Autumn Flower drawing Class

Following on from the successful Drawing Day in June at Court House Farm The RWA ( Royal West of England Academy) Drawing School organised another Autumn Flowers day. But due to the ultra dry summer the flowers were not so abundant as the spring crop…my solution: select just 3 big bunches of different flowers in vintage vases with a toning striped runner and everyone would be able to draw all 3 during the day

In at the deep end. I asked the class to choose a table to sit at and draw the whole display in front of them…in 20 minutes!

Tall and elegant autumnal shades…and in contrast below – hot clashing colours!

and then massive and majestic….

only 2 people attempted this vase and were somewhat overwhelmed by the abundance! So we started again by choosing another section of the bouquets and making some rather more detailed drawings – now things were starting to develop.

BUT so far no-one had even attempted the fabric specially chosen to be drawn with the colours already used in the flowers……so after lunch I changed things over and added another arrangement – now we start drawing with the fabric!!!!

And in the process we even got vases.

For the last session I relented and asked them to choose just 1 flower/branch/leaf from all the masses of materials and to place it next to their drawing boards and make a study – I usually start my drawing sessions like this – and I may return to this method for my next drawing flowers session in November….

Drawing English garden Flowers

Court House Farm cutting garden , Sweet Peas and Opium Poppies, and the parish church next door.

A perfect English summer’s day in June, and here we are for an RWA drawing school class: Drawing Flowers at Court House Farm. I have 12 people to introduce my own tried and trusted drawing methods of capturing the colours and forms of a bunch of flowers – well that is the morning’s workshop…try my way and see how/if it works for you – if it doesn’t you have at least learnt this method doesn’t work for you! *

Helen Read the owner and designer of the cutting garden had, that morning, hand picked a selection of flowers in differently coloured bunches, and they were waiting in the large open barn for the students to choose from.

Then back to their tables to start the class…..

I wanted to quickly establish my basic advice to get everyone started, so that I could assess how best to help each student individually…the class had been pitched at all levels of drawing experience, including absolute beginners, and a mixed group they certainly were. But fascinating to work with.

I started by asking each person to choose their favourite item from the bunch, write at the top of the page what had made them choose it, then draw it in full colour on a large sheet of white paper using only the media I had stipulated for the course, pastel crayons, pastel sticks, watercolours….

The students ranged from a few complete beginners to people who may never had tackled flowers in this way before, but who obviously were experienced enough to adapt their own methods to my strictures. I kept visiting each table and discussing the drawings – either suggesting to them to move on or to really look more carefully at the details and colour. Mixing colours together to get exactly the right shade and tone is a major skill to develop for drawing what you see.

Some people are quick and make bold statements with bravado..others take a long time and seem very nervous of showing the results and most often people who are nervous draw small. I always advise people find their own size and pace for their drawings. I think it is a fundamental concern for developing your own work

After a short lunch break, I asked them to draw the whole bunch, either building on the knowledge gained in the morning for the beginners, or just doing their own thing; hopefully there would be a mixture of the 2 ways of working.

The results were as varied as the students themselves…

The lessons in developing colours certainly had been taken on by everyone. At the end of the day everyone put out all their drawings around the barn and we all enjoyed a really good look at what had been achieved -a true mixture of different visions of what they had put in front of them – truly observational drawing but with character of either the flowers but often the maker.

and then an image of a student just enjoying the day…almost as much as I did!

*I was taken at my word and one of the group decided to leave at lunchtime saying he had learnt that it wasn’t for him…and as I have been requested to crop out an image of one of the participants for reasons of anonymity I am not giving the list of the participants….privacy needs to be respected.

Flowers for Our Times:

Over the past few years I have been intending to start selling giclee printed versions of my personal stitched work. The latest pigment prints available are unbelievably faithful in reproducing my finely stitched work…but where to start? Flowers – where else? I determined to develop some new flower embroideries for this venture.

