Wednesday, 27 February 2008

Take it Further February (or Lessons Learnt )

In previous posts I outlined my ideas for February's TIF challenge based on the idea of combining the adult and childs's view of an antique chair I used to use as a den -' When I was small enough'. I'd taken photos and played around in 'Photoshop', settling in the end for working with the 'neon glow' effect as that also matched some of the colours in the challenge palette.
'Adult' view of chair ' Neon Glow' filter

Combined adult and child viewpoint 50% opacity 'Neon Glow' filter

The problems started mounting when I attempted to translate it into fabric - to the point I think I can now construct a whole list of 'how- NOT- to- do- it' hints. It started innocently enough with printing off 1 image ( adult view) on cotton poplin and 2nd ( child's) on silk organza to replicate the image above. Only the organza only takes up a certain amount of ink and the image was a blur with no shape to it ( interesting effect tho' like hand dyeing - I'm sure I can use it for something else )
Lesson 1. Results achieved in Photoshop are not necessarily directly transferable to fabric
Lesson 2. Just because it's worked before dozens of times before doesn't mean it will work this time!

TIF Feb ' When...' Side 1
Then I thought I'd try combining the images physically so printed out the childs view on cotton poplin too. I played around with the images printed on paper first , cutting up and recombining ( something I've done very effectively before). I liked the effect but the problem with doing it in fabric is the seam allowances and shrinkage . So I added in strips of indigo fabric between but started losing the clarity of the image I wanted to achieve . I couldn't decide which combination I liked most so continued with both.
Lesson 3. Applying excercises in paper to fabric are not straight forward - think seam allowance
Lesson 4. Don't dilute effort - choose strongest image and go with it

TIF Feb 'When' Side 2
The problems didn't stop there - no I dug myself in deeper!
Despite adding in extra strips ( which didn't work anyway) once straightened up, the pieces were way smaller than the A4 size I wanted to achieve for my Journal Quilt. So I added on a border to bootom and side - only it is obviously an add-on and not part of the design.
Lesson 5. Design is all - don't add on superfluous parts to achieve the 'correct' size.
Lesson 6. Sometimes a piece has its natural size and shouldn't be forced

As I had 2 sides, I decide to make a double-sided piecec as I had done for January TIF , outlining shapes with quilting first from one side , then the other. Only a cut up image does not give strong lines and structure to quilt round. Result = mess. Which is worse, side 1 or 2????
Lesson 7. Repeat lesson 2 ( just because it's worked before....)
Although I'm frustrated that my ideas didn't work out in practice, I've certainly learnt a lot from this challenge so I guess it's been successful even if the final result wasn't !!The main take home message for me is:
Lesson 8. Less is more - don't fit too many ideas into one piece.
I thought I'd learnt this lesson a long time ago but it seems a reminder is due!
Thanks for all the sympathy for my dental problems - I'm now on my second course of antibiotics after a visit to the doctor ( with swollen glands and still feeling grotty). Apparently I should have had 2 different ones initially to deal with both aerobic and anaerobic bacteria so job only half done.

Saturday, 23 February 2008


Since the trip to Iran I've been thinking of getting a digital SLR camera. I've finally succumbed to a Pentax K100D - a good price, excellent reviews and even takes the lenses from my faithful Pentax Super A. For many years I took just 35mm slides but discovered the delights of digital soon after I bought my PC and have been gradually moving up the compact scale. I've been pleased with my Canon powershot A610 but at times in Iran was frustrated by its performance particularly at low light levels and in museums. Seeing the kit (and results) of some keen photographers on the trip made me want to return to SLR and I've been having fun today trying it out. I'm a bit concerned there appeared to be a mark on the pictures in the same place when I loaded the images up on the PC- have to look at the manual in more detail tomorrow and see how the dust removal function works! My first exploratory shots were of the cranes on the GWQ building site in Brentford which I pass every day on my way into work. It made a change to see them at rest instead of whizzing about. I then made some alterations in Photoshop, in some cases applying filter upon filter so it bore little resemblance to the original. It's important to experiment (=play!)
Cropped, minor alterations in contrast, brightness and saturation

As above with filter 'palette knife' applied.

As above with colour balance altered

Monday, 18 February 2008

Greek Blue

I'm currently feeling a little sorry for myself as I'm on antibiotics for an infection in empty socket following wisdom tooth extraction. 3 visits to the dentist last week didn't do the trick despite cleaning out the site (without anaesthetic) and the continual taste of iodine. No alcohol allowed so to cheer myself up, I've been fishing out quilts and pictures and deciding on places to hang them . It's given an opportunity to reappraise and look what direction I'm going in.
'Sea Stars' has been hung in our bedroom - this dates from 2002 and my first experiments printing using the computer, combined with Thai silk 'wacky stars'. At that time I was using iron-on transfer sheets ( I soon moved onto Bubblejet set as I don't like the plasticy feel and the difficulty of hand stitching ) and I hadn't yet learnt about increasing colour saturation. That said I rather like the subdued blue-green, it's a colour I keep coming back to, being part of the colour palette of Greek Doors. I have so many photos and sketches of the infinite variations of peeling blue/green/turquoise paint, collected over several years and trips.

