Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The early bird

Birds enter my consciousness first each morning: the many songs outside which break the night's silence are joined by our timed radio which begins with Tweet of the day on BBC Radio 4.  But the early bird whose appearance I most anticipate is that of the wren which I see skittering around just outside the window when we are having breakfast.
My favourite illustrative rendering of the wren is in a Robin Tanner etching which also includes the Spring flowers which here have already been flowering since the end of December: primroses.
Wren and primrose (1935) from here
I am also very fond of Madeleine Floyd's quirky paintings of birds - we very much enjoyed using the mugs with her birds and their eggs when we were on holiday last year.  Here is her wren from here:

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Passing distraction

Dorothea Tanning: Eine kleine Nachtmusic (from here)
Despite the fact that I am facing a couple of deadlines, my mind seems to take pleasure in dragging me down passages of distraction.  I recently was reminded of the above painting with which I was immediately smitten many years ago, and of which I was reminded recently in this articleDorothea Tanning was a remarkable artist, and much underlauded, and certainly should have considerable comment, had I more time to spare - but, in this case despite my busy-ness I could not get the image out of my mind, ... so I let it lead to this hasty doodle so that I could get on with more pressing matters.
Ghost story - as it may well develop into a piece of work.  Another contributory distraction is that I am thinking about short stories also at present.

Now - I must get on with ....

Thursday, January 22, 2015

The methodical mind

Margaret (Charlton Stitcher) intrigued me with her being intrigued in her comment on my last post: perhaps my explanation of the test colour squares used in my doodle indicated a different kind of thinking on my part.  That set me off examining my thinking.
My husband and I have often discussed how his thinking is convergent while mine is divergent.  His thinking tends to be focussed and linear, while mine is constantly making connections in all directions - jumping back and forth.  But I am methodical too.  I think that one needs both to be a creative craftsperson - or indeed a publisher in the days when specific job functions were not separated out into different departments.
In 1992 I was in my final months of my publishing career when we went on a vacation to the USA.  It was a three week multi-destination trip, starting with five nights in Chicago. 
Five nights in Chicago (cotton pillow postcards, heat transferred images and hand stitched)
(I later used that visit as the inspiration for an exercise done by my duodidactic friend and I, in which we each made a textile 'book' for exchange.  I made five pillow postcards to fit into a soft container.  In those days the transfer paper I used turned all colours toward pink/purple before long!)
I had always been wanting to produce art in some form, mostly using ink, acrylic, or coloured pencil, and so of course visited a large art store - where I found on offer a complete set of Prismacolor coloured pencils.  A snip, and therefore not to be missed - especially as they were not available in the UK as far as I knew.  An illustrator friend of mine had raved about these waxy crayons, saying that they mixed like no other, and hence my colour swatch exercises of which these are a few:
I had no idea then that I would come to use these as part of my digital collages.
Fish grey (2007)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Friday, January 16, 2015

A definite longing ...

to be in Clinton, New Jersey, U.S.A!  Well, more specifically at the Hunterdon Museum, where at present there is an exhibition of weavings, including the wondrous work of Wlodzimierz Cygan. The image above is from their website.
I have been entranced by his pieces for some years now, and have always had a strong desire to see them for real.  I love the way that he works off the conventional rectangle, as shown here:
Both of the above images come from here.  Even incomplete I find that his work is beautiful.  And now he is working with fibre optics - another longing of mine.  (Ah, if we had but more than one lifetime!)  Cygan was inspired by the work of Astrid Kogh, and many of his glowing pieces can be seen on his website
 Taken from here.
A small consolation - as ever, sigh - is that there is to be a book, Contemporary International Tapestry soon (a deal kinder both to the planet and my pocket, but there is still the longing to see the work for real).

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Still occupied with reading

All this intensive reading has spurred another design for lino cutting.  This is provisionally titled Near the end.
Yesterday I finished reading Cultural Threads edited by Jessica Hemmings.  I found it to be an excellent, enlightening collection of writings about artists from a variety of origins around the world who use textile in their practice, and what it is to use traditional design in contemporary work.  It is thoroughly thought-provoking.
Ever since I went to see the Turner late works exhibition I have felt the need to find out more about this artist.  I  have passed all these years being aware of his work, of course, but not really knowing much about it.  So, my next daytime serious heavy (in weight) reading is starting with Turner in his time by Andrew Wilton.

