31 October 2007

Useful quote

"The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak."- Hans Hofmann

Here's what comes up first when you search Google Images for "simplicity":

Lesson 4

The subject is birds, the method is using bondaweb -- lots of possibilities! Battery hens came to mind immediately, but I decided to rise above that depressing thought. So, a quick rummage through the sketchbooks. These drawings from years agowere also interpreted in collage - influenced by an early applique piece by Janet Bolton -
This time I wanted to do doves rather than chickens - inspired by the (misremembered!) dovecote at Rousham
My twists on Jane's instructions are: getting the bird shapes via cutting them out of paper rather than tracing a drawing, and using the bondaweb for the background - here it is drawn on the paper backing -- but I'd forgotten to reverse the drawing -
Here's the fabric palette - muted blues for the background, colourful silks for the doves -
The background in place, and an idea of how the little (and big) doves will fit in.When it came to adding the details, the coloured birds just didn't work. I'd been thinking about Picasso's "palomas" series in the Barcelona Picasso museum, in which the pigeons in his dovecote are white. It's enlightening to see how simply Picasso has depicted the doves - just a couple of circles - and in some of his lithographs, like this one here, the bird appears to be just a couple of squiggles!

Mine of course were much, much more laboured. Clunky, even. As I was laying out the pieces of the big bird, Tony happened by and moved the head and beak to the side, a tiny change that makes all the difference -- The "tail feathers" are done with free machining, and the eyes are french knots.To develop this further, I'd look harder at the structure in Picasso's pix and also do some ink-dropper drawings of memories of birds in motion and at rest (which will involve looking harder at birds in general). And be less restrained in my choice of fabric - look at the bright blues and ochres in the Picasso pix, after all. Just break out a bit, free up....

27 October 2007

Doh a dear

In lesson 3 of Jane LaFazio’s Art Quilt Exploration class the task was a painted quilt, using an animal portrait. Try to capture your pet’s aura. OK, not my usual “thing”, but it’ll certainly be different – and stretching – which is what classes are about, right? So I looked at my bookshelves and found a Wildlife Photographer of the Year book, with these images:Which to choose? They’re greyscale here because that’s easier for the next step, but are gloriously colourful in the book. The deer is by Andy Rouse and the seal is by Norbert Wu .
Here’s my improvised lightbox. I’ve already used it, with the photo up on the screen, to trace the creature onto a bit of plastic, and am now retracing it onto unprimed canvas.

Next step is to paint. Why not blue? I used several washes of acrylic paint (the moire effect is confined to the photograph). The small dark areas are due to careless mixing of the paint – bits left in the brush – but that’s ok, we can use those to build the background. Anyway, they remind me of the poppies in the original picture. Then the stitching starts - by hand and machine.

I couldn’t get away from trying to make him look more realistic. And I couldn’t resist adding beads – even if they do look like a swarm of midges!

My big discovery is the “self-framing” effect of using stretchy fabric on the back. Do a “pillowcase” backing, trimming the seams very close to the stitching (zigzag round to stop any unwanted unravelling, then turn). Because the canvas is stiff, the stretchy fabric bends round it, making a thin frame. I used a velour here, and added the beads up the sides to keep that line of darkness in place.


A chain letter arrived that I couldn't resist. It had only two names on it, so the payoff for passing it on would be quick. It promises 36 books, if everyone plays along.

When I send the letter to my 6 friends, I'll enclose a book for them. This clears some space on the shelves, always a problem. If you'd like a copy of my letter (and a book, possibly one of those above), email me or leave a comment.

The text is below in case you want to put a friend's name in the number 1 position and your own in the number 2 (or vice versa) and send it to 6 friends, with or without a book as an inducement.

Welcome to our paperback bookswap .. it's just for fun.

Please send a used paperback to the first name on the list enclosed.

Then re-do the list by:

1. Removing the name under number 1
2. Moving the name currently in the number 2 position to the number 1 position
3. Writing your name as number 2

There should only be 2 names on the list at a time. Send a copy of the new list to 6 of your friends who enjoy reading. Note - if you keep the list separate you can photocopy this page and send it out again.

