Gallery of past work

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Men in suits

I've been playing on and off with another thought, this time from a photograph of men walking home for lunch from the Swindon GW Railway works. The image seems to have distinct graphic possibilities and I've worked on it for several days, on and off.

First, I turned the original to black and white, colourised it and set to to see what would happen.

Next, I selected and copied the building on the right, chosen for its architectural qualities.

Then I copied the image again and flipped the new copy, lining it up with its opposite number to give balance and a full width spread.

Last of all, I selected and cut out the group of men in the centre of the initial photo,

and added them to the double spread of the building to give a full image. 

Underpinning this exploration, there are many thoughts that I would like to bring out in a piece of work and there would still be more to do to this particular image if I chose to pursue it.

I'm particularly struck by how times have changed from the life represented here which would be unimaginable to us today. The men are walking, presumably home for lunch and not cycling, riding a motor bike or driving a car. They are all wearing suits and bowler hats or cloth caps. There are very clear social class demarcations, with those on the shop floor in cloth caps and the managers and professionals in bowlers. Last, but certainly not least, in the stream of people going home from work there are no women at all.

Next, for this piece, thoughts would turn to what to do with the image, for instance, how much to reference the social class and gender differences identified in the photograph?

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

The Railways and Swindon's History

As I've explained previously, my current work focus is a historical one – and a new departure for me. Swindon is one of my nearest good sized towns and has a proud railway history. The forthcoming exhibition by GWE is giving me much to explore and to think about. I'm posting here some background and a few general thoughts on the town's railway history together with a small selection of photos that have taken my eye so far. For now, I’m exploring this aspect of the town’s history for my work and especially the lives of the families working in the industry.

The railway works opened in the 1840s when the Great Western Railway Company’s broad gauge railway line reached Swindon. As the works grew in importance in Swindon, there were dramatic changes and these can be seen in the architecture all over the old part of the town.

Following all the industrial growth, there was great pressure to provide housing for the employees. The solution driven by Isambard Kingdom Brunel was to build a model village using local limestone in what is now known as Railway Village. My early points for investigation have been the shapes in a street in the Village. The first photograph here shows the tipical features and the cramped layout of these houses as does the photo below. In this, backs of a row of similar small artisan houses can be seen. These were known as 'The Backsies' because the streets were built in rows back to back.

'The Backsies' of Swindon

The railway company was controlled in its plans by economics and the back to back terraces of these small houses which were thought to be adequate for skilled engineering workers resulted. Like so many industrial towns in Britain, there was much overcrowding and poverty in the Swindon of the 1800s. Each house had a small back yard which contained little more than the outside privvy and was perhaps too small even to accommodate a good sized family wash. Perhaps that explains the washing hanging out in the front of the houses in photographs.

One of the most important buildings of the era was The Mechanics’ Institute completed in 1855 and which was built to provide training and education for the railway workers. This building is still to be found in the city (currently not I believe in good condition). This has also figured in one of my initial designs.

I'm also intrigued by this photo of men (almost entirely) walking home for lunch from the GWR (Great Western Railway) works. The file of men in suits and the very impressive building on the right would seem to offer some possibilities for design.

My next step is to go to Swindon with my sketchbook and my camera to photograph Railway Village (such as is left standing following post war redevelopment) and The Mechanics' Institute - and perhaps to find that impressive building in the last photo above. It will be most interesting see the expected dramatic change. 

Monday, 28 January 2019

Experimental Drawing

I looked again today at a roll of large drawings I made before Christmas. These were completed on a 5 day course at West Dean College near Chichister in West Sussex with Matthew Harris. I felt immediately following the course that these would require 'digestion time' before I would be ready to consider their value to me and to blog about them. I now feel able to evaluate them further.

Overall, it was an extraordinary week. We were a comparatively small group who enjoyed the experimental nature of the tasks we were set and the many challenges to think differently about our drawing and observation skills. The main stimulus for the tasks was an incredible suspended still life consisting of broken plates and dishes in interesting shapes, lengths of cloth of different weights and textures, a victorian squirrel trap (yes, really!), pieces of netting, a collapsed wooden parasol, wire baskets, coloured paper garlands and much else besides!

Drawing from this was a significant challenge. Working mainly on large A2 sized sheets of white  cartridge, we were asked in the first two exercises to draw the shapes we observed on a flat plane, ignoring the relative distance of the objects or perspective and to draw 'without looking' (ie only minimal peaking at the drawings we were producing). The aim of this was to concentrate on the outline shapes of the objects, the spaces between them and any interesting pattern within them, and not to worry about making a faithful, realistic copy of the still life itself.

