Left Hand Drawing

first left hand drawing
this is the first drawing with my left hand, compare quality of drawing to writing!

Practice What You Preach, is a good motto to live by: so soon after I broke my right wrist, I decided to start drawing with my left hand – as left or  weaker hand drawing is one the basic exercises that I often employ when teaching drawing to a group of nervous beginners as it levels out the drawing ability of everyone.

As you can see I decided to make linear observational drawings of the very thing that was ruling my life, the cast, sling and inert fingers of my right hand, also it would stay in position until I was finished. The first drawing took more than an hour to complete – a really long time for an A4 page of black and white line work. I used a propelling pencil, the first thing to hand, so the range of marks was restricted – but this turned out to be a useful restriction.

This first drawing has all the hallmarks of a weak drawing having been revised – I decided to make a continual line drawing, ie not taking my hands off the page as I seemed to have lost the innate sense of proportion enjoyed with my right hand, I couldn’t trust my judgement of angles and distances between the elements of the hand and arm. When I had finished the first lower drawing it looked really weak and wobbly and lost on the page, so I filled in the background of the scarf – this took a lot of time, my left hand has no strength and the shading looked scribbled instead of nuanced to describe the density of the fabric and the contours of the folds. Then I drew a line drawing of the first drawing, I was surprised that these clumsy drawings do sill look like my work…drawing is like handwriting.

second left hand drawing
my second sling line drawing

The second drawing appears simpler because I had more confidence after drawing for an hour and I used an eraser as a drawing tool – a very blunt instrument in my left hand. Still keeping the continuous line as a discipline this study suffers from overdrawing – a thing I absolutely hate in anyone’s drawing . The second firmer line that covers the first attempt is invariably clumsy and the drawing looks stilted ( see fingers); better a light wispy drawing than a second deader line. But even the writing is a bit more controlled. I also began to change the way of describing the fabrics, the dotted lines are my version of the crepe bandage.

third left hand drawing
my third drawing – sleeping terriers.

Deciding on making descriptive pencil marks rather than the continuous line drawings, the next day I embarked on drawing my dogs. I was confined to the sitting room to keep my arm still and propped above my heart to try to alleviate the bruising, and they had taken to settling down in front of the fire where they snoozed all day, although they often just got up and walked away mid drawing.  The full length sleeping dog drawing above looks exactly like my dog Daisy, but not at all like my usual drawings.

I have written frustrated comments around the page – “line easier than shading” but I was finding that shading with a softer drawing pencil meant that I had very little control of the angle of the point – it was like drawing while looking in a mirror. The lines are fuzzy with the pencil lead wearing down quickly as I worked, I was unable to manipulate a sharpener – let alone a knife. The surface is getting rubbed with my left arm as I work and looks really lifeless.When using pencils I rely on the range of different tones available from even an HB pencil – but they rely on pressure to make them.

forth terrier drawing
Daisy lying down

Reverting to the propelling pencil I attempted to make a more linear study of the dog’s fur; the way it grows is one the most interesting things to draw. I tried to add shading to the line without resorting to smudging and rubbing to get darker marks, but my left hand does not have the strength of my right to press down for a blacker thicker line. Again this drawing seems clumsy because of how I chose to make my marks I simply can’t use many of the refined marks available with my right hand. I reverted to my line drawings – they made me feel better!

line drawing terrier head
my reversion to line drawing for Boysie’s head.

Now this really started me thinking about how I relate to my drawings, they aren’t just a useful tool to free the ideas in my head – although this is their most useful service to me; they actually explain the world I see to me and to everyone else who cares to look – they are the most direct and personal extension of me. I have spent a long time (way over the 10,000 hours required to make a craft skill second nature to the maker)  developing a fluent style of drawing, almost shorthand, that enables me to both understand what I see and/or imagine. Look at my drawings and you will see who else I am – beyond the person in front of you – and they are how I want to be seen. Heck!

head of sleeping terrier
more recent left hand drawing of Boysie’s sleeping head

2 weeks on and I have started drawing the dogs again. My right hand, still in the cast, has some movement but it is too painful to use often. The drawing of the sleeping terrier above is a fair portrait of Boysie and also my line has become more descriptive. I am learning to make smaller studies, not expect too much – must remember to deal with details when teaching beginners.

