On a fine day the garden makes the best studio. Thursday and Friday were spent painting and printing fabric outdoors, with the knowledge that Saturday was going to be very wet; this proved to be more accurate than most of us would wish.
I’m photographing these procedures as I go along as I am preparing an online course about making artists’ books. These are also frequently called bookworks or bookart, but I think the latter two terms include altered books and such, and I won’t be dealing with those, interesting as they are.
My aim is to introduce the possibilities of making a range of artists’ books to people who love textiles, stitching, and the use of a wide range of fabrics, papers, paints, inks and dyes, and good old mixed media of course, just as I do. Some of my books are in Gallery Two, and more will be added soon.
So basically it is about planning, designing and making pages for your own book or books. But it isn’t just about the book as we recognise it, it’s also about unusual bindings, boxed books and other book structures, themes and interpretation, producing gorgeous pages and objects, and enjoying yourself as you do it.
I have taught my course about making artists’ books on several occasions, and the quality and quantity of work produced, and the fact that people immediately began to think in terms of multiple pages, impressed me enormously. I think it was a new idea for most of the students too, and as I have also had requests to write an online course, well, I thought I would.
Chapter One will be available by December, sooner if possible, I’m working away at it, in the form of pdfs, which will be great displayed on tablets as well as laptops and other computers of course. Other Chapters will follow at close regular intervals.
I’ll be posting a synopsis soon; the course is suitable for all levels, you don’t need astonishing drawing skills either, but if you have them you can use them; if not, you can trace. It is a huge and generous subject, and there is something in it for everyone.
In Chapter One of the course I will be showing how to prepare your own palette of materials using acrylic paints and inks, including painting, block printing, thermofax printing, stencils and mono printing. We will then relate the materials produced to two book projects, a simply [my method] bound book mounted on paper, and a small fabric book.
You will learn how to decide on a theme, design, and make the books by seeing step by step how I make one myself. My binding methods are not very conventional, so don’t worry, no book binding skills are needed.
My books in Chapter One will be based upon the summer garden; title as yet undecided, possibly The Summer Gardens. I decided on plural gardens as it’s possible that some of the images I use to base my work on may not all be of my own garden, which although lovely and indeed jungle like is very green, and I may want to include some hefty shots of colour that my patch doesn’t possess.
A few images showing work in progress and some of the fabrics I produced.
I am making some pieces for a series of work entitled Vivid. Two have been machine stitched now, and await finishing with hand stitch.
The threads here are quite old. I bought them before my daughter was born, and she is 23 and a half now, from the Jinney Ring Craft Centre in Worcestershire. At the time I made my living from making and teaching ceramics, but loved textiles. When I bought them the assistant asked what I was going to do with them, and I replied that I was going to make a piece of work featuring bright beetles. Well that was my intention, and when I spotted them a few days ago, I thought it was time to actually use them as intended!
Some years after that another ceramist and I had our shop and workshop at the Jinney Ring, for 5 years. When I left there I stopped making ceramics and textiles appeared on the scene; I think they had been waiting in the wings for 20 years.
And below, the second Vivid piece. This features some older unfinished work, and some new thermofax screen printed fabric too, with machine stitching and ink flinging.
I’m working on two books at the moment. This wasn’t exactly the plan, I was going to be more orderly, but my one rule is always go where your enthusiasm leads. The decorating is mostly done, and that is a relief as I have my space back and can get going again.
The books are going to be in a similar vein to The Stone Bird and Into the Cacao Grove, which are actually constructed artist’s books which I published as facsimiles. These new books will be similar, but will not be constructed as books; the pages will be wall hung. The pieces will be exhibited next year in Birmingham and Wales, and hopefully other venues, and it’s easier to show them on the wall. They will be published though with text and sections too on how the pieces were made, and their origins and inspirations.
