Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Butterfly: A Prism Arts Studio Arts Exhibition at Penrith Library



Following on from their very successful Gallery Trail at Tullie House my Studio Arts group at Prism Arts have been creating work around the theme of butterflies. We've been encouraging the participants to start developing their own practice and follow their particular interests within the visual arts whilst still working as part of a group. As part of supporting them to develop their personal practices we've been looking at the whole business of being an artist; from generating ideas, researching and developing those ideas through to making work and exhibiting.

Sketching from collections

Developing ideas

Developing characters

Alongside encouraging the participants to develop their own styles and ways of working I like to include regular skills workshops to offer new opportunities and possibilities for the participants. For example, on this project I ran a sketchbook making session as I think sketchbooks are a really useful and important tool and can also be works of art in themselves. This workshop led to two of the participants creating hand made books for the exhibition. Running workshops like this is also a good chance for myself and the other professional artists who work on the project to brush up our skills, share favourite techniques and sometimes try something new.

Composition workshop using photocopies

Sketchbook workshop

Sketchbook workshop

Part of our research for this project was visiting the Butterfly and Moth collection at Tullie House Museum and Art Gallery and a trip to Cumbria Wildlife Trust's Eycott Hill nature Reserve. This provided an opportunity to get some in depth knowledge of our subject and provided some good drawing opportunities. In my personal practice everything starts with drawing and it's something we encourage our participants to do as well. Drawing is a really useful tool for recording, generating and exploring ideas as well as a means of creation in itself.

Exhibition

Exhibition

Exhibition

One of the things I love about working in participatory arts is everyone's different approaches. I find it endlessly fascinating that from the same starting points and with the same resources each individual will create something totally different. It's also interesting seeing peoples differing approaches; some people have an idea and jump straight in without any apparent planning whilst others like to make meticulous plans and try out every possible permutation before fixing on an idea. Each approach has it's benefits and we try and encourage an approach that balances both extremes. Spontaneity is good but so is planning and experimentation!


Exhibition

Exhibition

Exhibition

Over the course of the project each of the participants developed their pieces in their own ways. I then spent a very warm morning at Penrith Library installing the work. This part is always quite stressful as you never quite know how it's going to go and whether all the pieces will work together. I'm really pleased with how the exhibition has come together, despite being so different I think the individual pieces work well together as a whole and as I was installing lots of people commented on how interesting and cheerful the work is.

Detail of handmade book: Butterfly Story

Detail of Imperial Tiger Scroll

Detail of The Butterfly

All the staff at the library have been really helpful and supportive (and make an excellent cup of tea) and I think it's really good for Studio Arts to have their work on show in different places as it helps us challenge people's preconceptions about what they can do and raises awareness of their work. It also fits in well with Penrith Library's Summer Reading challenge; this year's theme is Animal Agents so it's a win win! The work will be on show until 12th September so if you're in Penrith please do pop in and have a look.

Detail of Butterfly

Detail of Butterflies in the Breeze

Friday, 14 July 2017

A Quilt for Cumbria: The Heathlands Project

Completed patch for A Quilt for Cumbria

Usually at this time of year at The Heathlands Project I'm cursing quilts and promising myself that we're never going to make another quilt again. This year, however, I've found a cunning way to run a quilt project with my groups without me having to put it all together. Up for Arts Cumbria have been working on a BBC Get Creative project to make 'A Quilt for Cumbria.' They're asking people across Cumbria to make fabric patches showing things they love about Cumbria which will then be joined together by The Quilters Guild to make a beautiful community artwork that can go on show across the county.

Ideas sheet and designs

Designs and work in progress

Work in progress

For the past six years I've made a quilt each year with my textiles groups at Heathlands. The members and I always enjoy these projects and over the years we've created some beautiful and quirky pieces of textile art and I've seen their skills and confidence grow with each quilt.  Last year our theme was 'On the Beach' and we experimented with felt making which was a lot of fun. It's always a bit stressful at the end of the project as I never end up with quite as much time as I'd like to put all the work together as I like to give the members as much time as possible to work on their patches. This year I don't need to worry about that as I just have to support the guys to create their patches and then deliver them for someone else to construct. Lucky me!

