Portrait of Heldi with GalahsRead More
I have been working away on an exhibition called Trees to be held at the ANCA Gallery, Dickson, here in Canberra (http://anca.net.au/portfolio/trees/July 18-August 5). It is a group show with Wendy Dodd, Deborah Faeyrglenn Susan Hey, Janet Meaney, Marli Popple and myself. The group is a part of the larger umbrella Nets, a regional group of textile artists which has a ten-year history of exhibiting here in Australia and internationally.
I was a little reluctant to take on this theme of trees as it is not an area I usually work with. However, Deb Faeyrglenn’s enthusiasm of the book ‘The Hidden Life of Trees: What they feel, how they communicate’ by Peter Wohlleben made me curious enough to get me to read it. It was a fascinating read.
After much consideration I went looking for trees I could realte to, but I didn’t get far. I ended up on the front nature strip, under our Silky Oak (Grevillea Robusta). It is an indigenous tree to Australia, so not really an oak tree. The timber has a lovely figure, in fact it is called lacewood. This snippet of research raised my eyebrows.
My first encounter with the timber was when I attended an auction up near Crookwell. It was the sale of old vicarage and its contents There were 20 chairs made from silky oak. Stunning chairs but I didn’t have a need for that many chairs. I was bidding for a large pile of table cloths.
The next piece of research indicated that the sawdust and sap can cause irritation to the skin. A friend also told me she used to sit under a silky oak and discovered that the pollen was having an adverse effect on her skin.
These two points were in line with my previous exhibition Death of a Craftin February 2018 at Craft ACT: Craft and Design Centre. Highly toxic plants were used as motifs to make lace-like structures.
I began using the format of a mandala, used previously in work I made about our walk along the Camino in Spain. I also realised that this could also reflect a circular slice of timber with the growth rings. Later this year I will be exhibiting work on birds and decided to incorporate the noisiest birds that can be heard when the silky oak is in flower: red wattlebirds.
My next drawings had me revert back to using full sized bodies like the ones in Death of a Craft. I used the wattlebirds again.
I continue to make work in this vein for the exhibition.
At the end of last year, I was approached by contemporary Australian artist, eX de Medici, to work on a curious project with her. I was but one collaborator, the embroiderer of two pieces of textiles for a seat, the Seat of Love and Hate. At the time I did not realise the extent of the work ahead for me. I was in the middle of preparing for a solo exhibition, so perhaps I did not take in the detail required. I anticipated my part of the project to take two to three weeks.
Once my own exhibition was installed at the gallery, I prepared the fine silk cloth by tacking on wadding and a backing, knowing my machine would prefer a heavy base cloth. I started with samples of the type of stitching, initially defaulting to a zig-zag stitch. Straight stitch seemed to be what the design was demanded. Although I padded the work it became apparent that I would need to use an embroidery hoop which can be quite limiting. It was in choosing colours, I realised the enormity of the work. I opened every box of thread stored. I set them out on a trolley sitting adjacent to the sewing table. However, in the end I needed well over forty colours. The way I was embroidering also meant I ended up having to buy thirty new bobbins so that each top thread matched. All was prepared. This aspect is what craft theorist David Pye called ‘the workmanship of certainty’. However, as a collaboration, I was heading into ‘the workmanship of risk’ (Adamson 2007: 73).
The certainty of risk in collaborations creates tension. Rather than negative tension, ‘tensile architectural structure, where a physical friction aids the maintenance of space between supports’ (Gates, Kettle and Webb 2013: 46). The textile design was the support structure. I was confident in my crafting abilities. Knowing that I had to extend myself to reach across what seemed to be a vast space was exhausting.
I worked full-time from early February to late March on this work. As I stitched I reached a stimulating state of what Mihaly Csikszentmihayli ‘flow’ whereby hours pass by unaware. It is a zone in which the skills are challenged and one’s ability are in balance. My thought processes for other work was enriched. I didn’t have time for these other works, but I could make drawings and write notes in my journal about upcoming works that need to be created.
In my journal, I had begun to write about mindfulness that I was experiencing. I had originally been writing about mindfulness and hand stitching but now I could see how one can apply mindfulness to machine stitching induced by this psychological state. As well the conversations I had with eX de Medici along the way, made me think about my own personal work in new ways.
