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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Fear... a very effective paralysing agent. I have been in the studio fairly regularly, but haven't painted since before Christmas, and the reason was... fear. I began a painting six months or so ago, and was unhappy with it, so, after living with it for a while, to see what it wanted to say, I added some background colour. And it sat there, not finished, but not bad enough to scrap, and I have been afraid to touch it. Afraid is a strong word, but it is correct nonetheless. I knew that it needed something, but I didn't know what it was, and I was afraid that if I did something to it, I would ruin it. In any case, I didn't know if it was a good painting, or not. I was afraid that it wasn't. Those fears, compounded, had me frozen. On Saturday, though, I defrosted myself. I reminded myself that there is no right, and no wrong, in making a decision, whether it is about art, business or anything else you might care to mention. We have choices, and the way to make a decision is to establish what choices you have, and , accepting the likely outcomes of each one for good or ill, select one. Then, all you have to do is do whatever it is you have chosen to do.

In the case of this painting, made in oils, it was a coating of an interesting dark turquoise colour. That, and turning the image round from where I had it, which changed the meaning in my head. I had made the piece to reflect how I felt at the time I painted it, and called it 'Blue'; the first image shows a section of the original painting, during the addition of the turquoise. Suddenly, this piece was another 'Inner Landscape', called 'Under The Surface', and the second image shows the completed piece. Since taking that original photograph, I have removed some of the turquoise, to allow stronger flashes of colour to show through, and will take another photograph of it in better light when it is finished(the light on Saturday was not good...).

It may not be the best painting in the world; it may not be the best painting I've ever made, come to think of it. But it expresses something (in fact, it expresses more than I had originally intended), and I like it. Better still, I want to paint some more, and have more ideas; I was beginning to think I might never paint again . I'm very glad I was wrong! So, if you are stuck as I was, ask yourself, what are you afraid of? Consider your choices, select one and do the work. That's all it takes. It's just a pity we forget that so regularly. When I coach people, it's one of the things I help them to do, to make choices, and live with the consequences. Usually those consequences are relatively small, on the scale of things, a finished painting, an idea turned into reality, a letter written. Everything is easier with a bit of help... and sometimes you need someone else's input to get moving. But either way, ask yourself, what's the worst thing that could possibly happen, for each of the options. Usually the worst possible outcomes are no worse than the feeling you have of being stuck, in my experience. So what do you have to lose? Go make a choice, or two. Why not start now?

Monday, February 23, 2009


One of the things I do in what is laughingly called my 'spare' time is run an online list for textile artists, called Alternative Quilt List (find it here). It is very much an on topic list, with very few digressions, and it has been quiet for a while. So, to set us up for the new year, I set a challenge for the list, to make a quilt that looked ahead to the coming year. Imaginatively titled 'The Future Challenge', a number of our members did in fact make pieces for it. Just to make it interesting, I offered some of my hand dyed fabric as prizes, and we voted on our favourites. The outright winner was the beautiful quilt you see above. It was made by Eva Ahlander from Sweden; she says;

"I have thought some time about how I can stop being so hard on myself and accept that I have more than one side, the ones I like and the ones I am not so proud of. (This is not about schizophrenia, as my quilt group quickly named my piece!) It is about embracing all of me, the good and the bad. Life is not perfect and life is fragile and I need to look after all of me. I will try and do this in 2009. How to make this into a quilt?

I accidentally heard that January is named after an ancient god Janus, who is the god with two faces and the challenge began to take shape. What also attracted me to this ancient myth was that he was some sort of door keeper, and I have a fondness for doors…. So I played with old photos in Photoshop and printed them off on fabric. Then I embellished with buttons and ribbons and paint. The old lady with the pink hat is in the background of an old 60´s photo of my husband as a baby. (did that make sense?) I doubled her to make a newer version of Janus and then I doubled up an old photo of an aunt from the 40´s and made her into Janus twins with the masks. Buttons attached to give a bit of 3D. The binding is an old piece of fabric I ripped from the inside of a pair of jeans.

Well, the piece is called January- embracing both of me. I have had some thoughts after it was finished, like why I put masks on the “twins” instead of leaving the faces blank, which I think has to do with that I always have had to show a happy face, but the inside was in turmoil. My family background is also a bit complex when it comes to hiding the weakness of life, my grandmother and my mother were raised in strict Calvinistic “freechurches”. So it all came together quite nicely in the end. It is about embracing the weak and the strong and make them both visible and accepted.

