I will have been a self-employed artist for 8 years once Sept rolls around. 8 YEARS! Where does the time go? In that time I’ve made A LOT of paintings. Right now I’m in the mood to make some space and sell them off at great prices. Sale starts tomorrow 5pm GMT – details to follow tomorrow.

When we visited Asia last year I was so inspired and awed by the new-to-me culture and decoration of Buddhist and Taoist religious spaces; in particular the use and construction of a variety of temple hangings.

I have had these hangings in mind as I am working my way through all kinds of delicious inspiration from those travels. This first completed hanging is a bringing together of all kinds of interpretation and methods of print and stitch.

I began painting this beautiful illuminated manuscript from the Islamic Arts Museum in Malaysia in a simplified way by isolating the little scalloped shape and flower.

I then developed that into a printable silk screen using flour and water paste – a very simple and easy homespun method.

As you can generally only use the screen once (the paste deteriorates as its washed clean) I printed up a stash of luscious fabrics to use, overprinting one particularly yummy fabric that I had previously batiked and tie-dyed.

I chose to stitch the flowers into each shape rather than hand-print them as I was looking to add texture and colour to the surface. The rectangular bottom section features a simple floral lino-block I developed from drawing embroidery motifs on items in the Textile Museum in Kuala Lumpur.

The elephant print began life as a teaching demonstration for how to using screen filler to screen-print hand-drawn images. I re-drew a section of this beautiful wall decoration from the Wat Chaiya Mangalaram, a Thai Buddhist Temple in George Town using drawing fluid. It is later coated in another filler and later the drawing lines are washed out leaving the space as printable mesh (I don’t have of photo of that – sorry)

Here it is printed onto a randomly dyed base fabric and I added some fabric foiling too (another demo).

I lived with the pieces up on my design wall for a while, visually editing it and adding in sequin trim and a fantastic gold dangly bit I’d squirralled away sometime. I decide to learn a stitch called Cretan Insertion to attach the gold ribbon to the bottom seam and I think it finished it off perfectly.

Now to re-group and begin the cycle again.

I’ve been playfully stamping my Malay Flower lino block onto fabric grounds; some tie-dyed fabric, screen-printed ombre cotton and hand-painted silk using a gold ink pad I bought in the Xmas sales.

I’m just allowing some creative play at this stage; some prototyping maybe – I’m trying to not think ahead too far but see what comes. I’ve also added a few hours of stitches to one to bring some of the weaker printing results into focus better.

“Creativity is about play and a kind of willingness to go with your intuition. It’s crucial to an artist. If you know where you are going and what you are going to do, why do it?” Frank Gehry

This sums up nicely what I’ve been doing over the last few weeks. There’s nothing like a wide open calendar free of outside obligations to prompt some creative play. (I’m calling this my silver-lining having had all my work furloughed or postponed)

Early in 2019 I went to Malaysia with my daughter for a wonderful week full of culture like nothing I’d experienced before so this recent creative playing has been a wonderful chance to pick over the zillions of photos I took, pulling out images, colours and sights that tickle my arty-farty bones! I’m just responding to whatever makes my heart sing and going from there – I’m jumping from sketchbook to computer to lino-cutting to embroidery as I like and it’s wonderful fun to just play freely.

This is a little lino block I made after drawing some details from a beautiful silk textile at the National Textile Museum in Kuala Lumpur. 

As this blog serves as a kind of diary for me and a reminder of what I was doing and when, it seems only right to record everything momentous – not just my artistic adventures but also sometimes personal stuff that when shared serves to contribute to the world in someway. As I’m happy to share the inconsequential Stuff of Life it’s only right to record here the more important, monumental penny-dropping that I’ve experienced in the last few weeks as the Black Lives Matter issues have risen up to confront my White Fragility head-on.

I don’t mind telling you that I feel my age (50- this is not an excuse) I feel lucky to have a 21 year old home to help re-educate my thinking on these matters and to refer to as a compass point as I re-organise years of pre-programmed mindsets. I have been asleep for a long time – I mean I thought I was non-biased but when I look at things in a new light, I’m not. I fall, well intentioned, into many situations that I could have handled much better if I’d been awake. I didn’t mean to but I grew older and stopped reading and feeling the energy to be active (I am not excusing this) I now understand that is part of my White Priviledge – to be blissfully unaware and unaffected. I feel woefully unequipped by my school education (in the 1980’s) to have a useable, modern framework with which to understand how to think and behave in 2020. But I’m awake again; listening more widely to things than ever before, trying to pummel my 50 year old brain into learning again (it’s been a while) and to alter my understanding from the racist rhetoric I was (not intentionally) steeped in as a child of the 80’/90’s.

My business is just me, working alone at home mostly. But this is my Anti-Racist policy none-the-less.

This will be my final post showing all the work I completed as Artist in Residence at Winterbourne House & Gardens. This post features the Textile work that I’ve done – not the printed pieces or pattern designs which I’ve already showed you but the embroidery pieces.

These may have started life as printed textiles which were then embellished with stitch but they have come to life as either hand or machine embroidered works of art.

I had grand plans to do much more; Margaret Nettlefold (one of the original home owners) was very fond of needlework herself and so it was very in keeping to follow this line of response.

