27 May 2015

Drowning in fabric

The past few days have seen a flurry of curtain making - not my favourite sewing activity. Even though my sewing space is fairly large, there has somehow never been enough room for laying out the fabric and being able to pin things easily.

Most were "medium-sized" curtains, or rather, curtains for medium-sized windows, but one curtain was a door curtain -
The fabric for that, and its matching window curtains, came from an end-of-roll sale at a local upholsterer, total cost £10 - the curtains used every inch, and have false hems. Cost of lining, ruffling tape, hooks - £38. Time taken - 10 hours (includes conversion of Ikea loop-top pair). Job satisfaction - 5/10.

My tips for curtain making -
- clear as much space as you can, and sweep the floor
- pick up threads as you go ... or the curtains will ...
- set up the ironing board next to your machine, and use it to support the fabric
- measure twice before cutting (ie, measure both edges)
- measure the windows yourself if at all possible
- pin up hems and put curtains on the rail to check the length before machining them
- check that lining hems don't droop below the curtain hem
- preferably use a steam iron that doesn't leak

and - if in doubt, buy an extra metre of ruffling tape. I'm half a metre short, and must go back for more. 

Superscript overkill

The silly-seriousness of the "little sentence" (description, mission statement, catch-phrase - what's it called??) that follows the company name didn't sink in till the lights changed and the truck moved off, so it's hard to see the words, never mind the superscripts. Here's a closer view -
Note the superscript R in a circle after "nila" (= registered trade mark, presumably) and the TM superscript after "name" - or is it "final name" that's trademarked? [and why?]

An overkill of punctiliousness? But the rules of what we used to call "display matter" indicate that less is more in titles - superscripts (eg reference numbers in titles of journal articles) are a no-no. Equally, they're out of place here ... or perhaps they abound in such situations, and this happens to be the first time I've noticed them - seen any good superscripts lately?

26 May 2015

Drawing on Tuesday - Imperial War Museum

 The intimidating guns outside the museum (which until 1930 was the Bethlem Royal Hospital) are 15-inch naval guns developed in 1912 and used on 22 ships - like the model below, which sits at the entrance to the WWI galleries.
After a bit of drawing amid the cacophany of sound and low lighting of the galleries (fine for walking through, less good for staying in), we ended up in the more spacious central area, which held planes and jeeps and other larger military equipment. The engine of the V-2 rocket called to me - was it skeleton-like, or more like guts? - but despite my fondness for drawing bones and tubes, it all but defeated me.
 I was not bold and decisive with it, perhaps from some idea that you have to know what things are called in order to draw them [wrong!]. Or perhaps I didn't spend enough time Just Looking before leaping in; in any case, as time went on, my drawing was getting nowhere; written analysis didn't help, nor did trying to start with the darkest bits or focus on negative spaces -
 Eventually a tiny corner took shape -
Being some distance away didn't help. The closer view was fascinating ... I'd like to know what the "dangling" the pipes are for -
Here is the rocket being installed piecemeal at the museum; at the very end, showing the other side of the engine, now covered by the carapace.

The museum cafe was convenient, if crowded (and rather pricey, but aren't they all?). We were lucky to get a table, and Cathy got the prize (had there been one, and there wasn't) for Sketchbook Cover. Neither camera nor photo editing caught how the stitch colours interact, around the printed shapes -
 She had been drawing the doodlebug, suspended overhead, and included a bit of the V-2 to give it some context - and the impression of forward motion -
Janet B turned from drawing soldiers' uniforms to these three toby jugs (the museum has at least 10 in its collection) -
Janet K was interested in soldiers' kit too - 
Sue was drawn to the shapes within a large rusty object - obviously a car of some sort - and later learned it had been donated by Jeremy Deller. Called 5 March 2007, it was rescued after being mangled in the al-Mutanabbi Street bombing in Baghdad, an explosion that killed 38 people in the "street of the booksellers", a centre of literary and cultural life in the city.
" It is more than wrecked. It appears to have been flung in the air, crushed, then burned in an inferno. It suggests a human body in a deeply perturbing way," said a review of its installation in 2010. It toured America - representing the effect of war on civilians - before coming to the museum.

For completeness' sake, my other drawings - , and some grappling with that rocket engine
warm-up blind drawing, funny helmet, uniform (I quite liked
drawing the uniform, with its floating cap
grappling with that rocket engine
some sort of result
Interesting facts about Britain on the eve of WW1 -
-life expectancy was 54 for women and 50 for men, and whereas the median age of death in the prosperous West End was 50, in the poor East End it was 30
-school leaving age was 12, and by age 16 only 6% of children were in education
-only half of men (and no women) had the vote
-a pint of beer cost 2 (old) pence
-there were 300,000 horses in London - and 3000 motor buses, but most people used (horse-drawn) trams
-half the world's ships were built in Britain
-1 in 20 of the British population emigrated

And also -
In 1914 the average wage for a basic 58 hours working week was 16 shillings and 9 pence. By 1918 the working week was 52 hours and the average weekly wage was 1 pound 10 shillings and 6 pence.

