Wednesday 31 December 2008

12 x 12 x 12 Taking Stock

As an end-of-2008 exercise it's interesting to put all my CQ 12 x 12 inch Journal quilts together and see some of the common themes ( and favourite colours). Most involved acrylic paint but also wavy lines cropped up a lot, with a move to a different shape at the end of the year. The themes were either fields or coastal and often trial samples for larger pieces
Not sure yet what format I'll be doing Journal quilts next year but I'll definately be doing them- it will be my 7th year!
While I don't have a 'bah humbug' attitude to Christmas , I do to New Year Celebrations ( too many awful ones with forced jollity) , not sure I'll be staying up.
Look forward to catching up with you all next year.

Tuesday 30 December 2008

Rothko at Tate Modern: Seagram Series

I'm still thinking about the exhibition we went to yesterday at Tate Modern of the late paintings of Mark Rothko. The highlight was the Seagram Murals, 14 of them from several museum shown together for the first time as a series. Since the 1980's I've visited them regularly when they were at what is now Tate Britain and in their newer (darker) room at Tate Modern. In their apparent simplicity, they are pieces for contemplation and meditation. The displays of sketches and explanations on the techniques used to construct them , as revealed by 2 years painstaking work by conservators, added rather than detracted from their mystery.
I bought a catalogue but was a bit frustrated that they didn't have some detailed photos in close-up besides those of the whole canvases ( which are huge) For instance this one pictured above ( Untitled 1958) has the most amazing brush work, feathered edges floating on the background maroon surface. For once , quick drawings in my sketchbook were useless, I had to describe in words the different textures and colour shifts: variations in transparency;hard and soft edges. In 'Red on Maroon Section 2' (above) the colour differences are very subdued, a shift between matt and gloss (more obvious viewed at an angle)

I was rather taken with the sketches executed on paper for this series. You can see the texture of the watercolour paper in the red paint of this study 'Untitled,(study for Seagram Mural) 1958-9', less visible under the thicker grey-red gouache.
These tiny studies are charming-exploring the qualities of transparency in watercolour instead of oils. What is so special about the huge canvases is that some of that immediacy is captured.

I wasn't so grabbed by the 'Black-form', 'brown and grey' and 'Black and grey' series ( although I enjoyed the vigorous brushwork exhibited in the latter). I love my colour too much and those reds and maroons speak to me ( we realised when we got home that the living room walls and sofa are shades of 'Rothko Red'!) Having said that, I was interested in the studies for 'Black-form' pieces carried out in graphite on black paper - another example of the variation in matt v shiny rather than in hue. I don't think they photograph easily ( the example above looks like it was done with white ), so scribbling in my sketchbook and on the cover of the room guide gave a better idea.
This exhibition made me think once again of the work of Ian McKeever ( quoted in the 'Tateshot' videoclip on Rothko) whose paintings use different shapes but share some of the same qualities of translucency and layers.
A lot of food for thought. In the December issue of Artists and Illustrators there were some tips on having a go at painting colour fields: swapping primer for glue; keeping layers thin; building up areas of differing density; varying degrees of matt and gloss; mixing things up.
What colour shall I go for in my experiments? And will acrylics work or will I have to return at last to oil paints?

Wednesday 24 December 2008

December TIF: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

The concept for Decembers 'Take It Further ' Challenge (appropriate to the season ) was 'Generosity'. Quite difficult to interpret in a textile piece but I wasn't going to give in and go with the colour palette ( Xmas colours) . I've been giving a lot of thought to what generosity means to me and it's taken me in a number of different directions, ideas which were well expressed in my friend Jeanettes Xmas newsletter:
" My Christmas wish is that the relentless pursuit of “economic growth” will cease to be the dominant paradigm by which we live, and environmental and human stewardship will take over"
At work a lot of what I do is 'enabling', training people in conservation techniques either directly or indirectly. The charity we're donating to this year is 'Practical Action' being a firm believer in giving people skills to help themselves. As the project we're supporting is to improve composting, this led onto thoughts of how we recycle and also the other sides of the the triangle : reuse is relatively easy, reduction more difficult. This A4 piece has been made with leftovers and offcuts from 9 projects completed this year, trimmed down and joined with zigzag using thread from a charity shop. Some of the fabrics are from charity shop clothes; from kimonos picked apart; some original Cameroon indigo cloth and a section of painted Durham quilt. Even the 'reduce-reuse-recycle' triangle was printed on a indigo dyed fabric sheet that had already been through the computer printer but kept jamming - it behave perfectly on this occasion. You can spot the component parts a lot easier from the back.
This will be the last item this year to be written up in my sketchbook/scrapbook -by expert planning (ha!) I have just a couple of pages left. The house is cleaned, studio tidied, cupboards and fridge stocked so I'm looking forward to about 10 creative days when I can concentrate on planning and starting some new work ( and a new sketchbook), mixed in with with some walks and visits to galleries for inspiration.
I'm feeling mellow after a mulled wine and 'coconut molehill' (made from the egg whites leftover from Ian's Tiramisu) so time to wish