Also out of storage now are my travel sketch books including this watercolour from April 1998 on a Ramblers walking holiday in the Peloponnese. It was 15 minutes snatched during a coffee break in a village high in Taygetos mountains near Sparti before a walk down the Anavriti gorge with flowers everywhere. It's not my usual strength of colour - probably as it was near the start of the holiday and the pans were a bit dry ( and cold - there was snow around)

I did the same trip with Ian in 2006 and I was delighted to find that the same crumbly set up of doors and stairs was still there and hadn't been restored as I feared. This time we walked up the Gorge at our own pace ( botanising is a slow process) with spectacular views and lots of orchids and had a Taverna lunch overlooking this gem. I didn't sketch it this time but looked for a long time absorbing the colours ( while stuffing myself with courgette fritters).
I've driven by colour ( I'm afraid I tend to skimp on drawing ) and can 'carry' a colour in my head - a knack that a friend who shares it equates to having perfect pitch in music.
I wonder what you'd call it and how common it is?

Sunday, 17 February 2008

Selling the family furniture

I took these photos in my old flat in January 2006 of my antique furniture before it went into store. It's recently come out of storage , delivered to our new house, but I've come to the decision to sell most of it - its being auctioned next Tuesday by Chiswick Auctions.
From when my parents were first married in the late 1950's, they bought Victorian furniture as it was deeply unfashionable ( and therefore affordable) but also more to their taste than modern pieces and ironically was more in scale with the 60's bungalow we lived in. When Dad died in 1995 ( Mum died in 1987), it was valued for probate, some of the pieces were sold, my brother took some and I kept about half as it was not only lovely furniture but had lots of associations with growing up. Meals around the dining room table except Sunday high tea when we were allowed to eat watching the TV (Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop, Ski Sunday) seated at the walnut card table. I was glad to see the back of the deeply uncomfortable buttonback chairs tho'.
The furniture I chose to keep was already a bit of a squeeze in the reception room of my flat but was useful for dinner parties and displaying kanthas. However, there just isn't the room for it in the back reception of our new property and we have a far more useful larger dining table and chairs of Ian's in the front reception. I'm keeping a walnut bureau and the large mahogany chest pictured above as they're useful - I keep my quilts in the chest which dates from 1780's! And its going to have the tv on it-just like we did at home.
With the money raised I'm planning to buy some nice bookshelves ( and have already bought a glass display cabinet). I felt a bit sad when the furniture left the house but seeing it in the catalogue , even 2 pictured ( lots 336 and 632) gives me hope they'll find another good home.

Saturday, 16 February 2008

Thin Blue Line Experiments

' Strindberg Shore'

Finally got round to trying out some ideas for Contemporary Quilt 'Thin Blue Line' challenge, continuing the themes of 'Strindberg Shore' in 30 x 120 cm format. I wanted to look at different proportions of sea, sky and shore, with the horizon line between sea and sky being the blue line. Some of my inspiration (besides some more Strindberg paintings ) included photos and a drawing from Ireland and Greece, paintings by Terry Frost and monoprints by Trevor Sutton.I'm also trying out a different material - a cotton yukata fabric from Japan in blues and blacks. I quilted this with a twin needle to get slightly raised lines on what will be a 12 inch square when finished ( CQ Journal Quilt size- cunning eh!) I marked off 2 areas with masking tape to the same proportions as the Thin Blue Line and painted with acrylics, varying the horizon line.

With the masking tape removed, I quite like the contrast with the unpainted fabric. Not sure which horizon line/ proportions I prefer ( if any) - I'm afraid I 'fiddled', always a danger when working on such a small scale and the painting is not as fresh and lively as it could be.

I'm not that happy in particular with the 'sea' part or the definition of the horizon line. I'm confident mixing blues in watercolour but am struggling in acrylics ( got round that in 'Strindberg Shore' by using indigo dyed fabric after a few abortive attempts). Maybe it needs a line of blue fabric introduced or a left unpainted? More experiments needed!

Monday, 11 February 2008

Not Plagiarism

While there are plenty of quilt artists who are using acrylic paints on their quilts, I've been having an exciting time over the last couple of years developing my own style of painting over heavily stitched pieces, often with underlying 'canvas' of wildly patterned African fabrics. I thought my combination of painting and quilting was unique but of course it isn't. Through the world of blogging , I've recently come across the work of Deidre Adams, just the photos make my heart flutter, I'd love to see them in the flesh. I think its partly that they are the kind of pieces I'm aiming for myself but there's the rub - as a well known artist in the US, would the 'quilt police' think I'm copying her ideas and methods? I'm not! My explorations arose out of a mixed media painting course I did with Katherine Holmes that I first applied to fabric with fear and trepidation in January 2006 in my Journal Quilts January 2006 Journal Quilt

Having experimented on a small scale, I wanted to have a go at a bigger piece, searched through my UFO/reject pile and selected a quilt top that I'd constructed in the 90's after a trip to Austalia. This was inspired by the changing light and colours over Castle Rock (Northern Territory) as the sun set.

