Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Rydal Retreat

Last week I was on my 4th annual  retreat with NWCQ in the Lake District, the 3rd at Rydal Hall. Perfect timing a week after leaving Kew for some reflective time painting and stitching with friends in a tranquil, uplifting environment. As in previous years, I'm basing Journal Quilts on my sketches (beginnings of first above) and I was lucky enough to have a room this year looking out to the front  with a glimpse of Windermere in the distance  and remains of snow on the surrounding hills, so I didn't have to venture too far for inspiration!

 It took a little time to arrange the tables in the 'Old Kitchen' (conveniently next to the bar) but once established  in our niches, it didn't take long for everyone to pick up  from where we left off last year. It's great to see how varied peoples working methods are and everyone is so generous in sharing.
Several of us had brought 'Gelli' plates with us and I  had a go comparing it with my usual acetate sheet (and got a bit carried away as usual with monoprinting - I even used up all the colour catchers I'd brought with me)
Apart from crossing the courtyard each lunchtime for delicious homemade soups at the  tea shop, I  made only a couple of walking/sketching expeditions.  


On my first on Tuesday I was fortunate enough  to be doing my annual sketch of   Rydal Falls from inside the 'Grot' when there was a sudden hail/sleet storm. 5 minutes later the sun was shining again.!

 On Wednesday night there was torrential rain  so on Thursday there was about 4 times as much water in the beck ( see difference above ). Further downstream, the river had expanded into the nearby field -it had cleared again by Friday. I wish I'd taken a picture of the bright pink ice-cream van parked on the bridge  next to it, catering for the damp visitors!

Too cold to hang around sketching at Rydal Water this time  but I enjoyed absorbing the view before heading back for hot chocolate.

On Friday afternoon after a visit to the Quaker tapestry in Kendal and collecting sourdough bread from 'Lovingly Artisan' , I was early for my train which was  just as well  because all trains to  and from London  were cancelled because of an earlier broken down freight train at Lockerbie ! After a few minutes panic, advised to  take the train to Manchester airport, and change at Preston where I caught up with the train I was booked on  so all was well. Arriving back at a packed Euston station ( usual Friday night plus extra mayhem with train cancellations) was a bit of a shock after the tranquillity of Rydal.
We've already made a booking for next year  It's such a  supportive, fun group ( and lovely location), we feel so comfortable with each other, it just goes from strength to strength.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Art Adventures

  Bela Kolarova ' Swatch of Snap Fasteners 11'
 Josef Albers 'Homage to the square:post autumn'
 Lygia Clark 'Red Matchboxes'
Klara Liden 'Untitled (Poster Painting)'

 My first week  since finishing work has mainly been spent sorting out finances and paperwork  with  visit of estate agent to value property and beginning to sort out my stuff for retreat next week at Rydal.  But yesterday was my first expedition up to town to visit art galleries during the working week ( first of many  I hope).  The current Whitechapel Gallery exhibition ' Adventures of the Black Square'   was  definitely worth the entrance  fee (alas,  I had to hand  in my staff pass which got me in free to  many exhibitions   when I left Kew).  Besides the familiar Mondrian and Albers ,more  powerful in reality than in print, there  was  much that resonated in terms of subject matter ( peeling posters of Klara Liden; crumbly walls and doors of Clay Ketter; David Batchelor's 'found' monochromes ) ; so many artists new to me( many of them women); such imaginative use of materials.  Textiles featured prominently - I'll be writing more about  that in a Ragged Cloth CafĂ© Blog post  including  Anni Albers; Rosemarie Trockel; Adrian Esparza; Sophie Taeuber-Arp.
As with the Emily Carr  exhibition I had to buy the catalogue straight away - I couldn't wait to have it posted!

 Besides the  biological recording  courses I'm doing to revive my rusty botanical skills , I've just booked for 2 courses at City  Lit  to  give my art-making  a kick start - ' develop your drawing'  and 'printmaking  on Mondays starting 20 April.

Monday, 16 February 2015


On the blackboard at the 'Botanist'  
Friday 13th February  was my last day at Kew - my  main leaving do  at the 'Botanist' on Wednesday  was lovely,  with touching speeches ( I hadn't thought about  my legacy  in  growing plants),over 80 messages in cards with numerous inserts  and emails  and  generous  gifts of books  for my  UCert Course and some very special wine.  I also had lunch and drinks with my close colleagues in the  lab -  they'd cunningly sussed out my interest in a 'weatherwriter'   which they'd found useful in  Madagascar   and I was  delighted  to receive one  of my own  along with a scarf, bag and earrings ( they know me so well!)   I can see it's use for sketching as well as recording in the field!
With going in at weekends I managed to sort out  things  more or less to my satisfaction. It will take a little while to sink in I think  but at least I can still pop into the Gardens whenever I like as I received  a Life Pass.
Now it's on the next phase - an estate agent is coming on Wednesday  to value our property.

