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!