25 May 2015


Every year one is faced with "oh no, I'm how old?" when another birthday rolls around. A certain feeling of dread. With practice, years of practice, it becomes easier to ignore the dread and embrace the moment.

This year I had an utter surfeit of Good Birthday Moments, starting several days ahead with several bouts of coffee, exhibitions, shopping, lunch with friends, and even a shopping afternoon with my son (despite his intention to splurge, the major purchase was curtain lining) which segued into dinner in Soho at a chinese restaurant with this "legendary dish" on the menu -
"Pock-marked Old Woman's beancurd" - appealing??
which we didn't have - we had "the big bowl", like so many of the other tables. What's in the bowl, we asked - "Fish". Fish? What are all those red things? Turns out the fish is cooked with chilis in oil. Fortunately the chilis are scooped out and whisked away when the dish is served -
The dry-fried green beans are delicious
After which, a walk past the beautifully lit facades of Oxford Street -
The Big Treat was a trip to Manchester to see the Cornelia Parker exhibition at the Whitworth Gallery (till 31 May), more of which later perhaps. And lunch with friends along the Curry Mile. Home to a simple supper and a set of intriguing packages, carefully and beautifully tied in knots in the expectation that, as is my habit, I would carefully (and excruciatingly) untie each one -
 Perhaps it was the wine, but patience had fled -
I'm thrilled with all of it, and especially the book, Tania Kovat's "Drawing Water", which I had dropped a heavy hint about, months ago, and then (alas?) forgotten. Haven't had much time yet to read it, as the next day involved hiring a bike and riding round Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park, and then a marathon of gardening, and today saw more gardening and some curtain-making ... and a continuation of cake-eating (one of Tony's specialties is New York cheesecake) -
Cake for breakfast!
A life-enhancing surprise from the resident carpenter - beautifully finished wood dividers for the cutlery drawer, which has needed reorganisation for quite some time -
To conclude, thanks to Jo for these joyous pompons - "channeling Frida Kahlo" -

Moan on Monday - How to prove you're not a robot

The "captchas" are getting ridiculous, don't you think? You write a comment on someone's blog, and up comes "Please prove you're not a robot" - you tick the box and up comes this - 

24 May 2015

Seen on Savile Row

"Grand Cru - Special Reserve" ... cloth?!
"Made by one of Huddersfield's finest weavers" from merino golden bale

That's 24 carat gold in the pinstripe
"The fabric provides individuality as well as being a talking point" says the manufacturer's website.

23 May 2015

On yer bike!

Bikeworks, "the not for profit bike shop" in Bethnal Green, offers cycle training at Olympic Park, so off I went earlier this week, on a rainy, windy, 'orrible day, to somewhere I'd never been to do something I hadn't done for years. It didn't start well - off the Overground at Hackney Wick and heading in the wrong direction. Going in the right direction involved going past places like this - all part of the vibrant East London art scene -
 Nearer the park, a completely different landscape ... of nothingness ...
Along the road verges, some beautiful meadow-scapes  -
and what delight to see the plantings in the park, currently crowded with those big daisies, lots of tall purple alliums - well there was no time to stop and list them all, pink flowers and yellow ones, and in some places, huge scarlet poppies being whipped about by the wind, holding on to their petals. And hillsides of orange poppies, tumbling down to the canal/river.

The park was understandably empty, given the wet and windyness. Never mind, it was great. Along miles of paths we rode, and eventually the rain stopped. There wasn't much time to take photos, but during a short pause I caught some typical scenery (or lack of it) -
and one of the others was kind enough to take a photo of me -
Bikeworks provided bikes (and three wheelers, including a recumbent) and helmets. Thank you, Bikeworks!

21 May 2015

Some exhibitions

Two Chairs with People, photographic drawing, 2014
Experiments with perspective
Card Players #1, 2014
David Hockney, Painting and Photography, at Annely Juda (till 27 June).

Hockney's comment: "“Painters have always known there is something wrong with perspective.
The problem is the foreground and the vanishing point. The reason we have perspective with a vanishing point, is that it came from optics. I am sure that that’s what Brunelleschi did. He used a five inch diameter concave mirror to project the Baptistry onto his panel. This gives automatically a perspective picture, just like a camera would. This is why there is always a void between you and the photograph. I am taking this void away, to put you in the picture.
I made the paintings of the card players first. That helped me work out how to photograph them. Everything in the photographs is taken very close. The heads the jackets and shirt and shoes are all photographed up close. Each photograph has a vanishing point, so instead of just one I get many vanishing points. It is this that I think gives them an almost 3D effect without the glasses. I think this opens up photography into something new.
If you really think about it, I know the single photograph cannot be seen as the ultimate realist picture. Well not now. Digital photography can free us from a chemically imposed perspective that has lasted for 180 years.”"

Idris Khan, Conflicting Lines, at Victoria Miro (till 6 June).