I have been working on a new series of work based initially upon natural history collections as a starting point, and these works will form the first book, Natural Histories. This is proving to be very enjoyable as I am incorporating digital images and a variety of media into the work. The two pieces I have ready for completion are shown below, with the beads and threads I have ready to complete them. This is evening work, laying down and machining is done during the day.
These pieces are quite dark and rich, in terms of colour, but I have had an urge to make some colourful pattern based work too. So, I have started another project called Vivid, which I also hope to put into book form. I suspect the content of the two projects will coincide, so to prevent problems in wanting to incorporate one piece of work or another in the project it wasn’t initially designed for, the two formats are completely different, one being rectangular and just a little larger than A2, the other being 45-50 cm squares. Below, some fabric I sorted to inspire me with its rich and vibrant colour.
Here’s the first Vivid piece, a mix of silk and Lutradur beetles, and a beetle cut from one of my postcards, on printed and dyed calico.
Featuring a mix of new and favourite images, this project will be heavily materials led, I imagine.
I’ve been cutting things up again too. I started this piece last year, and when I saw it in a photograph, well, all I saw was giant eyeballs. So, I did the natural thing, put it in a drawer; it has a lot of machining on which isn’t immediately apparent from the photographs. Never liking to waste work or materials, I dug it out yesterday and cut it up, and now it’s going to be used in at least two of the Natural Histories pieces. I find this re-using, and let’s face it, having quite a lot of the work already done in some cases, really useful and creatively propelling.
I’ll post the progression of the pieces as they evolve.
It’s been a frustrating week as we are decorating, which is not a popular activity in this house, but alas, very necessary. As part of the room we are tarting up is the conservatory, where I work, and I have been full on with the afore mentioned slapping of paint on woodwork, it’s not been a work week in the art sense, and this always puts me in a mood which can accurately be described as foul.
Still, it’s nearly done, and things will be moved back in there later on, and I can fit in a days work before we wade into the rest of the room, which is really three rooms as much knocking together was done years ago. I never really liked decorating but have done loads of it, but now I think saturation point has been reached! However, I have been putting this off for a long time, and it is looking good; so when my mood improves I will be happy, and feel a good old dollop of achievement too. Other necessary jobs are also about to be done on the house too, and that is a relief, as I had got to a point when I wondered if anything would ever move forward.
Before we got going with the paint and brushes I put two pieces of work together, using some Photoshopped images I had taken of the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum. I will be basing a series of work on these images, combining the museum exhibit with the live creatures, the herbal with the living plants, the collections of natural history with the objects in their previous living or original environment. At least the decorating has given me a good amount of time to mull over ideas as I grappled with the unpleasant properties of Dulux satinwood finish.
Laying the first piece down. This is just over A2 size, with the images printed onto two A3 pieces of Khadi paper, which were cut up and spaced apart a little, to allow the piece to breathe. I drew and cut the the rooks out of painted silk and painted cotton, with added acrylic painted fabric flowers.
I did have a morning off this week to go to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery to see the Rowland Emett exhibition, Marvellous Machines. If you want to see something uplifting and jolly, this is ideal. He designed amazingly whimsical but solidly working machines, including those used in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and drew a multitude of cartoons. The fun and inventiveness of it all is built on a bedrock of astonishing hard work.
It’s a wonderfully put together show, and here are a few images, not brilliant as I used my ‘phone, but not too bad either. Every 15 minutes they all get going and the effect is magical, music and movement all around. As a completely non-mechanically minded person, unfortunately I didn’t take after my Dad in that respect, I was astounded.
Here we are, just after midsummer, pouring with rain, grey and not at all jolly, especially as it is a day we had planned a little outing. Well, it will go ahead but be somewhat damp, wellies needed, etc. However, the garden was looking parched, so at least we can trot out that useful phrase, ‘the garden needs it’. Let’s just hope we don’t have to say it too often.