Sleeping terrier
Daisy asleep on Sofa next to me. using both left and right hands

Although these drawings are still very clumsy to my mind and painfully slow to make  – they are of my scraggy terriers and friends can recognise them individually. The sleeping dogs above were both started with my right hand, I mapped out the whole area to be drawn first using my right hand, you can just see the outline. Now whether my belief in the outline made me feel more secure to use my left hand to work the details or whether using my left hand for the last month has given me more control I do not know – but these are drawings that do not look like they are made with the weaker hand.

But just so that you can see  the model that I worked from, enabling you to judge if I am back to my fluent line – here is Daisy still asleep long after I had finished the study above.

sleeping dog daisy
my dog daisy – still asleep

There are all sorts of things written about drawing with your weaker hand – you are more in touch with your inner being, using the opposite side of the brain unearths alternative visions etc. All I have to say is that it is very slow, very demoralising to begin with and completely exhausting – just like learning to draw with your strong hand!

Embroidering a Child’s Drawing

Rainbow painting by Lola aged 4 years

Everyone loves children’s art – either drawings or paintings; the pictures always have such energy and capture the spirit of the thing depicted – real or imagined. So when a visitor, Nadia Lanman, came to Heart Space Studios,  to view my exhibition of  ‘Mending Mottoes’ and asked if I would be interested in a commission to stitch one of her daughter’s drawings, I accepted at once – thinking “this is a challenge”


I asked to see several paintings and drawings so that we could make a decision which to depict, and really to see how difficult a challenge it would be. The price was also considered at this initial point as this was a thank-you and leaving present for the nursery school that 4-year-old Lola was leaving to go onto her primary school. Nadia brought in several, some simple line drawings and some full-on paintings. It became clear that Nadia really liked the rainbow painting (at the top of the post), water-colour paint on sugar paper…so typical of all children’s art – this was going to be a real challenge! It is one thing to stitch drawings but poster paint loaded on with energy ?

When we discussed pricing the piece I advised Nadia to go and buy a frame to keep the costs down; framing is really important but can be extremely costly, so I suggested choosing an A4 size as this was roughly the scale of the drawing papers that she had shown me – and an A size frame is easy to access; I promised her I would customise the frame if necessary.

Meanwhile I set about sampling the way to achieve the full-on colour.

first colour samples on shot pink silk

The first thing to research was the background colour, I found a  yellow and pink shot silk fabric, that was about the same colour but slightly brighter than the sugar paper, this would save me having to dye the fabric – but how to get some background colour onto it first before I stitched it? i tried fabric paints but when dry it was like stitching hard leather. I needed the rainbow coloured in so I would not have to completely cover the ground with hand stitches – too time consuming, too expensive.

iron-on fabric dyes in pastel form
selecting thread colours to match paint

The next thing was to choose the threads. I had decided to stitch the whole piece in running stitches, this is the first stitch everyone ever learns to sew and it always looks both simple and innocent, so is a fitting choice for embroidering  children’s art. Also I have used it a lot in my recent work, particularly when embroidering writing. I did think at this stage that machine embroidery would have been quicker to achieve the impression of saturated colour, but I am not a happy machine stitcher and  felt that the mechanical aspect wasn’t in keeping with the subject; simple hand stitching was really the perfect technique to choose

I tried several yarns, silk and cotton and cottons and eventually chose a mixture of both, whatever would suit the paint colours.

directional stitching sample for rainbow and writing

I had photocopied the drawing and reduced the scale, to fit the frame, and to keep my fee as low as possible. I then drew onto this the direction of the paint brush, actually showing how Lola had swept the paint onto the paper, the lines would become running stitches, but first I had to sort out the message that Nadia wanted to send to the teachers on Lola’s behalf.  “thankyou for my wings love Lola xx”

cut out photocopy and writing placement for the working drawing.