Gallery says: "Khan is well known for his large-scale works, which use techniques of layering to arrive at what might be considered the essence of an image, and to create something entirely new through repetition and superimposition. For his exhibition at Victoria Miro Mayfair, Khan has produced large-scale composite photographs made from a series of oil stick paintings. These have gone through an intensive process of overlaying lines of writing repeatedly painted onto a minimal ground, until the language becomes obscured."

A corner of the gallery
Colour woodcuts using 21 and 22 colours
Gillian Ayres, New Paintings and Prints, at Alan Cristea (till 30 May)

From a review: " As Titian and Turner devotees often stress, an old artist can actually reach sublime peaks, the combination of experience and looming death yielding new-found profundity. Where, then, does Gillian Ayres stand, as a show of new paintings and prints opens to mark her 85th birthday?
On a practical level, she’s not as mobile or as forceful with her paint as she once was. She used to lay it on thick, building up the impasto into rich, often encrusted, textures. Now her surfaces are smoother, her forms simpler and cleaner."

Definitely a feel-good show - the colours, the colours....

One of Rovner's multi-screen LCD video installations
The figures keep moving....
Michal Rovner, Panorama, at Pace (till 16 June)

Gallery says: "These large-scale, multi-screen works combine her signature human figures with the landscape elements which she has been exploring for the last two years. The brooding soulful expression of the human and natural worlds is intertwined through the use of increasingly bold abstraction. Panorama evokes Rovner’s themes of human interaction, dislocation and the persistence of history, while creating a new level of immediacy by further removing the narrative to its barest and most urgent elements.

Adding painting qualities and gestural “brushstrokes” to video recordings of real-life situations, the new work respond to Rovner’s sense of disjointed reality."

Also seen: Isa Genzken, Geldbilder, at Hauser & Wirth; Diane Thater, Life is a Time-Based Medium, at Hauser & Wirth. And talks by Rebecca Salter on Japanese wood block prints (a skill that is being lost as its practitioners die off); Jack Zipes on his new translation of the first edition of Grimm's Kinder- und Hausmaerchen. It's been a busy week. 

Poetry Thursday - Lucifer in Starlight by George Meredith

George Meredith caricatured by Max Beerbohn, 1896 (via)

Lucifer in Starlight (by George Meredith)
On a starred night Prince Lucifer uprose.
Tired of his dark dominion swung the fiend
Above the rolling ball in cloud part screened,
Where sinners hugged their spectre of repose.
Poor prey to his hot fit of pride were those.
And now upon his western wing he leaned,
Now his huge bulk o’er Afric’s sands careened,
Now the black planet shadow’d Arctic snows.
Soaring through wider zones that pricked his scars
With memory of the old revolt from Awe,
He reach’d a middle height, and at the stars,
Which are the brain of heaven, he look’d, and sank.
Around the ancient track marched, rank on rank,
The army of unalterable law.

Written in 1883, when arguments were reaching a fever pitch between advocates of the church and advocates of rationalism, with a mechanistic view of the universe. Despite debates, the rationalists never divorced themselves entirely from the church or religious thought. The poem embodies the importance of the language, terms, and ideas of Christianity, in dramatic form, and has remained popular with readers. The fallen angel, who nursed hopes for ascension to the highest places, rises to "a middle height" and sees not heaven but natural law.

Hear it read here.

George Meredith (1828-1909) lost his mother at age 5, read law but abandoned it for poetry, and married an older woman at quite a young age. In 1856 he posed as the model for Death of Chatterton (an immensely popular Victorian painting), and his wife ran off with the painter; she died three years later. A collection of "sonnets" called Modern Love came of this experience.

Remarried in 1864, he took a job as a publisher's reader, which made him influential in the world of letters. Of his style, Oscar Wilde said "it is chaos illumined by flashes of lightning."

Meredith outlived both of his wives and one of his three children.

20 May 2015

"Elements" evolution

Moving on from benday dots, "Elements of visual perception" benefitted from insights obtained through some research on visual perception itself, especially the structure of the eye.

Dots still appear, thanks to the discovery of some sheer fabric with ersatz sequins; used on the reverse, they add "interest" (or tension?) - well, they break the monotony! And, they reference "floaters" ...
first mock-up, stripes of colour underneath organza
The "elements" are now the squares (pixels?) of colour, harking to the cone cells, which perceive one colour each - red or blue or green. And there are about 20 times as many rod cells - light or dark - for which the overlap of squares will provide various shades of grey.

The fabric is organza, mostly silk; the edges of the squares are cut as straight as possible, but some unravelling may occur over the life of the quilt ... which fits in with natural decay, ageing, of vision.

So I'm happy with the concept, and hope the piece can be made to look ... what ... interesting, inviting, exciting?
playing around some more - flashes of colour (and fewer dots)
As for the quilt part - layers joined by stitch - that's a background, now with lines of hand quilting (red, green, blue) and guide lines of machining onto which strips of squares will be placed. Under them, in the central section (like in the eye), some strips of colour -
Another mock-up - grey round the edges and colourful in the middle, is the idea -
Seeing it in a photo, and thinking about it as I write, is so helpful. Even so, I'm not sure whether this is at the "full steam ahead" stage, or whether there's an elusive "something else" that needs to be considered.