Wednesday 28 January 2009

Observations on Observation

I've been a member of the Quilters Guild of the British Isles since 1986 and like to support their ventures. For its 25th Anniversary the challenge was ' Silver Threads' and I produced this piece 'Silver threads (among the gold)' applying techniques taught by Alison Schwabe, inserting thin strips of fabric.The current challenge to celebrate 30 years is to produce a quilt on the theme 'Pearls, Pearls,Pearls' - and I'm really struggling. I did a lot of searching for images on the web linked to pearl fishing and the sea ( as a lot of my recent pieces have been seascapes); with my scientific head on looking at diagrams of oyster and mussels; trying to work in references to my name ( Margaret means pearl and the freshwater mussel in latin is Margaritifera margaritifera ).
I took some photos of an assortment of freshwater pearls I'd bought some time ago for jewellery making , then tried to capture their qualities in acrylic paint and iridescent medium. I had several attempts - the trouble with painting on already quilted fabric ( that old Durham quilt again) is that it's difficult to define the edges.

I also experimented with photo transfer paper and more loosely painted shapes.
I'm currently playing with these painted pieces overlaid with photos printed on silk and cotton organzas

These techniques have been interesting to apply and develop ( I love the process of experimentation) but as I can't resolve even a small piece beyond a sampler of techniques, sadly I don't think this is going to evolve into a full size work.
In analysing why I don't think it's working, I'm beginning to draw some conclusions about my preferences in working methods and subject material.
1) I don't like using other peoples images - I felt uncomfortable with using pictures I found about pearl fishing as they weren't mine. Although I really enjoyed the Studio Journal course I did last year, I couldn't bring myself to do the lesson on using clip art for similar reasons.
2)Most of my work is based on direct observation through painting, drawing and photography. The subject has to mean something personally, a special place or time, for me to have 'ownership' of the images and involvement with what I'm working on. Although I was interested in observing the pearls I'd photographed and experimenting with paint, as a subject they didn't really grab me.
3)In subject material ( and appreciation of art ) I'm drawn to strong compositions. Sometime I think I carry a frame in my head (mainly portrait format) observing the world for its potential in shape and colour. And this is where this pearls venture principally fails. Different sized blobs do not make a satisfying composition however I place them .

Wednesday 21 January 2009

Distressed Doors

I've always been a connoisseur of a nicely distressed, crumbly door- every holiday I go on I have to do at least one watercolour sketch besides taking numerous photos. Going back year after year to Paralio Astros I have been able to document the decline of some prime examples. (Greek doors in their array of blues and greens are particularly delicious).
I've struggled to realise their potential in textiles despite several experiments and samples but finally I think I'm getting there.

Loutra Kithnos

Pedoulas, Cyprus

Paralio Astros, Peleponnese

Gythion, Peleponnese

I've been experimenting for a while with painting on sections of old Durham Quilt that have a wonderful texture in their hand quilting. I was wondering how I could print photos on this surface ( they're too thick to go through my printer) so have gone back to trying iron -on transfer sheets. The best distressed effect was when I removed the sheets too soon and got an incomplete transfer of the image , with sections of the background showing through and mixed matt and gloss areas ( tho' I can imagine the quilt judges commenting on it being done incorrectly - how to get across that it's intentional! )

I gessoed the background and the edges of the print - it's already looking aged!

Than I painted with acrylics, trying to match up the colours and 'brushwork' of the photo.

This smaller sample was even more effective, especially in close-up, the painted gesso really has that feeling of an old cracked wall

I've still got my work cut out to scale up but it's an exciting start.

Tuesday 13 January 2009

Colour Catcher Holes

I've often recycled scraps from previous projects into new work - my last TIF challenge JQ of 2008 was one such piece. I think I'll be returning to this subject in another post, sometimes these pieces seem to work better than the originals and I need to think why that is. I like the idea of honouring the traditions of quilting and scrap quilts while experimenting with new materials and techniques.Starting off the New Year recycling Colour Catchers in the BQL Calendar Challenge, I was left with fragments of CC backed with bondaweb where I'd cut out the circles so decided to use the 'holes' up too in this 12 x 12 inch piece
Searching for a suitable background to apply them to , I decided to use this acrylic painting of Gordale Scar that's I'd done on a piece of old tatty Durham quilt- it had been an interesting experiment but not going anywhere.