I had asked Nadia to get Lola to write it on a separate sheet of paper and then I traced it into position onto the photocopy – previously I had cut out the photocopy to gauge where to put the writing – a copy of this became my working drawing…..I have my own arcane ways of getting there!

dye stick coloured ground running stitched to copy brush stroke directions

I found this stitching really interesting, it had to be kept simple but needed to show the rhythm of the painted bands. Sadly the pastel once that it had been ironed to fix it was a bit too dull – but hey ho – it helped things go smoothly and quickly. What also helped was to draw the directional lines straight onto the dyed areas with a water-soluble pen to keep a track of the flow, they can be seen on the yellow band above. The last thing to do was to stitch the message again in running stitches, then wash and stretch the work and mount it in the frame.


finished and stretched embroidery

I so enjoyed this relatively simple stitched commission ( in comparison to the recent Thangka) that I thought it would be a good idea to run a class and now that I have sorted out how to express the rhythms and colours of paintings I think that I can show other people how to embroider their own children’s drawings – they would make great presents for anyone in the family. And when I told Nadia how her commission had inspired me to develop a new class, she immediately signed up for it!

Beading a Face

Heart Space Studios has been host to a fascinating set of artists this week, Native Americans who are exhibiting their work at an exhibition called Messengers 2012 at Rainmaker, a Bristol gallery specialising in native art from south west America, mainly jewellry, but also prints, sculpture, paintings and textiles. Rain maker hired the studios for 2 events, a master class in bead-work “Making a Face” by Marcus Amerman, and also for a day of lectures given by several other artists in the exhibition, all of whom are renowned makers and scholars.

Marcus lecturing with an image of one of his beaded pieces, Indian Country

Marcus Amerman is an innovator in Photo-Realism in bead-work; he demonstrated how to develop a portrait in beads from a photograph, a technique that updates the bead-work tradition of Native Americans, where the beading is largely used for ceremonial costumes. He showed how the portraits can be used for personal adornment as brooches, pendants or bracelets.

selection of beaded pieces, including a bracelet and a money clip

He started the class by showing a selection of his work and several books to illustrate various aspects of the craft traditions he has used in his career as an artist. He was born in Phoenix Arizona to an Eastern European father and a Native American mother and is a member of the Choctaw nation. The bead-work tradition that he practices is, however,  a specialism of the Hopi nation and his brother- in- law is a Hopi man – so this is where and he feels he has been influenced to adopt this beading method.

American books showing contemporary arts and crafts

He talked at length about duality within his work, and how beading, for him,  embodies both masculine and feminine attributes; the beaded ceremonial pieces worn are by men to show strength and dominance, defying the world –  but are made by women who “embrace the world” by their skills.  He also spoke of when he teaches this class to women who stitch traditional bead-work on reservations, how they invariably make very personal portraits of their own children so they can wear them everyday.

Like all the Artists that Rainmaker exhibits Marcus mixes different cultures within his work; he uses imagery from  films, fashion, other crafts all bound together in a figurative manner that can make varied visions from popular culture to subtle political statements.

Salma Hayek in Dusk Till Dawn beaded onto a passport holder.

 He also makes clothes and costumes for his performance art and first started embroidering and beading his denim jackets when he was a young man – he still wears beads today, and practices several different crafts including enamel and kiln fired glass. I really admire the way that whatever Marcus makes, be it a passport holder, note clip or a subversive art work, he is at ease with himself and his chosen media and message.

Marcus’ beaded belt and trousers

What I did find surprising about his work, having only seen it in books before, was its small scale  –  it looks monumental when illustrated, but it is full of detail, pattern and colour – you can hold it in your hands and it is a glinting, brilliant, faceted  fabric…. truly remarkable.

Now to the workshop – Marcus started everyone beading by first introducing them to the tiny beads he had brought with him and the smallest needles I have ever seen. They were stored in an animal hide needle case outlined in beads, the needle were sized from 11 – 13 and were very fine and very short for a beading needle.

hide needle case adorned with beads.
tiny needles in a hand made case

He brought 7 shades of blue beads to use for the faces and a length of each colour was given to everyone. Next they had to learn how to map out the facial contours for each shade, staring with the darkest tone. He gave everyone the same photograph to work with, stating with the darkest tone of blue they had to draw in all 7 tones.

seven shades of blue beads for tones of face

The image that was given to the students was a photographic  portrait of another of Rainmaker’s artists, Shonto Beday, a Navaho painter and print-maker, who has work in the current exhibition as well. Each person had to draw around or shade in each isolated contour of the face – the results are so entirely different and you can see at once how everyone has their own way of seeing and perceiving.

picture of a student’s daughter with the coloured drawing contour guide

I really like these drawings, they make such an impact and clearly show that even when working from the same photograph everyone has a different perception and interpretation entirely of their own.

