Saturday, September 29, 2018

An author for the favourites list

Katie Jean Wood: Story Hour (image from here)
It is so frustrating that while it takes but a few days - or sometimes hours to read a book, it takes an author a year or several to produce the next one.  That is why it is always good to have a list of favourites to whom to turn for the next good read.
I became aware of Joanna Cannon first by being attracted to her title The Trouble with Goats and SheepThe review in the Guardian newspaper pushed me to acquiring it, and was delighted as a result.  Here is an explanation from Joanna Cannon herself of how the story came about.
I very much enjoyed the effortless way I as a reader was taken there to become part of that community, a child, an adult, turn about, understanding with humour and also pursuing the mystery.
So I was delighted to read the review of Three Things About Elsie.  And again I very much enjoyed reading the book.  Two friends since childhood once more, but now set in a care home at the end of life.  Another mystery, and once more we are swept into the lives of the community with humour and understanding - and with a real curiosity to solve the mystery.
Imitator of David Teniers the Younger: An Old Woman Reading (image from here)
Now I shall just have to fill in the gap until Joanna Cannon's next book is published.   No problem there - indeed, how lucky that there are so many good books to be read.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Great quote

Said by the film maker Agnès Varda, but relevant for all art: “Art should ring a bell in your own life. You should get involved. I don’t want people to say it’s great, I want people to say: ‘It is for me.’”  Both quote and photo above from here.

Monday, September 17, 2018

My current reading

Vuillard: Woman Reading in the Reeds, Saint-Jacut-de-la-mer (image from here)

I'm only reading one book at present: Wilding by Isabella Tree, a memoir of how her family have been turning their farm back to a lost landscape.  There is an excellent film here where she explains what has been happening over the years, and the extraordinary successes.
I find it a fascinating read about what has been done to nature over the recent decades.  There are reviews here, and here.  Humans seem to have reached a point of decision about how we go forward with how we live together on our planet.  It is not easy, but it is good that there are books such as this one which help to inform us.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Decisive workshop

I thought that it might be interesting to describe what helped me to make a big decision about how I shall take my work forward.  It also was a vital ingredient in forming my criteria for downsizing stuff.
In January I attended a fascinating workshop given by Debbie Lyddon which I wrote about here.  Given that I turned 70 this year I had already determined that I wanted to focus my making.  I have a great admiration for DL's work, and with my ongoing wondering about 3D, a workshop within a half hour drive of home was too good to miss.
I learned a lot over the two days, and even though DL was talking about 3D textiles she also was happy to talk about her textile collages.  Indeed, I realised that her workshop on the collages was what I would have preferred, had it been on offer.  
Rather than just going with the flow of the new techniques I was learning - as I usually do on a workshop - I was curious this time to see if I could make a final piece which looked as if it had been made by me.  Previous 3D workshops have seen me come away with examples of techniques which bear no relation to what I do day to day.  This had meant that 3D remained a tantalising 'what if, perhaps ...' not generating any ideas.  This time I wanted to be more personally rigorous, taking all the 3D thinking I had been swilling around over the years along with the new techniques.
I was quite pleased with myself that I managed to put together a little maquette which used what might be called signature elements from my work while also carrying some meaning for me.  (I had been thinking about the refugees in the Mediterranean.)  I came away with some 2D waxing/stiffening techniques too.

But, ... a lot of thoughts developed after the workshop was over.

The satisfaction which came with the maquette was for having come up with something in the workshop.  I was not satisfied with the idea, nor did I feel a deep impulse to refine it, make it into a complete work.  I decided that I do not want to play around with experimentation for the sake of itself.  Fundamentally, what is important is that I want to improve the work that I am doing now where ideas build on themselves.  From time to time when strong ideas drive me to do something different I will perhaps pursue them, as I did with Acrobats electric (below).
Rather than exploring techniques in 3D in order to find ideas for work, I want to build on the ideas I already generate and develop any necessary additional techniques to make them into complete pieces.
Given that I want to downsize stuff in general, that decision about my work helped me to cut out all extra stuff which was/is in my cupboards just in case it might be useful.  And I have not at all regretted that decision.  A really positive feeling has ensued.  I shall hang on to the little maquette because it means more to me than just technique, but I have already disposed of the part-made komodo dragon and the papier mache mythical beastess that I made in previous workshops.

Friday, September 14, 2018


Edward Hopper: Office at night (image from here)
I get a deal of satisfaction from filing.  It is not the most exciting  job, but it's a great feeling having it all done.  In my days as a temp, as a secretary in publishing, and then all through my subsequent career, I took pride in keeping the filing up to date (or making sure my own secretary did!).
The most recent aspect of The Great Sorting has involved a contemporary kind of filing.  I have been going through all my printmaking efforts to try to cut down the amount of space taken by all those sheets of paper.  I have digitised it, then bitten the bullet and put everything that I would not be happy framing - in other words the overwhelming majority - into the recycling.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

