Monday, 17 November 2014

Simplifying an image isn't always simple

Now, we don't all want or need to be Michaelangelo in the observational drawing league, but I don't think that there is any doubt that taking time to observe and mark-make to get a feel for the shapes, forms, textures, lines etc. in anything we want to use as a subject absolutely helps us to be more creative and personal in our textiles (or any other visual art for that matter). It goes hand in hand with understanding your materials, stitches and whatever media you are working with.

We all know that 'practice makes perfect' and recent research tells us that to be the top of your game at anything requires 10,000 hours of training, so, why do we assume that we can go to a 6 hour class and end the day being expert at observational drawing, design and make a piece of textile art we are happy with?!

If I can introduce the analogy of a jazz musician - the improvisational nature of a performance does not spring from nowhere, the musician has put in endless hours of perfecting technique, understanding their instrument and  musical structures and forms. These are embedded deep into the artist and can then be drawn on, as if by magic, effortlessly making 'improvised' music.

These short hours in workshops are a small segment in an ongoing journey to enrich our skills and so allow us to be more satisfied with our artistic output. In addition, if you have been told, and now truly believe, that you can't draw, this journey can be even harder. Making steps towards understanding that you can observe and record in a meaningful way without it having to be 'great art' can be hard to accept.  

Today I ran a class in which I asked everyone to start with an image of their choice, then to look at the overall shapes, some simplified lines developed from this and some textures and patterns and to record these with a pen or pencil. Taking time, not rushing and certainly not thinking of what they were going to do with the sketches was the point of this exercise. 
And isn't it so hard to separate the observation time from the thoughts of 'oh - this would look great worked in felt, burnt, goldwork, long and short stitch, free machining etc etc.'? If your usual method is to dive right in and go with the flow, then taking the time to observe first can be hard, but taking this time will increase your capacity to make seemingly improvised choices whilst working.

Once some time had been spent with the image and a pencil, I see in the ladies an increased engagement with the chosen subject in the workshop participants. Being forced to take this time enables you to feel what it is about the subject that was of interest and what features are emblematic of the subject.
Though in this day we were using our eyes and pencils, don't forget useful tools - tracing, photocopying, photo manipulation on the computer etc. All valid in addition to and in combination with drawn marks.
We moved forward then to consider how we might break up a background space and arrange our textures/lines/details in a manner which represented the iconic features of the subject. We have abstracted the essence/s of a subject and will be representing those rather than the subject itself in a direct way and after lunch we coalesced these separate facets in to a simple composition and began to consider techniques. 
It is at this stage that the benefit of the morning's observations and considerations start to make sense when using this process for the first time. 

Hummingbird and a flower - a. Particularly looking at the beautiful feathers on the neck of the bird and the lines in the flower.

Hummingbrid and flower - b.

Hummingbird and flower -c.

Holiday memories -wall and ceramic - a. Concentrating on the highly textured wall and strong shapes and more textures in the ceramic 'face'

Holiday memories - b.

Lilies - a. The areas of interest became the strong, firm lily shapes, contrasting with the ruffles and textures on the leaves and their edges. The dense, overlapping, bunched up-ness of the plant was important.

Lilies - b.

Dried poppy heads. Always appealing! Multiple circular shapes, the design on the top surface of the poppy and the textures on the pod.

Ferns -a. The Fibonacci series was a perfect space to place areas of interest from ferns -curled shapes, fibrous textures, curled spores under the leaves

Ferns - b. How to remember what and where to stitch for later!

Ferns - c.

Seed pods bursting open -a.

Seed pods -b. The berries and more stitching to be added yet, but you can get the idea.

 As the day draws to a close, one participant today remarked: 'I make sure my grandson does 10 minutes a day writing practice to help improve his skills, why don't I remember to take my own advice and practice my drawing every day?', and I see an acceptance of the value of not 'endgaming' when starting a project, use processes which suit you to push yourself  - see where it takes you. I have to say a great well done to the ladies today who all remarked that it was outside of their comfort zone and pushed them pretty hard in some cases, however carefully and gently we took the stages of the process.

I see in myself that I struggle to keep the child's knack of accepting learning at the pace it comes, I want to be as good as the best at any skill I take on board, but - of course, I want to be good straight away! It is hard to allow myself to take time, to practice, to set aside comparisons with those more experienced than myself. I judge myself on where I want to be and not where I have come from, which can stifle the will to improve. Something to keep working on.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Burning - again - of course.

Working with the Living Threads ladies again today, if not playing with fire (tried to avoid that) certainly we were getting seriously hot using the heat guns. 
My examples to start with;

Layer, Cover, Stitch with Alysn Midgelow-Marsden

Layer, Cover, Stitch with Alysn Midgelow-Marsden

Layer, Cover, Stitch with Alysn Midgelow-Marsden

Layer, Cover, Stitch with Alysn Midgelow-Marsden

I was thinking of the old sgraffito technique, which we used to do when kids using layers of wax crayons, coloured underneath, black on top and then scratching back into the coloured layer below, but didn't know it was called such a fancy name! 
So we developed a multi-coloured layer covered it with sheers, stitched and then burnt away back to the stitching. The next step will be to add more coloured stitching and beading over the top to define the shapes and draw the layers together.
Lots of lovely work as far as it got in one day, just a few finishing touches to add. Here are just a few of the pieces:

Silhouetted tree

Based on abstract painting brush marks

Japanese flower design inspired

Andy Goldsworthy installation transmuted into textiles

French vintage shabby chic-chintz design, ready for some gorgeous hand stitch to define the bunch of roses.

Job done, pretty much, a book cover was the plan here

See how starting to add the colour back onto the top surface really pulls the piece together? Not far to go on this one.