Tuesday 30 September 2008

Meadow Grasses and Mixing Greens

On our excursion to Box Hill last weekend I made several sketches and colour studies of the grasses in this species-rich chalk grassland meadow- I particularly liked the golden seadheads against the dark green of distant trees.
I've had this vibrant lime green African damask for a while (bought from ebay rather than Magie Relph ) and had plans to use it as the 'canvas' for a piece based on landscapes inspired by Malham but the colours and the shapes within the tie-dye seemed to shout 'grasses'. I used narrow double-needle machine quilting and stitched by hand with cotton perle and long tacks with variagated machine thread
I painted over with acrylics - mixing the different greens was quite a challenge, a different colour palette after my more recent sea and coastal pieces. I scored into it with a palette knife to indicate the grasses (detail above) as the 2mm double needle does not give so defined a ridge as my more usual 4mm.
Despite this scoring and some extra stitching, it still lacked focus and defination so I printed out a manipulated photo of grasses onto silk organza and applied this to parts of the surface with large tacking stitches. October 12 x 12 inch Journal Quilt completed !If I ever do a large piece on this theme it would have to be called ' Urge for Going' as in the Joni Mitchell song " ...... when the meadow grass is turning brown...."
The combination of painting and layering with organza is something that warrants further investigation I think.
I tend to finish the edges of my acrylic pieces with 'no-binding binding'. 1 1/2 inch strips are sown to the front of the quilt, right side together , seam allowance pressed towards the binding strip and staystiched 1/8 inch along the binding strip. The strips are turned under the quilt so they are not visible from the front hand stitched in place ( usually turn under a pressed 1/4 inch allowance ). This facing method gives a neat finish and is useful for controlling the slightly wavy edges that can result from dense quilting.

Sunday 21 September 2008

Box Hill Excursion

As the weather was so glorious we went walking on Box Hill yesterday. We used to go regularly every few months but realise we hadn't been since November 2006, so preoccupied with selling and buying houses and settling in. The main attraction for us is its accessability ( it's even quicker now by train from Brentford , changing at Clapham Junction). I first went there as a student, analysing the vegetation across transects of the path to assess the effect of trampling and then later to wear in new walking boots and practice for trekking holidays. The variety of terrain and habitat and the wealth of flowers and wildlife ( not to mention the National Trust tea stall at the top!) make it a great destination. My favourite location is this meadow, one of the best in the UK for butterflies, overlooking the main chalk ridge that people walk up. Most visitors congregate around the car park, the tea gardens and the viewpoint with its vista over the surrounding countryside so although this meadow is reached by only 20 minutes walk through the woods, very few of them make it there.
I had a very pleasant 40 minutes sketching here while Ian read and dozed. Not among the best watercolours I've ever done (particularly as I've just changed some of the colours in my paintbox) but there's something magical about sitting among the grasses, hearing the insects and feeling the sun beat down. Definately the pleasure of the process rather than the product.
I tried to capture the colours of the meadow - lime green at the base with a haze of golden brown at the top, silhouetted against the dark green box trees in the distance and dotted through with violet of scabious and gentians. I found a neat way of drawing grasses - tracing the shadows cast on my sketchbook! (the photo below is a mixture of shadows and pencil lines)
The railway station (Boxhill and Westhumble) is a treat in itself with the layers of peeling paint - such a variety of colours. There's a real sense of connection to the past, people have been visiting for centuries (Box Hill even played a critical role in Jane Austen's 'Emma'). The visitors having picnics yesterday probably aren't that different although most arrive by car rather than train now. It's not the countryside of spectacle and solitude but there's a nice atmosphere of shared enjoyment in admiring the view while tucking into home-made cakes. I collected some blackberries too.

Saturday 13 September 2008

Experiments in Acrylic Inks

One discovery on my recent painting course in Malham was the versatility of acrylic inks , both for drawing and adding different effects to mixed media . A piece of kit that Katherine uses a lot is a Dahlia Mister which delivers a fine controllable water mist, used to move paint and ink around the surface, even to draw with. She graciously allowed us to borrow it and on any excursion, Dahlia came too and there would be frantic calls of 'where's Dahlia?' when we'd come to a crucial point. They are however rather expensive so I was experimenting instead with a £2.95 Ideen 'Funpump' from Art Van Go. My palette of inks has also increased to include Sepia and Payne's Grey (much less harsh than black)
I have it in mind to try a scale up of the studies I did of Gordale Scar ( detail above) on fabric, planning initially some Journal Quilt trials of sections of rock. My first experiments with Payne's Grey and the 'Funpump' were on watercolour paper(below) - I love the feathering you get and the separation and granulation of the ink. The 'Funpump' was not as controllable as a Dahlia mister but was still superior to a standard spray bottle being slightly pressurised. For practising on fabric I had a sample of 3 different fabrics sown with a variety of machine and hand stitching and then painted over with acrylics. The result had been very boring and I'd attempted to cut it and re-assemble with no noticable improvement - nothing to lose in drenching it in inks.
The results pictured here are rather interesting. Although any glimpse of the underlying fabric has been lost, the ink has concentrated in the stitching and emphasised it. Ian has already ear-marked it for his office - it reminds him of the snowy landscapes we saw in Northern Iran . I thought it looked coastal but I suppose that's the beauty of abstracted landscape, each viewer sees something different.
The combination of ink and water mist acted quite differently on fabric compared to paper. I thought the acrylic painted areas might act in a similar way being water resistant but most of the ink soaked through along the stitching lines as you can see from the back!
And a considerable amount soaked into my unsealed drawing board - a thing of beauty in itself but I'm afraid I'll have to scrub it off . Might print the photo on fabric though.
What I might try for my next experiment is painting some fabric with gesso before and after stitching to see if that resists the soaking through, to seal my drawing board or failing that, putting a piece of fabric or paper underneath to absorb the watered inks.

