Friday, January 31, 2014

The pitfalls of overworking

The last post was an admirable illustration of just how carried away to the detriment of a piece I can get!  I now love the simple outline drawing of the original, and detest the 'clever' idea of the second design!
It's good to take time, and to look, and look again. 

Thursday, January 30, 2014

When I'm supposed to be working on something ...

I am busy with two pieces of work at present, well under way, and what I have scheduled myself to work on consistently.  However, there is no accounting for what my mind gets up to, and this morning something dropped into place.
Last year I put these two figures together.  They felt right, but I had no clear idea of anything beyond that.  I was not sure what they were doing, thinking, saying, ... so they were left on the back boiler, where I did not consciously think about them any more.  But the back of my mind is quite an active attic, and suddenly I knew that there was an elephant in the room.
Now that that's returned to my back boiler, I shall get on with what I originally meant to do this morning! 

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

In an ideal world

The element I treasure most from my university years is the discussion: intense, light, ranging, questioning, unbelieving, revelatory, ... the constant to and fro of ideas. 
Seeing both sides 2005
I have been in one way or other seeking that level of discussion ever since.  After committing my time to pursuing my desire to make art, I was lucky enough to meet an artist who similarly craved discussion, and we formed a duo-didactic relationship which we continue to the benefit of both.
Conversation by the sea 2005
Being greedy, however, I always crave more: a diversity not only of input, but diversity of conversation, discussion, building and meandering dialogues which ebb and flow - and like the tide wash up diverse detritus.  Of course such dialogues and discussions take time - but I keep hoping that blogs for instance will deliver more conversation.
Well, this morning I finished reading a wondrously stimulating conversation, conducted by email and skype by two artists: Simon Lewty and Susan Michie.  My encounter began with a post written by Eirene on her visit to the Leamington Art Gallery re-hang.  I was immediately drawn to the work The men who Lie in the Road by Simon Lewty as shown in that post.
Simon Lewty: Dartmoor, Known and Unknown 1998 (from here)
I was immediately struck by the combination of dream-like figures and shapes with handwriting.  The look of a map, enticing me closer to the surface and the meaning: to see and read the story.  Straightway I loved it, and wanted to know more about the artist, about whom I had previously not heard.
I found that a book is available from Black Dog Publishing: The Self as a Stranger, and so without hesitation I ordered it, and have now finished reading it.  There are essays by others, but the gems are the two pieces towards the end: one an essay by Lewty himself entitled The Self as a Stranger.  The pinnacle for me, however, is the dialogue at the end between Lewty and Michie.  There is just so much packed into this dialogue, this exchange of emails discussing art in general as well as their art in particular that I will doubtless read and re-read it many times, pealing the layers. This is what I have craved from blogs (I probably have been looking in the wrong places, or just not looking hard enough) and has given me much to ponder while I hunker down to doing solid stitching work over the next few weeks.
I have also found a paper, Writing Silence which Lewty has written about Susan Michie's work, here.  Reading this will help me to fill in the background of the other half of the dialogue.  I have not been able to find many examples of Michie's work online (there is one here) apart from on here and here with Lewty.
Talking it over 2005
I hope that my duodidactic friend will enjoy the book as much as I have, and we shall have so much to talk over.
Meanwhile Simon Lewty continues to generate a buzz in my brain.  There is an interesting video of him talking about his approach to making work on the Art First site.  And here is a quote from that dialogue with Michie:
Whatever it was, that 'something' that led me to become an artist and still makes me persevere year in and year out, in what ... is an incredibly private journey and a very limited lifestyle, was not I think primarily fame  or big money or celebrity.  No, I think what drew me was a kind of magic, and I just knew I didn't want to do anything else.  It was the magic in art, and making that magic that fascinated me, not the thought of being a magician.
I find that so affirming: it's the making, not the being that matters.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The joy of stitching

(Penelope's garden 2005)
There is something so joyous about stitching: the design done, only the stitching decisions to be made, the mind mostly free to roam while the fingers busily calm the body.  At present I have the luxury of sitting in warm surroundings while thinking about the crisp cool, the cold of the North.  Although I am thinking of blues, the colours I am stitching are yellows - warm in my hands to balance the cool in my mind.  I wonder what work will arise from these thoughts.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Gazing northward