The positives of restraint

I am in the middle of a great downsize of stuff - for several reasons.  The main one is that I hope that we can move house in the not too distant future, to a smaller more manageable dwelling; but also because even if we stay here, I dislike not being able to find what I want because there are too many places to look, as well as too much stuff in those places.
The sifting is a slow and sometimes painful process: the most difficult question being will I ever want to use this?  In so many cases there is no satisfactory answer, so I have to devise further questions, such as could I easily purchase it again, perhaps in a more up-to-date/otherwise appropriate version if I do need it?
Sentimentality is a stumbling block to downsizing - or it can be.  Having saved when impecunious to buy something like a loom, or a press which is no longer used, it is still so difficult to let that go.  On the other hand out there it is highly likely that another enthusiastic young person is saving like mad to acquire just such a press or loom in order to work. 
Luckily, since I settled on making the way I do, I have been able to dispense with any temptation to acquire more stuff which is yummy, but not anything I am likely to incorporate now or later into my work.  I still admire the yumminess of stuff, but am thankful that the natural restraint of reason means that I have no desire to reach out my hand.
Chaos control
The restraint of space is also helpful in sifting what means most. Having seen that it is possible for me to make work with elements kept from previous creative activity - such as screen prints made during my attendance at the Textile Master Class at Abingdon in the late 1990s and the knitwear I had made in the mid '90s, then felted, used to make Chaos control recently, I do not want to dispose of all that kind of past accumulation.  
Deciding how much of previous creative work to keep can be made simpler by providing a definite space in which to hold it.  I have four* open mesh storage drawer sets from IKEA (in a manifestation similar to but in a previous incarnation to the one pictured below), and I am restraining myself to keeping fabrics etc. in them.
(*Two of the sets work as pillars supporting a table top which I use for my sewing machine.)
I still have decision difficulties, but I find it an effective discipline.  And in general I find that I come to better, more satisfying solutions when I have some kind of restraint.  I suppose it to be rather like writing poetry: the meaning, the emotions, the appropriateness has to be distilled into the most elegant solution.  Or that is the ambition, at least, and whether it is any good, of course is a whole other matter.
I was inspired to make Chaos control by this great downsize exercise that seems to be taking so long, with piles of ensuing stuff mid-sort.  My workrooms are indeed now to be found in waves of seeming chaos which is under some, not necessarily obvious, control.  What is essential during all this I have found is to have a small corner which is free of any kind of sorting, where I can sit and stitch, read, or just catch my breath while I think about the next area to be tackled.

Thursday, September 06, 2018

Brilliant book

(The front cover and interior illustrations are by Fabulous Cat Papers)
Today I spent the whole day reading Handywoman by Kate Davies.  I found it as compulsive as any well crafted whodunnit novel - more so indeed because it is so many books combined.  It is biography, a harrowing account of how she learned how to work half of her body, and how to appreciate living with the continuing results, a glimpse of her academic work on how the domestic and the intellectual need not be seen as mutually exclusive, ... it explores the importance of knitting *, and the development of her online business, ....
I came across Kate Davies' original blog Needled at at time when I needed support with being my mother's sole carer just before and after her stroke.  Davies' positive outlook in the blog was a great encouragement to me, and my mother enjoyed hearing about the exploits - despite her own depression and negativity.  Captivated, I have continued to follow the new blog, and through it have also come to think about perhaps moving back to Scotland.

*The thoughts on knitting can indeed be applied to any hand work.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Words, words, words

I have been fascinated by words for longer than I can remember.  I was an unplanned child, born at a time when my parents had no space and less money.  I was with my mother all the time while my father studied at university and my mother either embroidered tea cloths for pin money or studied English.  I grew hearing two languages: Scots English and Greek.
My mother did her language learning out loud, reciting, reading to me.  We learned to read together.  I did not know that was what I was doing.  Then before I was one year old we went to Greece, and I as surrounded by aunts with other sounds: Greek.  Apparently I was silent for a worrying time before embarking on my attempts.
Then back to Scotland for my second birthday - back to sounds I had almost if not forgotten.  Then back to Greece when I was three - this time silent for four weeks before I began to speak fluently, in Greek, appropriately pronounced, with idiom, and including (unknowingly) Pontic Greek expressions (much delight and clapping - and pinching of my cheek!).
I returned to Scotland after my fifth birthday in order to start school.  I had forgotten my English.  The three day train journey across Europe started in panic - I could understand what my mother said to me in English, but I could not find the words in myself to speak.  A kind university student, returning from vacation on the same train dedicated himself to reminding me first of nouns by pointing, then gradually of everything else.  (I would have suffered so much more if we had simply flown as is normal today!)
In those very early years I realised that it's not just a difference of vocabulary.  Body language is also different, and thought processes, reactions, fine expression of emotions.  How much of a potential to understand more is missed when only being in possession of one language.
I went on to learn French then German, and was lucky enough to spend some time in each country.  Then by studying literature and language development at university doors and windows were opened and my understanding and curiosity grew.  Poetry became a joy rather than an embarrassing tedious chore of rote learning and recitation.  A career in publishing drew on all of the above, and contributed the additional delights of typography: the visual aspects of language, lettering, and layout.

Imagine then my recent dilemma when faced with a 19th century sample book - containing a partial gazetteer as I try to whittle down our over-large collection of books.  Was it simply sentimentality which was making me want to keep it?  By William Morris's dictum it is neither of use nor beauty - or was it?  What on earth could I do with it.
All at once I knew what to do.  I scanned the pages which most appealed.  And within this post are the initial experiments for my new project.