If you can't participate within 2-10 days, please let me (person at number 2) know to be fair to the others who are participating.

A manila envelope will mail a paperback book. You should receive 36 books. It will be interesting to see where they come from and to what type of book you are introduced.

There is seldom a drop out. You should receive 36 books for the price of the one you have purchased and read.




To Hampstead Heath

Getting to Hampstead Heath is just a matter of hopping on the 210 bus, which stops outside my door. Early on a Saturday, the bus gets to the top of the Heath in about 20 minutes. Today I got off at the wrong stop and found myself in unfamiliar woods. The enticing blue sky had, during the busride, been covered in cloud, so this looks gloomier than it was. In what century were those trees planted along that earthwork?Occasionally there would be a dog walker
or a runner
doing their daily thing.

Somehow I missed the entrance to Kenwood, and walked along beside the fence, experimenting with zoom and flash penetrating (or not) the gloomy woods beyond.
Overhead, the light came through golden leaves (the way it does)
In front of Kenwood House orangery is an ancient mulberry tree, or is it magnolia? Very old, anyway. The house was remodelled between 1764 and 1779 by Robert Adam for the great judge Lord Mansfield, and was bought in 1925 by brewing magnate Guinness. It's now part of English Heritage, and in it hang some amazing paintings - Vermeer's Guitar Player, and a Rembrandt, as well as lots by English artists. And the caf (in the old stables) is very popular.
Instead of stopping for coffee I went to visit the Henry Moore sculpture.Underfoot were wonderfully decaying leaves. Could be used for screenprinting resists....but I resisted taking any home.

24 October 2007

Before and after

This was my home from home for about 14 years, a luxurious amount of space yet tucked away. Everything (yes, even the clutter under the desk!) needed downsizing, ready for The Office Refurbishment.

Now we are to be battery hens, laying golden eggs...
Behind these desks are two tall grey metal cupboards filled with "everything"- our reference books, our hanging files; they have doors that it's just too much effort to keep closed. After a while you no longer see your surroundings, don't you?

We got rid of lots of dusty old books (collected by The Man From Skoob). The shelves wait to be filled, perhaps with items belonging to the "hotdeskers" who will be squeezed into that half of the room.
As I walk up the stairs of a morning, I wonder what it will be like not to come in to the office any more (retirement age is getting uncomfortably close). This refurbishment has been a good opportunity to clear out the things that needed to be cleared sometime soon, but it's also been traumatic. For everyone.

20 October 2007

7 facts, etc

... about myself? Both Linda and Sally tagged me for this....
1. the numbers in my birthday add up to the month (no, not the 41st...)
2. no middle name on my birth certificate
3. my flat has woodchip wallpaper everywhere AND I DONT CARE
4. favourite journey: over the Forth Bridge
5. chocolate? can't be bothered! give me red wine instead...
6. first knitted garment was a white mohair cardigan at age 15
7. my misspent youth was spent in Pitt Meadows, BC

ok, thanks for reading, and can we have 7 volunteers to carry on the 7 facts thing please?

Now for the photos.
Those seasonal pumpkins were growing in the compost heap (er, one of the several large compost heaps) at Rousham, near Bicester (pronounced Bisster, would you believe it);
andthe floor at Stanfords, the map shop in Long Acre, Covent Garden (which has 3 floors and has maps on the floor of 2 of them). In finding the link I found an 1862 map of London - at that time my street was called Stroud Green Lane, and there was a railway station (already) but not much else, not even Finsbury Park - though there was a Hornsey Wood in the vicinity of what's now the park.

19 October 2007

And now for something completely different

Another trip to the car boot sale --
The house-clearance guys in the far corner always have an interesting juxtaposition of items spilling out of their big white van -

"Medieval" detail

In the end, the dark felt pieces didn't really cry out for more stitching. The lettering doesn't make real words, just gives a sense of an indecipherable language, lost traditions, that sort of thing. You can see that the "vellum" is made up of bits of gauze machine-stitched onto a backing (wadding). It's appropriate that the felt is made up of "hair" of the sheep, which would have been removed from the non-writing side of the skin when vellum was prepared. You can imagine that a lot of sheepskins would be needed for just one book. This is all in the days before the secret of papermaking came to the West - papermaking was one of the things needed for printed books.