Finished Patch

Finished Patch

Finished Patch

I think the idea of a quilt for Cumbria is a lovely one, it's a great way to celebrate our county and bring people together. Various groups are running patch making sessions and I'll be running a session later this month at The Eden Workshop to encourage as many people as possible to get involved. Crafting can be a really powerful social activity; it can bring people together with a shared purpose but is also nonthreatening, allowing people to come together and make new connections and get creative at the same time.

Finished Patch

Finished Patch (detail)

Finished Patch

My groups at The Heathlands Project have made some fantastic and very personal patches for the project. We've mostly been using fabric pens and pastels and stitch along with a bit of applique. Some of the patches are very densely worked, with layers of fabric and stitch. Some are packed with imagery whilst others focus on a particular area of interest. It's been really interesting finding out what Cumbria means to us and what each individual values most. One of the great things about a project like this is that provides opportunities to talk about important topics in an easy and accessible way.

Finished Patch (complete with a portrait of me!)

Finished Patch (detail)

Finished Patch

If you want to have a go and create a patch you have until September and finished patches can be dropped off or posted to BBC Radio Cumbria in Carlisle. I can't wait to see the finished piece, I hope the Quilters Guild know what they've let themselves in for!

Finished Patch

Finished Patch

Finished Patch (detail)

If you'd like to join me at The Eden Workshop on Friday 28th July for a patch making workshop please contact them for details.

Finished Patch (detail)

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Paper Making Workshops

A stack of handmade papers

Recently I've been running some paper making workshops for Prism Arts Studio Theatre West Coast group and students at Distington Community School. Following on from their wonderful Vikings project Studio Theatre are now working on another Heritage Lottery Funded project 'Cumbria's Atomic Story.'  The story starts with Cumbrian scientist John Dalton who began looking into atomic theory. His mother was a paper maker, which is where I come in!

Ripping up paper

Ripping up paper

Ripping and soaking

For the first session I worked with the Studio Theatre participants so that they could get a good idea of the process and help me run the following session where we would be working with the school students. We had a lot of fun experimenting and we had lots of interesting discussions about paper; what we use it for, where it comes from, how it's made and how the process has changed (or not) over the past few hundred years. It was great having this session as it meant the participants were really able to engage with the school students in the following sessions and help them with the process.

Pulling sheets of paper

Pulling sheets of paper

Pulling sheets of paper

Paper making can be very complicated but it can also be very simple, I wanted to use a technique that would work well with a wide range of abilities and that would allow plenty of scope for experimentation. For this reason I chose to demonstrate how to make handmade paper using existing paper. We created a basic paper pulp using sugar paper and a bit of cellulose glue and added a few other bits (such as newspaper) as the fancy took us. The basic process is to rip up the paper, soak it, blitz it in a blender with the glue, pour the resulting pulp into a tray of water to create a suspension and then use a mould (like a screen) to create sheets of paper. Usually you would use a deckle on top of the mould to get nice neat edges on your paper but I felt this was an unnecessary complication for these workshops.

Pressing the paper onto jay cloths

Decorating the paper

Decorating the paper

One of the reasons I chose to use sugar paper was that it allowed us to explore a bit of colour theory and mixing. It's great putting two different colours together in the blender and seeing them being mixed to create a new colour. We also had quite a giggle deciding what food the resulting pulps resembled (we made a lot of mushy peas and various smoothies!)

Decorating the paper

Decorating the paper

Paper drying out

Once we had the basic paper pulp mix and had got the hang of pulling sheets of paper we were able to explore different ways of altering and customising the paper. I think this was the most exciting bit and it was very interesting watching how different people approached this stage. Some people had a very clear idea of what they were after and were very controlled and ordered, others had a much more random approach. The paper can be layered, with or without things trapped between the layers, things can be pressed into the paper, it can be pushed around to create different surfaces, layers can be gently peeled back to reveal what's underneath, the possibilities are endless. I took a limited assortment of things to add into the paper (threads, feathers and sequins) and it was amazing the variety of effects that were achieved.

Interesting textures

Interesting textures

Interesting textures

I've enjoyed running these workshops so much, it is such a fun process and there are so many variations. Seeing how differently everyone has approached it is really inspiring. In fact I've been so inspired that I've been doing some paper making of my own, It's given me a bit of a kick start in my practice as I was starting to feel a bit unsure as to where to go next but handmade paper may be the answer.

Paper Stack