Now the students had to start stitching their own images, with only the contour map for a tonal guide – BUT not before they were shown the technique for stitching the beads straight onto the photographs in a spiral pattern. The photographs had been prepared for this by bonding them onto a specially reinforced paper backing made by brushing a thin card with several coats of a bonding solution.

Marcus draws the stitch diagram for the spiral beading.

The method of attaching the beads ensures an even and straight line of beads that can be manipulated around shallow and eventually tight bends – if you get the tension right.

Beading the photograph starts from outside the face

The maker than has to use their own judgement when to change the tones in the row of 6 beads – so that they cover the face exactly. Not so easy as it first appears. And now it becomes obvious why the beads have to be so tiny. And just one bead needs to be stitched to show the bright reflective point in the eye – this gives the face life…and Marcus says that every beader he has ever taught uses a different colour  or type of bead to represent this point.

I am hoping to show some of the finished pieces at a later date….meanwhile I am trying hard to stop myself from going into my studios and trying my own version of this technique – I will wait till I have an idea that suits the system as it has a lots of potential for enriching my fabric enamel work

Auricula Theatre

Flora Exhibition catalogue cover – Holburne Museum. Bath 2000

In an effort to be topical with the spring here at last, I am posting another of my Flora Embroideries, the Auricula Theatre. A strange idea to display flowers in such an artificial setting, I just had to embroider it – but needed quite a bit of help. In fact after the initial sampling I left the embroidery of all the dozens of tiny petals to my then assistant, Debbie Cripps, and a beautiful job she made of them. All I had to do was design and assemble the whole edifice.

Auricula Theatre illustration by John Farleigh

The theatres actually did exist and originally for a purpose other than display, the curious colours of some of the flowers is due to a farina or flour like substance that coats the leaves and petals giving  them a white or silvery appearance and it can be washed away by rain – so the earliest flowers were often placed under protective coverings. I became intrigued by the auriculas having seen them at spring flower shows – not in theatres but in simple plant pots; even in local church halls they really attract attention – they just don’t look real, they look like someone has painted them in strange colours with stripes and edgings of greens and white and yellows, they look like a child’s drawing of a flower.

black and white auricula at a local flower show

And when they are displayed in modern theatres their various markings can be truly appreciated

modern Auricula theatre

So I set about making one for myself, to become a permanent display. I arranged several of my photographs form the various shows I attended into a staged setting, then set about trying to embroider them.


show photographs arranged as theatre display

first I needed to draw them before I could start to stitch them.

first pastel drawings of flower heads

at first I tried to paint in the backgrounds, really to make things easier and quicker….

painted dye on linen ground with embroidered edgings

They looked OK but didn’t really have the intensity that the real things had, show auriculas look like imploded flowers so intense is their colouring  and perfectly symmetrical their form. I realised that I had to make similar intense embroideries. I started by embroidering individual petals..

my hand stitched samples of individual petals

I decided to try coloured grounds to make life a little easier.

different ground fabric samples

I used gauzes and fine silk grounds so that the made up flowers would not be too heavy but it was a bit of an awesome task even with help with the stitching.

after giving the fabrics and my working samples to my assistant I set to work to develop the theatre.

initial drawing for the embroidered theatre

I know that this drawing is really simple and childlike but it was enough to get me started – I soon realised I had to make a 3D embroidery, so the curtains were  lined and draped and the canopy was held above and projected out beyond the flowers, it was ribbon worked exactly as 17th century embroidered bed hangings.  The earliest auricuals were grown by Flemish silk weavers and eventually shown in special competitions were prizes were awarded, usually a silver cup or spoon. The Flemish silk weavers introduced them into England as early as the 17th century  – so I decided to have curtains made from woven silk brocade that features auriculas ( you can’t say I am not thorough in my research)!

