Monday, 23 May 2016

Picturing Places: Response Work

Textile work by diverse artist in response to Cumbrian Art: Picturing Places

One of the projects I've been working on this year with Prism Arts is a response project to one of Tullie House's exhibitions. Entitled Cumbrian Art: Picturing Places the exhibition looks at the museums extensive collection of Cumbrian art and it covers a wide range of Cumbrian landscapes by a variety of artists, past and present.

Sketching ideas out (RT)

Sketching ideas out (MG)

Sketching ideas out (MG)

Tullie House asked us to work with them to find and support diverse artists to create response work to the exhibition which would then be shown alongside the exhibition. We worked on a similar style of project a few years ago when I mentored a young diverse artist to create work in response to a Richard Slee exhibition at Tullie House.

Work in progress (HT)

Experimenting (MG)

Experimenting (RT)

Originally the plan for this project had been to make an open call to diverse artists but because we were working within quite a tight time frame we made the decision to select artists. We selected four diverse artists who we thought would be inspired by and benefit from this opportunity. In this context we are using the description diverse artist to describe a person experiencing barriers to accessing the art world such as disability, mental health issues or other health issues.

Work in progress (RT)

Trying out ideas (RT)

Experimenting with different media (MG)

One of the issues with creating response work to an exhibition that is going to be shown at the same time as the exhibition is that it doesn't leave a lot of time to create the work! For this exhibition we were fortunate that as the work was coming from Tullie's collection the artists were able to go and see a selection of the work before the show was hung. The museum staff were very helpful, giving the artists access to particular works and providing information on the pieces and the artists. We also arranged for the response work to go up part way through the exhibition to allow the artists time to create their responses.

Selected and cropped Drawing by HT

Selected and cropped Drawing by HT

Drawing in progress (HT)

Even so, time was the biggest challenge of this project. As I was only working with the artists once a week (indeed one of the artists I barely saw at all, luckily she had a very clear idea of the work she wished to make and worked independently) and there was Easter and holidays to accommodate I felt quite pressured time wise but hopefully the artists did not feel too pressured.

Motorway through the Cumbrian Hills
Acrylic and pastel on canvas (MG)

Detail: Acrylic and pastel on canvas (MG)

Working with the artists themselves was a very rewarding process. They all had such different ideas and ways of approaching the project and it was very inspiring seeing them work. My involvement in producing the work was minimal, they all had such a clear idea of what to do and how they wanted to work that aside from a few technical points and small suggestions I did not need to do much on that side of things. One area where I did have more input was in displaying the work as this is an area where the artists had limited experience. For example, one of the artists and myself made the decision  to cut up one of his drawings to make two smaller drawings.

Detail: Cumbria in Thread (RT)

Detail: ...And if it wasn't red?
Thread wraps on card (NC)

Detail: ...And if it wasn't red?
Thread wraps on card (NC)

For this project I have taken more of a project management role. I've really enjoyed this and whilst it has been quite stressful at times and has been a learning curve it's definitely something I would like to do more of. One of the things I really enjoyed was working with Tullie to get all the technical aspects organised such as copy for the press release and leaflets and when and how to hang the work. I really enjoyed writing the copy and helping the artists to write their statements and seeing the finished printed literature is very satisfying.

Display on our information board about the exhibition

As the artists had all chosen to work with materials and techniques that made use of resources we already had I was left with a reasonable budget for framing. I very much wanted to get the work professionally framed as I think it finishes the work off and displays it to its full advantage. I chose simple, uniform frames for the work so that the focus would be on the work itself and so that when it was hung in the exhibition space the work of the four artists would work as a mini show on it's own whilst still fitting in with the wider exhibition. Timing was again an issue here, I had to make multiple trips to the framers and next time would definitely make sure there was more time for the framing.

Hanging the work

Overall, this has been a really rewarding project to work on. I've learnt a lot and enjoyed being involved in all aspects of the project from idea to display. The show is on until 5th June so there's still time to go and see the exhibition and the work created in response to it.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The Village Project at The Heathlands Project

House portrait with felt and buttons

I've been working for The Heathlands Project for six years now, longer than I've ever worked anywhere before. In that time the project has grown and expanded in so many ways and it remains a positive, supportive and exciting place to work. One of the areas that I've been responsible for expanding is our textile section. When I first started working here there wasn't any textiles work going on but over the years we've developed an impressive textiles section with a number of sewing machines, an embellisher, a loom and a spinning wheel (and more!)

