Sunday, 9 November 2014

Lest We Forget .....

One of the many fabric poppies I have collected for still-life photography
On Tuesday, I wrote about the excitement I felt at again being asked to create four new exhibition pieces which are currently on show (and for sale) at The Water Street Gallery, Todmorden, West Yorkshire. (Click the link which will take you to ‘my’ page on the Gallery website.) I wrote about experimentation and the method I had used to create one of the 13.8x11.8cm fabrications. Similar techniques can result in quite different pieces, as occurred (deliberately) with my WWI ‘Lest We Forget’. This in fact was a re-jig of a piece made for a Summer ‘WWI’ Showcase in Shropshire. More on that at the end of this post.

Ideas for my mixed-media creations appear sometimes out of nowhere. It may be a fabric flower (as the one above), or a paper napkin; a map, or page from an old book; a photograph taken for quite another purpose, or memorabilia collected on my travels. And what better day to demonstrate how such ephemera can be brought together than in remembrance of loved ones.

This map appears in both finished pieces in this post, digitally-manipulated
to a square and rectangular finished page size
Here’s how ‘Lest We Forget’ came together: First I located the map I and my husband (RQ) followed many years ago when we went in search of the area of France where his father was injured in 1916. I scanned it - if you don’t have a scanner, lay it flat and photograph it. I manipulate to the size I need using Photoshop Elements; I remove size-constraints so that a rectangular image can become square, or any proportion - without it becoming unrecognisable. All my base images - whether scans or photographs are printed onto Daler-Rowney 45gsm (31lb) Layout Paper - I buy A4 pads online (numerous sources) and print on an Epson WF-2540 Series inkjet printer. The beauty of this printer is that it uses ink which becomes waterproof when dry - perfect if you want to glaze with acrylic wax or gel medium, as was needed for this piece. The base image is then fused using Bondaweb to whatever fabric I decide will be most appropriate for the piece - usually calico or cheesecloth. (Tip: Protect you work surface, cover with an old folded cotton sheet and then a large piece of baking parchment.) Lay the printed map blank side up and onto it lay a piece of fusible web; iron into place. When cool, peel away the backing and lay the fused map onto the fabric - image side up of course. Cover with baking parchment to protect the map and iron into place. I always make my base slightly oversize so that it can be trimmed for the final stage. Watch that you do not let the fusible glue touch the iron or any other surface or you could well spoil future creations. Replace baking-parchment frequently.)

Experimental application of paper napkin to demo transparency once
the acrylic wax has dried, plus bits of ephemera, stitch etc
Using Paper Napkins: Now you can let your hair down, with this topic particularly as there are dozens of poppy designs from which to select one to suit your message. Ensure you use a napkin of 3-ply construction. For ‘Lest We Forget’ I selected a bold design so that it would dominate but was in fact sufficiently transparent that the map would still be visible. Gently separate the three layers (keeping the bottom two for other projects). Audition the position, thinking of the ephemera you will have already decided to use - in this case, you don’t want to cover a vital part of the poppy. Lay the upper napkin layer over the map, positioning it as you wish, and gently and sparingly apply Acrylic Wax to the surface, (the brand that works best is obtainable from ArtVanGo - download pdf by clicking link, and scroll to page 49, under 'Finishes'). Use a soft filbert brush if you have one, working from the centre outwards and paying particular attention to the edges - do not cut away the surplus.  The napkin will wrinkle initially - but you will have a lovely tactile, textured surface once it is dry. Rough cut away the spare napkin at this stage. (Tip: Immediately wash brush in warm, soppy water or the bristles will set solid!)

A layered arrangement that has
been used in more than 
one piece 
Ephemera: Now’s the time for the memorabilia you have assembled or created. ‘Lest We Forget’ utilised an item I had created first for a travel journal many years ago, adapted for another WWI piece this summer, and reprised here (the poppy cross). It began as a semi-transparent vellum scrapbook page over which I layered a T-shaped business card presented to all visitors staying at the Ibis Hotel, Calais! Digitally photographed and re-sized for my travel journal page, I pondered on how to incorporate it, for I no longer had the original. Answer - first scan travel journal page, then working from a copy, alter size and proportion in Photoshop; add text as a ‘layer’. (Tip: never work from an original, be it photo or artwork; always make a copy and then you can use, re-use and adapt many times.) For digital text panels, I typed within a box (within ‘Pages’ though you could use ‘Word’, utilising the box-tint facility. These three ephemera elements were sized and brought together in one document, printed on layout paper, fused into position on the poppy-map background and machine-stitched for emphasis.

