Work in batches – multiple small pieces based on Salford Gas Works
Those of you that follow my blog regularly will know that I made a very definite decision several years ago to always work in series. Doing so has helped me to develop as an artist – I spend a lot of time up front working on colour and on creating a palette of cloth but once I have that palette I am free to develop my ideas as I move from one piece to the next. And for my large pieces I do tend to get one to the finishing stages before starting work on the next. Many of my pieces are three metres wide or more. I am blessed with big print benches and a big design wall but it is not really practical to try to compose two large pieces at the same time.
Some of you will also know that I have struggled to make small art …. my ideas always want to be BIG. But with two exhibitions scheduled for 2018 I knew that I needed to stop struggling and start making. Hence my 100 (week) day challenge in which I committed to spending 2 hours each week day evening working exclusively on small art. And after 70 days I can declare the challenge a success! I am now comfortable taking the ideas, colours and palettes of cloth used in my large scale pieces and working with them on a (much) smaller scale. But, just as importantly, I have really enjoyed making ‘batches’ of work. I am half way through stitching 18 pieces that will each be 12 x 12 inches when finished. I worked on the composition of all 18 at the same time. Each piece has to work on its own but what really excites me is seeing them layed out in a grid. The common colours and repeated use of shape is very powerful and has got me thinking about the power of repeat and how I could use it in a large scale piece. Which is a good if un unexpected bonus!
When I visit a gallery I don’t tend to read the artist’s statement until after I have looked at their work. I like to savour my own responses to a piece first. But I do read the title because it provides a starting place for my response. So naming my own work is important to me and the subject of many hours contemplation. And the subject of regular discussion amongst fellow artists and on social media.
180cm x 60cm
Naming a series is an even bigger decision because you have to live with it longer. I am not a sketchbook person. All my ideas have a long gestation period in my head before I let them loose on dye and cloth. The titles of my first two series, Hidden Messages and Ruins, became fixed right at the beginning of that process. In Hidden Messages I wanted to develop a series of works around censorship in modern day China. In Ruins I wanted to develop a series of works around abandoned and ruined buildings. The titles were obvious to me and still feel just right. And in both cases I was happy to number the works rather than give each piece it’s own subtitle.
Still 3 (Rest)
99 x 99cm
I gave my third series a working title of Storm / Still as that seemed appropriate to the emotional rollercoaster I was on at the time. Although I numbered the early works they were either ‘Storm’ or they were ‘Still’ and each piece required it’s own subtitle. The series name became fixed when I added a page to my website. Strangely I named the colour family that I developed for this series ‘Dunure’ (after my favourite place in the whole world after my studio). And even named a few small pieces Dunure. But I never thought to call the whole series Dunure and with hindsight I wish I had. Storm / Still feels clumsy to me now and may be one of the reasons that I don’t think I will produce more in this series.
Liverpool Street, Salford
342cm x 154cm
So to today. For my exhibitions next year I am working on three series each focussed on industrial and urban landscapes. One part will be more pieces in my Ruins series. Another part will be on buildings and structures still in use today that shape our landscape but are invisible to most. This series has had the working title View. The inidividual pieces will all need their own subtitles as there are site specific. So far I have made one large piece (above) and am in the process of making a series of small works called Canal Street 1, 2, 3 etc. The working title of View is no longer working for me. Instead I am officially naming the series Structures. Yes it has been used by many, many artists but it is the perfect title for what has inspired my work.
New work inspired by the coal mining around St Helens
The other series is inspired by industries and iconic structures that no longer exist. I already know the subtitle of the large scale piece that is gestating in my head but I’m stuck on titles for the series of small works I am currently making based in the Bold Colliery near St Helens. And I am definitely stuck on a title for the series. I have had a working series title of Gone but that doesn’t even work as a working title. I have been puzzling over this all week. I almost settled on Relics. But then I had a ‘duh’ moment.
The title of the exhibition in St Helens is TRACES. My inspiration is those structures that have left TRACES in our memory. No brainer! This new series is now officially called Traces.
The title of the exhibition in Stockport is FRAGMENTS. The small works are just that – they are small FRAGMENTS of a much bigger series. The series of small works is now officially called Fragments.
And now I need a long lie down in a dark room ….
New work inspired by the coal mining around St Helens
After four really productive weeks of making small art I have had a disappointing week; struggling to get any level of momentum. I spent the week as I planned to – researching and creating cloth for the third string of work that I will exhibit next year. The inspiration comes from those industries, and those structures, that no longer exist – the coal mining industry around St Helens, Lancashire being a great example. I wasn’t working completely from scratch. I have learnt from a couple of failed attempts at printing cloth so I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted to achieve and how. And I’d already found a great resource on line – the Sutton Beauty and Heritage site. But I didn’t know if it would all come together. I really needed to lock myself in the studio for a whole weekend to completely immerse myself in the process. Knowing that, at most, I could only work for 3 hours in an evening was enough of a limitation that it throw me. And then there was the start of major building work on our home – likely to be a massive distraction for the next couple of months. Here is what I achieved:
- Day 21 – at home all day because of builders I actually spent about 6 hours in the studio but only 1 hour on small art. Not sure what happened to the other 5 hours!
- Day 22 – 1.5 hours researching and making thermofax screens
- Day 23 – 2 hours – took a break from the new work and instead stitched Kilns 4.
- Day 24 – 2 hours printing and experimenting with discharge.
- Day 25 – a scant 1 hour washing and ironing fabrics
Only 7.5 hours in total. I don’t have the luxury of time with two exhibitions in the first half of next year so cannot afford weeks like this! So this weekend I focussed on getting my act together / pulling my finger out / got down off the fence and finally made some decisions on this series! The results are rather pale and ethereal. I have finished a piece and put it into a picture frame I had in the studio. It didn’t photograph very well and the mountboard is the wrong shade of white but it actually looks rather lovely. Certainly lovely enough to make more. Which is what I will be doing in the 6th week of my 100 (week) day challenge.
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.
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!