In writings on the collaborative process in the arts, very little is mention on when things go wrong. Toward the end of stitching I managed to pick up the both pieces of textiles and stitch the two together for an hour and half. I was so angry and frustrated. The intensity of the stitching meant it took three days to unpick. Sometimes an area of one-centimetre square took over an hour to unpick. I documented this furious mood in my journal over the three days.
Writers on collaborations often discuss a loss of identity, self and authorship. I did not feel this had occurred with me in this project. I was the embroiderer all along. I gained a great deal of experience and knowledge in my own practice. This project showed me that as an embroiderer there is a tendency to delimit my practice by continuing to work in familiar ways, defaulting to particular stitches or restricting the colour palette.
I look forward to new work that I have in mind. Of being able to challenge myself to work with imagery I may not have considered.
In the last 12 months I have been using black linen for various embroidery projects from handkerchiefs with machine embroidered lace borders to small hand embroidered images. An earlier post was titled spots. I used spots to link a few pieces that were grouped together in an exhibition.
While travelling to Sweden some years ago I picked up a book at the Nordiska Museet. It was titled 'Yllebroderier Berättande folkkonst från Norden' (2010). I have no translation but there are beautiful photographs of this folk embroidery from around the 1700 through to contemporary examples of the present day.
What interests me with this work is that much of it is done on cloth of a dark background. This sets the red thread off in a very striking manner. The book seems to explore the origins of this style of embroidery. Each chapter is written by specialists and academics. I can only go by the images and there seems to be a relationship to southern European religious art, although there is not a lot of religious imagery in the the Swedish embroidery. I may be wrong. The red dala horse appears quite regularly.
The works below are on black linen. In the last week I have begun to add red thread in the self portrait. This is a work in progress. I feel it has moved from a self portrait to more about embroidery, which I suppose is a essential part of me and hence adds to the concept of self portrait.
Death of a Craft
CraftACT: Craft and Design Centre 1 February 2018
Laced with Toadstools; machine embroidered lace; 2017Read More
Over the last few weeks I have been stitching on black linen. I have wanted to do this for so long - in fact since I bought a Swedish book 'Yllebroderier' edited by Annhelen Olsson (2010). I bought it in Sweden years ago. It is about a style of colourful folk embroidery stitched onto to very dark fabrics. This year one of the participants in #1yearofstitches2017, @mutuallydeconstructed, started stitching on black and revived my interest in stitching onto black linen.
I began with a small embroidery of two of my grandsons asleep while we visited my dying mother-in-law. The children lay under a spotted quilt cover. It was really difficult but I pursued it. I had marked out the spots but when I embroidered them, or actually I left gaps in the stitching, the spots seemed to have a life of their own.
I had drawn up the embroidery on quite small scale as I didn't know how it would work. It was a little too small for the faces. It seems to be easier to stitch if they are larger.I found this out in my portrait series. I have drafted up a large portrait of the two boys and will stitch that a little later in the year.
I had a go at drawing an old family spoon. My mother had brought this spoon with her from Tasmania. It is worn the spoon diagonally from stirring. My daughter had brought it home to our house as she may have been thinking of using it as a springboard for artwork. It has always fascinated me, so I made an image of this lovely spoon.
I stitched it in a range of greys, from dark to light. I then drew up a spotted pattern for the background, and added a shadow. The background really enlivened the piece.
I have been working on this dining room interior for a short while for my #1yearofstitches2017 project on Instagram (@peopsh). I have put it away to review a little while latter. I really enjoyed working with this image of my sister, Bernadette, in her dining room just before my niece's 40th birthday. I used much of the same technique rom my self-portrait work, although not so much a variety instituting as I have found my 'comfort stitches' - the ones return to again and again.
Finally finished my hand stitching project of self portraits. When I began the first drawing on New Year’s Eve 2016, I thought I had a project for the year. This work was to be completed outside my studio work and it was a way to re-engage with hand stitching rather than machine stitching which has become my mode of working over the last twenty five years or so. While I am the first to admit that not all portraits worked, they were a process of experimentation in both stitch and colour. The work measures 57 x 46 cm (22 ½ x 18 inches).