Currently on show (and for sale) at the Water Street Gallery, Todmorden
‘Lest We Forget’ was almost complete. It merely required trimming to size and edge stitched for neatness, before inserting inside the CD-case that was the remit for the Water Street Gallery exhibition.

Collage created from iPhone images of our TV screen during the
Service of Remembrance at the Cenotaph, London, 09.11.2014
It seemed fitting that I published this post today (late as it is), on Remembrance Sunday, having watched the ceremony at the Cenotaph. Fitting for many reasons, not least that I believe all art, textiles and mixed-media work tell a story, are in essence ‘theatre’, and none more so than the pageantry observed today. We excel at pageantry and I reflected not only upon what I watched on TV but all the stage-managing that would have been involved, the logistics of transporting and seating all those veterans and dignitaries, with the serving Royals being in the right place at the correct time. Clapping for Her Majesty as the service of dedication ended (never before at such an event), was a poignant moment for she had had the courage to participate even after terrorist threats. 

Inside folds of my double-sided 'Pity of War' triptych
But I digress: both of my recent war pieces have been made as a dedication to my father-in-law, who was severely wounded at Beaumont-Hamel on the Somme in 1916. That he survived was due to four years of painstaking surgery - his right arm had been shot away and was hanging from just one tendon. He was a woodcarver and begged to have his arm saved or he would lose his livelihood. RQ (his son, and my husband) recalls the story his father told him many years later. Sitting in a shell hole with a young German soldier, they conversed and exchanged signet rings; each determined to make contact after the war. They were able to communicate as father-in-law spoke German - skilled artisans then moved freely around Europe from one assignment to another. Sadly the German lad died before reaching the field hospital. Interesting that there was camaraderie even amongst opposite ‘sides’. (And how fortunate that he survived, as his story is part of the project upon which his  great-grand-daughter is currently working.) I named the piece above - a double-sided triptych - ‘The Pity of War’. World War One was meant to be the war to end all wars. It didn’t; there is still conflict and a desire to kill other human beings almost everywhere around the globe. And for why? 

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

My cup runneth over ....

My four 'inside case' creations currently for sale at
The Water Street Gallery, Todmorden, West Yorkshire (read on)
It’s strange is it not how one returns to childhood as one grows older? Or at least, phrases that were once part of one’s schooldays suddenly jump into the mind. My post title is a quotation from the Hebrew Bible[1] (Psalm 23:5) and it literally popped onto the page.  Well, I have twisted its meaning somewhat; but, truly, so much relating to my new direction in life seems to be coming together for me without any input or intervention on my part. 

Oe section of this poor attempt at a sketch book page was created each day
over the first week of my mastectomy operation.

I have not in fact posted since late July when I was awaiting my first ‘eradicate cancer’ operation. I thought I would have all the time in the world to create as I recovered, and yet, it has been a fight to fit in all the hospital appointments, husband-care (he’s so frail now), and the day-to-day routine of staying alive. Health issues are very boring, though I have started turning my experiences into a paper-and-textile illustrated and stitched diary (and have been posting almost daily in Facebook), so I can only assume that the good things that are happening unannounced must mean that I have been busier than I think!

A wall of CD cases filled with ingenious art (including my four!) at
The Water Street Gallery, Todmorden, West Yorkshire until 31-01.2015
copyright Water Street Gallery)

An Inside Job: Right now, I am participating in ‘inside case’ - having been invited back to The Water Street Gallery, Todmorden, West Yorkshire. This is part of their winter exhibition open every day between now and 31st January 2015). This was an intriguing remit: artworks had to fit within a blank CD case and had to measure exactly 13.8 x 11.8 cm so that the closed case could be displayed vertically or horizontally. Instructions to artists were to “get inventive and creative in any media (3D, found objects, painting, encaustic, collage, original prints, photography, fibre art, text and words, defacing / restructuring objects”. Invited artists could submit up to ten pieces. I knew I could not manage more than four, and played safe with techniques I had already perfected (apart from one). My four pieces are illustrated at the top of the page. Below is the first of the finished submitted pieces (all of which are for sale).

First attempt at stitching a real leaf
Experiment first: Many people ask how I create the sort of pieces for which I have become known so I determined to provide a few details. First of course come ideas! Then sketchbook thoughts on how I will interpret what I will do. I gather together physical components that will be needed. Always some base fabric such as calico (though in this instance I used ‘Osnaburg’ fabric from Empress Mills, as it is slightly more textured and the process I use often results in a canvas-effect finish. You’ll need fusible web (Bondaweb) as well. Also used for all the pieces were digital images, auditioned from my own photo library - printed onto Daler-Rowney 45gsm (31lb) Layout Paper - I buy A4 pads online (numerous sources) and print on an Epson WF-2540 Series inkjet printer. The beauty of this printer is that it uses ink which becomes waterproof when dry - perfect if you want to glaze with acrylic wax or gel medium (though not used  for this piece) but matte gel medium was used to affix the leaf. 