pure silk brocade featuring auricula flowers

The finished embroidery is very 3 dimensional and is densely stitched and draped, it is the one piece of work that everyone wants to buy, probably because it featured on the poster for the exhibition at the Holburne museum in Bath where the whole set of Flora embroideries were first shown in this country. This was in 2000 so this is really old work now – but making this piece made me decide that I needed to start to develop new types of work using different media or techniques or both, this heavy stitched surface is too time-consuming and therefore too costly to sell except to a committed collector or dare I say it – museum? and I have decided not to separate the pieces because they tell a story of how, through trying to perfect nature we can go horribly wrong. I had stitched myself into a corner but I still had quite a few more pieces to complete The Flora set of work.

completed Auricula Theatre


Fingers and arms lasered for translucent vellum

I have become fascinated by skin as a material to work with. This has come about, no doubt, by my recent project to develop a piece of work for Pairings II for the Stroud International Textile exhibition. I used a huge skin that had been prepared as vellum – or parchment –  a hide, possibly reindeer in this case, treated in such a way as to make a smooth, hard, fine grained surface after removing the pelt, either  fur or  hair – don’t let’s forget that all animal leather and suede is simply skin with the fur or hair shaved off.

coloured drawing, dyed, stitched and lasered onto vellum

What is really exciting me about working with vellum is that I can draw onto it as well as stitch into it. There are other things to do with it as well but drawing and stitching really are the backbone of my textile practice, and here is a new material redolent with all sorts of symbolism that I can start to mine. So maybe this will lead to more drawn imagery with stitch to enhance the drawing – not sure yet – but hand stitching this material needs long and slow preparation.

drilling the vellum to stitch it together

Recently I have been working with all types of other skins, mostly calf skins, some with the hair still on…

shaded mottled calf skins

I have done quite a lot of work with fine leather and suede, most recently at a workshop in Finland at the University of Ostrobothnia, at the faculty of Applied Sciences, where I first experienced the large scale sheets of vellum as an option to work with. However I chose metallic leathers, cow hides and farmed fur to create an embroidered seascape, embellished with silver leaf. But I had remembered the large vellum skin and how beautiful it was and so used it for the Daphne Tree metamorphosis piece.

hand stitching fine metallic skins to hide
sample of stitched leather and calf skin

The company who farmed and manufactured the vellum, were generous in sending me a whole skin to work with; it has caused much interest in the exhibition, most people seem to think that vellum is just some esoteric writing-paper and keep asking me where is the animal?

But what is really exciting is that the leader of the Finnish workshop, Basil Kardasis, is conducting another workshop at Heart Space Studios, but  this time using one of the most unusual and beautiful of skins –  fish.

He is introducing this material for a master class for experienced makers, called Surf, Turf and Sky, using fish skins, leathers and feathers – all of which are by-products of the food industry, so think eel….

dyed and stitched eel skins

water snake (they eat these in Scandinavia)……

un-dyed stitched water snake skins

and smaller whole dyed fish skins….like salmon, trout, pike….

dyed salmon and trout skins

and also some specially hand – tanned skins from Sweden, perch, cat fish, and plaice.

a variety of tanned fish skins

the individual skins are small but call out to be combined with other materials to enable us to make fabrics out of them..

tanned catfish
tanned perch

but my favourite fish sample is a tiny single side of Knot, it already appears to be embroidered.

beautiful preserved Knot skin – about the size of a sardine

Plan B for the Daphne Tree.

I have been too busy to blog – or rather too tired after working a succession of 12 hour days to get to the deadline, today, for putting this work on the wall of  the Pairings exhibition. I have been making the Daphne Tree  with Rachel Kelly, designer of Interactive Wallpaper,  and Daphne is a truly metamorphic development. She morphs from a laser etched drawing in animal skin – (I suspect reindeer as this is a gift from the manufacturers in Finland,who produce and sell these large sheets of vellum or parchment for  making into drum skins) through paper hand made petal infused and shoji screen papers which are vegetable eventually becoming cotton damask with a man made surface skin of printed decals…..But to start we have burnt a drawing of a figure using modern technology onto of the oldest drawing materials known to mankind – and the result is very very beautiful.

The quality of the skin changes over the surface of the animal, thin and white on the sides nearest to the spine – which is dark; then translucent on the edges where it has been stretched and where, I presume, the skin is thinner. The results of the lasered marks are startlingly different, in places hardly discernible in others a beautiful burnt golden brown.