Following on from revisiting my old research books and past work, I decided incorporate the flower embroideries with the Kantha stitched skies as in After Winifred. I took a beautiful bunch of dahlias and held them against a large scale Kantha Stitched sky in progress on my studio wall. I had been brought the flowers by Helen Reed, who owns Court House Farm and runs a seasonal cutting garden amongst other ventures. And where I hold drawing sessions in the summer months.

I also eventually started to work on an idea taken from a rare photograph of my garden Hellebores in a vase and in front of my scarf design of Hellebore flower heads. What is odd is that while Hellebores are one of my most favourite flowers, am not keen on Dahlias and did find myself reluctantly stitching them onto a small version of the Kantha sky. Below are the first 2 prints in the series Flowers For Our Times, on the left is Dahlias, on right, Hellebores

Reflecting on the Dahlias and Hellebore pieces (made between winter 2021 to early 2022) I felt as if I had made a definite link between my old and new work in order to make the really vivid giclee prints, available soon at Heart Space Editions. But although technically demanding, using the new Inktense dyes from Derwent, I decided that this was not the way forward that I had imagined it would be.

I returned again to my early flower work and re-read the catalogue of my exhibition of Flora’s Legacy, held in Bath in 2000 ( yes – so many years ago!!!!!) and realised exactly what was missing – symbolism – or the half hidden messages often contained within these earlier works.The centre-piece from the exhibition, Flora – the Roman goddess of flowers, had what was missing from my new works…the hidden meanings and humour – here some blackish, bawdy humour.

Turning to the many and various dictionaries of symbols I keep in the studio library I thought I would invent a bunch of flowers instead. The meanings of plants and flowers are universal and every culture has its own beliefs, sometimes conflicting – sometimes they are entirely in agreement: a poisonous plant is a poisonous plant. Out of curiosity I checked what the 2 bunches meant adding, the meanings to my original studies…..

I must admit that I was shocked, relieved, delighted and then excited to find that I had embroidered War, Scandal, Uncertainty, Instability and Sickness within 2 pretty bunches of flowers. But everyone else around me was spooked. So – they asked – where did I get this information from? Well in my books of symbolism, the most curious and confusing is The Language of Flowers – but oh the possibilities that it offers for mixed messages and hidden warnings amuse me enough to keep going with this theme.

Using just my old folders and Victorian books of flower meanings lead me to a brand new fully comprehensive dictionary by S. Theresa Dietz – published by Wellfleet Press, and the here I discovered far more arcane information than I had gleaned from my all my original sources.

So now what to do next – can you guess?

returning to my sketchbooks

first page of my reborn Flora research/sketchbook – Flowers Again!

Recently, the “After Winifred” embroidery has inspired me to develop work to use as Giclee prints in order to add a fresh way of getting my work ‘out there’. I turned to my old Flora workbook, some 20+years old – but still alive for me as a source of inspiration.

I found some empty pages at the end of the old book and started to collate recent samples and drawings of bunches of flowers grown and made up at Court House Farm, where I conduct drawing workshops, using the cutting garden as inspiration.

looking back at my Flora work, which is 3 dimensional and very heavily embroidery, I now want a freer drawn imagery to stitch into. So I bought some Derwent Inktense pencils that basically act as dyes when wetted and left to dry – I did many samples but found my drawings had too much information in them – I needed to loosen up further. Ha ha – the story of my working life!

To enable me to play easily with the new ink crayons I chose an old set of drawing research and photographs to work with. The colours of the crayons are very brilliant and I needed to find ways of making more subtle colours, so stippling, cross hatching and dotting colours one over another made for rich but softer ground colours – these techniques are still a work in progress. Below are 2 studies of the under drawings using pencil dyes ready to be stitched

Meanwhile I have been looking at all my old flowery finished works and their drawings to use as reference and then reframing/remounting stitched pieces ready for the printers.

the little Hellebore image above is my first Giclee print and the smallest at 30cms/12inches square.

Rainbow Flowers – after winifred?

Here I am on my birthday in July with the posy that would change my work

For several months, since March, I have been working on a new stitched sky – an image combining 2 photographs, the first of a wonderful brooding grey sky with different shades either side of the bow, and another of Denney Island in leaf in the middle of the Severn Estuary, they were made during different spring-times and are rare sights so I wanted to capture them.