For various reasons I have decided to look North in my reading this Winter, and with the odd diversion (at present I am also reading the marvellous The Self as a Stranger about the artist Simon Lewty) I have immersed myself in a broad history of this limited geography.  Last night I finished The Ice Museum: Joanna Kavenna's search for the lost land of Thule.  I found it to be an excellent description of her journeys to Shetland, Norway, Germany, Estonia, Iceland, Greenland, and Svalbard examining so many aspects of what Thule was and is to different folks at different times.  She mixes her own encounters with the places themselves and their current tourists and those who work now in each area she visits with the diaries of Victorian travellers, and with explorers' writings.  It is very much a clear-eyed head in the clouds and feet on the ground kind of book which I enjoyed thoroughly.
Towards the end she says:
The dream of Thule - a virginal untouched land - could never breathe and sweat as a crowded hopeless city or a history-strewn landscape could.  Knowledge littered the landscape, changing everything, but it added a world of explorers and travellers and writers and poets to the empty rocks, as well as wars and violence and destruction.
(aerial view of US Military Thule Air Base on Greenland, picture from here)
It could have been a depressing book, starting with the myth-like status of the ancient Greek Pytheas' journey 
(The mythical of Hyyperborea, believed to be on an island called Thule, from here)
through the earnest idealistic endeavours of Nansen and other explorers, and the equally idealistic tourist tours of Victorians, then taking in the Nazi belief that Thule was the origin of the Aryan race, and the less than idealistic facts about the air base, ending with the pessimistic conclusions of the environmental scientists on Svalbard - and along the way noting the rubbish, litter, detritus of human occupation.  But I found it a far from depressing book.  I found it fascinating, providing many images for my mind's eye, knitting strands of varied myth and diverse history with present day experience in layers of contemporaneous thinking, poetry, politics and science, bringing it all up to date to look to the future.
In the penultimate paragraph Kavenna says on her departure from her final visit:
The pragmatic colony of Svalbard was a place where fantasy and beauty existed alongside nervous prophecy.  No one was bellowing certainty from the rocks.  The scientists all said their talk of future destruction might be just another theory.  It might be mocked by later generations as one more dream of the ignorant.  Or it might be an accurate forecast of the coming world.  The future was shrouded in darkness, as the maps once were.  But the rumbling had been heard in the distance, the frozen ocean might one day be nothing more than an old fairytale, a story from a vanished world.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Today's objective

Back to the life class this morning, and a female model today.  I arrived much earlier today, and was able to have a pleasant chat with the teacher.  I still feel very much the new girl not only to this group, but also have not settled so well as I did in my initial life class all those years ago.  Early days, however, and besides, much water has passed under many bridges since those days!
My intention today was try two techniques: blind drawing rather than reproduction, and to use an oil based crayon.  Perhaps I should not attempt two methods at once without some practice first; but I was not too displeased.
The papers we are offered as part of the fee are white, putty, blue, and green.  I wanted to use a pale oil pastel, so started with white on a green sheet of paper.  The watercolour was brushed on once I returned home (in fact you can see that it is still damp!).  Unfortunately the paper is not robust enough to take wetting to any extent.  But the oil resist worked as well as I had hoped.
The first and the second images were short poses, and frankly they worked best for the blind drawings.  Too long and I tended to over work, and to mix blind and straightforward drawing.  The second image also shows white oil pastel on green paper.
For the longer poses I tried yellow and pink oil pastels on the putty-coloured paper.  I was now thinking about the exercise too much and made a greater mess than previously, but I was pleased just now on my return home with how the watercolour wash worked over the coloured resist.  Also I was interested that the charcoal I'd used and then sprayed with fixative in class did not run under the onslaught of the watercolour brush.
I hope that next week I might be able to relax a bit more.  I shall take along some watercolour paper of my own (despite the Scot in me baulking at not sticking with what is provided as part of the fee!). 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Nothing special

I cannot think of anything interesting to say today - I'm just enjoying the intermittent sunshine, and also working away at pieces which I cannot show yet.
This is just a jolly sketch I made a few years back - nothing to do with what I'm working on, but it describes my outlook today.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014


