It started with turtles.

I’ve framed some work this week for an upcoming small solo exhibition, ‘Beach’ at the RBSA Galleries in Birmingham, and feel suddenly free. It was one of those tasks that sat heavily, and although I am quite good at getting on with things I found myself doing many small diverting tasks to avoid starting the job. The garden was also calling, as there are one or two areas which needed a serious sort out, mainly because our neighbours on both sides have renewed their fencing, which seems to have left us with a wider garden. I don’t want any more garden, truthfully, but there we are. I have also dismantled my vegetable growing area, which was of variable success, and took more time and money than going to Sainsbury’s for the stuff anyway. I shall still grow leaves, like rocket and lettuce and those hot oriental mixes. And the compost bins have been emptied onto the garden and given the heave ho too, and the old kiln, and a lot of strange objects our past neighbours had secreted between our garages.

As big tidy ups go, it has become bigger as we go along, and is still with us. But, it must be tidied away soon, as these things take you away from your work. The dump will be visited, no doubt, but there is a good amount of recycling going on too. It will all be worth it though, as the idea is to simplify the garden a little to make it easier and in my mind more enjoyable to care for.

Back to the framing. I painted the frames first, basically to match the work, as they were orangey pine, you know the colour. I used some rather good chalk paint; apparently it’s tough enough to use on floors, so it should stand up to the treatment frames get. I say this as I have already kicked two of them and touched up the mark quite successfully.

DSC_0096Three of the frames after having been painted with the white chalk paint.

DSC_0102A poor image of one of the framed pieces, but you get the idea. They look better in real life.

For the exhibition I had decided just to have 10 framed pieces, but with all that boring framing stuff done, and the free feeling previously mentioned settling upon me, I decided that what the show needs is a larger hanging too. There is a good end wall in the gallery space for this sort of thing to be displayed, and I had a title in mind, ‘Beach Thoughts’, which could move me slightly away from the work I have made to include some different elements. So a delve through my fabrics revealed my usual favourites, i.e. black and white painted fabric, over the top metallics, and some fabric I had printed with one of my thermofax screens, featuring swimming turtles. Naturally I concluded that these turtles, who were now female,  were having quite strong beach thoughts, needing to lay a few eggs etc. I love turtles and have used them in my work in the past, as you will see below. I decided they needed another outing.

DSC_0103 - Version 2Firstly, some of my ingredients all ready to go.

DSC_0125The thermofax printed turtle fabric.

DSC_0109The thermofax screen and a linocut I made some time ago from the turtle drawing. I thought I might use it to make some prints on the new work too, but it’s moved away from that idea now. I did a lot of sketching, noting down various ideas, but, as usual when I am making work, as soon as I start to manipulate and experiment with the materials, the ideas shift, change, and hopefully start to gel.

DSC_0118This turtle was in one of my Nature Table series of works, made a couple of years ago, and the chaps below are in a piece called Tartarughe, based upon a fountain in Rome.

DSC_0123After much cutting and moving, the first two very early layout ideas I quite liked, below.

DSC_0129As you can see they will be mounted on the inevitable Khadi paper. These sheets, I have four to use, are 1000 gsm, and are suitably undulating, as befits a sea theme. They are a little larger than A2, as a size guide.

DSC_0135And some ideas for the other two pieces. I quite often discover a piece of fabric I just must have in the work; in this case it’s the white painted black piece on the right. As you can see I have cut out the turtles, but I think I will only be using where they were, rather than the actual turtles. They can go on another piece, perhaps.

DSC_0148I want to introduce some other elements, something plant based, in the work too, as I want the Beach Thoughts to be mine, as well as the turtles’. I pulled out a selection of prints and other interesting pieces to experiment with, in combination with the turtle theme. I’ll be working with these today.

DSC_0004And to finish off, the first piece so far, no longer white as you can see. I used a grey Derwent graphite block, brushing water on when I had finished drawing,then a white charcoal block, and fixed the whole thing by brushing on acrylic gel, actually a shiny gel which has just produced a nice subtle sheen. It’s almost ready to be machine stitched. I’ll post the other three, and this one, as they evolve.

8 thoughts on “It started with turtles.

  1. Hiya, what a fabulous post Steph. Great to see the effect of the charcoal blocks, the image has the almost dry brushed on effect that acrylic gave but I am guessing that the handle of the fabric has not changed, making it easier to hand stitch through? Such a happy little turtle with her little thoughts, how big are you aiming for, my little mind has visions of a huge tutle shaped piece on that gallery wall or lots of them all crowded in like they do on the beach whilst laying their eggs. I just love your ideas and thought processes, thanks for posting x

    1. Thanks Shelagh, not sure about fabulous, but nice of you to say; vaguely interesting is what I aim for! I don’t think the blocks do affect the handle of the fabric too much, but of course as I have used them on gesso painted calico, which is a very thick beast, who am I to say? Never keep it simple should be my motto. They are very useful though, saves getting the paints out too. This one won’t be a turtle shaped piece, although that is something I have considered in the past, along with other large animal shapes. Doubt I’ll do them now. No, this is four flat pieces, related around a common theme, with some moths and plants too, of course. Sx

  2. There’s a real guilty pleasure for me, in seeing how other people put together their work – it’s enormously reassuring to know that not everyone has a fixed idea when they start of where they’re going!

    Good luck with the exhibition, I’m sure it will be a huge hit.

    1. Hi Anny, I’m pleased you enjoy seeing the process, don’t feel guilty! I never stick to my original drawings, mainly because of ideas that either develop as you go along, or new approaches that present themselves. And there is the total influence of the materials you work with, which really dictate the making of the piece, I find. I spend ages moving pieces of fabric and paper around with tweezers, cutting them up and experimenting with them or even ditching them, until I’m happy with the result.

  3. As ever,reading a post is like following the thoughts in your head Steph. I would love to see this exhibition as it’s theme close to my heart as you know. The photo of your other prints looks intriguing and I hope you’ll show what you do with those? On a practical level thanks for the chalk paint tip – what a great idea – and for a better look at that Khadi paper. I have a couple of packs of small sqaure pieces but A2 is industrial size in my eyes, and 1000grms! That is serious paper but it is beautiful to use. I dyed a few pieces in the potassium permanganate bath a few weeks ago but they were a flop. Good luck with this exhibition. I must look for the dates.

    1. Lesley, I have some double elephant Khadi too, speaking of industrial sizes of paper. I love the way the still use this imperial name, but measure most of their other paper metrically. The prints are digital, from photographs of my drawings. I have several that I use as backgrounds, borders and as components for new pieces of work. They wait around until I have a place for them generally, but do feature in a couple of artist’s books I’m making at the moment.

  4. I love that boy on the charcoal piece … gorgeous. Have you tried that new picky up thingy yet? is it better than tweezers? Frames look excellent too … I wonder if the newer plasticky ones would paint as well? H xx

    1. Thanks Hils, he/she appears on the other pieces too; they are all laid down and ready to go. I must say I haven’t enjoyed making anything so much for ages. The graphite and charcoal sticks are very useful, they produce some very atmospheric effects.
      I don’t know about plastic frames, I think the paint would pretend to sit there and be fine but scratch off easily.
      The picky up thingy is really good for small pieces, but of course after I bought it I tried it, put it away and forgot all about it until you just mentioned it…Sxx

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