Sunday 28 December 2014

International Threads Sketch - Anavriti Blue

One of the  recent 'International Threads' group challenges  was set by Gillian Travis - to base the 40 x 80 cm quilt on a sketch. Having enjoyed putting together the change of scale door piece, I thought I'd base  it on one of my   many watercolours of  crumbly Greek doors. This particular one was done in 1998 in a village at the top of the Anavriti Gorge near Sparta.   I've long wanted to use this particular drawing as inspiration  - it was one I  also worked on during an Elizabeth Barton masterclass - simplifying the shapes and looking at it tonally was a very useful exercise.  

 So I've spent the  last few days trawling through my stash, sewing together strips.

 I've just finished the piecing and am very pleased  with how it's turned out.
Question- should I include the blue grey scaffolding pole on the left or not? It wasn't in the original sketch but when I saw  the same doorway again a few years ago on a return visit in 2006 , there were poles in position that I thought enhanced the composition.  Interested to hear what you think.

Red Daub Fingerprinting

 Earlier this year, one of my journal quilts  was a trial trying out different marks with pen and paint  on a gessoed section  of one of my older quilts 'Which Way Now'.  It's been on my mind for a while to  see how it would work scaled up so the first day of my Xmas creative break I sewed together some  gessoed offcuts and scraps and braced the chill of the conservatory.

 I had a fine time mixing together  acrylic paints with my fingers and applying to the fabric!

The overall effect was a bit blobby so I laid it flat and applied trickles of red acrylic ink horizontally  in an attempt to unify the surface.
With  daylight fading I stopped. I'm not sure this piece is going anywhere  although probably  I'll strengthen the marks to emphasise the horizontal arrow at the bottom but I had a wonderful therapeutic time doing it!

Monday 15 December 2014

Shore Marks

 A difficult week coming to terms with the fact that  one month of my notice has gone already, increasingly anxious  about finishing off everything I need to in the remaining few weeks.  The annual Kew Carol Service  was a joy, especially singing  O Radiant Dawn, but underscored  with sadness, especially thinking about Nigel Veitch, our choir conductor to whom the service was dedicated .  I won't be part of it next year and it's proving  increasingly hard to  have to tell people that I'm leaving Kew and cope with their reactions and questions.
So I spent some time over the weekend absorbed in the solace of stitching, piecing together  one of my quilts for 'International Threads'  exhibition in Prague in April 2015.  
This  quilt is for the theme on 'Creating visual texture with repetition'.   I started out with a  kola shibori dyed  piece of  damask cloth bought from African Fabric Shop  and a piece of the same fabric that I'd put in the indigo vat. The repetition is from the lines, the  underlying patterns on the damask and from the accidental marks of indigo left on the original cloth  which I will emphasise  with  indigo stitch marks. I feel the need for some hand stitching at the moment to keep me anchored.   

Faversham Christmas Lights

 2 weeks ago we visited Faversham again, to explore a different area of the  town for  potential houses and to experience the switching on of the Christmas lights. After  a delicious good value lunch at the  Railway Hotel  we wandered around the  'Knole' and  roads off  Bysing Wood Road before  settling in the comfort of the Phoenix Inn  with  a pint and our Kindles waiting for the  festivities to commence ( and the market to pack up early to be replaced by the special Xmas market). There were hundreds of people in the market square for the  countdown with  what looked like every adult male with a child on his shoulders. Things didn't go quite to plan which was rather endearing but the lights came on eventually and very  nice they are. Appropriately enough the 3 kings were on the way back to the railway station.

 I couldn't resist these pink weathered doors.

Saturday 6 December 2014

Scrap Experiments - 2014 Journal Quilts

 The bonus quilts

It's always intriguing looking  at a years Journal Quilts combined  and to see how interesting they look in different combinations.  This year the JQ challenge for Contemporary Quilt  was 8 x 8 inches( 20x 20cm) with a line across the quilt from one edge to another. I initially thought it was too small a format to be worthwhile - in past years I enjoyed the 12 x 12 inch format most. But having decided to mainly use scraps and leftovers I've had a ball,  given myself permission to just play, producing 'bonus' ones  and also using some mounted on 8 inch canvases for sale. I still have lots of ideas and may well continue using this size in addition to whatever next years challenge is.  It's made no impression on my scrap stash!
Several of them have been composed and stitched on train journeys - the perfect travel project  and the majority reflect my interests and concerns at  the time, in many cases using bits leftover from larger quilts and projects or  memories of particular times and places. Some people plan the whole 12 months in one go so that it's a cohesive  piece. Not my way - I'm fascinated to see links between pieces (all those wavy shibori -like lines!)  and also the shift in colour palette from vibrant reds to subtle neutrals, no coincidence that  while starting my year  with optimism it is ending on a sombre  note.

Artworks as triggers of memory

A day off work  to finally get to see the Anselm Kiefer exhibition at the Royal Academy ( fitting in a few more exhibitions at National Gallery and National Portrait Gallery for good measure). Amazing, monumental and thought provoking. After starting with a display of books, the 'Attic' paintings are powerful  and I love how the wood grain effects are continued throughout his work - the woodblock prints used in the  'forest' of the last room (below) were fantastic. 
The materials he uses are diverse : straw, mud, sunflowers and seeds   and they have meaning for him. The way he uses lead is fascinating - I particularly liked the books 'under the linden '  and large pieces studded with diamonds were just magical in how they caught the light.
The pieces that I spent most time with were in room 5: ' sands from the urns' (below) based on the clay brick ziggurats of Mesopotamia. Hand -pressed mud was used for  clay tablets and bricks and he is quoted as perceiving " a secret connection between writing and building"  wondering whether bricks , like tablet, could hold memories of people , of events, of time.
I was reminded of our visit to Syria  almost exactly ten years ago,   visiting Ugarit , Dura Europas and Mari , in awe of being somewhere where the ancient past is tangible  and hugely saddened by  what's happening there now .  

