Friday, 20 October 2017

'Costa Coffee', in Wool, Organza and Thread

Last time I talked about my textiles work, I said I would try to finish off the piece I started, while doing my Orchard Square residency, within a week. Well, that did indeed prove overly ambitious. It's not that it has taken over a week in actual sewing time, it's just that so many other things always crop up. 

I also did a little bit of unpicking and reworking. It's often the way: by the time I am nearing completion, I can see that areas I did early on are not quite right. In this case, I was unhappy with the weight of the stitching in certain key areas, like the crockery on the table top. It looks better now.

The main thing that is experimental about this piece has been the inclusion of coloured wool. I bought myself some felt-makers wool and played with different ways of sewing it into the piece. I started by using sashiko running stitch to anchor large areas of colour, to create a bold but soft-edged effect, a little like watercolour.

I anchored it very loosely for the writing on the wall. This was a complete experiment too, but ended up working really well as a contrast to the more controlled type above.

I also trapped smaller bits of wool under layers of organza. I love the almost smoky effect you can get, by keeping the wool very thin. You can achieve a very painterly mark by this means too, as with the ceiling light fitting, which I just wanted to suggest, rather then illustrate too literally.

This understatement of the various elements within the scene was important to me. Having moved away from representational pieces in recent months, I wanted to create playful semi-abstractions in the piece as much as was possible, while still allowing the overall effect to conjure the place and the atmosphere. You can see this in the reduction of the information which makes up this man and the way textures and colours flow through and past him:

Also with the other man's bag, which is about lines, texture and marks, rather than solid form, but is hopefully still readable in the context of its position by his chair:

In the original watercolour sketch the piece is based on, I painted the fridge at the back of the room, then a customer came and stood at it. I drew him in line only, over the top, to get the sense of his transience. I took this approach into the textile interpretation, keeping it pretty close to the sketch:

The finished piece is 47 x 39cm, but it will be bigger once I get it mounted up onto a stretcher. I am very pleased with how it has turned out. It's a good halfway-house between the more obviously representational pieces, like the church and the commuters, and the more recent map work. 

Monday, 9 October 2017

A Croc-and-Bull Story!

Last week I did manage a little bit of stitch work, but also spent what felt like days catching up on boring stuff after my residency - oh, those emails!! I managed to escape the computer on two days though, and had heaps more fun, doing illustration workshops and very silly storytellings in a couple of schools (hello to all at Nettleworth and Cavendish primaries!). This is me explaining about drawing emotions - the little girl in white is acting out a 'shocked and horrified' face, to feel what happens to her eyebrows. I asked them to imagine a huge bear had walked in and was eating the children nearest the door:

For this visit to Cavendish School, I was actually a prize - the school had won me by having more children complete the Summer Reading Challenge than any other school in Greater Manchester. Well done kids - great job! I'm not surprised they won, having met the children: they were all so focused. The older ones asked such perceptive questions and everyone was so obviously into books and creativity. So that's a big congratulations due to the teachers too, I reckon.

This is me with about 100 Foundation children, having just read An Itch to Scratch, we sang an itchy song and did lots of scratching, like Big Gorilla in the story, hence the silly pose! 

While I was there, the lovely folks from Manchester Library Service, who looked after me all day, gave me a little present: some of the brand new publicity leaflets for Manchester's children's library cards, starring Class One, as they appear on the first page of my latest book Class One Farmyard Fun, just before they get into all that bother with the bull...

The library card itself it attached to the inside of the leaflet, featuring my sneaky, dancing crocodile from Kangaroo's Cancan Café. Do you remember, a couple of years ago now, my characters started to appear on the new-look library cards?

It makes them look so much more enticing to kids than a boring old plain card, like the poor grown-ups get. I can't wait to show author Julia Jarman, my friend and partner in all the books featured. I know she'll love having our new book on the front!

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Beginner's Sketching Workshops at Orchard Square

On Saturday morning, I held an Urban Sketching for Beginners workshop, as part of my residency at Orchard Square. I wanted to inspire new people to give it a go, and help them to feel less intimidated by the prospect of sketching from life in a public place.

I had a dozen people book in, which was a perfect size, as I could give people plenty of attention, but the group was large enough for them to not feel too exposed. We were just able to squeeze into my studio space, for me to talk to them as a group and brief in various exercises as we went along:

I shared various techniques, for instance, ideas to help them decide where to start and how to find simple things to tackle amongst the very complex world at large.

I also had a special trick up my sleeve to get them drawing in a confident, rather then a hesitant way, which worked really well...

As beginners, most of them had not come across contour-drawing before and it proved a revelation, which really freed people up and made their drawing much speedier.

It was very fortunate that I had a handy balcony outside my studio, so people had a great view over the shops and were able to work without the pressure of being in the throng of other people coming and going, and potentially looking over their shoulders.

This vantage-point proved especially useful because, as with the surprise Steam Punk event at my previous workshop, this time round we had a Morris-Dancing festival in the courtyard below! This gave us lots to draw all day, but it made things quite busy down at ground level, so it was good that we could watch and sketch in relative privacy.