Horrible isn't it? The fabrics I'd chosen were far too busy and patterned to work - I even lent it to Alison Schwabe as a talking point for a workshop on reject quilts (and got some interesting suggestions as feedback). I quilted it in parallel lines to emphasise the rock formations and then applied acrylics with gusto. I had such a fun time and as it was a bad quilt to start with , nothing to lose.

I leant a lot from the process eg simpler is better, preferring palette knife to brush, not to apply too much paint at once - the bottom of the quilt was so overdone in thick brown I chopped it off ! This had the bonus of improving the composition. It's not a great quilt (tho' definately a great improvement) but the process was an important milestone. It's not plagiarism, just a good idea arising independantly for those with the courage to experiment. And now I'm aware of Diedre's work I will be more careful to make my own distinctive, for instance in use of handstitching.

Saturday, 9 February 2008

When I was Small Enough.....

I've been experimenting with photos and Photoshop on the theme for TIF February 'what are you old enough to remember?' When I was a child I used this Victorian Windsor Chair upside down as a den or hiding place, graduating when a little older to a more sophisticated hideaway in combination with a wooden clothes horse. I took photos from various angles from an adult and childs perspective (above and beneath) then applied various filters aand combined them in layers , altering the opacity

The image below is a combination of photos with filter 'neon glow' applied and images above combined in layers with opacity approximately 50/50

The following images had filter 'cutout' applied to simplify the images then varying degrees of opacity of 'childs' prespective




60% with colour saturation increased
Although altering opacity in Photoshop gives an indication of how physical layers might work, I think I'm going to return to previous studies in layering images printed on organza over images printed on cotton. This gives a subtler (and more 3d ) effect as can slightly offset the images.
I was just thinking what a difference being able to observe the Henry Moore sculptures at RBGKew has made to my thinking. I've been used to interpreting paintings and sketches - observing and interpreting 3D sculptures has been far more challenging. And exciting!

Friday, 8 February 2008

Iranian villages

Doorway in Abyaneh

One of the more interesting aspects of our trip to Iran was the variety of places we visited besides the tiled mosques, ancient monuments and Zoroastrian sites I've already mentioned. These included visits to 2 villages. The first one, Gharavol Kaneh ( House of watchman) was at the beginning of our trip enroute from Zanjan to Takab. We were to walk through the village and take tea with a family with carpet weaving taking place. Not having my trekking pole with me, I didn't fancy the steep slippy muddy path so dispatched Ian to take the photos while I did some sketching in the lower parts of the village. One of the advantages of travelling as a couple! With such a busy schedule , its often difficult to snatch some time for sketching and usually involves missing out on some aspect but it's almost always worthwhile to absorb surroundings and observe in more detail.

In a village house - the ladies of the house (plus one of our party) snuggle under a table with a heater beneath , covered with a blanket ( Denise said it was very cosy) Ian's photo

A selection of the wools used in carpet weaving above the cotton warp. (Ian's photo)

The village was built of mud and straw and there were some monumental dung heaps. I'm sure it looked more picturesque in the winter when we saw it with the sparkling layer of snow that it would have done later in the year.

Sketches in the village.

In contrast, the village of Abyaneh which we visited towards the end of our trip (passing heavily guarded nuclear installations!) was much more touristy. It's an UNESCO site for its wonderful red mud buildings. Again I found a place to sketch while most of the group went on a walk

The place I found to sketch ( with a wonderful door) was close to a group of 3 old ladies sitting in the middle of the road, gossiping (1 was playing with a plastic crocodile). As far as I could see most of the population was very old, making a living selling dried apricots, apples and cherries, the younger ones I guess going to the cities. Abyaneh is supposed to be known for its embroidery and local costume but the stitching they had on show and for sale was very crude and most of the women were very proud of their blowsy acrylic headscarves. A few had plainer wool checked scarves which looked older. Made a change from the ubiquitous black chador

Once I'd finished my sketch and was packing up, the ladies came to investigate what I'd been doing. They made appreciative noises over my painting but were keener to see what I had underneath my headscarf, see what my hair looked like and admire my earrings. That said, sketching often gives a way into communication with local people that taking photographs doesn't. Or perhaps it was because I was on my own rather than with the group.
Sketch is at the top of this post rather than bottom as I made a mess of the uploading. Grrr.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Blue Faience

A small selection of the 100's of photos I took of blue and turquoise tiled mosques in Iran (mainly Yazd and Esfahan). The initial impact is breathtaking but after several days I'm afraid it began it began to pall. However I continued to snap away and I'm glad I did because now I can look back at them with fresh eyes and admire again. And I've also noticed that some of the colours are those of the the TIF February palette.

This last image is of a mural in Yazd that I thought cleverly incorporated motifs from the minuments and mosques in the area ( shame about the traffic lights) The inscription in Arabic, Farsi and English reads: ' Has the time not yet come for those who believe that their hearts should be humble for the remembrance of Allah and what he decided'.