 My last days annual leave allowance was used  a couple of weeks ago  to travel up  to  Warrington for the funeral of   Nigel Haynes  who I knew at school. We were both  on the German  school exchange trip to the Black Forest in 1976  and  in the 6th form production of 'I have Five Daughters' ( based on Pride and Prejudice). I'd only gone to the auditions to offer help painting scenery but ended up as Charlotte Lucas   while  I still think of Nigel as  the definitive Mr Bingley.

A lovely man , the Facebook page brought  so many of us together  in  some cases for the first time in 30 years ( even my closest friends there I haven't see in 5 ) it was  good to catch up even though in such sad circumstances.  It was  such a  special occasion in so many ways,  remembering the people we were as well as honouring Nigel, the years just melted away. At  a time when I'm facing up to huge changes and saying goodbye to friends and colleagues  at work, meeting up  with old friends means such a lot to me.  We exchanged contact details and are determined that we'll meet more often in future.

One friend , Julie Scott,  who I did A level art with,  went to art college  while I went to university and I've been thinking seriously about paths not travelled and the opportunities  now to take them up again.
 Melanie  kindly collected me from  the station and took me back to lunch with her mother  who still lives in the village. Pip Sumbler was one of my mums best friends  and  it was lovely to see her, still stitching (  she has a quilt in book by Dilys Fronks ) and we found we had some quilting contacts in common.
I don't believe much  in  a physical  afterlife  but  the power of  retaining   memories of people you know and love,  both living and dead.  and sharing and passing on their stories,  has been reinforced and amplified  over the last few weeks.


Sunday, 25 January 2015

The Shape of Challenges

 With  the long awaited arrival of the latest CQ newsletter ( great job by Margaret)  the challenges for  2015 Journal Quilts and Foq were revealed. This will be my 13th  year of making JQ's - I had already been making them for a few years before  Contemporary Quilt started doing it.
The  rules this year are that they be 6" x 12"  and you choose portrait or landscape format and stick to it.  That will be the hard part for me!
When this size was last set in 2009, I didn't like it very much , especially after I'd so enjoyed the 12" square challenge  the year before. While  I did produce some nice pieces ( the  best  I've shown here) some were quite dreadful ( I'll spare you those!)

Now having made several 40 x 80cm portrait quilts  for International Threads, I've learnt to enjoy this format  and the new  CQ challenge 'Elements'  is  nearly the same at  45 x 80cm. So there is some advantage to using   portrait format JQ's as trial pieces and experiments( and probably more doors!) 
However,  making little books using the Fabriano Mediavalis cards  as the basis ,  I like the idea of a landscape  series ( even bought a panoramic sketchbook to take up to Rydal Hall retreat, in 5 weeks time ,inspired by the purchase of  Norman Ackroyd's  Shetland Notebook). Seascapes would probably feature again too.

So which format to go for? 

 UPDATE - thanks for all the comments, I decided in the end to go for Landscape.


Thursday, 22 January 2015

International Threads Quilts - There, Almost There and Getting There

Thanks for all your useful input both  as comments and personal emails  when I posed the question  a few weeks ago of whether  I should include the scaffolding pole in my Anavriti Door  quilt for 'International Threads'.  The consensus was to include it but there were some  questions about whether it was too dark and also  its position. So in the end I moved it over to the left so the spacing wasn't so even and chose a lighter  blue/green colour. It now  quilted  and bound with its sleeve on and I've moved on to working on a couple of others . 

I haven't decided yet whether this will be my 'lines' or 'blue' contribution. It's made up of 2  pieces of  indigo arashi shibori - the bottom layer (below detail)  is silk noile machine quilted with heavy quilting thread so it has a fairly marked relief. This layer has now been bound down the sides to the correct width  of 40cm (for once!) 

The top layer  is  silk chiffon  - I just have to hand roll the hems like I did for my 'dislocation' piece  and then decide whether I attach it at top or bottom or just at the top. I rather liked the additional ripples and waves you get when it's hanging free  but how well it will travel is another matter.
It might be a case of catching it down in strategic places but wouldn't want to lose the almost 3d effect ( so much better in person than in a photo)

And I finally think I'm getting somewhere with my red  daub fingerprinted and dribbled (?) red quilt - I strengthened some areas . I think I'll probably bind  it this weekend and then decide if its needs anything else.  If I'm satisfied then this will be my 'repetition' quilt.   Meanwhile I've just started resuming stitching on the '  shore marks' quilt  - both Ian and I had rather nasty bugs   at the beginning of the new year ( colds turning into bronchitis) and only just getting over them.

Only 3  more weeks left at Kew -eek! 

Monday, 19 January 2015

Emily Carr and Kurt Jackson

An adventure to South London  to see 2 exhibitions : Emily Carr at Dulwich Picture Gallery and Kurt Jackson at the Horniman Museum   with a delicious  lunch at Rocca in Dulwich Village and a short  bus ride between them.  Lots of food for the spirit and soul.