Thursday 18 December 2008

Finding the Feisty Fairy ( and other Xmas Tales)

To decorate our first Christmas tree I was keen to buy a fairy/angel that wasn't too whimisical and cute and found the perfect gal at British Crafts in Chiswick - she's a generously proportioned Trapeze Artist made of wire by Jo Dewar. After trying various heart-shaped ornaments, she acquired some fuchsia pink wings which Jo generously didn't charge for as I'd given her ideas for future 'fairies'. No, our Christmas tree is not dead - it's supposed be like that! We chose a 'chocolate' artificial tree with fibre optic lights.

It gently shimmers in the corner of the 'parlour' in front of some of my textile books and we didn't have to worry about buying extra lights.

I spent some time and elbow grease black-leading our original Edwardian fire place ( and cleaning out the grate and replacing the coals with fircones). With an artificial berry garland on the top (decided real holly would scratch the surface), it looks very cosy.
I don't normally go in for answering questionnaires but there's one circulating on a number of blogs about Christmas traditions that I've found entertaining so thought I'd share mine.
I should point out that apart from my childhood, I've escaped abroad for most Festive Seasons ( 12 countries visited) and have introduced Ian to the habit ( Syria and Iran so far ).
This year is our first spent entirely in our new (ish) home and we're looking forward to inventing our own traditions.
Egg Nog or Hot Chocolate? Neither - can't stand eggs and although I love chocolate in a solid format, hot chocolate gives me headaches. Cava is good and Santa gets left a glass of ginger wine.

Does Santa wrap presents or set them under the tree?
Wrapped and put in stocking and/or pillow case

Coloured lights on tree or white? White fibre optics ( a colour disc was also supplied - but that involves taking apart the base and losing the miniscule vital screw)
When do you put your decorations up? First weekend in December. If you go away for Xmas, you don't get the benefit otherwise.

What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)? As a Marmite fiend it has to be Twiglets!!

When and how did you learn the truth about Santa? It took a college education to deduce how our stockings were filled overnight when we left them on the hearth ( clue: socks come in pairs )

Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve? No, We were allowed to investigate our stockings
first thing but the rest had to wait until after Mass. Last year we opened pressies on our return from Iran
How do you decorate your Christmas tree? Various handcrafted items bought on travels ( eg Hungarian felt birds) plus patchwork ornaments

Snow! Love it or Dread it? Love it as long as prepared with thermals and sturdy footware. We had snow in Iran last year and it made everything sparkly but then were caught in a blizzard heading back to Tehran and our plane was the last out before the city was snowbound. Never been sitting in a plane as it was de-iced before!
('Modest Dress' is easier when it's cold!)

Can you ice skate? No!! My colleagues persuaded me to join them on a staff skating session on the rink at work but I spent my time holding onto the barrier in terror, watching the others glide elegantly by... I can rollerskate though.
Do you remember your favorite gift? The wierd ones are more memorable - like the fake fur legwarmers ( my brother believed in surprise presents) and the fire extinguisher ( my Dad had requested an extinguisher for his car and for some reason thought I'd wanted one -I don't drive)

What’s the most important thing about the Holidays for you? It used to be that it was the best time for travel abroad as I didn't need to use much annual leave and I came back tanned and invigorated (tho' usually with a cold). Now it is quality time spent with Ian.

What is your favorite Holiday Dessert? Trifle - preferably ginger. Ian is making Tiramisu this year

What is your favorite tradition? Still in development.

Which do you prefer, Giving or Receiving? On the whole Giving ( had a lovely time this year choosing clothes from Monsoon for a 1 year old girl.) It's difficult to make lists for others to buy for you when you're used to buying whatever you want ! At work we gave up doing 'Secret Santa' to jointly support Oxfam Unwrapped projects and at home we've bought goats, and this year innovative compost bins in Sri Lanka via Practical Action ( composting being dear to Ian's heart).

