Monday, 28 March 2016

Shadow Work Workshop

Samples and materials ready for the workshop

In February I delivered a Shadow Work workshop for the Cumberland Branch of the Embroiderers Guild. I was really nervous about this workshop as some of the embroiderers have been stitching longer than I've been alive! I wanted to create a workshop that focused not so much on traditional ways of doing things (as I knew many of the participants would be far better at it than me anyway) but on ways of taking the traditional techniques and using them in a more personal way.

Selecting and transferring designs

Selecting and transferring designs

Selecting and transferring designs

This workshop also inspired a piece of work, called In the Shadows, which I really enjoyed making. It was also good to have a big piece of work to show the participants as traditionally shadow work is worked on quite a small scale. I had also combined several techniques to show that we don't need to be limited to working with just one method at a time.

Tacking fabrics ready to stitch

Tacking fabrics ready to stitch

Stitching

One of the things that I often find when running workshops is that people are very nervous about implementing their own ideas and have little confidence in their own creativity. They are often worried about getting it 'wrong' and making sure they do things the 'right' way. Personally I find this an odd approach as for me it is a natural thing to want to experiment and try new things but I do understand why people feel that way. I hope in my workshops that I can give people the confidence and freedom to try something different and not worry too much about getting it 'right.'

Experimenting with fabrics

Pin Stitch

Stitch and tea...

To help limit people's worry about design and creating something I did provide several designs for people and encouraged participants to use these as a starting point to try out their own ideas. Because they were my designs they did of course largely feature birds so a lot of bird samples were produced during the workshop!

Pieces from the workshop

Pieces from the workshop

Pieces from the workshop

I really enjoyed the workshop, it was great seeing people playing around with fabrics and trying things out especially things that they might not normally have tried. For most the session everyone was very quiet, deep in concentration working on their stitching. This kind of silence in a workshop is very satisfying, knowing that you've shown people something they want to spend time learning. I always find I learn something new too when I run a workshop, whether it's a new artist to look at, a technique to try out or using something in a different way.

Pieces from the workshop

Pieces from the workshop

Pieces from the workshop

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Giving and Getting

Blackbird Singing. Lino print, 2015

There are quite a few proverbs and sayings along the theme of giving and getting; you reap what you sow, you get what you give and so on. The moral of the majority of these sayings is that what you put into something you will get back out, so put a lot of effort in and you will get a a great reward. In real life this is of course not always totally true but I do believe that in the bigger picture it is more or less true. I think that our understanding and belief in this concept varies greatly depending on what we regard as a reward or 'getting.' I'm a firm believer that there is a lot more to life than material gain (as much as I love shiny things) and that often the things one gets from giving are intangible; a sense of well-being or satisfaction for instance.

At the start of February Prism Arts funded me to travel up to Dumfries for a symposium run by Upland. It was a full on and really interesting day with great speakers and discussions. Although Cumbria is generally included in the North West region of England I sometimes feel, especially in North Cumbria, that we have a lot more in common with South West Scotland. The English North West includes the large urban areas of Liverpool and Manchester which are very different to rural Cumbria.

One of the recurring themes of the day was networks and 'giving it away.' As we all know times are hard, cuts are everywhere and it is becoming harder and harder to secure funding for arts projects. Increasingly artists and arts organisations are looking at different ways of working and networks and communities are a core part of this. Throughout the day the organisations and individuals speaking showed a general unwillingness to address the financial aspect of their projects, which was a bit frustrating but understandable. The focus was very much on the benefits of collaboration and giving it away (whether 'it' was responsibility for an aspect of running an organisation or an idea or information.)

Traditionally, many artists, makers and organisations have been quite closed, guarding their secrets closely and have shown a reluctance to share skills and knowledge; often due to a very reasonable and legitimate fear of being copied. In my own practice I have always been very willing to share my skills and knowledge, I like to think that I have more to gain than to lose by sharing what I know and I enjoy helping other people try out new techniques. I have had my work copied and it is frustrating but I think in most cases if your work has honesty and integrity this shows through. Work that is copied without due credit does not have this and I think people can spot that.


Swans, colouring book page. Pen on paper, 2016

As I was writing this post I was thinking about how, apart from my participatory practice, I myself put the giving and getting idea into practice and two particular examples came to mind. In December Cumbria was hit by massive flooding, affecting thousands of people and devastating many homes and businesses. Whilst it was terrible to see the damage and destruction what really stood out was how people came together to support each other. In many cases this was in very practical ways such as donating food and clothes, tradespeople offering to work for free and people offering up spare rooms and holiday cottages.

For the less practical but more artistic amongst us Gavin Pollock came up with the idea of creating a colouring book which could then be sold to raise money for the flood appeal. This was a way I could definitely help so I contributed a drawing of a swan with her cygnets safely tucked under her wings sailing through stormy waters. I wanted to create an image that showed the caring and compassionate side of the disaster as well as the water. [The book is still in production, details will follow!]

The second example of artists coming together and using their skills to benefit those affected by the floods is the LoveCumbria Art Auction, held at The Halston on 11th February. A great many artists, including myself, donated work to be auctioned off to raise funds for the Cumbria Community Foundation Flood Recovery Appeal. Lots of big names donated work and the event was a great success, raising £12,000 for the appeal.