One of my 'inside case' pieces - Renaissance, not as simple as it may seem

‘Renaissance’: Once I have attempted various mock-ups, I manipulate digital prints (usually adapting the size constraints which allows for plenty of artistic licence); and add titles in Photoshop. I write - and then type - words often written especially to fit a particularly piece, sometimes digitally tinting the text-box. This piece also incorporated a freshly pressed leaf (as this was to be stitched, I did the trial already shown using a similar leaf to check that the needle would not rip the leaf - I didn’t like the result, though it was fine along the edge).  Assembly comprised fusing the printed photo to the base fabric, fusing into place the word panel and stitching it, then applying the leaf using Golden Fluid Matte Medium. The piece was created slightly oversize so it could be trimmed before stitching the edge. It fitted perfectly! Off to The Water Street Gallery went 'Renaissance' - described thus: “Rebirth; a bare tree bereft of leaves. To some dull; but look at what is revealed, and think on what is to come. I spend much of the Winter photographing woodland as well as individual trees, which prompt many of my word-whispers, and fuel my collages. And as Spring returns, place your hand upon upstanding branches and feel the sap rise. Life-changing.” I will reveal the different processes used for the other three ‘inside case’ pieces in another post, for they utilise other techniques and materials. If you are interested, do please keep visiting, and share my blog details if you wish.

Working on one of my zig-zag books using various materials and techniques:
 probably the most complicated of all the type of pieces I create.

Moments of Serendipity: When my husband (RQ) and I ‘retired’ from running our own magazine publishing and printing company 15 years ago (in 1999), I planned to go freelance; creativity did not at first enter into the equation. My work load grew as I wrote for gardening and travel magazines (eventually working online as well as in print), but of my three interlinked genres, I always regarded my sketching, stitching and textile ‘stuff’ as pure play. But gradually, they wormed their way in, and now - whether I am travelling or visiting gardens (or working in my own) - it is stitched paper and textiles that feature more often than not.

Two pages from one of my nature/travel zig-zag journals and probably the
first I ever created using antique maps as a background (they now
feature regularly in what I do). I think this dates from 2010 but I could be wrong.

I have no formal art-training, but professionally handling marketing campaigns and leaflet creation for outside organisations, plus endless reading and amateur experimentation over the last ten years, helped me to develop a style of my own. Editors for whom I worked seemed willing to include references and images in the non-craft magazines and blogs for which I wrote every month. My blogs helped to bring me to a wider audience, as of late have Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, Requests to write in the SEW Region on-line magazine (of the Embroiderers’ Guild) followed, and I have just found they have mentioned my work on their new Facebook page.  Qualifying as a teacher in 1957, I have run workshops for both children and adults, and have been invited to do more in 2015, whilst invitations to exhibit what I make proliferate. Serendipity indeed. It’s been a long and hard journey - and it hasn’t ended yet!

Saturday, 26 July 2014

When creativity left me in the lurch

Click on this e-news to read it at full size
There's nothing like health issues to deprive one of what normally flows with ease. So it has been for me since preparing for the two exhibitions in West Yorkshire and then Shropshire. My dear and supportive husband ill for most of the time, and then I discover I have breast cancer. Whilst waiting for hospital dates for a mastectomy, and worrying about RQ (husband), I lose all sense of motivation. Work sits awaiting my attention. How ridiculous is this, when normally thoughts overflow, baskets are piled high with fabrics, the camera records ... Tonight, pulling myself together, I play with a new style of personal e-news .... I need to move on.

Friday, 20 June 2014

Todmorden missing word-spills

Yesterday's missing words
There was no time when I posted about Todmorden yesterday to include the word-spills that I had written about fibre art, and the lovely little town in west Yorkshire. Here they are now.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Todmorden tugs at the heart

The 'Rochdale' canal running through Todmorden, West Yorkshire, UK
The last time I posted on this Blog - back in April - I referred to the two exhibitions at which I had been invited to participate. I outlined some experimental work for the 'Arts & Garden Festival' I will be at in a week's time - in Shropshire. All work on that has been in abeyance whilst I worked on the first exhibition. Those of you who kindly follow this blog may not have seen the many postings on Facebook relating to the  this first event, which opens tomorrow in Todmorden, from where I am writing this. So you may be bemused at what follows:

from 'Mapping Garden Treasures'
For weeks now, I have been working on seven mixed-media creations for 'The Garden of Earthly Delights' at the Water Street Gallery, Todmorden, West Yorkshire, UK. It runs until 31st August, with a preview for invited guests this evening. Five of my pieces are for sale - my zig-zag book structures all based on unusual garden/plant-related themes, some with a distinct twist - images, paper napkins and my own words, stitched to antique maps.