Another plus is that dull weather is ideal for work. I have started a new piece which I will be continuing to construct later; in fine weather I find it tedious to stay inside, not that I’m into sitting in the sun, completely the opposite in fact. I would like to work outside, so I think I need a gazebo, one of those tenty ones would be fine. Perhaps I could make a gazebo, now there’s a project.
So here, on this grey day, are a few of the finished pages from Shadow and Light, my latest artist’s book. I’ve chosen the summery ones, and at some point soon I will put more images into Gallery 2, too. The last 6 images are double page spreads.
I don’t seem to be getting on with things as well as I would like to at the moment, but I think this is the result of moving along several projects and jobs at the same time, which is a necessary state of affairs but also leaves the impression of very little being finished, or ticked off a list. You know what I mean. However, I have finished, at long last, the big book, Shadow and Light, which will be at the Festival of Quilts this year. And I have started to get materials together for some new work, which was unformed in my mind, but since I have actually done some things towards it, it is gathering its own momentum and a solid idea is developing. I had been guilty of that old demon, ‘think-making’, but to knock that on it’s head I find getting materials out, and doing a spot of drawing and printing, and trying a few things out always works.
I will be letting the work develop intuitively, but it is starting with some images I recently took in London, of the Enlightenment Gallery at the British Museum. I think the project will again lean towards natural history, both natural history collections and the living world, but who knows what else will come into the mix? I think it will be a book, albeit a hanging one probably, but I may do at least one large piece. Some digitally printed fabric may be on the cards too.
My original images were poor, as I knew they would be, with the low light levels and my complete lack of interest in the mechanics of photography, but I knew they would be fun to play with in Photoshop. I love Photoshop, but I only want to use images manipulated by it as part of my work; it is a useful and beguiling tool though.
I altered and collaged several images, from the Enlightenment Gallery, Oxford Natural History Museum, some show cases at a local country park, and some images I took of a small bird skull I have. I printed them on A3 Khadi paper and sorted some fabric out that I may use with the images. The A3 pieces will probably be used together to make A2 sized book pages.
Here is the book, not looking as big as it is, in fact it looks tiny here, but I think it’s the heaviest one yet, deep joy. I will photograph and post the pages in my gallery section, as soon as I can. It’s 75 x 50 cms, approximately.
We had a lovely little outing yesterday to a local-ish National Trust property. The benefits of even a small outing are something I really appreciate, so here are a few images of Coughton Court in Warwickshire, one of my favourite NT properties. The rose gardens there are fabulous at the moment. The poppies are my latest desktop image, they look quite thrilling every time I turn my computer on.
Good news this week is that I have been offered a stand again at Embroidery, Fashion and Stitch at the NEC next spring; I was really pleased about that, so thanks ICHF!
Smorgasbord sounds so much better than buffet, doesn’t it, a buffet of inspiration isn’t quite the same. Although saying that I’ve actually started to like it.
I’ve been to London for a few days, with an old friend; well, not old in that sense, she would be quick to point out, I’ve just known her since we were eleven.
I love London, it’s like no where else in the UK. We did much flaneuring, walking quite a few miles each day, which had the added bonus of a small weight loss. You see, exercise does work, it’s just that I can’t fit in several hours a day walking when I’m working. More breaks like this one needed, then.
We went to see the Matisse exhibition at Tate Modern, which was wonderful. It’s quite likely that this many of his cut out pieces will never be seen together again, I have heard, such was the work involved to bring it all to fruition. I particularly enjoyed his artist’s book, Jazz. After that we went to the Bankside Gallery to see the RE Original Print Exhibition. This gallery hosts some exhibition gems; I was fortunate enough to see the Society of Wood Engravers show there in February too, after another trip to Tate Modern to see the Klee exhibition.
After a nice stroll along the Thames we dropped in to a premiere for the film Belle. Well no, actually we watched the participants arrive, from a good vantage point on Waterloo Bridge; sadly we weren’t invited onto the red carpet. It was fun to watch all the shenanigans though.
