It’s a wet morning here in Dunure so time to stitch sleeves onto quilts, time to drink coffee and read the newspaper, and time to think. To think about the work I need to create for my exhibitions next year. And time to think about how I work.
One of the reasons that I’ve chosen to partner with Helen Conway is that we share the same professional, ‘get it done’ attitude to making our art and exhibiting our art. We plan our time and know that we will fill the galleries. We share out the administrative stuff and trust each others decisions. We will compromise where we need to.
But we are very different in the way we actually create. Helen is like a sponge – she sees inspiration pretty much everywhere and is constantly spinning new ideas. Not just about the subject of her work but also about the materials she uses. I know that she uses journaling to provide some order to her thoughts but mostly she goes into her studio and just starts. She works in a mess of materials, tools and books. To me it looks like chaos but to Helen it is where she finds creativity.
I am the opposite. The world is full of inspiration but I knew that I would not develop as an artist if I continued to hop from one idea to the next. Or if I continued to take workshops on different techniques. So I have chosen to work in series and to limit the number of techniques / materials I use. And I am very disciplined about it. The old me would have been busy trying to create something based on the beautiful sunsets here in Dunure but the current me enjoys the sunset then continues to stitch sleeves on quilts. I do most of my ‘designing’ in my head. I don’t just go into the studio and start. I occasionally write ideas down but mostly I let them brew and filter as I work in the studio. Yes I will spend lots of time getting the exact colours and textures I want but the experimenting and sampling is really just fine tuning the decisions I have already made in my head. And I can’t work in chaos. ‘Messy’ in my studio is when there are snippets of thread and fabric on the floor. I wash up and tidy as I go. I typically plan my activities for the week and go into the studio knowing exactly what to do first (even if that is to sweep the floor). I’m not at all good at spontaneity.
But I recognise my strengths and weaknesses and have chosen, for now at least, to work with a media – breakdown printing – that cannot be 100% controlled, that introduces unintentional marks into my work. Marks that will hopefully resonate with Helen’s work when we exhibit together in 2018.
Inspiration is a very personal thing. My inspirations are nearly all urban. I love industrial landscapes although it is getting harder to distinguish between pale grey corrugated metal retail parks and pale grey corrugated metal factories. Some would say that both are factories.
But occasionally there is a flash of colour, a wonderful shape or an interesting interplay of lines breaking up the sky. The Pilkington Glass site on Canal Street, St Helens is fabulous. It has the usual grey boxes, pipes and conveyors running between buildings. It also has towers and shapes that are quite unique and, hopefully, still recognisable as I try to use them in an abstract form in the work I’m creating for my joint exhibition with Helen Conway in St Helens next year.
£75 (30 x 30cm) each
(Shadow box framed by Manchester Custom Framing)
Building work is so much easier when you invest early on. Encourage one child (or preferably two as it is always good to have a back up) to take things apart and occasionally put them back together again from an early age. Nuture a love of ‘making’ – Airfix kits, quilts, simple electronic kits, glitter covered gluey messes, Warhammer soldiers, tin foil covered shields and swords, anything they want. Support said child when they want to make a living by working with their hands. Provide interest-free loans with the Bank of Mum and Dad to buy all sorts of serious looking wood working and picture framing tools. Then sit back and enjoy decades of payback.
Yes, said son Cal (check out his framing business) put in a solid 6 hours yesterday during which he installed three LED lighting panels, the polystryene panels to make a 6.6m design wall, a bookcase and a CD rack. All for the price of a McDonalds!
When we first built the studio we spent a lot of the available money on insulation as I knew that it would be hard to form a good studio practice if the studio was cold in the winter. With the rebuild the main investment has gone on lighting. Because I have a day job many of my studio hours are in the evenings. I originally installed 6 fluorescent strips and although I used ‘cool white’ bulbs the light was still not great. And the light fittings hum. And they cast shadows which makes it harder to photograph my work. So yesterday we swapped 3 of them out for 60W LED panels. They are brilliant. White light without shadows and without hum. The other 3 have been ordered and Cal is on standby to install them. It pays to invest.
This last weekend was perfect. Blue skies. A balmy 20C. Blossom on the cherry tree. Coffee in the garden. And long, productive hours in the studio.
April and May are my favourite months. A combination of lighter evenings and some long weekends thanks to the Easter and May public holidays make it almost impossible not to hit my target of 20 hours in the studio each week. Being able to dry my breakdown screens outside speeds up the process and gives much better results than I achieve on screens that have dried overnight in the studio. And rinsing out printed fabric is much kinder on my hands when my cold water feed isn’t finger numbingly cold.
So this weekend I got up early enough both days to drive my son to work for a 7.30am start. I would like to say that I did this just out of love but, honestly, it was so that I could be in the studio before 8am each day! I spent both days happily printing more fabric for my Ruins series. When screens or cloth were drying I continued to work on small samples. Such a productive couple of days.
And the good times keep on coming … Easter means a 4 day weekend!! And chocolate!