Friday, 31 October 2014

Happy Halloween!

This years pumpkin, bought to you by wine and knives!

Happy Halloween everyone! 

Harry, admiring my handiwork

Eye detail

Happy Halloween cat

Wednesday, 29 October 2014

The Million Dollar Question: How do you overcome creative block?

Daily Drawing, gel pen on black paper. 15.10.14

Creativity is a funny thing, I always wish for more time in my studio and then when I get it I find myself faced with something I can most accurately describe as artists block. There are of course a variety of contributing factors; sometimes I just have so many ideas I don't know what to do first (so I end up not doing anything) sometimes I am afflicted by a crippling lack of confidence in my ability (so I end up not doing anything) sometimes I am worried about things outside of my 'art life' and this affects my ability to focus on my work (so I end up not doing anything) and sometimes I just don't feel like it. This is just a brief summary, like all things it is much more complex and usually it is a combination of factors rather than just one thing stopping me from making work.

Daily Drawing, pen on paper. 17.10.14

So, how to overcome this? This is the million dollar question (which always makes me wonder, why in the UK do we say the million dollar question not the million pound question?) that if only I could find the answer to all my problems would be solved. What I am learning, slowly and sometimes quite painfully, is that there is no answer. I just have to accept it, stop worrying and try and go with the flow a bit more. Sometimes I won't feel like making work, I just want to crochet some flowers. Is that, I now ask myself, such a bad thing? Probably not and by crocheting those flowers I will probably become more relaxed and able to generate ideas which will lead to the block dissolving away and allowing me to get back on my creative path (apologies for the somewhat random mixing of metaphors.)

Daily Drawing, pen on paper. 19.10.14

I do, naturally, have some strategies for overcoming artists block. One of these is creative procrastination (a phrase I have stolen from someone but I can't remember who) which involves useful but non essential activities such as tidying my ribbon box and arranging my coloured pencils in colour order until I feel inspired to make again. Another strategy, and probably the most successful, I have touched on above; making what I feel like making. The act of knitting and crochet in particular I find very therapeutic. I am able to relax and enter an almost zen like state where my mind is occupied just enough to keep out the thoughts that block my creativity but not so busy that it can't wander and follow trains of thought that sometimes lead to quite interesting places and ideas. I have also tried doing set exercises, such as spending a certain amount of time drawing something, however I find that my contrary nature tends to rebel against this kind of enforced creativity, worsening the problem.

Daily Drawing, pen on paper. 25.10.14

As I've been writing this I've been questioning why I've decided to share this with you all, in a sense I am exposing myself and telling you all that, shock horror, I'm not always creative which is a hard thing for a creative person to admit. I think the reason I chose to write this post at this time is that I'm learning to be more accepting (of myself, my circumstances, my feelings) and by writing down that it doesn't always go as planned, that I can't just turn on the creative tap at will I can let myself know that that's okay or maybe I just fancied a bit of a rant or I wanted to get my thoughts straight? Whatever the reason(s) I'd be really interested to know how you overcome creative block and to hear your ideas and suggestions.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Life Drawing October 2014

Green pen, continuous line

Last night was the second life drawing session with my new set up. It felt nice and relaxed as I had a better idea how it would all work having got the first session out the way and it was great to see a couple of faces back again from the old group. The new space works well for us and is warm and inviting.

Pen, continuous line

Pen, continuous line

Pen, continuous line

I really enjoyed my drawing last night, I felt quite relaxed and didn't worry about how the drawings would turn out. Unusually for me I worked quite small, almost fitting whole figures on a page! Usually I like to work very large and end up taping multiple sheets of paper together but last night I was quite content to work on a smaller scale.

Pen, continuous line on tea stained paper

Pen, continuous line on tea stained paper

Pen, continuous line on coloured paper

As usual I worked almost exclusively in pen but I tried to use some different coloured pens and different coloured papers to see how that affected the drawings. I like the neutral coloured paper but, particularly with the more simple line drawings, I do like the contrast of black ink on white paper.

Red pen, continuous line

Green pen, continuous line

Pen, continuous line

We had some really interesting poses from our model for this session, lots of twists and unusual angles which are a challenge to draw but make even quite simple poses exciting. Particularly in the longer poses I found I was struggling to get the proportions and details right so I stopped trying to and did some fast continuous line sketches. I tried to not think too much about what I was drawing but just to let my eyes tell my hands where to go without interference from my concious mind. I like these drawings because although the proportion still isn't quite right the drawings give a real feel of the pose, more so I find than a more considered drawing because it is a very direct response whereas the more time you spend on a drawing the more time there is for other things to creep in.

Pen, continuous line

Friday, 26 September 2014

One for Sorrow

One for Sorrow. Felt and embroidery, 2014

Wow, another week flown by. I seem to have been very busy this week and when I was thinking about it I thought I didn't have much to show for it but when I started looking at my photographs from the week I realised I did have a few things. One of which is another finished magpie piece.

Ink and paint on paper

Felt and embroidery

I wrote last week about my ongoing magpie obsession and the drawings I had been working on. I also introduced a textile piece with the promise of more information to follow. Being a person of my word here is that information! Based on one of my inky drawings, this piece is nuno felted with machine and hand embroidery and needle felting.