Ever since the perfect life class that I attended when we first moved here - over 20 years ago now - I have been looking for another such.  It was perfect for me because it was a class for the students at Winchester School of Art - life classes were not compulsory, and so the elective one was held in the evenings.  In order to add to their kitty they made it also open to non students, and I along with two or three others would go along, sit in a corner and just get on with things.  That was the first life class I had ever attended, and it was not taught - I learned by observation, both of what I was doing, and by observing the work of the students.
  Three minute poses
Today I attended the first session of a class which I hope will come near that perfection.  It takes place once a week for two and a half hours, and is meant for those who know what they want to get on with.  There are about eight or ten of us, mostly well matured, like myself!  And despite having forgotten how hard it is to get back into the swing of things: establishing that direct link between the eye and the hand, and learning to look at three dimensional flesh and bone, etc. after using my imagination or elements of photographs for years ... I think I'm going to enjoy it.
I have started with charcoal until I become looser and more confident, and then I shall move into colour - which is what the class is supposed to be about.  Last year I read Drawing and Painting People: a fresh approach by Emily Ball in order to help loosen me up.  I shall return to that again now while attending these classes to see if I can devise an approach for myself.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Essential: the appropriate bookmark

Before I could read I was fascinated watching my great uncle with a new book.  He would come home with it wrapped beautifully in stiff paper.  On the table he placed the package, carefully untied the string which was wound round his fingers then stored in the drawer, opened out the paper, folded it and stashed it in a cupboard. Then the book was lifted up to be sniffed, and stroked.  Then a paper knife was needed: sitting down with book in one hand and the paper knife in the other, he would read, slitting the joined pages as he reached them.  Later he would tear strips of the wrapping paper to use as bookmarks on which he could write his thoughts about what he had encountered on that page.
I loved watching the process, and it was only many years later when I worked in publishing that I found out about printing on large sheets which were then folded into signatures, and which are now guillotined before binding.  But as well as developing a love of the physical book, I also was drawn to the beauty of the bookmark.  We keep a drawer full of bookmarks, and I still buy them in museums and art galleries where I now do not usually buy postcards any more.  I do so enjoy trying to match the bookmark to the book.

My enjoyment of cropping has also led me to making my own bookmarks from images of my work.
I was interested to find out about UWE's Bookmark events, and have signed myself up to participate this year.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

"Stick with what you are interested in ...."

Of the other four artists in the Tate Painting Now exhibition, Simon Ling interested and intrigued us the most.  My husband has turned his mind mostly to taking photographs, and we had extensive thought provoked discussions in this room.
Simon Ling: Untitled (from here)
When an artist is articulate with words as well as with their chosen medium I always to prefer to read or hear what they have to say.  I am taking the liberty of reproducing the excellent article which was published by the Guardian newspaper in November last year:

Simon Ling
When I was a student, painting was perceived as having run out of energy. Of course, the more you find out about it, the less sense that makes. But, in a way, it was good that the pressure felt off. At college, I saw a documentary about the painter Philip Guston (A Life Lived by Michael Blackwood), which convinced me that you should stick with what you are interested in and screw everybody else. What he said was a revelation to me, especially about the position the painter could occupy in relation to the world and to your own life, and how to connect the lines between the mind, painting and the world.

I paint in the street because the texture of decision-making is different. It feels sharper and healthier and quicker. One day, I saw a group of schoolkids approaching and I thought:"Here we go." But then one of them said something really perceptive: "That's live." And that is the reason I do it. I want to make this a live, but slightly shifted, version of the world that has me both in it and looking at it.

This picture is of a hotchpotch drag of shops on Hackney Road [in London]; elements constructed years apart that jut into each other. I started with the ornate bit of Victorian or Edwardian plaster decoration that seemed proud but useless. Then these other elements in some strange way hung around it. When you convert something from the real world into a painting, it has to function within the painting. And when it comes down to it, everything is a form of geometry on a flat surface. But the great thing about paint is that it still retains a sense of its temporality. So you make a fluid mark which then becomes solid. But the sense of it once being fluid is still there. That gesture you made to place that mark is held, as is the observation and the thought that prompted it.

The relationship between what I am painting and why isn't 100% clear to me to begin with. The subject is suspended in a way, and the result is more like a poem than a description, something that is evasive and slips away if you try to grab it. This painting is of a real place, but it is not to do with documenting or cataloguing; it is less a celebration of the ordinary than a demonstration of the idea that by painting something that is apparently nothing, it has the opportunity to become everything. The simple act of observation is a deep, mysterious and beautiful thing.
Simon Ling: Untitled (from here)
There is also an interesting conversation between Simon Ling and another painter, Chris Ofili here.