The appearance of the drawing fluctuated over the entire surface of the body – sadly it needed to be drawn into to make it look stronger and bring out the intricate patterning of Rachel’s original leafy drawing. and the hair had to be coloured as well as it turns to leaves

So far – so good, all going to plan…then we hit a series of snags, first the fabric chosen for  printing the flowers of the canopy was not is stock and then Easter holidays meant that the staff in charge of the printing machine were away and suddenly everything looked to be very tight for getting it organised in time….

Plan B. I decided to ask Rachel to send me her designs on print transfer papers that can be ironed into position – I had seen this done before at Heart Space Studios by Teresa Searle and I knew it was a possibility to get things printed fast …so I bought some T shirt printing transfer papers from the local high street, and taking my courage on both hands started sampling.

Meanwhile I stared to dye the shoji screen papers for the leaves which transitions the animal to the vegetable.

Then I started to cut and apply the leaves onto the paper and the fabric..a beautiful vintage damask I had dyed in tea to blend in with the petal paper…

By this stage the transfer designs had arrived from Rachel – and they were really something else -brighter colours on new flowers…daffodils, tulips and big bouquets in brilliant colours – I loved them BUT they didn’t go with my first row of lovingly pressed transfers….I had to think on my feet – but hey I am a designer and this is what designers’ do…isn’t it? I definitely needed more leaves and many more flower transfers..the space looked massive that I had to fill up – about 1 x 1 1/2 metres wide….but eventually Rachel and I got there.

OK I hear the more attentive of you say, ” you missed a bit – the body is now attached to the head which is attached to the arms…HOW did that happen”?  Well it was all stitched together.

To be more precise it was drilled and stitched together, the vellum and petal papers being too tough for me to get a decent spaced stitched line – here I am hard at work

But eventually Rachel arrived yesterday to complete the flowery appliques..

All we have to do now is starch and press it, get it fixed to a cardboard tube as if it is a roll of fabric and take it to the exhibition…..you can get the latest update and the other side of the process by visiting our Pairings blog, which is by way of a conversation between us Rachel and myself.

Panic Early – Design and Sample

“Panic Early ” has been my making motto for many years and the advice I always handed to students at the beginning of any project with a set deadline….now it is my turn to heed my own advice. As a hand embroiderer the idea of stitching in a hurry is a total nightmare.  So I tend to give myself a few days ‘wriggle room’ on any given deadline, I hate last minute making. So as my partner Rachel Kelly and I have about 3 more weeks to the deadline for a piece of work, I have decided to step up my input and get to grips with the rest of the tree design and sampling (with a plan B as well – watch this space) so that as soon as the Easter vacation is over we can just roll into the manufacture of the fabrics. The actual piece of work has been in the making for about 2 months now (see the last 2 posts) and the idea to make the Daphne Tree is at least 15 years old and I am about to see it come to fruition in the next 2 weeks, when it is due to be exhibited at a group exhibition called ‘Pairings’ the Museum in the Park in Sroud

The design drawing above, although sketchy, is looking fairly comprehensive, although to anyone who hasn’t seen the full scale pattern on the tables at Heart Space Studios will have their doubts about my progress.

As a hand embroiderer I am used to developing my original design ideas as I make them. Working from a fairly comprehensive design drawing with stitched/dyed/fabricated samples, hand stitching then affords time to contemplate the work in progress, so subtle shifts of colour or even whole areas can be re-assessed –  sometimes a piece of work can take several months of steady work to complete. The initial research is a  fairly rapid process compared to the execution of the finished piece. Now I have to plot the whole piece in advance of starting the work so that I can calculate just how much stitching time will allow…we have hit on the idea of working with paper computer print-outs that Rachel send to me as she designs them -so that I can develop the design and get the scale sorted out, while we wait for the fabric to arrive to be printed and the departments to open up after Easter

 My pairing partner, Rachel, works in a completely different  way – she is a digital printer, so everything she makes has to be mapped out first on a computer and programmed so that she can manipulate everything she needs at the final printing stage. She gives herself a range of options to choose from – making her work spontaneous in a totally different way than mine…..in fact my way of working isn’t spontaneous at all, it could be said to be organic or even vegetative in its development. She takes a long time to prepare; I take a long time to make; she can print metres of  piece of cloth in a day; I can take months to cover half a metre.