As usual I got going quickly and decided to work by drawing onto photographs of the emerging work using photoshop…well it partly worked – but really it is always better for me to work directly from my drawn ideas. Nevertheless I quickly layered fine silk chiffons onto the sky and sea areas adding several layers of shot cottons and a brilliant green silk georgette for the salt marsh – to enhance the curious green foliage on Denney Island

I worked on the piece for several weeks, well 2 months an and off, putting in and pulling out the rainbow – it proved hard to get it to glow but not become a garish boring band of colours: I wanted this rainbow to be part of the sky, not sit on top of it.

I was working at the same time on my patchwork room so needed some distraction from the finishing -off chores. BUT I was getting no-where with this rainbow , so put it away and started reading instead.

my favourite read was “My Name is Red” by Orhan Pamuk, as it is at heart a treatise on how “Persian” book illustrations where developed by different studios of specialised artists, and how trade with the West, notably Venice, brought in the whole notion of realistic images using perspective and observation of the real people and landscapes. I found several books in my shelves and spent hours just enjoying the exuberance of the work: I was definitely on the side of the symbolic flat pattern making of the illustrators – I realised that I was too hung up showing what I saw in the natural world not what I see in my head. I decided to add some decorative fabrics to my work and searched for some symbolic

I stated to realise that I could rekindle the rainbow embroidery with extra patterned fabrics – my old silk fabrics were dragged out and I found my drawings of Iris for the Flora Embroideries, she was the messenger of the Greek gods and of course the rainbow……things started to feel interesting again.

THEN I received this lovely posy on my birthday from my friend and colleague Jane-Marie Mahy she had bought it at Court House Farm and I drew it.

During my break from the stitched sky, I also bought a book about the wonderful paintings by Winifred Nicholson, “Liberation of Colour” – initially because of her interest in painting colour prisms, but it was the flowers and the looseness fo the paint that I admired most

and then it was so obvious what I had to do with the rainbow sky – embroider the posy and applique it onto the Kantha stitched sky….easy peasy – not!

above the initial embroidery coloured ground is painted onto a fine cotton fabric, checked for size before continuing to be stitched into position onto the stitched sky.

And here it is – the finished work ” After Winifred” stretched and about to be bound with velvet ribbon and off to the printers to make an edition of giclee prints for sale in time for Court House Farm’s open garden event, Art in the Garden where I am exhibiting and talking about the making of the Kantha Stitched Skies for The Portishead Art Festival.

My Patchwork Quilted Room – Da Da.

Here is the open door into my completed ( well just a few more pictures to put up) patch-work room, using fabrics from the Kaffe Fassett Collective. It has taken 6 months to achieve. I started 2020 during the last Covid 19 lockdown in England and we are still not entirely unlocked mid way through 2021.

I aim to take you around the room to see how it all has come together, here the door from the porch has a vitreous enamelled finger plate – now I want to make more of these for inside the room…the enamelled fireplace can be seen with our old furniture and carpets safely back into place.

turning left is the view into the small panelled room, our 2 Irish Terriers and the enamelled fire surround – see previous post for making this….luckily my much loved vintage Deco glass shade tones perfectly…now how did that happen?

Above are 3 views of the chimney corner with 2 different totally different Flag representations. the row of flags at the sea side is an old painting by Stephen Jacobson next to a ghostly silk organza flag by Nigel Hurlstone. this piece of work proved pivotal for me to see how the room could hang together using cooler colours

Once we had started to put the room back together our 2 Irish terriers, Maeve and Murphy took a particular if very relaxed interest in it.

I found on Ebay a beautiful discounted Zoffany silk striped fabric and bought enough to make 4 very large padded curtains for the big Victorian windows in the room. The fabric cost me about 4 times the amount I had spent on the rest of the room…but they work well once I had trimmed them with some vintage woven ribbon that I over – dyed to suit the colour of the paintwork – as you do! And then I found these mazing brass tie backs on-line at my favourite store for just about everything decorative, Anthropology.

