, if you visit north east Scotland and want to follow this walk, details can be found at It's a gentle, generally flat, wander from loch to loch and from one lovely view to another - beautiful....

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Silk Landscapes and Cushions

One of the things I most enjoy doing is exploring landscape and its rhythms, colours and shapes and I find silk so useful for evoking the landscapes around me. I machine stitch on it, weave with it and hand stitch on it and with it - it is so versatile.

Glastonbury Tor from Baltonsborough, Somerset
The piece shown left was inspired by Glastonbury Tor as seen from the garden of a great friend. I chose the colours of the silk strips to give a sense of perspective and then couched on the spun silk yarns for foreground interest and texture. The fact that the silk - especially if it is shot silk - frays in interesting ways is excellent for suggesting trees or hedgerows or even a range of hills. This piece was bought at exhibition and is now privately owned but it remains one of my favourites as it evokes strongly for me the sense of space and distance seen from my friend's garden.

Geology sample ... or book wrap?
I've recently been experimenting with machine stitch on silk strips for a piece I am working on that describes the geology of the local Cotswold area and its effect on landscape. I've been trying out several of the built-in stitches that come with my Silver machine to see if they will give the effect I want. I've found before that these can be stretched and distorted over the fabric by pulling the piece through under the needle at a faster rate than the feed dogs would deliver.

This was quite fun to try again, but I think I'll need to develop the main piece in other ways. Because the strips are narrow, it all looks too horizontal and similar in width. It may well be that this sample will ultimately become a book wrap - even though that will mean I have to finish it off properly and zig-zag the edges - the most boring of jobs! But before I do that I will handstitch a little to resolve the piece further.

Green and Red cushion
 On the rare occasions I find myself making something useful (rather than just decorative), I again raid my stash of silk - in the case of the photo to the left, to make a cushion. The colours are easy to exploit and develop with the help of other yarns and machine threads. I often combine the strips of silk and the spun yarns with ribbons and wools and then stitch heavily to give texture and a hard-wearing surface. Using metallic threads and yarns increases the surface appeal still further. This - and its twin - were made for a friend and now sit on her sofa.

Now to work on that book wrap ....

Wednesday, 3 October 2012


I had a great visit to Patricia Wood at Mulberry Silks yesterday. She had a lovely selection of silks of all kinds and was getting ready for the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace later this month so everything was on show.
Silk dupion selection
I chose a selection for my next project that I'm really pleased with. These fabrics, together with some fat quarters and strips I already had, mean that I can put my planned pieces together.

I found a beautiful purple / gold shot silk for the background shown left though the colours are not quite true. I also found some heavy woven silk which looks like a very drapey linen - new to me but beautifully textured. It'll give a great contrast with the lustrous slubbed silk dupion.There was also a fat quarter of checked silk that I bought to add variety.

Sari ribbons and spun sari silk
... and of course, Patricia had some really dazzling silk sari strips. I just couldn't resist the jewel-rich colours - I never can - and bought three hanks for my stash. Maybe some of the ribbons will find their way into my new work to give an unexpected pop of colour.

I never know quite what's going to happen when I start a project. That's at least half the fun.