Laying out the base fibres

Starting the magpie

Nuno felting essentially involves making felt through fabric, most usually fine fabrics are used and the fibres felt through the material. The main qualities of this type of felting are it's strength and lightness; because there is a stable fabric base it is possible to make a fine and lightweight felt (basically using fewer fibres) that is still strong. I used silk chiffon as my base fabric and built up a base of mixed sheep fibres and hand dyed silk fibres. I laid them out very finely in layers of alternating direction so that I would have a stable but still lightweight base for my magpie.

Building up the image

Building up the image

Having laid out my base and using my drawing as a guide I began to build up my magpie. I used a range of fibres, including merino and bamboo and a lot of silk. I wanted the finished piece to have a luxurious but subtle sheen which is why I used a lot of silk (that and the fact that if I keep buying all these beautiful silk fibres and don't use them our house may explode in a glorious colour filled ball of fluff.)

Starting to felt

The finished felt

Once all the fibres are laid out the alchemy begins; using nothing but hot water, a little soap and a fair amount of physical effort the pile of fluff is transformed into a fabric. Basically the hot soapy water opens up the scales on the fibres and then the friction caused by rolling it back and forth against a rough surface (such as a bamboo mat) causes the fibres to tangle together, creating felt. As anyone who has hot washed a woollen jumper will know, hot water and friction cause wool to shrink (that's those fibres tangling together) so whilst the original piece was around A2 when laid out after felting it is closer to A3 size.

My tidy(!) workspace

Magpie detail

When the felt had dried out I was able to start working on developing the magpie. I spent a long time deciding how to work into this piece, playing around with ideas and thinking through the process. I decided to begin by adding some definition with machine embroidery. I used silk thread to match the fibres and to add a subtle sheen to the stitches. The good thing about stitching is that if it all goes horribly wrong or you don't like the effect you can always unpick it.

Tail detail

Wing detail

Having added machine embroidery I still didn't think the piece was finished but I did not want to completely cover the piece with stitch as I wanted to keep the subtle colour variations in the felt. So, I added a little hand stitch, unpicking and re-stitching until I was satisfied. However, there was still something missing so I began playing around with the fibres again. During the felting process a lot of the silk I'd originally laid down had got hidden under the wool fibres as they tangled together so I needle felted more silk on top. I also partially covered some of the hand stitching to help it blend in. I knew it was finished when I didn't know what to add next.

Upper wing detail

Foot detail

The name of the piece is taken from the children's nursery rhyme about magpies; one for sorrow two for joy and so on. I rarely give my pieces titles until they are finished even if I have an idea of what to call them as they change and develop throughout the making process and rarely resemble what I had in my head to start with. I had never intended for him to be sorrowful but it's just the way he's turned out.

Head detail

Friday, 19 September 2014

Magpie Madness

Perching Magpie. Ink and paint. 2014

I've been really lucky this week and have had two almost full days in my studio. I've been able to get going on a couple of the projects buzzing around in my head and this has lead to a sense of creative satisfaction and a plethora of new ideas.

Colouring in

Building up colour

I have been continuing with my magpie obsession and spent Wednesday working on some big drawings to help me plan out my textile pieces and clarify my ideas and thoughts. I've also been keeping my daily drawing going which I think is really helping with keeping me working. I'd say focused and motivated but I think inspired to continue is probably more accurate.

Adding water

The first big drawing I worked on is pretty big (A1 and a bit) because I have serious scale issues, I just can't draw or make anything small. I try but however large the piece of paper I start with my drawings always fall of the end so I have to add some more paper to catch them.


Head detail

After roughly sketching out my magpie in pencil I used water soluble crayons to build up the colours of the plumage. The crayons are really chunky and very satisfying to work with and I felt a little bit like a child colouring in (which is an excellent feeling.) I then added water so the crayons became more like paint. I like the slight unpredictability of this part of the process. However carefully you layer and blend your colours you never know quite what's going to happen, the water flows as it pleases, sometimes taking much of your hard work with it.

Flying Magpie. Water soluble crayon, ink and oil pastels. 2014

Flying Magpie. Water soluble crayon, ink and oil pastels. 2014 

I also added a watery inky background and again the water flowed into my drawing, sometimes where I wanted it sometimes not so much. When the water had dried I added highlights to the plumage using iridescent oil pastels. They shimmer beautifully in the light but don't photograph well (or more likely my photography skills are lacking) so you'll have to take my word for it!

Standing Magpie. Inks on prepared paper. 2014

Standing Magpie detail

Standing Magpie detail

When I'd finished this large drawing I worked on a couple of smaller drawings. I was interested in trying to capture the shimmering, changing colours of the magpies plumage and the stark black and white contrast. I decided to have a play with inks, like using water there is an unpredictability which I like and I love the way the colours bleed and blend together creating beautiful patterns.

Detail of Perching Magpie

Detail of Perching Magpie

Detail of Perching Magpie

I had prepared some papers earlier in the day with washes of watercolour and I chose to work on these rather than on plain paper as I wanted all the contrast to be on the bird and not with the background. I had a few accidents with the ink along the way but a bit of paint and reworking and I ended up with two drawings I'm really pleased with.

Laying out fibres for nuno felting

Nuno felted piece drying out

Today I started working in textiles from my drawings. I had intended to use the big flying magpie as a starting point for a nuno felted piece but I was more drawn to the perching magpie so I went with that instead. Using chiffon as a base I laid out my magpie using dyed wool and silk fibres and then felted the piece. It is currently drying in my studio awaiting it's embroidery. I'll write a bit more about it in a future post as there are enough words here already!