I asked everyone to bring coloured pencils as I also wanted them to learn a few simple ideas for adding colour to their sketchbooks. It makes such a difference. we experimented with adding text too: personal observations, feelings, overheard sounds...

At various stages, we got together to share what we had done and learn from each other. I had a bigger, upstairs space I could use for the workshop, which was great for putting out all the books on the floor:

I really enjoyed the morning - it was such fun to be sharing techniques which were entirely new to people and which, though often fairly simple ideas, can be complete game-changers when you are starting out. It really felt like I was making a difference and there seemed to be quite a buzz by the time we had finished.

A big thanks to everyone who came. I hope you enjoyed it. And thank you to John too, for giving up his Saturday to be my right-hand man and for taking all the photos.

If you want to hear about any future workshops I run, either for beginners or more experienced sketchers, sign up for my mailing list.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Considering Key Themes Within My Work

Friday was the last day of my textile exhibition / open-studio residency at Orchard Square in Sheffield city centre. It has been a fantastic experience and a very enjoyable 4 weeks.

One of my main motivations in applying for the project, was to get the opportunity to mount up and display all my textiles, so that I could get some sense of the 'body of work' created so far. Up to now, it's all just been bits and pieces, stashed away in the plans chest drawer, so it has been hard to get a feel for what I have achieved, what holds it together and where it's going. Seeing everything together, properly displayed, was really useful for me.

It was also very interesting, having to talk to so many visitors about the work. It helped me to crystallise what my themes and interests are. I realised that, though the subject matter is quite varied, there are underlying elements which carry through and which link the textiles to my sketch work.

For instance, I am fascinated by the relationship between enforced randomness and more controlled creative decisions. I realised that there were strong random elements in every single textiles piece on display. I routinely create backgrounds before I know where a piece is going, to enforce unplanned juxtapositions; I often work with fabric shapes as they come out of the rag-bag; I reinterpret randomly created compositions; I work with maps, where roads, borders and areas of water are enforced shapes to work around.

I am also very excited by the way line and linear mark-making can work in tandem with, or in opposition to, areas of colour. Again, this comes through in both my figurative and abstract work, and is there in the stitching, as it has been for some time in my paintings.

I spent quite a while chatting to most visitors, then I asked people to write a comment on a feedback shape, to decorate the outside wall. I counted them up today - 83! With those who didn't get to leave feedback for various reasons (some slipped the net before I nobbled them for instance), and including the people who came to my workshops (more later), I reckon I must have had around 130 visitors through, all told. Which I am very pleased with, given there is no real 'passing trade', because of the location of the unit, tucked away upstairs.

The feedback shapes were a much funkier system than a visitors book and hopefully made the unit look welcoming:


Visitor numbers and my interaction with them did impact significantly on the amount of work I got done of course, but I didn't really mind, since I very much enjoyed the conversations and met some interesting people. I got some great tips for techniques too (ironing beeswax into teabags... watch this space!).

I did a fair bit of sketching around the shops in the first couple of weeks, but concentrated on sewing for the last half of my time. I finished one simple piece, above, based on a combination of 3 different sketches, done early on. My 2nd, more complex piece, based on the Costa coffee-house sketch is ongoing. I'll try and finish it next week if I can, although I have 2 days of school visits to fit in too, so maybe that's a bit over-confident.

It was sad to have to start taking down the work on Friday afternoon. John came in and helped me to wrestle the Velcro fixings from the walls, I packed everything up and we loaded the car.

Early-doors on Saturday morning, we did a 2nd car run to collect the last few bits and to pass on the keys to the new incumbent. Micheal Bukowsky is a perfume artist and he is going to create 'scent portraits' of people, for £5 a time. Sounds intriguing, doesn't it? Pop up there and see how it works. I certainly will!

Don't forget, you can follow the progress of all 4 artists in residence on social media, by using the hashtag #artistupstairs. Thank you to Making Ways and Orchard Square for a fascinating project.

Friday, 29 September 2017

Final Days at Orchard Square

Sorry I have been neglecting my blog a bit - I have had no time at all and no Wi-Fi at the Orchard Square residency means I can't even do a quickie in-situ. Probably a good thing - means I have to get on with some proper work!

I have been working really hard this last couple of weeks, going in every day. I have done more sewing than sketching, although I did do this painting outside the opticians, as they were having a special Alzheimer's fund raising day, so there was more than usual activity and interest outside the shop.

I have finished been working on a piece of textiles based on the painting I did outside Costa Coffee, as I really like the colours and shapes. I pre-dyed the base cotton, sploshing and splatting it, to create a random, uneven effect, so it wouldn't be white beneath the colours. I have been experimenting again too, this time sewing coloured wool into my work, as well as the organza.

I created the back piece at the same dimensions as the sketch, but then placed the colours by eye, so that I would get a new mis-match with the line-work, when I traced that in afterwards.

I have just started sewing in the figures. I was very pleased with how the wool worked for the 'welcome' text on the wall of the shop. Today is my last day before the exhibition comes down and I hand over to the next incumbent. I'll tell you a bit more about him when I have a little more time, as I have to dash now!