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!
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.
£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.
I’ve written before about how creating a dedicated studio was a big part of my personal development as an artist. We did the original build just over 3 years ago (Story of my Studio) at which point I shared the space with my son Cal who was starting his own picture framing business. When he moved into his own studio in May 2015 I was able to add an additional print bench and another small design wall. At the time I wanted it to be a space that was attractive and inviting as well as practical and that definitely influenced the layout. We built a lovely bench along the back wall that sat in between two small design walls. My sewing table sat between the two print benches because I liked the symmetry of the layout.
But over that last couple of years my work has evolved. My pieces are bigger than my design walls. When I print now I make 4 – 6 breakdown screens at a time and have multiple pieces of cloth on my benches. Having to constantly walk past my sewing table to get to one of the benches is good exercise but a disaster waiting to happen with dripping screens. And I’ve now got a lot more finished pieces that need to be stored carefully.
So it is time for change. Phase 1 has involved removing the bench from the back wall and building a new installation along one of the short walls. The old deep shelving designed for Cal’s wood and tools have gone. The garden chair cushions have gone into a new store in the garden. The separate desk used for my computer has gone. Instead Cal reused the bench and built new shelving that is a better size for my needs. We have moved the sewing table and print benches around so that my ‘dry’ area and ‘wet’ areas are now separate.
Work in Progress but tidy enough to start stitching again!
My new 7.5 metre long design wall will be built in ‘phase 2’ over the Easter weekend and I am open to suggestions on the best way to do this. I’m also going to change some of the lighting. And, if we get time build a book case.
But for now the studio is clean and tidy (enough) that I can get back to stitching. And the sun is shining. Life is good.
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).