16 October 2007

Nearly done

The piece using felt, based on medieval manuscripts, turned out quite differently from what I'd started to imagine.The first step was to "rule the page" - putting in guide lines in machine stitching, 1" apart. Then I cut some small bits of felt - thinking about lettering on the page - and moved them around, but nothing happened... Eventually, instead of using little bits of the colours from the "front" of the piece of felt, I ended up using the dark backside and adding colours, rather like an illuminator would have a base colour and then add different colours of decorative inks. Those areas still look too dark to me, and will get more stitchery.

The "page" was the wrong shape so I treated it like a fragment of a page. Often you find the pictures cut out of manuscripts (or recent books) and treated as objects in their own right. Which disturbs me - cut up a book? sacrilege! - and might be a reason I'm uneasy with this piece.

The lettering uses shapes that are easy to embroider - the last picture in the previous post, the page from the Luttrell Psalter shows that I've misremembered the lettering. Or else, cunningly simplified it.... Anyway, the "words" are actually nonsense, and there are a few nonsense letter-forms in there too. This brings back memories of a palaeography course, many years ago, learning about the history of writing, and also of various calligraphy courses, learning how to use some of the different scripts.

Not sure whether to run letters across the felt on the right, or to leave it as is - at the moment it reminds me of a much-scraped page of vellum, ready for re-use; the word incunabula comes to mind, but wrongly - those are the earliest printed books. The word I'm looking for is palimpsest, a manuscript that has another text written over it. In fact the layers of felt evoke that - quite apart from being made from the "hair" that has to be removed from the sheepskin that becomes vellum. Enough, already.

13 October 2007

Online class, week 2

This week's lesson uses felt. Well, I have felt. And more felt - made during my "felting phase", something every serious stitcher has to go through. The Dreaded Moth has lived in some of it, and it's all spent weeks in the freezer, so hopefully no moths have survived that.I decided to use this piece, which has a nice dark colour on the back - and as background, some "vellum" made of layers of scrim/gauze quilted together.Pulled out wool threads and silk threads - the silk is more appealing at the moment, but it will be interesting to see whether it "works" and what effect the wool will have. Or I might get out the machine...The search for a motif sent me looking for an actual picture of the square motif used in the background of medieval manuscripts (with all that patterning in the felt already, I wanted something simple). Thought I had it in the sketchbook from the "medieval" course (my first creative embroidery course at City Lit, and so exciting!) but the closest thing is the motifs on top right of this page. Filling that sketchbook was a delight, and the subject matter was a major discovery. These enticing letters might find their way into the felt quilt somehow ... you never know:My memory is that the square motif appears "everywhere", but it doesn't seem to be in any of the MSs in the several books about medieval things that are on my shelves. It was great to look at those books again, what wonderful objects - embroideries, ivories and enamels as well as manuscripts. Another near fit is on this page from the Luttrell Psalter:Nature abhors a vacuum and so did the medieval illuminators. What a strange creature in the margin.

10 October 2007

A landscape quilt

This week I'm starting a six-week online class "exploring art quilts" with Jane LaFazio - the first week we're doing a landscape quilt. The fabrics - including brown, not a colour I have a lot of, for some reason - mostly came from the bring&buy at Saturday's regional day.First attempt -- note the menacing clouds in the sky: rain clouds -
Second thought - making the clouds into misty hills and adding roads going over the nearer hills -
But while we were out on Sunday morning, drinking in some culture and haunting a few bookshops, I saw a photo that appealed for this project, and scribbled it down to reinterpret in the fabrics on hand -
The edges are ironed under and then stitched down with invisible thread. Some of the areas are machine quilted
and here all the areas are machine quilted. It needs -- what?