And as we are playing a game of consequences to make this work, in that we each react to the others new idea or  image, I have to play by the rules and just make  new ways to to do my stitched work within the time span. But what wonderful choices I am given, beautiful bouquets of exquisite flowers, some with hidden birds that I can cut out and embellish, but at the moment just working with paper makes the stitched results rather crude, but gives me ample opportunity to play with the colour and composition.

Eventually we will have the cloth to print on and cut out and sew beautifully – and the vellum will be laser etched hopefully later this week ready for me to start sewing it all together. Meanwhile I have to carry on sampling all the ways I can make a piece of vellum transform into a sheet of paper which then becomes a printed chintz design on cotton. I have started to sample dyeing the shoji paper leaves to applique onto the cotton fabric – hand stitching is the answer   as all of this is too big to go under a sewing machine – did I mention that this work is 3 metres from the toes to the top?

Drawing Consequences

I have often said that drawing is my first language, English my second and Stitching my third, and I can’t now remember a time when I did not draw. So it is a real pleasure that my latest work (working title – the Daphne Tree)  that I am making for an exhibition Pairings, with my partner Rachel Kelly has involved all types of drawing, from scribbled notes on the scrap paper made on trains to laser etched vellum.

Rachel and I are making a single piece of work using the idea of the game of consequences; we are reacting to each others work, developing a figure turning into a tree. I drew the figure, Rachel drew the “bark on shoji paper, then I sent the collaged bark drawing back to her and so we go on…but before this second step I had to make several large drawings to establish the figure – she needs to look like she is being stretched and frightened and also looking sort of tree shaped….I had problems with the legs – getting the stretch in the calves was crucial – the first drawings were useless they looked like she was floating. I always use cheap rolls of lining paper used for decorating for any large scale rough drawings

I had to work on her feet, they were supposed to be burrowing into the ground taking root, the drawings look really nasty like she has been burned, but they are starting to look forceful and like they could penetrate the earth. in fact they look like they have been dug out of the earth….But it is the head that has to be looking as if it is in shock at the moment that it is turned into tree bark and the hair to leaves.

The final drawing for this transition or metamorphosis, has to be exact for it to be then transferred and later translated into other materials and different types of drawing – and this re-drawing with a tracing wheel is just as crucial as all the drawings that have gone before.

So eventually Rachel and I have met up to develop the drawings, I have taken my large sheet of vellum, that I have been kindly given to work this project with, by Kemin Nahkatarvike oy the Finnish Leather and Fur manufacturing company. We are now sampling all sorts of other material that we may use in the final piece – we need to sample all the stuff to see how we can laser these drawings onto the various surfaces…but first more drawings are  developed by Rachel – on a computer.

The results were not exactly what we wanted – well not for this project ….

The drawing into hand – made paper was more successful even though we lost some of the surface petals  – but we had to hand-draw and cut the stencil that acted as a shield for the burnt area of laser etching

laser drawing on hand made paper with embedded petals

But meanwhile Rachel and I were busy thinking and drawing out the next stage of the work – this is only the trunk of the tree – now we had to imagine the canopy. I had scribbled some ideas down on the train to Manchester, I don’t know what it is about trains but they always make me very imaginative, I get lots of ideas on train journeys.

I drew this in Biro – I really like Biro to draw with as it can make a very elegant mark; but actually it was all I could find in my handbag to work with. It shows how I envisaged the next stage of the work – the canopy. But when I got to Manchester we had to really start to consider the various stages for the design drawings, so we stretched out our combined drawing along side the samples we created with the laser

Then while Rachel dealt with the computer drawings – did I mention that she is a technological wonder woman? I dealt with the tracings of the original figure.

I had to make quite a few different typed of marks to translate into the separate systems that we needed to translate the original drawings into  computer aided drawings

When we met up between tasks or at lunch, we talked of the next stage – how will we develop the canopy? I thought we could applique some printed versions of old flower bird or leaf designs  from our separate practices,  as used in old American chintz patchworks and quilts. And chintz seems to be where we are going next…but the during her morning train journey into work Rachel drew this( below)  in her note book.