Using a lightbox to transfer designs

Using fabric pastels

Stitching, using fabric pen drawings as a guide

Each year we make a quilt (more about this year's in another post) and over time more and more members have had a go at textiles and now the textiles project spills out into other art groups as well as having dedicated sessions. As well as the quilt project many members have their own individual textile projects and I'm always on the look out for other projects to get involved with. For example, last year we were involved in the centenary commemorations for the Quintinshill rail disaster.

House Portrait

House Portrait

House Portrait

This year we're taking part in a participatory art project run by AccessArt. They are asking people to create fabric portraits of their houses which they will then join together to make a single piece; the Access Art Village. I really liked the sound of this project and thought it would be a good one for our members at The Heathlands Project to get involved in as it offers a lot of opportunity to try out different textile skills.

House Portrait

House Portrait

House Portrait

As the only real restriction was that the finished pieces needed to be 20 x 20 cm I thought this would be a great chance for our artists to develop their existing skills and possibly try out some new ones. Appliqué and embroidery are always popular and can be used very effectively. We started out by drawing our houses on paper, using Google maps to remind us what our homes looked like as necessary! We then transferred our designs onto fabric using fabric pens. Some of our members are still quite new to textiles and can be nervous about embroidery and sewing and I've found that fabric pens are a really good way of introducing people to working with textiles.

House Portrait

House Portrait using tactile materials (by a person with no sight)

House Portrait

Using fabric pens is similar to using felt tip pens so many of our members are comfortable with this and are then able to build up their confidence and skills by trying out other techniques once they are more familiar with the materials. By drawing with fabric pens as a beginning it also offers clear lines to practice embroidering, adding texture and colour with thread, beads and buttons.

House Portrait

House Portrait

House Portrait


Some of the members (and staff) who are more confident with textiles have chosen not to use the fabric pens but to work in other techniques such as appliqué, by both hand and machine. One of the things that appealed to me about this project was it's adaptability, the way that a house portrait could be very simple and easily worked by a beginner or it could be very intricate and offer lots of creative potential to a more experienced artist and both would work and look good.

House Portrait from one of my Tullie Textiles group

My house drawing and portrait in progress

Getting there with my house portrait

I've really enjoyed seeing the range of houses the members have produced, both in my groups and in in the other art groups too. Each portrait is so different and shows each individuals style. I've also been working on this project with my Tullie Textiles group, showing how well it works with a wide variety of people. There's still time to take part too if you want to, just follow the instructions on AccessArt's website...

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Felting Fun at Wiggonby

Fabulous Felt Pieces

Recently I headed out to Wiggonby CofE School to run a felt making session for the Key Stage 1 pupils. I like running these one off workshops as it's a chance to see different schools and how they operate and they're always a lot of fun. Felt making is such a tactile and satisfying process that it's difficult not to enjoy it! I also like that even with no experience it is possible to produce really interesting pieces of felt.

Laying out the fibres

Laying out the fibres

Laying out the fibres

One of the challenges with this session was that I essentially had three classes (reception, year 1 and year 2) all together which is quite an age range. Interestingly, it was actually the older children who struggled a little more as I think they were thinking it through more whereas the younger children just got stuck in. It got quite loud at one point but they all seemed to be having a good time and everyone produced a piece of felt. I think they're planning to use the felt to decorate their new classroom, which I think is a good use for it!

Building up designs

Building up designs

Building up designs

It was lovely (if a little surprising for me) when I got to meet the class as they all knew who I was and knew that I used birds and feather a lot in my work as they had been looking at my website. This gave me a good 'way in' as I was able to talk about how I used felt in my work and about how I found the natural world very inspiring. As a class they were very keen on nature and enjoyed telling me about the wildlife around them. One of the boys brought in a picture of some feather drawings he'd done at home after looking at my work in school. It was great that he felt he could bring that in to show me. I was very impressed as he'd very carefully observed and drawn the texture of the feather. With all the negative stories about education in the press at the moment it was quite uplifting to go into a class and see children not just full of enthusiasm and interest about the natural world and art but able to explore that interest in school.

Starting to felt

Starting to felt

It's interesting working in very rural schools like this one compared to those in town, the children all had a very clear understanding of where the fibres we were working with came from which you often don't get in (not surprisingly) in more urban schools.

Rolling the felt

Seeing how it was going

At the end of the session I had one of those great 'this is why I do this moments.' One of the pupils came up to me with a feather she had found (she's been collecting them) and said she wanted me to have it as a thank you for helping them to make felt. It was such a lovely gesture and a really nice way to finish my week.

Finished felts

Finished felts