I have also not used the colours I normally use. I am so thrilled with how the colours came out, I thought it would be boring with paler shades, but the quilt came out shimmering…

I was so inspired by this, I will now attempt to make one piece once a month. Same size as this one, with the base of the names of the months and where they came from, February was named after a god who was in charge of death and purging (!) and try to link it to me somehow. We will see how it goes…"

For myself, I think that if it goes as well as the first one, she will have a collection to be proud of at the end of the year! If you would like to see more of Eva's work, check out her blog

nb the first two images are details, the first is of the Janus twins, the second of Old Lady Janus, whilst the third is the complete piece.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Quilted Gardens

I haven't made a 'Healer's Garden' quilt in a long time, so when I suggested to another artist on twitter that we trade work, I thought I would make one for her, and here it is, prior to the quilting. I'm really enjoying working with the odd bit of commercial fabric, which is just as well, given that I now have quite a bit of it! I'm still looking for quirky fabric, though, if anyone wants to suggest where I could find such an animal... cloth with attitude, like the piece of fabric I made Kiss My Cow with.

Now, though, I'm going to spend quite a bit of time focussing on Evolon, as I plan to have a book written and published by 1 August, just in time for Festival Of Quilts, where I'm teaching this year. And yes, that'll be classes on lutradur and evolon, what a surprise! If anyone else is working with Evolon at the moment, I would love to hear about it, you can contact me on email via the blog; I'm particularly looking for interesting images for my gallery section. Let me know if you have work you might like to have included, and we'll take it from there.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Want To See My Etchings?

I know, it's a cliche... but I spent a very happy Saturday making etchings. I learned to etch several years ago, when we were still in Inverness, but it has taken til now to find somewhere offering a small, informal workshop. I managed, however, and this was a real trip down memory lane for me!

If you've never made an etching, the process is actually quite straightforward. You put a resist onto a copper plate, and then flame it, as you can see in the images, so that the resist turns a lovely black, shiny colour. That lets you see your marks as you make them. You then scratch a pattern into the resist, seal the back of the copper so that it doesn't get removed in the etching process, and finally leave the copper suspended in an acid bath for a specific length of time. The time will vary, according to how deeply you wish the bite to be. After rinsing off the acid, you ink the plate and run it through a press.

I managed to make three plates, two of them copper, etched with acid, and another scratched directly into a plastic surface. I was pleased with all of them, but the one in the image is my favourite, and I may well make a painting based on those shapes. You can see from the close up how fine the lines are in etching; it's a complete contrast for me, as my usual marks are large and bold. See what you think!

Monday, February 02, 2009


I'm writing the penultimate chapter in my book on creativity today, and it's about support. I think we all use that word a lot, but we don't really think about what we mean by it. So, I thought I would break it down into its constituent parts. I came up with : sympathy, understanding, feedback, money, time, tutoring, coaching, acceptance, listening, enthusiasm, challenge, play, advice. I suspect that is the tip of the iceberg, though. Maybe your version of support is different to mine; I'd love to hear what you think.

I think the problems start in part when we expect our nearest and dearest to provide all of the above, or as near as makes no difference. My husband is a master of the understatement (he's a Scot, they are always underwhelmed by things...). The closest he comes to praise is 'very nice, dear', though he does do a good line in interpreting abstract images. That said, if it wasn't for his financial support, I couldn't do what I do; my business is not established enough to be generating a lot of money. He does a great line in listening, even though I know he often doesn't actually understand much of what I'm talking about. And, being an accountant, he does all my admin for me. The business of art is not discussed in the book, but I do have to admit that that takes a considerable weight off my shoulders.

For me, I think we need a number of different sources for support. I get mine from friends, family, my online communities. Where do you get yours from?

I talked yesterday about 'Moon Cat I", and here he is. There are another two pieces in the making at the moment, see what you think! The cat and the moon are both made from rust dyed silk habotai. The stitching around the moon and the cat is a lovely lilac/grey metallic thread; the stitching between them is some grey rayon. So there is both sparkle and mystery in this little piece.

Sunday, February 01, 2009


It has been an emotional few days. And when the going gets tough, the tough go in the shed and play... in this case, with my encaustic paints. Not something I've done in a while, though I have been using the set up to melt soy wax for batik, of which more another time. I made several pieces, most of which are not worth talking about, but I rather like the piece in the image, 'Bluescape'. I have a lot to learn about working with encaustics, but that doesn't stop me enjoying the journey, or the various outputs along the way. Bluescapes feels free and spontaneous, which I hope are qualities that fill my work. In fact, I feel another piece coming on, based on Bluescape... so I'm off to play some more, in cloth, this time. Maybe a bit larger, though; this piece is a mere 7" by 5".

As well as encaustics, I quilted 'moon cat I' yesterday, and there are at least another two in that series. I have Twitter to thank for that; someone commented about another cat piece I had made, and told me about her white cat, staring at moonlight. So I made moon cat as a response to her description. So there are more of those to be worked on, too. Just the thing to be doing as the snow flurries in the air... not a day for the shed, methinks, despite the very efficient heater.