Continuing around the room…

In the the corner between the windows hangs an old (and much loved by me) painting by my husband, Stephen Jacobson, of my father’s greenhouse that he built in my family’s garden on the Wirral in north west of England.

From the photographs I have posted so far it is hard to see that the patchworks are all padded and quilted, but it is evident that my ‘in the ditch’ sewing notbetter placed than my hammering in the copper tacks that fasten the fabric to the battens. On the tiled table is a flowery flower vase by Tean Kirby.

the opposite end of the room to the fireplace with the bay window looking out on the overgrown garden

one of a pair of window seats with an old canvas work cushion sample and the luxurious silk curtains and brass tie backs. Then to the other new thing I bought for the room – the glamorous mauve velvet mini chaise – from a TK Maxx sale!!!!!! Well I had to balance the spend on the curtains.

Coming Into Port – Stephen Jacobson

Above is ‘ Coming Into Port’ – I leapt on this for the room when it came back early from a “closed for Covid” exhibition and it fitted perfectly. Basically our house serves as a venue for our joint work. I made the large cushion especially – it uses all the major colours of the room, and in fact the whole house, in my wonky version of Flame Stitch; and I have been commissioned to make a design from this by Ehrman Tapestry so look out for it next year if you stitch canvas cushions.

So here we are at the porch door again – and the gingers are waiting for us – well actually for Stephen with the biscuits to get them to pose….

and that is it – at last after so long – finished enough for people to see it – with the doors and windows open and only 4 visitors at a time!

My Covid Project: Patchwork Enamel Fireplace

The patchwork walls are almost completed, just some finessing needed so time to think of the fire grate. We measure carefully and then cut 20 copper tiles ready to be decorated – using my favourite Drawn Threadwork stencils. I started to scribble lots of ‘back of the envelope’ ideas as to design layouts – but decided to just make the stencils and then see how they best worked together.

An assortment of design, scribbled ideas for the enamelled copper tiles ideas

I found a small table cloth ( in my stash) with very large scaled drawn thread-work embroidery that would be suitable for this making many variations from just 2 basic designs. I needed 2 stencils one square for the corners of the grate and a striped version for the longer lengths. Initially I thought it needed to be made larger to fit the cut copper tiles so I had to extend the stencil. I appliqued extra pieces of embroidery, using a machine for strength (for when it is stretched on a frame) then cut away the linen beneath it.

meanwhile the rest of the copper tiles have been cut and checked for how they fit together – like everything else in this very old house nothing it straight or even.

i had wanted to verdigris the tiles but decided to stick with what I knew, so I started sampling the enamelling colours. It is a few years sinceI have enamelled anything but remember the colours that will best look like verdigris – I match the pale greens and blues to a naturally verdigris copper strip I found in the studio

samples of copper enamel colours to make a similar effect to the real verdigris copper strip, the first set of hearth tiles placed in position for deciding the final design

after the gas stove had been replaced in its original position, I continued to adhere the top set of tiles in their allotted places. They make a very uneven but harmonic set of colours…so then I needed to re-paint the surrounding columns and wooden skirting to blend in with the rest of the room.

finally I ran around the house searching for the pieces I could put on the new mantlepiece – my old mirrored glass candle holders fit in very well. The small separate enamelled strips of copper are leftovers from cutting the tiles, plus anything else I could find in the studio that could be fired with the remains of the vitreous enamel colours – real make do and mend patch-working.

My next post will show the whole room complete with art works, cushions and flowers!

My Covid Project – Getting There:

Sunday 7th March : Downstairs sitting room

So, by the beginning of March I had at last finished stitching all the patchwork panels, and between long bouts of quilting them, I managed to paint all the woodwork and window reveals in the sitting room.

Sunday 7th April : Upstairs studio

I had decided to make a strippy quilt for the chimney wall, partly to save time but really to overcome the problem of awkward door frames and lots of corners. I calculated the width of the strips on each wall, even taking into account my inexact machine sewing I managed to get them fairly evenly spaced. Well 4 cans of spray starch and a hot iron helped.