And now we are at last ready  to start to introduce the missing element for us both – colour, but that needs a new set of research drawings….

Live Pairings Project – Metamorphosis


Yet another first for me – I have been invited to make a piece of work for an exhibition in the Select programme for  Stroud International Textiles . I have often visited the Stroud textile festivals and even posted my observations last year and the year before. For about a month the whole of the town of Stroud in Somerset, England, is taken over by textiles to be viewed in exhibitions, talks, workshops or bought at specialist markets, generally a must-go-to see show every spring.

I have been invited to make a piece of work for an exhibition called Pairings, where several partnerships of makers have been put together to develop work. This is a result of the Stitch and Think project that was the major part of my research post at UWE. Bristol,  Alice Kettle, a Senior Researcher Fellow and applied artist using machine embroidery has been conducting a similar project at MMU ( Manchester metropolitan University) and she invited several members of the research group to join in this fascinating project. Over the past several months I have been preparing work to make a combined textile based on the idea of Metamorphosis. My partner, chosen by Alice, is Rachel Kelly, a textile designer specialising in Wallpaper and an associate lecturer at MMU. Rachel has been asked to incorporate new technology within her making processes – this should very interesting for a hand embroiderer.

Rachel interacting with wallpaper

When we first discussed the work I explained about my ideas around metamorphosis; we would have to change our ways of working to develop this work and as her work incorporates lots of motifs to make your own interchangeable wallpaper designs the idea seemed a perfect fit – Rachel agreed – luckily. We decided also to make a joint piece of work – not easy when we live and have our own studios more than 200 miles apart. We discussed what we had in common, she read the blog and I read her website. she thought we should concentrate on drawing and I recognised that she was an avid colourist – so we set to work. After some initial difficulty getting started, I suggested that we make work by the game of “consequences” one person draws something folds the paper down and the next person draws the next bit…..you can follow this interaction on our joint blog that starts this weekend.

So to begin – I sent Rachel 2 images of a tree I had seen in the local wood, it looks like an animal stretching upwards with a rump for a tail from one side and from the other, a side view of a voluptuous woman. I have been observing the tree for about 20 odd years now and I call it the Daphne tree, I take visitors to see it and I never pass it without an acknowledgement. I kept thinking I must do some work with this. I really feel that the Greek myths of metamorphosis, mainly observed by the poet Ovid,  are true parables of the human condition; how often do we wish to change ourselves in some way or another – it is the hardest thing to do – and as the saying goes, “be careful what you wish for

I started by drawing the tree from either side, quick pencil sketches just to make a start by recording what I could see and the camera couldn’t quite capture. The dogs got bored quite quickly and it was very damp, my paper was really limp and my drawings extremely scribbly, I sent them to Rachel via email.

They were enough to get me started though, I next asked Sophie, my administrator at Heart Space Studios to pose for me from the tree images that I showed her.

then I drew from the photographs as the pose was really difficult to hold for her.

I really did not like this drawing, too beautiful, too glamorous; she looks like a glamour model …yes Daphne was a nymph but this needed attention so I drew over a photocopy and got rid of the breasts…

but she is still too lovely, too refined, this won’t help the feeling I want to establish and what is that? –  Below is a Ted Hughes poem, from his  book ‘ Tales from Ovid’ published in 1997 this is another woman turns to tree story – Myrrha, from the poem ‘Venus and Adonis’ –  Myrrha calls to the gods to help her and her prayer was answered…

The earth gripped her ankles as she prayed.

Roots forced from beneath her toenails, they burrowed

Amongst deep stones to the bedrock. She swayed,

Living statuary on a tree’s foundations.

In that moment, her bones became grained wood,

Their marrow pith,

Her blood sap, her arms boughs, her fingers twigs,

Her skin rough bark……

I have never forgotten that passage of sheer terror when I first read the poem, and some of this somehow needs to be conveyed…so back to the drawing board. So if you wish to follow this developing project go to the joint blog that Rachel and I have set up, www.haighahdkellypairings2012.wordpress.com where we are posting our ongoing work and immediate reactions to one another..