Tuesday 9 September 2008

September TIF (Lists and Colour Catchers)

The theme for Septembers Take it Further challenge is 'Lists' . There have been various posts from participants about their 'to do' lists - many people seem to get a huge sense of achievement from crossing things off but it doesn't work for me . Apart from shopping, the only lists I do are mental ones. I’m really quite an organised person but I was put off lists by a impossibly efficient and officious consultant on a time management course who insisted on them and I’ve been rebelling ever since. So what I had to work with was my shopping lists . The example I used was more legible than ususal as Ian was reading it and crossing items off as he found and ordered them on the Ocado website. Once you've placed a few orders, the site automatically pulls up previous orders and even prompts you ( as our first order was a Xmas one , these prompts tend to be of a beverage nature!) and the list can viewed as pictures of the items. I haven't used Photoshop to manipulate or alter text before - I was rather taken with the effect achieved with the filter 'palette knife' leaving just a hint of the writing.
I've been acumulating lots of used 'colour-catcher' sheets put in the washing machine to absorb loose dye from clothes. It's quite sobering quite how much dye comes out (the bright blue one on the far right was from a bathmat that had already been washed a few times) You sometimes get a nice random space dyed effect (especially from a 'darks' load) They seemed an appropriate material to use , being ephemeral.
To put them through the printer, I attached them to an A4 size sticky label ( which is what I use for organzas). Unfortunately they wouldn't come off the label afterwards so I had to incorporate them too (well I suppose that's the 3 layers of a quilt dealt with) , another time I'll use Freezer Paper
When I was wondering how to stitch it, it was Ian who suggested that I use black thread , to reintroduce the feeling of words
I'm rather excited by the ideas that this has generated: the manipulated text; the wonky lines;the large stitches; the crumpled texture of a material that is neither paper or fabric.
Oh look, I've created another list!!

Saturday 6 September 2008

Jellyfish Tree, Pojagi and Hockney on Turner

This week started and ended with quilting of various kinds, with several days of intense concentration at a work-related conference in between. I took Monday off to complete a cushion cover/quilted wall hanging for the outgoing Sandwich Student, Poppy. It's based on photos (manipulated in Photoshop) of some of the work she's done through the year she's been with us on Medusagyne cryopreservation.

The images used were: shoot tips growing on culture media; visor and gloves used for cryo; alginate beads from cryo experiments; highly magnified stained thin sections of Medusagne leaves. I found a batik with a pattern of what looked like plant cells to join it all together. I have some printed fabric sheets left over of the stained cell sections which I have plans for!
Most of the week ( 8.30-8.30 some days!) was spent at the British Ecological Society annual conference, this year held at Imperial College. It felt odd being back at the University where I did my degree - I thought I should know my way around but so much has changed that I didn't ! It was a very stimulating meeting (if somewhat sobering, with many of the sessions I attended being on monitoring effects of Climate Change and a presidential address on the devastating effect of parasitic plants on dryland harvests). On a lighter note, Honorary Membership was awarded to Prof John Beddington ( Govt Chief Scientific Advisor ) who described the interview process for his post including a grilling on the 'Today' programme. He was told that one of his main assets was his regional accent which people find trustworthy and reassuring. If you hear him say 'There is no cause for concern' in a broad West Country accent, be very afraid!!
The conference finished on Friday afternoon and being in South Kensington, I naturally gravitated to the V&A. I concentrated on the Japanese and Korean Galleries, impressed again by the pojagi of Chunghie Lee. It was a difficult piece to photograph being black silk organza but I rather like the reflections of the ceramics in the case opposite included in the photo. The attention to detail in the seams and construction is amazing ( I notice that she is about to run a workshop at the Alsace Patchwork show - I wish I'd known )
I was also rather taken with these Korean bronze spoons and their shadows. I like how each spoon is slightly different.
After a reviving coffee and cake in splendid surroundings (remember the Satchii-devised campaign "An ace caff with quite a nice museum attached" ?)I headed upstairs looking at the modern design galleries and then the oil sketches of John Constable (particularly his cloud studies). These are wonderfully lively, as David Hockney said in 'Hockney on Turner Watercolours'
" Put next to the finished paintings , they make the finished works less exciting as the finish has covered up the marks, covered his energy".
His comments on Turner's watercolours also resonate for me.
"They're fresh because you can see how he has made them. You can sense the trace of his arm, ......painting has to be about this sense of gesture and movement, the sheer physicality of making a picture"