The moral of this post? Sharing and giving is good and whilst what you get back might not be physical or tangible you will get something: I gave artwork and in return I got satisfaction, a bit of publicity and the knowledge that I'd been part of something big and worthwhile.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Life Drawing 15.3.16

Continuous line

Another month has flown by and it's time for another Life Drawing session. It was a quiet session again but with two new faces which is always positive. One of the new people had been doing artist Tracy Metcalfe's Experimental Drawing course and some of the techniques he was experimenting with were really interesting. I couldn't believe it was his first life drawing session as his drawings were so good; well observed and full of life.

Continuous line

Hands

Hands

Continuous line

I was feeling a little bit stressed this session as the following morning I was heading off to the Isle of Man on a research trip, exciting but it also meant I had lots of jobs to fit in before I went. However, throughout the session I did relax and as I did so my drawings improved. Having time to just focus on drawing is really important to me, it helps me unwind and allows ideas to flow.

Blind  Drawings

Blind  Drawings

Blind  Drawings

Blind  Drawings

I did a fair bit of 'blind' drawing this session (drawing without looking at the paper) and I was really pleased with how some of them turned out. I love the freedom of working this way and am often surprised by how accurately they turn out, by letting the eyes 'talk' directly to the hand a very free drawing is created.

Continuous line

Face study

Face study

Continuous line

I am also becoming much more confident with heads and faces. For several months now I have been challenging myself to draw the head and face as it was one of my weakest areas and I tended to avoid it as much as possible, resulting in a lot of headless body drawings! I now feel that I'm really starting to get the hang of it and am even starting to enjoy it. Now I just need to figure out how to fit a whole body onto one sheet of paper...

Continuous line

Continuous line

Continuous line

Continuous line

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Boris, or how to weave a hare...

Boris, the willow hare
One of the many great things about being an artist, particularly an artist employed by an arts organisation, is that ones training/team building/professional development tends to involve doing art stuff. Thus the Prism Arts team building day involved us all learning to make willow hares with basket maker and willow weaver Phil Bradley at the end of January.

A bunch of sticks...

Starting to add form...

A body emerges...
I was really looking forward to this workshop, last year I did a basket making course and I've done quite a bit of willow weaving to make giant puppets and lanterns so I was keen to develop my skills further. Phil is a well known and respected willow weaver and teacher and so I was looking forward to some expert guidance.

Adding structure

Can you guess what it is yet?

Taking shape

We all had a great day, it was good to have time to focus on creating something that we hadn't had to plan and to be guided through a way of working. I found it very rewarding and as well as being pleased with my sculpture I found it gave me lots of inspiration and ideas for future work. Most of all I enjoyed working with my hands, seeing my hare emerge from a bunch of sticks and spending time with my friends.

It looks like a moose...

Getting there

A host of hares

Another of the things that I enjoyed about the day was hearing about Phil's approach to work, he has an understanding and appreciation of the creatures he is representing in willow and this really shows through. He works in quite an instinctive and natural way which combined with the skill one gains from putting a lot of time and effort into ones craft leads to his sculptures having a real sense of life and movement. Whilst they may not be anatomically correct they capture the spirit of the animal. I found this very inspiring and is something I hope to bring into my own work.

Boris from the front

He casts very beautiful shadows

Monday, 14 March 2016

In the Shadows

In the Shadows, Shadow work, 2016

One of my favourite pieces of my own work is a large magpie piece from 2014, called Hail to the Thief. Inspired by this piece and a shadow work workshop I'd been booked to run  I decided to make another magpie piece, making use of the particular qualities of the silk organza I prefer to work with.

Layers pinned together

Layers tacked together

Working shadow stitch by hand

I wanted to continue to explore our odd relationship with magpies, it is something of a love hate relationship and there aren't many birds as loaded with stories and superstitions as the magpie. We admire their beautiful plumage yet berate them as bullies and thieves, we salute them and see a pair as a symbol of happiness and fidelity yet still call them pests. Personally I love to see them, from their swooping flight to the sun on their purple green feathers to the stark contrast of black and white on a grey day I find them endlessly beautiful and charming.

Shadow work detail

Shadow work detail

Shadow work detail

In many ways this has been an experimental piece for me. I have used a lot of machine embroidery in my work, partly to allow me to work at a reasonable speed and produce larger scale works. However, I also have a great love of hand embroidery and have wanted to bring this into my work more and more but I have still wanted to work on a large scale. I wanted to see how I could combine these two aims and thought that using some shadow work techniques could allow me to do this.

Edge detail

Hem detail

Hanging in the studio

I used a 'sandwich' technique to create this piece, trapping pieces of coloured organza and lace between two pieces of white silk organza. Once I was happy with the composition I tacked all the layers together and  I then used machine embroidery to draw the magpie and hold the layers in place. I then worked into the piece with some hand embroidery, adding more layers of sheer fabric in certain areas as I felt necessary. I finished off the hems and edges with pin stitch and a decorative variation of blanket stitch.

Leg detail

Head detail

Hanging in the window

I am unsure how I feel about this piece. It definitely works best as a shadow piece (i.e. lit from the back) and I think I like it but there's something not quite right. However, I think this about most my work at the moment, there are elements that I like and that are working really well but somehow it's not quite coming together as I think it should. I feel like I need some time to really focus on where I want my work to go but as that's not likely to happen in the near future I shall keep persevering and making and see what happens...