However if you’ve ever done any embroidery yourself, you’ll know how time consuming it is. The chair featured here is an old oak chair from WH&G and emulates the chair seat cover that Margaret herself made which is on show in the house.

And so that ends this chapter of work for me. It has challenged and inspired me as an artist.

I can’t remember having such a long-standing project before which is a lesson in pace and stamina in itself.

It’s been a real treat to have had this opportunity and whilst I could still do it all again and find I haven’t enough time, I am also complete and ready to focus on new inspiration to work from.

Here in no particular order of date painted or size, are the 12 paintings I have completed as part of my Artist in Residency at Winterbourne House and Gardens, Birmingham University.
I like to work in many styles as a response to what I’m seeing to paint.
Most are gouache watercolour layered up with texture and washes of colour. But there are also a couple of mixed media pieces with acrylic.
I started out with grand plans to document the seasons passing or the same plants at different points in time but actually I was quickly over whelmed by how much growing goes on and how much there was to document in so many valid ways.
In the end I opted for a simple formula – I painted whatever brought me joy, whenever, wherever it did.
This project has stretched and challenged my ability as an artist to capture landscape, light, the feel of a place and working to represent a lot of visual information even in smaller works.

The first print design I made back in Spring 2019 as part of my Residency at Winterbourne HG is also the last I have to show you here.

I had been quietly sketching in the Walled Garden when a mouse felt brave enough to leave one bed, cross the grass and dive into another just to my side.

That mouse made it into the print as did the flowers and birds that I observed around the site at the time.

It’s been test printed up in a number of colour-ways by heat-press transfer printing and screen-printed by hand after I’d exposed a screen but ultimately the details are so fine that it’s only got digital printing in it’s future.

It nearly got birthed as wrapping paper for the shop but in the end the margins for production on it weren’t viable – such is the life of a designer; making by hand is the most satisfying and sometimes also the least! But it remains a firm favourite of mine and I hope one day it can show the world it’s charm.

This time last year a part of Winterbourne Garden was a riot of tall Poppies. It makes me a little sad to think that they are there again this year and we can’t get to see them.

Poppies are a favourite flower of mine to interpret; there’s just something satisfying to my eye about the shape of the flower – and they’re my favourite colour.

They also lend themselves very easily as a shape which is easily translatable into a screen-print stencil.

I was playing around with the translucency of the printing ink by adding in more binder to ‘thin’ the colour (a little like adding water to paint to dilute it)

I was happily printing and drying, printing and drying… when 6 HOURS later I dropped a dirty squeegee on the corner of it destroying the perfect print.

I had to walk away and leave it for a bit to think about how I could save it.  I used freezer paper stencils to finish the center of the flowers but added to the conundrum by using an ink which was very opaque (too much so) which spoilt the effect somewhat.

It sat in a pile in my studio for months. Many times I thought of putting it away for other uses but the colours and shapes just wouldn’t detach from desire to save it.

Eventually, having woken one day in a decisive mood, I cut (cropped) it heavily; fitting it to a pillow infill I had and then put some embroidery stitches to work to enhance the flower centers which needed sharpening visually.

And now I love it and am so glad I saw it through. Here’s to pererverance.

One of my favourite plants at Winterbourne is the Ginkgo biloba tree. It’s a lovely green through to yellow and then when the leaves fall they dry nicely and are sturdy enough to last a few rounds with an artist.

I wanted to create a fabric that reflected the fall of leaves by printing one colour upon another. Not to spoil the punchline but in choosing to do this through heat-press printing I think I stacked the odds against myself. But I did choose that method and here’s why it was the ‘wrong’ method for the outcome. Heat reactive dyes don’t paint out in the colour they will print to be – you have to mix it up using 25% knowledge and 75% hope. You can see above that I wrote out colour recipes and did little test samples but even that didn’t act as a reliable repeat receipe.

Heat reactive dyes transfer their colour from paper to fabric in a heat press (or under an iron if its hot and heavy enough) I made several papers from the colours I’d mixed up and painted the dye on using brush techniques witch would emulate the fan shape of ridges on the Ginkgo leaf.

 

The tricky part in my project was thinking and working from the base layer up – I knew what I wanted to do; which was to print pale tones of the leaves at the bottom and then do several more layers of colours becoming stronger each time. What happened was that the dyes were either mixed to be too strong in tone or variations in the temperature or time in the heat press caused some of the base layers to come out shouting ‘look at me!’

I did persevere and got some nice areas of overlaying colour. The rhythm of the leaves as they fell on the ground got lost a little because of working in reverse and the tricky job of laying all the pieces out and getting them into the heat press without moving them at all. I had painted some ridges in using what I thought to be a pale tawny brown but was in fact almost black – to counter balance that I used fabric foiling to knock them back; doesn’t a bit of glitter away distract the eye!

 

In the end I stopped once this sample piece was completed and called it a cushion cover. I didn’t want to persue it enough to make an actual fabric length of it. It has an aesthetic all of it’s own and not one I recognise as being mine! But in the round, process and reflection are great learning markers and when the day comes to try and capture those leaves again I will employ screen printing techniques which will make the process easier and more controllable and the outcome perhaps closer to what I’d intended. Until then here is a finished sample which is also a work in progress.

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