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

First foot forward

On Sunday we decided to take advantage of a lull in weather and general activity to make our first visit to the recently refurbished Tate Britain.
It was a still day, pale grey but mild, little traffic, and no rain until we were back through our own front door again.  It was also a quiet day within the gallery - a perfect introduction to the new Members' area.
We were fond of the previous Members' room which felt very much like a staff sittingroom in some quiet college somewhere, especially first thing on a weekend morning which is when we visit.  This new one is much more grand, but also designed in such a way that its nooks are calm, with quirky furniture - the design elements work very well I think.
We were not there to see any particular exhibition, but curiosity drew us to Painting Now: five contemporary artists.  As I said in my previous post we were amongst very few other visitors, and had each of the five rooms to ourselves most of the time.  I was familiar only with one of the five artists previously: Tomma Abts.  Here are two articles here and here from the time when she won the Turner Prize.  And here is a link to more work, as well as photos of how it looks in a white cube setting.
Tomma Abts: Hepe 2010
Tomma Abts: Jeels 2012
Superficially this is not the kind of work which immediately attracts me, but it somehow subversively drew me to look closer when I first saw examples at the Turner Show exhibition.  It calms and yet confuses, tricks in its apparent simplicity, and actually has warmth and humour.  It is because I appreciated the work of Tomma Abts that I was drawn to Altoon Sultan's work and blog, Studio and Garden.  It was very much a lesson in appreciating why one should never say never,  nor be definite about one's likes and dislikes!
I enjoy elements such as use of colour, line, balance, playing with negative and positive spaces in the work of many styles - excellent exponents have so much to delight the eye which looks long enough to see.

Monday, January 06, 2014

Unexpected and delightful encounter

Yesterday we went to Tate Britain, which was most pleasantly quiet, and in wandering around various refurbished areas I glimpsed what I initially thought was a Thomas Houseago sculpture, but no, it was Witness by Sir Anthony Caro: a wondrous piece (image below from here).
It was in one of the interesting displays which they have around the building.  I was delighted to see this glorious piece as although I am a huge fan of Caro's work, I have seen very few of his largely ceramic figures done in collaboration with Hans Spinner, and certainly nothing as large as this beautiful one.  Now of course I want to see more.

Friday, January 03, 2014

More than just a five year plan!

At the end of last year I saw on Planet Textile Threads that Thelma Smith asked 'How are you going to spend the next decades?'  I have more or less been asking myself that ever since my mother died at the end of 2011.  By the end of last year I was beginning to think about taking first definite steps.
(design-in-progress for lino cutting)

This image illustrates where I am, I suppose.  It's strangely like how I felt when I graduated, left home, and got married - all more or less at the same time, over four decades ago.  This time, however, I have a past to draw on - or to overcome - but, it's largely a process of moving forward with positive intent.
Of course now I am aware of the awaiting grim reaper, so the intent is to enjoy while I can: look, learn, inquire, create while I can.  And to expand horizons through the delights of the blogosphere too.  
I like the map I made for myself on my last post of the past year: 'I'm ready to find definite paths down which to wander, ....'  Whether the wandering will take four decades (if I am to live for almost as long as Thelma intends to!) I doubt, but it's a fine start for the next of life's adventures.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

First workings

Mistakes, accidents, flaws in prints do not worry me too much.  I scanned the most distinct of the initial ink trial prints today.  It is far from perfect, but I wanted a print with texture, with a clear outline of the main figures, and with the groove marks too.  The pressed flowers on the paper had made a mess of the print itself, but I could deal with that.
I then took a previously scanned piece of work with pastels - a file which I have used many times before in one form or another, and which I wanted to use here - and did some digital manipulation/collage/painting.
I'm fairly pleased so far.  It's a beginning.
I ventured out to start tidying the greenhouse today, and I played about on the computer, but now I'm scuttling back to my hibernation: the sofa and the books.

Came up for air

On the whole over this festive period the weather has been conducive to my hibernation.  However, on one day after Christmas and before the year end the sun shone so bright that it was impossible not to go to the seaside!  So we set off for Hayling Island.
The pebble beaches are extensive there, providing lots of space for everyone in Winter.  The picture below shows Portsmouth in the distance.
Astonishing because of the wild weather in previous days - and returned subsequently - the sky was blue and the sea fairly calm.  There were surfers, but they had to go a long way out to catch any waves.
There were a great many extremely happy dogs ( I do wish their owners would pick up their crap!  Right under the sign declaring this a Blue Flag Beach was a pile of the stuff!)
There are a great many beach huts - these are just the ones on this beach; the island has a kind of bell bottom which is more or less all beaches, and which all seem to have beach huts.
I particularly liked this one:
because I for one certainly do like to be beside the seaside!