I first came across the paintings  of Emily Carr  in Vancouver Art Gallery when I  visited Vancouver for   the 16th World Orchid Conference in 1999 ( I also  went to a quilt show on the outskirts  and discovered the delights of the Maiwa Handprint Studio, buying a  couple of linen jackets I still wear ).
I was bowled over then with the  strength of feeling and engagement with  her surroundings, particularly the  greens of the forest. They have not lost their power transplanted to another continent and the layout of the exhibition and the interpretation, emphasising themes  as well as leaps in development worked very well. Having a selection of artifacts there was also intriguing. Having reread  my battered copy of ' The Forest Lover' by Susan Vreeland,  with  the basket maker Sophie playing an important role,  seeing the finely woven baskets  made of things like spruce root added another dimension.
A lot of the paintings had quotes from Emily alongside them - these were a couple of my favourites about the process of looking ( please forgive me if they're not quite correct, I always have difficulty reading my own handwriting !)

" Sketching in the big woods is wonderful. Everything is  green. Everything is waiting and still. Slowly things begin to move , to slip into their piles, groups and masses and lines tie themselves together . Colours that you had not noticed come out timidly or boldly"  

"The first thing is to seize upon the direction of your main movement, the sweep of the whole thing as a unit. One must be careful about the transition of one curve of direction with the next - keep it going, a pathway for the eye and mind to travel through and into the thoughts".

A short bus ride way to  see the paintings ( and sketchbooks) of Kurt Jackson at the Horniman Museum ( above)  an inspirational exhibition  based around the theme of rivers . I have a couple of books of his works but there's nothing to beat seeing them in the flesh , the combination  of semi-abstraction and repertoire of marks including unusual sparks of colour. Most of all a sense of place - it got me thinking  of the theme for the new Cwilt Cmyru exhibition in 2016 'Cynefin'.

There was a couple of videos (1 from  'Thames Revisited' exhibition at the Redfern Gallery) showing Kurt in action, reminding me of Katherine Holmes demonstrating techniques outside and also of my attempts on 'Painting  Promentary' in Weymouth. Lots of ideas about  how he got some of his marks: dripping ink/liquid paint onto surface and moving it around with painting knife ( with a strip of fabric at the side to wipe excess paint off , interesting in its own right!). Dipping into that paint with a pencil and then using the pencil to make marks. Using the plastic mixing palette to scrape paint. Using a square format sketchbook.   

One of the aspects  of his work that resonates with me is  that it reflects his commitment to the environment and the natural world . Also got me thinking of paths not travelled. He's the same age as me and studied  zoology at University, painting while he was there and then  becoming an artist.  At 18  I very nearly went to art college but studied  botany instead  and have made my career in that field while painting/ stitching in my spare time.    Now I  have the opportunity to thinks about  taking up art again seriously  . 

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Maggi Hambling Walls of Water and Society of Designer Craftsmen.

After a  couple of weeks stuck in the house with bronchitis  it was with great excitement that I headed up to town last Friday with Sue. I had an invitation from Alice Fox to the preview of the Society of Designer Craftsmen at the Mall Galleries ( she had a piece in the 25 x 25 x 25 project as did fellow Rydal Hall  retreater Julie Bunter) ).
As it didn't start until 6,  we fitted in the 2 linked exhibitions by Maggi Hambling 'Walls of Water'.I'd already seen the paintings at the National Gallery and was a bit underwhelmed so I was interested to see the monotypes  at the Malborough Fine Arts Gallery . As I'd suspected, far more interesting! The range of marks was  amazing - very aware of the fingerprints etc.  (read the interview about the  processes here) Also the compositions, especially those with a diagonal ,  were far more satisfying.   

Malborough Fine Arts was also the venue for the John Virtue paintings I saw last year. These  black and white seascapes on very different scales , draw you i to the picture , you can  feel the splash of those waves 

Slightly less  interesting to me were the monotypes done with silver ink - partly I think due to the black  paper they were printed on but mainly because the range of tones wasn't so marked and that horizontal line more obvious.

 It was interesting to compare similar compositions in monotype ( above  with an accidental touch of blue)  and  paint (below).   Besides the difference in size and colour, I think the processes used  also contribute. The print making is one-off  and  deductive, taking ink off the printing plate ( hence those dense velvety blacks) . When I did a printing course a few years ago at City Lit that was a revelation
Whereas the painting is additive  and  I know how easy it is to go too far.

 More food for thought at the Society of Designer Craftsmen show. For all the colour and diversity   my favourite  was a large quiet  piece by Beverly Ayling-Smith composed of a multitude of tiny mended pieces of cloth ( she had a similar piece in the Prism exhibition which also caught my attention.) A lot of her work is  based on ideas around shrouds and burial traditions. Interestingly she also has a background in science, trained as a microbiologist:  
"   I feel that the scientific way of working (making small changes in experimental processes and the documentation of these experiments) has spilled over into my artistic life"