Ziggurats of Pastries in Hama
After  treating myself to a delicious lunch at Savoir Faire, I headed off to  the National Gallery  to see the 2  very different seascape inspired displays.   I've long admired the dramatic  paintings of  Maggi Hambling  but I was rather disappointed with these 'Walls of Water' .  Lots of lively marks and use of paint but   for me  all pattern and lacking in content and composition.  Her  monotypes on this theme  like they might be more interesting
Whereas the paintings by Peder Balke  were far more inspiring especially the smaller sketches. I liked how often the waves were suggested quite simply  - it looked like he might have used a painting knife in a similar way as  demonstrated by Susan Gray on my Slapton painting courses.  

On my way home I popped into the National Portrait Gallery  next door to see the Grayson Perry exhibit ' Who are you' .
You could hardly get near his  'self portrait'  City of Days  for people staring intently and giggling. Complex, funny and profound,  like the Reith lectures and  'Tomb of the The Unknown Artist'.
The 'comfort blanket' a tapestry  in the shape of a bank note   was witty but the most powerful pieces were the ceramics  displayed among the Gallery's collections

I spent a lot of time in front of the  beautiful  yet disturbing 'Memory jar', representing memories torn into shards through Alzheimers.

Sunday 23 November 2014

Mended Door- Change of Scale

Quilt number 3 for International Threads challenge is   finally completed after several months marinating on the design wall. The theme was change of scale or large/small scale.  I returned to ideas I worked on a while ago on incorporating a photo of door within a large scale detail  as in these JQ's
The smaller scale area  is a photo of part of a patched, mended door with newer wood inserts among the old on Queen Charlottes Cottage in the grounds of Kew Gardens. The larger scale  shapes and colours are based on some of the sections of the photo, a mixture of African batik, hand dyed fabric and monoprints with acrylic paint from Jae Maries course.  I  used different weight threads ( 40 and 12) in these areas to further emphasise the change of scale.

I took this  quilt along to the Thames Valley Contemporary Textiles group meeting yesterday in Bracknell - which apart from our AGM featured an interesting  talk   by Jane O'Brien  on the history of Damask ( co-incidentally I've reading through the silk route section of the 'History of the World in 100 objects). She highlighted the damask on various Renaissance paintings, many in the National Gallery which reminded me of my drawing courses there - remembering how I struggled with the patterns on cloth  in the  Bellini painting of the Doge!  
In the afternoon, it was good to be reminded of design principles, particularly the golden section  and I couldn't resist assembling a small flock from the delightful knitted sheep the Kate Crossley had brought for sale.
Ian meanwhile  had been picking the last of the figs from our tree  but even he admitted this time they were seriously underwhelming in taste - we need that Mediterranean sun! 

Tuesday 18 November 2014

Leaving Kew

On Friday I received official confirmation that my application for Voluntary Redundancy from  the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew  had been approved.  So with 3 months notice, I will be leaving on Friday 13 February 2015 after nearly 25 years  working there.
There have been difficult times and changes  but none so much as now. I've worked on some incredible projects , particularly on orchids , bryophytes and ferns  and with some  amazing people. I'm proud of my science publications, my books  and my involvement in teaching and training.
I'm not sure what lies ahead apart from downsizing  and moving to Faversham  although I'm looking at reviving my rather rusty botanical survey skills through MMU/FSC courses and fitting in some more time for stitching and painting. Then I need to find another job.

Rusty Journal Quilts -real and faux

Rust Shoreline 
Rust Shoreline detail
Rust Ripples 
Rust Ripples detail 
Greenhouse Door Rust
 Rusted silk habotai  couched on digital print of peeling paint of Alston Hall greenhouse door

African Scrap Door 
( no rusted fabrics: Ndobe indigo, African Kola and Indigo, Potassium permanganate, commercial )

The question of what you do with the bits you produce on workshops: use them in Journal Quilts.
 I enjoyed  trying out   rusting on fabrics and papers  using teas with Alice Fox  and produced some lovely marks on  small pieces ( thanks Olga for  highlighting  my  efforts on the Ragged Cloth Café blog) . I made up a small book and  applied the stitched pieces  to pre-machine quilted backgrounds. I love the resulting textures of these  but I don't think I will be pursuing this technique further as  after the initial excitement , I'm struggling  to work out how I incorporate them in my main series.

It's partly a scale issue: I prefer   yardage  such as my indigo shibori to small  pieces, however exquisite, and I'm a quilter not an embroiderer. It's a process issue:Alice does not wash or iron the  the resulting fabrics liking the folds and creases and applies these to felt or other fabrics. That   fits her aims and ethos but not mine.  It's a fabric issue: the  nicest marks were on thin silk habotai  which I can't easily mix  with the cottons I usually use.  Mainly though it's a colour issue: as a painter the marks, colours and especially tones  achieved are just too subtle and unpredictable .

I overheard  several times people stating authoratively that my 'Fleet Mudflats' quilt contained rust marked fabrics. It doesn't - it's a mixture of commercial printed fabrics and African kola and indigo with some digital prints of sand ripples. My African Scrap Door JQ above also contains no rusted fabrics.  
Fleet Mudflats
When you learn a technique or process, however much you admire the work and ethos of the tutor, you have to decide whether it fits with your own work. On this occasion I have  no immediate use for it - I'm  happier with faux rust effects.  But having learnt it , it's in my arsenal  for  the future  if appropriate.