The next day was rather good weather, so we walked along Regent’s Canal, having a look at Central Saint Martins and some very chic flower beds. Well, astro turf and bedding plants, but a long way from the country cottage garden look.
Walking through Hyde Park I took a fair amount of pictures of these urns in the Italianate Gardens. I have a feeling they will feature in some new work, along with some other inspiration from the British Museum, coming up below.
We covered quite a lot of London on that day. I loved this beautiful mews, with their potted front gardens. A lovely meal in an Italian restaurant followed. My friend first went there in 1979, and it’s still run by the same family. It was like being in Italy, which was a double bonus, Italy in London.
We were staying in Bloomsbury, and as our final day promised storms, we stayed closer to home, and Euston station. So it was trip to the British Museum, where instead of traipsing through the whole thing, or trying to, we had a really good look at the Enlightenment Gallery, which is certainly a beautiful room. The natural world section afforded some interesting images which although not the best images ever taken, due to poor light levels and the fact I was the photographer, are really on my mind. I knew they would be dodgy, but that made them more exciting and compelling, apart from their content, which always deeply interests me, although I don’t approve of the collecting methods of the past I do, in that invariably contradictory way we seem to live our lives, find the objects fascinating and amazing. I daresay I will bore you with more of these smudgy pictures in the future, but here are a couple.
I was also thrilled by some Egyptian jewellery, and in fact have been thinking of using some imagery in gold and gold leaf in whatever new work happens next for some time. There were ancient shards of sheet gold that were really beautiful, now waiting forever to be made into artefacts.
After this, for a complete change, to the Cartoon Museum to see the 30th Anniversary of Spitting Image exhibition. If you liked Spitting Image, which I did, I would recommend you see this show; but, it’s finished, we just caught it, happily for us.
After that, a lovely walk around the Bloomsbury Squares and gardens, of which there are quite a few. One last ingredient of my inspirational smorgasbord, the London plane, one of my favourite trees. They lose small pieces of bark which could be integrated into a piece of work, something else I may consider.
I’ve just started to make some simple puppets for an online show which will be featuring soon on the artlog written by Clive Hicks Jenkins. Clive frequently works with folk mythology, particularly with Welsh legends and characters. His blog is on my side bar and is well worth a frequent peruse.
The theme of the show is folk tales, fairy tales, myths and legends, not a subject I usually work with, but I like to try something different every so often. Browsing on my computer to gather reference material I spotted some mummers wearing animal heads, which appealed, as I much prefer to work with animals in my art than humans, unless of course they are humans pretending to be animals, which is always an interesting interface. I particularly have always wanted wings and a tiger’s tail.
I wasn’t at all sure what I would make, but the remit is wide, and I appeared to have invented some characters via the mediums of the mummers and my collage box.
Delving into this magic box produced some materials which I have loosely put together to make some simple, flat, jointed puppets in the vein of shadow puppets. They will never be employed as puppets, as far as I know, unless I change my job perhaps, but I will photograph them looking suitably puppet like for the show, with shadows if I can manage it, and with their stories told too.
The puppets look quite creepy, but they are not all bad, don’t worry. Mummers, puppets, folk lore and all the rest of it are designed to unsettle us. These personages are going to have a mix of traits, and to represent a range of emotions; I haven’t decided on all the traits as yet, but basically they are are animal/Moon gods with a mix of roles in the world. And because I refuse to be completely dark, at least one of them will have to be the goddess of cake, pasta and chocolate, let alone books, artist’s materials and other good stuff.
The skull is a print on paper from one of my embroideries; the small fish was embroidered by a friend many years ago. I have polished up some old coins, threepenny bits, half pennies etc, with tomato sauce, which I may use too.
The goddess of The Sea. The pieces will, I hope, suggest more of their stories to me as I continue to make them. I was hoping not to involve stitch but some may creep in, there are pebbles and coins to attach, and I do love a bead.
I’ll post a reminder when the show is on Clive’s blog.