Wall building is getting a LOT of bad press right now but not all walls are a pathetic attempt to pander to a small misguided minority. (OK – political rant over). My walls are going to be things of beauty that invite people in for a closer look and, hopefully, make them smile!
I am in the middle of making my first, full scale wall / background for my new series. I have given the series the tentative title ‘The View From Here’ or View for short. The advantage of working in series is that once I get going I have idea after idea that I know will ‘work’. And I can often create new pieces in the series in what is for me a relatively short period of time. The disadvantage is the hours and hours I put in up front and figuring out what that means when it comes to planning and pricing my work.
I have been tracking my total studio hours for a couple of years but as I started to work on View I decided to collect data on how those hours were spent. So here are the stats so far ….
- Printing = 50 hours (made approx 15 square metres of cloth which, based on experience, could convert to about 10 square metres of finished art. However I can already tell that I have too high a proportion of light pieces so will need to print more medium and dark fabrics to ‘balance’ my palette)
- Research and sampling = 17 hours (and still more questions than answers!)
- Cutting bricks = 7 hours (yes I cut all the printed fabric into pieces 2.5 x 6.5inches)
- Building my first wall = 11 hours (layout complete and about half way through joining the bricks into long strips)
So that is a total of 85 hours and still a long way from even knowing what the first piece will look like. I am making an investment in time (and money) doing something I love and I hope will give pleasure to others. Not building a wall on borrowed money that divides people and makes the world a scarier place. (Rant definitely over, sorry).
Breakdown printed fabrics cut into hundreds of bricks ready to build new art
None of us arrive where we are fully formed. When our first child was born my husband and I barely knew how to change a nappy. We learnt how to be parents ‘on the job’. Didn’t always get it right (sorry kids!) but we had no choice but to keep ‘practicing’, to keep learning.
My development as an artist has come from a mixture of intentional education and ‘on the job’ learning. Many years ago, I decided that I wanted to learn more about design and how to take the step from using commercial fabrics to using my own fabrics. So I took a City& Guilds Certificate at South Trafford College followed by a C&G Diploma with the lovely Linda Kemshall. I learnt a lot about design, and got to sample many different media and techniques. But my biggest ‘take away’ was that I’m not a sketchbook person and that fully designing a piece upfront is not for me.
Studying with Linda gave me the confidence to sign up for masterclasses mostly with Committed to Cloth (C2C). This was a significant investment in time and money over a period of a few years but worth every penny. Some classes were technique based but all included an element looking at how to develop ideas when working directly on cloth. The best class was Colour Families with Leslie Morgan at C2C – a simple idea that bears fruit every time.
But my deepest, most effective learning has been ‘on the job’. My decision to stop taking classes, to spend 20 hours a week in my studio and to work in series was the best I’ve made. It has given me the time and the framework to take the techniques I learnt in class and make them my own. To develop my own style, to find my own voice.
I guess I may take another class at some stage but right now the art I am making is being built with my own bricks.
In my last post I talked about how creativity tends to creep up on me when I am immersed in process. I follow a set process when developing a new series … I work on the colours first – pinning them on my design wall for assessment. Then I do the printing and pin pieces up until my design wall is covered. I discard fabric that doesn’t ‘fit’ without thinking too hard about why. I then sample different types of construction. In my Hidden Message series this resulted in several pieces going in the bin before I was happy. With my Ruins series (and the series I am developing now) building a background made of bricks felt ‘right’. Having stitched some small sample backgrounds I turn to my design wall again.
I don’t do sketchbooks – I do pinning things to a design wall until something ‘clicks’.
Today I pinned up my two sample backgrounds. I rummaged through my boxes of dyed fabric and pinned up a selection of colours. I am not going to decide yet if the foreground will consist of dyed fabric or printed fabric or stitch yet. They are just up there. I added a couple of photos I took last summer of an old gasworks.
Then I used one of my favourite ‘tools’ – I cropped and enlarged small sections from the photo and pinned the results up. And I got that wonderful tingly feeling! I don’t know what size the finished pieces will be or how I will apply the foreground but I do know what I’m going to be spending the next few months doing.
My new partner in art Helen Conway wrote a great post last week called ‘3 reasons you should know your place’. She talks about how knowing the place, physical or otherwise, that recharges your creative batteries, knowing the place your art practice has in the art world and knowing the place you want to reach is empowering. It should be no surprise to anybody that knows us that I agree with Helen. We are both 110% committed to our art and, just like in our respective day jobs, we both strive to be the best that we can be. And we both know that reflection and self-awareness is an important part of the jigsaw.
But when it comes to the detail we are very different. In her post Helen writes how the repeated ritual of sitting down in her favourite cafe triggers the flow of creative. I can guarantee that, for me, sitting down anywhere with pen and journal posed is enough to empty my head completely. For me creativity (whatever that really is) happens mostly by stealth. It happens when I am immersed in process. I think that is one of the reasons I use intense stitching in my work. I have to concentrate when I’m doing this as I am pretty obsessed about getting straight, parallel lines but quite often, out of nowhere, I have a light bulb moment. Only then do I pick up my journal and pen!
I am a textile artist. I know that that may mean my work is viewed in a certain way in the art world but that is OK. My work is who I am. And how I work is who I am. I don’t sketchbook. I don’t draw. I don’t work in chaotic, organic disorder. I do let my scientific training loose when I experiment with new colours, new marks or new methods. I don’t make one off pieces to fit other peoples ‘theme’ – I let my work go where it wants to go. My methods of working are slow so I have to pick and choose which opportunities to pursue. I am a realist – it is likely to be 10 years before I can create art full time so I pace myself. I know how my art practice fits into my life. And I know my place.
Looking up through the cherry tree (spring 2016)
As the saying goes ‘another year over, a new one just begun’! And I have started the New Year by getting into the studio and doing some printing. For me there is no start or end; making art is a continual process even if there are days or even weeks when everything I create goes in the bin. Nor do I wait for January 1st to decide what opportunities to pursue in 2017. Galleries tend to plan 2 years in advance and most ‘calls for entry’ are publicised many, many months ahead. And so I do my ‘big picture’ planning looking forward over an 18 month period.
Today however is a good day to tell the world about what I will be working towards in 2017 and into 2018. I am very pleased to announce that myself and artist / friend Helen Conway are working towards a joint exhibition at Stockport War Memorial Art Gallery in the autumn of 2018. The exhibition will be called Fragments and will use the upper gallery which is a big, wonderful space in which to exhibit large scale works. We are also hoping to add a second venue for spring 2018. My work will be focussed on industrial landscapes both present and past. Although it will feature new works from my Ruins series I am committed to creating two new, parallel series; one on current, working buildings / landscapes and one on industrial buildings / landscapes from the past.
Because of the way I create new series I know that it is likely to be many months before I produce finished works. If I happen to have suitable work ready there are a few exhibitions that I would like to submit too (including Fine Art Quilt Masters) but I am not going to ‘force’ the evolution of new works to hit deadlines. Of course that means that I will inevitably have fewer things to do a happy dance to in 2017 but look forward to dancing myself silly in 2018!