I seem to be a lot better at stretching the panels than I am at machine sewing them. We decided to work around the room from the least visible area. I wanted the walls to look like a total piece of fabric or a massive quilt that is just wrapped around the walls like a cocoon – but I had to make some adjustments to the finishing as things progressed….we sort of started with a vague plan trusting to nouse to see us through…..Things were beginning to take shape but I soon hit a construction problem, my errant stitching had made some of the panels far too big and they needed to be trimmed after stretching and folding, securing them neatly was difficult now that they were padded.

Above, the edges of the panels are secured with iron-on fusible web tape and staples to vertical battens before stretching across the entire wall. Then the diamond corners are further secured to horizontal battens with copper tacks.

The large window wall panel was joined to the alcove panel to assist tight and neat stretching into the corner- making it up as we go along!

Having negotiated the large wall panel I now assessed the look of what we had covered so far but was still concerned about the strength of pattern overwhelming everything else in the room ( we have very faded vintage furniture, carpets and fabrics in the house and I did not want to start making new covers and buying more carpets). I tried to think of ways to make the patterns less brilliant… I remembered a patchwork organza flag made by my old colleague and friend, Nigel Hurlstone. It was in a massive pale oak frame, sadly too wide for this alcove, I removed the flag and held it in front of the bright wall, the central stripe was the same size as the strips – it was meant to be.

I asked his permission for showing this de-framed (but as he gave this to me as a present for helping him decorate his first flat about 15 years ago) I thought he may agree and he did. The thing is that the addition of this piece of work suddenly changed the atmosphere of the room, it became more relaxed and so did I!

Over the next 2 weeks we worked our way around the whole room stretching, stapling, tapping copper tacks, while dealing with light switches and plugs using a combination of glues, bondaweb strips, an iron and spray starch.

finally the room is covered, just one last strip to join it all together – under the window. Now to start finishing, covering the staples with wooden picture rails and skirting boards and quadrant in the corners. BUT before we finally put the mirror back into position I write this dedication on the chimney breast -I am hoping it will be many many years before this house is sold and some one else uncovers it!

and here I am again before sorting out the rest of the room – flag in place and now to make tiles for the fireplace and then there are the curtains……possibly one more post ?

Cold Feet

It is the last day of February and have been working for 2 months making my patchwork wall coverings. When I started this blog I vowed to show the journey of the work that I design and make – to explain the problems and possibly the solutions……but this latest project has been keeping me awake and I am still not certain that I will get it sorted and onto the sitting room walls. I am suffering a severe case of Cold Feet!

After I had stitched a wall full of the original design I kept feeling that there was just too much going on – all those colours and stripes and collisions of patterns (all the things I normally love) just looked like porridge – multi coloured porridge – something had to go….What went was the yellow stripes – leaving me with Mauve, Blue and Green strips – this took quite a lot of grief and several days ( and nights) to decide to change things – somehow the well-honed critical faculty I use for all projects, professional as well as personal, has deserted me during lockdown. But once I had pulled apart the original piece and made another wall-full, things started to look possible. I made another design chart this time with repeating patterns built in – once a textile designer…….

the new highly coloured “working drawings” for the main sitting room walls

Things get back on track by mid January – the first panel is on the studio wall padded and quilted using the new walking-foot on my favourite old Bernina sewing machine.

By February the work gets properly underway – a whole stitched wall – full – but still very uncertain about this entire idea.

I try these first panels around the room seeing how the whole thing will look – trying to imagine it without those brilliant pink walls is hard…and how will it look behind all our pictures – yikes – it really needs to accommodate paintings and other art works that cover every other wall of this house…I start to realise that what it needs is more GREEN.

Trying the panels on other sitting room walls – it needs more GREEN to reflect the garden

back to photoshop to play with a version of favourite “Green Blue” or is it Blue Green” by Farrow and Ball which is used throughout the house

I decide that if all else fails the patchworks will look lovely in one of the bedrooms. But this still leaves us the problem of the damp disfigured walls and meanwhile the rest of room is being demolished …. did I mention we are cutting and making verdigris copper tiles for the fireplace?