The question most people ask has been ‘why did you use self-portraits?’ When I began on New Year’s Eve, I couldn’t think of what I was going to do for the year. I thought about the mantra – use what you know – I know my face. After the first portrait was completed surprisingly quickly, I then stitched a horizontal line while I took a day to think about the next thing to embroider. I quickly drew up another portrait, and then from then on, I kept adding more portraits until I covered the entire piece of linen. At one point, I bought linen to make a frame around this first piece to work further embroideries, but frankly I became a little bored. However, I persisted and continued adding more portraits. No doubt I will go back and overstitch some areas where I think the colour is not so good.
My list of rules included a new stitch everyday but that was quickly over-ruled as I found not all stitches were suitable. And often I was tired and resorted to ‘comfort stitches’ – stitches that I had learned while I was young and which I continually use. These include stem, chain, feather, fly and satin stitches. I wouldn’t include French knots in the list of comfort stitches: once I embarked on an area of French knots I usually regretted it. I would have liked to include more bullion stitch, but I felt there were few opportunities for this stitch. There were a few new stitches I tried from a crewel embroidery book I have, as well as those from other stitchers from Instagram. I loved layering stitches: fly over fly, chain over chain. These were experimentations of using layers of colours as well to give dense areas of colour.
The larger portraits were easier to stitch than the smaller ones. I tried to balance up colour, stitches and design, making sure the placement and sizes of faces were working well within the overall composition. Heavy areas of colour versus light stitching were one consideration. This was then balanced with light and dark colours.
I read up on portraiture and self-portraits. I also visited our National Portrait Gallery here in Canberra. One thing I am surprised by in self-portraiture is the different ways in which artists draw or portray themselves. Some use single mirrors. Many used two mirrors to get three quarter or side views of themselves. Photography as the basis of imagery is also used. I tried all these methods. All showed an intensity of gaze and this has come through in my own work. It takes concentration and time to draw yourself – portraying a smiling face is difficult. These are not ‘selfies’ in the sense of a quick image posted on social media.
Social media was part of the motivation for this project. As I noted in an earlier blog, I began this piece on the last day of December 2016. I read an online article by Sara Barnes on her website brownpaperbag http://www.brwnpaperbag.com/1-year-of-stitches-2017/ about the artist Hannah Claire Somerville’s ambitious 365-day project called 1 Year of Stitches. Somerville posted daily on Instagram her stitching during 2016. During the year, I have found many people post daily activities to extend their creativity such as drawing, painting, knotting, photographing and beading. Textile artist and educator Jane Dunnewold emphasises that her students ‘just turn up’ at their studio or working space each day: becoming active by picking up a pen, cutting fabric, drawing, or collecting and arranging objects. This activity usually leads on to something meaningful. This has become true for me.
Barnes not only encouraged others to follow this lead in early 2017, but set up a closed Facebook page for stitchers and embroiderers to post their work. With over 3,000 members rather than daily posts the group posts weekly on ‘Sharing Sunday’ which is far more manageable. I usually posted from my Ipad early on a Sunday morning with the last image I had taken. It is fascinating to see such a variety of work. The site provides resources such as Australian Sharon Boggon’s http://pintangle.com/stitch-dictionary/ and her Take A Stitch Tuesdays (TAST) http://pintangle.com/tast-faq/ .
I drew up a new image over a month ago before travelling to Spain as I really like stitching while travelling. However, finishing this portrait project took its time. Having some hand stitching is great to work on in the evenings and a contrast to studio work. The use of colour has spread into my studio palette.
One other question people ask is what am I going to do with it. It may go into an exhibition, but this work was more about the process rather than the finished work.
I continue to hand stitch each day and post on Instagram daily. I am up to self portrait eight. As I noted in an earlier post, the point of this project was to return to stitching and having something to work on, as well as my other studio work in which I am preparing for an exhibition later in the year. In the self portraits I have been exploring various stitches as well as colour. My machine embroidery tends to be monochromatic - either black or white.
As well as Instagram, I post weekly to a closed Facebook site, 1 year of stitches: 2017. You can request to join in. I noticed that there are often new participants. It's great to log in each week and post my progress. With over 3000 followers on this site I can see why it is limited to once a week as it would otherwise clog up Facebook feeds. There is a huge variety of stitchers from novices, to people who use commercial patterns, to some really creative stitchers and designers.
I realise that I will soon run out of space on my piece of linen. I am thinking about what I will do when I get to that point. Either add more linen around this piece like a frame and continue the stitch of self portraits or begin something entirely new.