The circular shapes reminded me of the stones at the base of the rock but the overall effect is looking through leaves or perhaps a waterfall towards the landscape (the original sketches at Gordale had been done sheltering under an overhanging rock)

Interesting possibilities in exploring further the use positive and negative shapes. I'll also be experimenting more with Colour Catchers - my stash has been considerably enhanced with the generous donation of more of these, including some very dark and colourful specimens.

Saturday 10 January 2009

Courtauld Gallery Discoveries

I've been visiting the Courtauld Gallery ever since I was a student in London in the early 1980's. Then, it was in Woburn Square (near University of London), and I loved to see all those famous impressionist paintings in the flesh! The gallery is now housed in the far grander setting of Somerset House and my tastes have changed over the years - I'm more likely to drool over the Fauves ( Matisse, Derain ,Vlaminck) although I'm still loyal to Cezanne, perhaps with a rather different appreciation than in my youth.What caught my eye on a recent visit was this painting, 'Bypass I' by Prunella Clough ( fascinating interactive archive here) It could be cells, a landscape, a map or an industrial view. The colour palette and shapes remind me a bit of Ian Mckeevers work too, with its many subtle layers and textures.

I went mainly to have a look at the current exhibtion of Turner watercolours - fascinated by the pioneering techniques he used. One new thing I learnt was how he applied broad washes of colour to the back of a painting which corresponded exactly with the principal elements on the front, so that when viewed with the light behind it , the colours and tones were greatly enhanced. I've been thinking since how I might use that principal in transparent pieces.

This weekend so far has been spent catching up with the washing and a bit of creative experimenting with the computer - Ian designing counters for a turn-based computer wargame he's devising from scratch and me printing out images using iron-on transfer techniques (more on that in another post). It's Ian's turn to make the dinner and I asked when he might be starting to cook. I didn't get the response I'd expected ( eg when the meat has marinated) but
"I've still got the Ukrainian Anarchists to do"!

Monday 5 January 2009

Colour Catcher Constructions

I've signed up for the BQL (British Quilt List) Challenge for 2009. This is for a perpetual calendar made up of 12 x 12 inch or A4 'Journal' pieces and the first design by Kandy Newton uses raw edge applique circles. Still being in recycling mode, I decided to use up some of my 'Colour Catcher' stash. These sheets have a similar quality to vilene or interfacing - a non-fraying, non- woven fabric with some of the absorbancy of paper ( and the tendency to show needle holes when stitched - no mistakes or 'unsewing' then !) I built up layers of circles using bondaweb and stitched the squares together with zig zag using variegated thread. Once layered up with wadding and backing and machine stitched, the circles were rather satisfying plump biscuits ( or sugared almond mis-shapes -Ian's suggestion). I thought they looked more like Lithops ( 'Living Stones' Cacti )It's not the first time I've used 'Colour Catchers' - I used them in my September Take it Further Challenge piece on lists, printing a scored out shopping list onto them using 'Photoshop'

Alas, neither of these pieces has made much of a dint in the stash, some of which is pictured above. The sheets are very efficient at 'grabbing' loose dye in clothes when washed. The main palette is greys (of a purplish tint) although I look forward to when Ian wears either his green or red Indian cotton shirts (before 'Colour Catchers' the result of washing was pink pants). The trouble is , as with many a stash, is in using it up rather than admiring it (especially with the more unusual colours - I know I'll be continually adding more greys).
At least it makes doing the washing more rewarding. Sometimes if the sheet folds up in the wash it 'dyes' unevenly , with a 'shibori' look. I also rather like the crumpled effect (this was lost in ironing on bondaweb, the resulting texture was more like a suede).

I've also found the 'colour catcher' sheets absorb paint well in monoprinting with acrylics. These examples are for extending and replacing sections of the piece I started in a Cas Holmes workshop. I wasn't happy with some of those printed on paper which have become even more crumpled after 18 months up on a design board - the colour catcher sheets seem like a good compromise