I also had the daft idea back in January of creating an art-installation piece - a 'Dream Coat of Earthly Delights'. And thus began the dream coat saga - a full-size lined coat made entirely of paper fused to muslin; hundreds of photo collaged images and my own word whispers. Here's the explanation I wrote last night at the request of the Gallery curator to accompany the exhibit - it's such an honour to be participating within such an inspiring and ingenious venue.

As with all my recent mad ideas, this began with
a flashback to childhood and 'theatre'
A building re-purposed
Tordmorden is a heart-tugging place in more ways than one. It's amazing how quickly one can discover so much about a place never before visited in less than a day. In this case it's history and heritage, playing a significant part in the Industrial Revolution from around the 1820s - and specifically textiles. A cameo of a northern former mill town, with many of its buildings re-purposed in a significant way.

RQ has nearly demolished this platter of dauphinoise pie with fresh salad
You won't find many shops like this, selling packets of fresh edible flowers
Within a few hours, RQ and I had been introduced to somewhere to eat delicious simple food in the 'The Bear' - a licensed vegetarian cafe-bar. Located almost next to the Water Street Gallery, the cafe-bar is upstairs whilst downstairs are all manner of foodie delights; fair trade supplies, and locally grown fresh produce.

'Incredible Edible' in evidence
A patch of edible herbs and flowers
alongside the canal towpath
And there I learned also of the 'Incredible Edible' initiative - I had spotted small parcels of land planted with lush edible herbs in the most unlikely places as I walked around the town, and discovered more about this amazing venture whilst browsing in The Bear. No space or time to expand on this here, but a subject is one of enormous significance, so I will be writing about it elsewhere when I have investigated further.

I'm adjusting 'the coat' - yesterday at the Gallery
And tonight the Gallery preview, and another discovery! I learned that in the fine art world 'textile art' is referred to as 'fibre arts' - words fell out of my head, onto the page; when typed, they will appear in some guise to be advised. Thankyou to everyone who has supported me in this incredible journey: the gallery for inviting me, FaceBook friends who have 'liked' and commented upon my postings; and not least my husband who (without complaint) tolerated the mess about the house as the whole place became a studio.

Water Street Gallery, in Water Street, Todmorden OL14 5AB
(the Gallery is next to the shop with grey shutter as you walk from this 
If you can visit the 'Garden of Earthly Delights', please do so - there's some amazing art: painting, drawing, sculpture, assemblage and collage, ceramics and prints, fibre art and installation work. Yes, Todmorden tugs at the heart, and no wonder.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Experimental Journey

In the beginning: either an actual map, or a printed scan
(this is the latter as it means I can re-use my limited supply of 
specific areas)
Whenever I have occasion to create a new piece, or series of paper/textile pieces, I spend time working through a self-determined series of trial pieces to weed out what does not work. Discarding these allows me to discover those techniques that 'speak' to me, from what I have created. I rarely trial something completely new if I am working on a feature article; usually my focus is on a new topic for which I adapt - and move on from - past successes.

Coming up in a couple of months I have two exhibitions. I was invited to participate (a great honour for me as a non-artist). I have to make a number of stitched paper/textile booklets and know that to achieve the required quantity in time, I must use tried and tested practices. As is my wont, notes are scattered everywhere, but I spent this last week whilst away in Wales sorting everything into folders, allocating images and word-whispers to same, creating a 'base' experimental piece - all finished pieces will be different but based on what I completed today; only the subject matter will vary. (This piece was made a few years ago, experimental in its own way at the time: an actual map plus on this page mounted photo-prints fused and stitched to cheesecloth.)

A print of the map above, onto which I have 'waxed' paper napkin motifs
(this now constitutes the 'base' upon which further experiments will be conducted)
So here is what I trialled whilst away last week. Base of each finished 'book' is likely to be an old map, or to allow replication in different formats, a map scan printed onto the special paper I use. To each base map, I will fuse relevant napkins or photo images mounted on cheesecloth. N.B. The scan of this first stage is then printed, ready for stage two which follows.