I am posting individual portraits here on the blog, as a number of people who are recent followers would like to see the other portraits. I will post the most recent at the top and a whole image which includes the beginnings of the eighth portrait at the bottom.
I have begun reading much more about self-portraits in order to write an article about the process I have been going through. In the most recent image I used a timer to take a photo of myself as I think there are only so many times I can draw myself face on. In my research, most of the artists in historical self portraits use two mirrors to work up their images. I have done this in the past and will post some of that work later.
When I began this activity of posting my stitching each day on January 1, I didn't realise how consuming it would become. The rationale was to make sure that I revive my hand stitching as I have become a machine embroiderer over the years. I had made a list of rules for myself which have generally been broken. I wanted to try a new stitch each day but rather than the stitch itself the priority, the image became more important.
Other rules included: only using materials in the studio - no new threads ; posting on Instagram each day (@peopsh); (I have upheld these two rules); only the colour range set out on the first day (nope); only DMC stranded cotton (nope) and only one piece of fabric (I foresee this will be broken). One of the questions in my journal is "But content?"
Last year I did an online course with Jane Dunnewold. I was a brilliant way for me to return to my arts practice. One of the things she encourages is to turn up each day in the studio. This stitching project is just like that. I turn up each day on Instagram and have something to show. Also she helped with exercises to develop content as well.
So surprisingly the content has become the self portrait. One aspect that people have often brought up on Instagram and the closed website of #1yearofstitches2017 is that I am not smiling. Self portraiture takes concentration. I have spent a few days this year at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra looking at artists' self portraits. There are some wonderful intense portraits. I have always loved this intensity of the self portrait. I think we are so used to selfies whereby people are smiling into the camera - taking a momentary shot, rather than drawing the face. Two different time scales in producing an image. Currently at the NPG there is a self portrait by one of my favourite portraiturists, Jude Rae in the 'Pet Show'. She poses herself as the Spanish artist Valesquez as he appears as a self portrait in the painting Las Meninas. I tried this pose in front of the mirror in my studio. I will be looking at how other artists pose for self portraits.
I am not sure if I will continue the self portraits for the whole 365 days, but I will endeavour to continue for some time. One annoying thing is that these images are getting quicker to produce, or perhaps I am devoting far more time than I should be for a daily exercise that is meant to only last for 15-30 minutes.
The other aspect I have become interested in is embroidery and the internet. I will reflect on this in my journal and write this up later.
Detail of white paisley handkerchief
I have made samples in black and have almost completed a large white 'handkerchief' - the small square is an indication of the linen handkerchief. A studio shot of the larger pieces is below. I finished it a couple of weeks ago. Photographing it shows up a few problems with the work. I have placed a grey background to show up the textile but intend for a white background in the end. I keep writing in my journal about how I can push this further. So over the next few weeks I will be working back into this work.
I have continued my commitment of hand stitching each day. I post these on Instagram daily. Trying to find the right balance between writing in my journal and stitching has been more difficult than I thought. As stitching itself is meditative, I was finding that when I came to reflect in my journal I had little to say. I was so keen to embroider that I let this go for a few days. However, today I began my journal first thing before working into studio. I haven't picked up my hand embroidery and it is the end of a long day on machine stitching - the real work of the studio at the moment.
I feel quite vulnerable stitching and posting. I had trouble beginning the face, but bit the bullet and got on with it. What if it doesn't work out? And here I am showing my efforts each day to a growing audience.
When I began I was in a rush, or rather more of a panic to know what to stitch. Some others on Instagram (#1yearofstitches) who are participating, record small objects that were present inter day, others explore new stitches. Even though it is a portrait, I began by exploring a new stitch each day, but now I am doing the face I am concentrating on French knots. Maybe there is something in me that is still wanting to make it lifelike or self-like. I could have been more daring and free up my stitching for the face. I might give it a go later as i have a whole year to stitch.
I try to only do about 30 minutes or so. sometimes it is only 10 minutes. it is the commitment of posting each day that is the impetuous. I am really enjoying it. However, no stitching while watching sub-titled Nordic noir television. Below is Day 12. I haven't yet stitched today.
I had a great ending to the year both in the studio and outside the studio. I am currently in an exhibition Materialise at Sturt Galleries in Mittagong NSW. Towards the end of the year I had been working on some images made about darkness. I had been reading Edensor and Lorimer's paper "Landscapism" (2015). Here they note that darkness might be sought a a condition in which to experience mystery, enhanced non-viisla sensations and the night sky. They also talk about the loss of the experience of moonlight. Although the images shown are not outdoors, they are part of what I have been thinking about. I also have been reading Alain Badiou's book "Black".