This initially was a great relief! It also produced all sorts of interesting overlaps of shapes and patterns which seemed to pile one top of another, often producing unexpected combinations of marks and shapes. I have included below two small croppings from the first large A2 sized sheet of cartridge which show particularly this overlapping of shape and mark.

The early sets of drawings were made with no focus on colour. No surprise then that I chose (without even thinking about it) to work in black and white and mostly using indian ink. We were also encouraged to use less familiar mark making tools, particularly pens of all sorts, sticks, nails and anything else we cared to experiment with. This focused attention on the marks we were making, although these really only bacame fully apparent once we stopped each exercise and were able to look at the work as a whole.

I felt encouraged to look again at these drawings the other day because I had hit a wall with my current work and I was needing additional ways of approaching it. There is much to think about here. Particularly, there is the degree of abstraction generated without focused thought and the increased sponteneity it gives. Then, there is the focus on line: the variety that is available (as above) and the possible mix with more solid shapes in images. Looking at my finished papers now, it also seems that I need to consider the value of white or solid colour as a 'resting place' for the eye in designs.

Later in the week we produced several large sheets using colour in increasing amounts. I will post a selection from these later.

Monday, 21 January 2019


I find putting my thoughts on my blog very useful in helping with decisions. It puts things at one remove and enables me to view designs with greater objectivity.

I'm currently playing with images to prepare the ground for a series of small pieces. This little selection is having its audition while I assess its possibilities.

The eventual thought is that these pieces (nine in all?) on small stretched canvases and with added stitch will be placed flat directly onto the wall in a grid. Because of this, each one has to relate to the others and yet be different, taking the possibilities of the images and the layout forward. 
But of course, I could well change my mind!

Friday, 18 January 2019

Another thought

This time, another, simpler thought where the original is more obvious and also some initial exploration of economic difference - here, tiny houses in tightly packed rows, a multitude of chimneys and washing hanging out in the front garden.

I'm thinking carefully also about how abstract to go with this piece and, perhaps more importantly, how close I want to stay to the original photograph in feeling and colour.

And there's always the perenial issue of the roll of stitch, where, when and how to use it.

Friday, 11 January 2019

Early Thoughts

I began serious play yesterday with the first image of a Swindon street in the early 1900s that I showed in my last post. Initially, I've gone for exploiting features within the image and the patterns they make, in this case, chimneys and a line of washing.

A first thought, where I threw everything at the idea! Here I picked out patterns and shapes from the colourised image and superimposed one on the other.

Then, a couple of images with less on show and in two different colourways and the second one flipped horizontally . It always surprises me what a differenct that makes.

A different format

And, finally for now - just chimneys, though more work is needed on colour and I think they more resemble a collection of bottles!

Next to be investigated on its own is that row of washing in the original photograph.

Wednesday, 9 January 2019

New Beginnings, new focus

I have recently started exploring ideas for my input to the next exhibition with Great Western Embroiderers. We will be at Swindon Museum and Art Gallery from Saturday 25 May to Saturday 7 September - a long time - and it will be a most interesting challenge. We have to respond to and base our work around the large photograph archive at the Museum and our work will be exhibited alongside photographs and photographic equipment from the archives. There will be much more about all this as the weeks go by.

So far I have almost completed work featuring a local hedgerow similar to a photograph in the archive. This piece, begun in October and shown in a detail here, has been a relaxation - the stitching equivalent of a gentle holiday read. It was much needed in a very busy and at times stressful and disorienting period before Christmas. Indeed for much of this time I couldn't find it within myself to think new thoughts or experiment with new ways of working.

This week though, I've looked at a small package of photographs from the archive that I requested from Sophie Cummings, the very helpful curator at the museum. All are from before the 1960s and some are from the turn of the 20th century so there are interesting thoughts to consider and perhaps to exploit.

In this request, I chose photos of people going about their business or of streets with architectural features that interested me. I'm posting a selection with some initial thoughts.

There were chimneys,

Men leaving work at lunch time - I love those bowler hats and cloth caps and I wonder where they are going,

Edwardian house fronts with bay windows and extraordinary forms of transport,

and shoppers in an Edwardian street.

In all these photos, I'm struck by the lack of traffic - extraordinary to the modern eye - and in some, trams on the move (funny how things can come round again). I love that pram bottom left. It brings back memories of a photo of my father just before the first world war in a pram just like that!

Exploring local history through my work is a new departure for me and there is already much to play with in this small selection of photographs. It will be interesting to see where it takes me.