Saturday, January 10, 2015


Thinking about the Rembrandt exhibition reminded me of another of my favourite paintings, in front of which I spent a great deal of time during my university years: Velazquez's An Old Woman Cooking Eggs in the National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh.  Not only are the hands beautiful, but I was particularly drawn to the whites  - the contrast between the different materials portrayed, and the exquisite distinction between the white fabrics round the old woman's face. 

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Two novels, and some

A Pompeian fresco from here
Although I derive much pleasure from biographies and other non-fiction books, there is something extra special about a much enjoyed novel.  I have just completed two such titles.
The first, The Children Act by Ian McEwan is a novella, and has all the attractions of a short story in that the reader is plunged straight in through the wormhole into someone else's life - no great introductions and explanations, no drawing carefully in pencil before colouring in.  The nuances we have to work out for ourselves, by trial and error - or - we are observers looking in at a lit window as our train pauses at the points, become so absorbed that we leave the confines of our carriage to follow the observed for a slice of their life.
After two disappointing encounters with McEwan's recent novels, this took me back to the deep pleasure I had usually derived from his work.  He took me into someone else's life and illuminated a previously dark corner.
In a contrast to the spareness of the novella, Life after Life by Kate Atkinson was a densely woven cloth where each thread is a parallel alternative progress.  A baby dies, lives then dies, lives a harsh life then dies, lives and has a fatal accident, lives and .... This sounds tedious, but I found it enthralling: I uncoupled my brain from thoughts of rational progress, and enjoyed the alternative manifestation of occurrence.
It was not completely satisfactory, however: at the end I felt that one of the alternatives was spurious, and even almost devalued another alternative which I found fascinating.  I also felt that a natural end-point was reached, but then sullied by further alternatives only a few of which made a positive contribution.  (I have found a blog post which explains my misgivings here.) But that was not enough to even scratch my overall enjoyment of the book, and I found myself immediately adding her next novel to my wish list.
Still on a roll, my next bedtime reading is to be The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Meantime I am also reading a short story between novels, and every day reading one 365 word short story by James Robertson from his 365 Stories.  So far the idea and the execution are brilliant.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The sharp eye and the sure hand

This morning we went to see the Rembrandt: The Late Works exhibition at the National Gallery.  The show is nearing its end, and early in the morning the crush was not unacceptable.  It was difficult but not impossible to get near to the tiny etchings and drawings.  There is an excellent review here of the exhibition with links. 
An all-time favourite painting of mine is in the exhibition: A woman bathing in a stream, and I have added another to my favourites: Old woman reading.  This second is a painting of which I had not previously been aware, and it turns out that it belongs to a Scottish collection.  I was entranced by the use of the book as a light source.
The image used to publicise the exhibition is an appropriate one to illustrate one of the aspects of Rembrandt's skills which struck me: his observation of hands.  The old woman's hands holding the book that she is reading are just as important as the concentrated enlightened expression on her face.
Another old woman portrayed is Margaretha de Geer, Wife of Jacob Trip, and again the hands are beautiful (see detail above).  As are the hands of The Portrait of Catrina Hooghsaet - similarly with a handkerchief held in the right hand (see detail below).
I was very taken with the ambiguity of expressions both facial and bodily - illustrated mostly through the hands - in the stunning The Jewish Bride (see detail below).
Even when the paint is loose, I admire the delicacy and strength of the arm and hand of the woman bathing:
Of course there were many other aspects of the exhibition which I enjoyed, but I think that Gerry's blog sums up so much better than I can.

Friday, January 02, 2015

January beginnings

This year I hope to spend more time making relief prints.  I have started playing with a couple of designs to be developed as lino cuts.  The first is based on a previous acrobat design of mine, but taken further while thinking about the idea of Janus.  I wanted to try out some double-direction action, not just a head looking both ways.
The second image was inspired by the two white ducks which are on our village pond, and which I can see from the house now that the trees have lost their leaves.  The sun is shining, but it is cold, so I was imagining sitting keeping the ducks company. 
Both designs have a way to go yet.