For the new year I have begun hand stitching each day. I was inspired by artist Hannah Claire Somerville' ambitious project http://www.brwnpaperbag.com/1-year-of-stitches-2017/ I have drawn up a self portrait and will attempt to keep this up for the year. Although it is about the technical side of things, rather than content, it is a good meditation practise at the beginning of the day. I will show each day's stitching on my Instagram page along with the hash tags #1yearofstitches
I am finding that finishing work these days seems to be a longer process. Letting work hang on the walls for a longer time and really looking and being critical of the work has all changed the way I work these days. I have made a number of versions of this work and finally I have brought it together. I had work in the LoveLace exhibition at the Former Powerhouse Museum in Sydney and so visited a number of times. I still look at the catalogue. there were a number of pieces that were made out of metal. I haven't gone as far to make metal lace, although I do embroider with metal threads. But I have been looking at wire structures that are lace like. One is fencing. In this image of my sister Mary and my cousin Ruth they are walking along our front fence. One side was a bank of pink roses - so if you fell it could be pretty painful. the work I made is called Walking the Fence. I may continue with this piece but for now I am happy to put it away.
Last week I spent a few hours drawing at Lake Burley Griffin here in Canberra with some fellow artists. It has been a while since packing up a basket of watercolours, pencils, paper etc. It takes me quite a while to settle down and to look slowly at the environment. Despite the threatening clouds I managed to get some work done. Of course I seem to have an attraction for birds who like to menace me. I was once threatened by a big black swan at a small lake in Perth. When a black swan came sailing along it wanted to investigate what I was doing. However, there appeared to be more attraction to searching out the reeds for quite a while. So I switched my sketching from the reflections on the water to the swan.
Today in the studio I am translating the watercolours into textile pieces. I can see there are many ways I can proceed. So it looks like a lot of sampling needs to be done. My aim is to make lace pieces but this may change depending on how and where the experimentation leads.
On Saturday 5 Nov I led a group of 20 textile enthusiasts on a tour of artists' studios around Canberra and Queanbeyan. This was part of the Design Canberra Festival that is happening in Canberra during November. My thesis of my MA back in 1994 focussed on textile artists and their studios. At that time most textile artists worked at the kitchen table or had a space just off the living area of their house. None of the artists I interviewed were on this tour. It would be interesting study to follow up those artists and what they are doing now.
On our tour we visited Julie Ryder, Polly Crowden, Annie Trevillian, Ruby Berry and Monique van Nieuwland. We unfortunately ran out of time and only stayed around 15 minutes to hear each artist talk about their work. I opened my studio for those that were interested after the tour.
I have observed that now far more artists have designated studios. It is fascinating to see how things have changed for artists in the last 20 years or so. As well far more artists work to support themselves and their practice. They also have a far more professional outlook.
On Saturday 29th October and 12 November I am taking part in a pop up exhibition during the Design Canberra Festival in an architect designed house in Dickson, ACT. The SG House was designed by Architect Ben Walker. The work exhibited is from my Walking the Camino series. This will also be on show and for sale in the exhibition Materialise at the Sturt Galleries in Mittagong, NSW opening in December. Along with me in the pop up exhibition is Suzanne Knight (tapestry and gouaches) and Dimity Kidson (tapestry and ceramics). The first Saturday we had over 200 people come through the house
What started off as just a technical experiment with different fabrics to use in the next piece of work ended up a little more complex. The patterns I had cut out were simple paisley shapes that originated from Indian motif 'both' - tear. I then started using cursive text as pattern. I felt like I was an entomologist pinning out insects. I think the pinning out took as long as the embroidering. It will be interesting once the pins are removed. But just at this moment I was pretty excited has they appear to have held together.
I need to now play around working with white on black or white on white.
Today has been a glorious day in the garden and it felt like time to have a look around to see what is happening. I had a go at drawing with just a white chalk on black paper. Many of the design for lace in Italy that I saw last year were drawn in this way. The white lines formed the design for the lace. While my drawings are much heavier that fine lace lines they still have the potential for textiles.
Currawongs in laceRead More