What is your favorite Christmas Song? I sang alto in the staff choir last year in St Annes' Church : 2 songs by Rutter ; 'Torches ' and my particular favourite the Georgian hymm ' Let an Anthem of Praise' with it's simple but uplifting harmonies. This is on the Maddy Prior & the Carnival Band CD 'Carols at Christmas' - I also like their 'Gold Frankinsense and Myrrh' CD as it reminds me of music I've heard on my travels. The most bizarre New Year's music was in a remote hotel in Morocco where all they had was 'Boney M's Greatest Hits'.....

Ever recycled a Christmas present? Some 'Secret Santa' gifts (especially candles) have made their way into the 'presents drawer' where they mostly remain. Trouble is, if I don't want them , who would I pass them on to?

Tuesday 16 December 2008

Babylon: myth and reality

On Friday evening, Ian and I went to the British Museum to see the exhibition 'Babylon :Myth and Reality' . Not a huge exhibition but a gem ( Guardian review here) with its combination of artifacts and various artistic interpretations of the myths surrounding the place. The glazed ceramic panels from the Ishtar gate (built for Nebuchadnezzar) were very impressive. We bought the last embroidered velvet Xmas ornament based on the lions - they'd unfortunately sold out of the 'Mushhushshu' dragons which were rather endearing in their strange amalgam of snake, eagle, and lion with horns.
It was interesting to see how powerful an idea the Tower of Babel has been in artwork from Brueghel onwards - there were several contemporary pieces. I particularly liked the collage work of Anne Desmet , painstakingly built up from multiple prints ( she's lecturing at the BM in January). I remembered to look up Angie Hughes construction too when I got home, she told us about it at the CQ Summer School last year.
There was a model in the exhibition of the Ziggurat from which the myth of the Tower probably evolved. This reminded us of our trip to Syria but I'm afraid more for the Ziggurats of Pastries in Hama rather than the scant remains we saw near the Iraqi border.Well, they were delicious!

Monday 8 December 2008

Finishing UFO's II

Another UFO ( UnFinished Object) has now turned into a WIP (Work in Progress). I made this lap quilt/wall hanging in the 1990's based on the Guinea fowl at Kew ( they're such characters , resembling rather manic city gents that I called them 'The Chaps') The background is made of hand dyed silks and cottons ( that dates it to pre 1998 when my kitchen was refurbished and I could no longer make a mess dyeing in buckets ). The chaps themselves are hand appliqued in different grey fabrics which were also used in the borders and on the back ( below)

I started out hand quilting but ended up 'echo' machine quilting around the shapes of the guinea fowl and made a freezer paper quilting pattern of smaller guinea fowl around the border.

All that was left to do was to stitch feather patterns on the guinea fowl themselves - I did a couple then abandoned it - it's quite tough going as they were appliqued using vilene so there's 5 layers to stitch through!

I've been inspired to finally finish it as a birthday present for our nephew who loves birds and birdwatching and might appreciate it rather than being stuffed in a drawer. A few wonky stitches until I found the notes and diagram I'd made several years ago for teaching 'crows foot' Very satisfying - I can see me using this stitch more now I've rediscovered it.

8 down , 4 to go. If I have sufficient time I might machine stitch their feet and crests - I'm not convinced how permanent the red fabric marker pen is.

Finishing UFO's

Sorting through all my stuff, as well as fabric threads etc , I've came across several old uncompleted projects. The earliest UFO (UnFinished Object) dates from 1982 when , flushed with success at making a quilted bag , I decided ( as you do!) to make a double size bed quilt next! I spend days in mum's shed going through her bags of fabric ( she was an embroiderer and quilter although it was me that as a child acquired all those cotton dresses at Jumble Sales - sharper elbows!). Then templates for 'snowball' pattern were made from graph paper stuck to cereal packets, fabric marked and cut out with scissors. It was pieced using my hand operated Singer ( which I still have). At least I had the sense to assemble it for quilting using 'quilt-as- you- go method' in 6 sections.

I spent a lot of time hand quilting intricate spiderwebs ( and some spiders) and the lines on the 'wickerwork', completing 2 sections but abandoned it to move onto more exciting ( and quicker) projects. I ruined another section practising using the 'hand quilting' stitch on my brand new Bernina in the 1990's and it was abandoned again
Several quilt tops have already made their way to Sue's charity quilt group to complete - looking at these sections again I thought that I could make a couple of lap quilts out of them. I've added some extra machine quilting where necessary and am currently putting on bindings and undoing all my meticulous tacking ( well before I discovered safety pins) It's been quite satisfying to do something that's useful for a change rather than artistic although I could still do something quirky with the 2 sections left.....