I 'monigami' the print shown above - an extra stage but the one I guess
from past experience I may well opt for.
Now comes my first 'Summer Project' decision. If I opt for a printed map-scan, do I immediately fuse it to muslin, once the wax is dry, or do I 'monogami' it? (Monigami is a technique I discovered in 'The Found Object in Textile Art'  by Cas Holmes). 

Smoothing out the monogamy print, ready for ironing and fusing to muslin
I love the results, but if I go for this, at what point do I add hand-written words and free-machine stitching? Of course I trial both! 

Remembering that each map-page is to be folded and cut into either a zig-zag or conventional book-form, I took both the 'plain' sheet and the 'monigami' sheet and fused both to muslin, using Bondaweb (wunder-under I think it is called in the USA). If you look closely (click on the image) you will just about see where I have machine-stitched around the top flowers, and then hand-written the words - very badly; it would have been a good idea if I had sat down for the calligraphy part!

A subtle difference between the first version and the second.
This one is the monigami sheet. If only 
you could feel the texture.
I did the same exercise with the fused monigami sheet, though was most unhappy with the slithery nature of the paper-on-muslin when it came to stitching. I've done this before and it worked perfectly but fear that what with arthritis and a deteriorating brain, I just could not manipulate the cloth in the machine sufficiently quickly. 

Final experiment. Need to do the writing using my magnifying lamp.
What to do? I re-fused the monigami sheet to a piece of calico and stitched through that. Much more controllable though it would make the pages rather thick for folding. Should be OK if I fuse the paper print straight to calico and omit the muslin. I found that with care I could write direct on the textured surface, and the added thickness of the sheet allowed the stitches to sink into the fabric. This will be my chosen process (but then I guessed it would be!) - it does mean extra time and thus would make each piece more expensive to purchase. As yet, I have no idea how to cost my creative work - a feature article, no problem, but I am on new territory here. Very scary.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

It's been a while ...

My new online journal (week four edition)
Creativity moves on a pace and although I haven't posted since January, I have not been idle. And this post is in what may seem a strange format: the new online journal I began four weeks ago is actually appearing on another of my blogs, but as this week's diary is mostly about experiments for two new exhibitions for which I have been invited to submit pieces, I thought you might like to read my news here, rather than link you to another blog.

A lot of fun!
Double click on either page and you will be able to read it at a larger size. My apologies to those of you who follow both blogs. If you'd like to follow each week's entries and don't already follow my 'Wild Somerset Child' stories, here's the link for future editions: Ann's Journal covers many topics; I launched it to avoid endless notifications on Facebook - and because I can prepare it when I don't have WiFi coverage. I hope you enjoy what you see.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

'Memory' Keepsake complete

A zigzag concertina 'keepsake'
I suddenly realised that I had not posted images of the finished keepsake that I constructed last month (December 2013) from a tea towel bought from Ikea, some paper napkins, copies of old family photos and words printed on brown paper bags. It all worked out really well and the notes I made as I worked are now re-jigged into a magazine feature which will appear in a few weeks' time - in 'Reloved' magazine (March issue, I think, published in February).

Open up the zig-zag and you will find some of my memories
Now it would not be right or proper to pre-empt the appearance of this issue, so I will just let you have a sneak preview of the finished project. The magazine feature runs to four pages and was inspired by some old photos of my early childhood. When I was invited to create a feature for 'Reloved', I thought that surely everyone has old photos that they might like to make into a keepsake, so I combined a few of mine with paper napkins, which I collect (I've got boxfuls of them!), buttons off old clothes, pretty ribbon, and the tea-towel. So easy to collect together, and homely; I just needed to work out a way that would allow others to use some off the techniques I have perfected over the last five years. (I could have used other floral napkins but decided that as this is to appear in the Spring, then Spring flowers would be best.)

At the beginning (inside front cover) and onwards (inside back cover)
Techniques were basically the use of computer and Photoshop (software) to scan, resize and print photos - on a special easily obtainable paper that has the feel of fabric when it is fused and stitched, plus felt interfacing, and copious quantities of fusible web (Bondaweb / Wonder-Under in USA) plus its use when fusing napkins so they become almost transparent in places. I deliberately left size and layout open, for my aim was to encourage others to 'have a go' rather than stipulate that readers should follow a set of specific measurements or elements; though I did provide sources of supply of the materials that I use most frequently, and instructions for making a keepsake such as this. If you would like to follow my guidelines, here's a link to the 'Reloved' website from whence you can purchase the magazine online.