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Wednesday, July 31, 2019


...isn't always a solitary activity.  Cara has been with us for a couple of days (you've met her before; she has a reputation for creativity...), and wanted to make a cat.  Okay.  So we went through the process... making a pattern (based on Mooncat, who you can see here), cutting it out, choosing the fabric (took a while, that one), pinning it on (working out the difference between pins and needles), cutting it out, stitching and then stuffing. 

Had I thought about it, I'd have enlarged the pattern, or drawn one from scratch, but Care's really quite happy with the end result, and that's the main thing.  She did really well for a five year old, paid attention the whole way through, and stuffed with aplomb.  The acid test, of course, will be if she wants to repeat the process.  We had fun, though, and that's the main thing.  How long til we progress to doll's clothes, I wonder...? 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Going With Your Gut..., I think, the only thing to do.  In life, as in art, come to think of it.  I got half way through stitching this, the first of the green  monoprints I made recently, and thought... it would be so much easier to machine stitch.

And there are several more in this series... it would be quick, easy... but, my gut said, it wouldn't be right.  And my gut, as usual, is correct.  Dammit.  Why?

There are a number of reasons.  Monoprints are the most painterly of prints.  They're very direct, as is hand stitch, each mark a deliberate choice.  Machine stitch is by no means as direct : the machine is between me and the work.  The machine controls the stitch, even when free machine embroidering.  That's not what is needed here.  In addition, the direct contact with the piece is needed: it means I can see and contemplate, moment by moment, what I do next, where to put the needle, what size to make the stitch, which stitch to use.  Machine stitch doesn't afford the same luxury, the same choices.  Machine stitch also creates a far flatter, straighter line, no spaces, less easy to unintended nudge or shake of your hand will knock it off course... you get my drift.  No pun intended.

Going with my gut is usually inconvenient, frequently challenging...but always right.  Now to get on with the work.  Possibly with a little muttering under my breath about how unfair it all is...

Saturday, July 27, 2019


So...the piece I showed you last time is finished, and here it is.

It's on top of more of the same orange coloured lutradur, to strengthen the background colour.  I think it's fairly effective.  The cardboard disc is a yellower colour than it shows here, and I like the way the stitch has worked out.  I had intended to add more stitch to the background, but I've decided against it; I think it would distract from the piece, rather than add to it.   I've trimmed it down, to give it some balance, and it'll sit happily in a mount. 

I've been drawing today, faces, probably the only thing I don't often share on the blog.  Of all my work, it's the most personal, though, given some of the work I've shown over the years, that may surprise you.  It has been a long time since I drew a person, and I'm reminded how important it is to keep practicing.  It's not bad, you understand...but...  Some other time, perhaps. 

Now I need to cut some batting, before I can start stitching the monoprints, and a couple of the larger pieces I've been working on recently.  I've been too tired to paint, the last couple of days, but I think I can muster the energy to do that...if not today, then certainly tomorrow.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Too Tired... paint, so I thought I'd look at the monoprints.  First, some time spent on hunting up threads to go on a group of far so good...

That pale yellow looks odd in the ball, and might not be used on the top print, but it works nicely at a single strand on some of the paler versions.  So then on to stitching the lutradur monoprint...

Long stitches, reflecting the movement of the paint.  The problem with stitch at this size is that it has a tendency to pull the fabric, no matter how careful you are, so I'll probably fuse this piece to a backing, for preference something with colour in it, which will reinforce the gold colours in the background due to the semitransparent nature of the lutradur.    Again, so far, so good.  Except that I didn't seem to have found quite the right shade of green (most of what's reading as blue in this image is closer to green), so I went through to the studio to see if I could find anything suitable( (so much for sitting still)/  And there was the thought that I could perhaps find something to put in that upper left hand section, a piece of fabric perhaps, in a ring shape.

I don't often use embellishments, which is rich from someone with a substantial bead collection... but I did want to find something to use here, to break up the movement of all that green, mostly, as it seemed very dominant.  And I found a white box, but I couldn't remember what was in it... Jackpot!  Not only did it have thread, it had some embellishments, too, which I could vaguely remember intending to use on a different piece, some time ago (don't ask me which: clearly it never happened). 

One of those embellishments was this button :

Right size, lovely texture but wrong colour, though I did love the striations running through it.  A bit more hunting found me this...

Odd, isn't it?  It's a cardboard circle which I suspect came out of the lid of a jar of something.  It has a blue mark that refers quite nicely to the background, and it's the right shape.  Reader, I glued it on.  I intend to stitch over it with more large scale stitches, a bit like shisha gone mad.  I may not use the  suitable green thread after all... the thread I used on the right hand side will be perfect. 

And that's the state of play so far.  It's not the best thing I've ever made, but it's not bad, either.  And it does go to show that I do keep some very strange things in my boxes.  Strange, but useful. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

A Timely Reminder

Facebook has its uses.  Today, it reminded me of the original photograph that the manipulated image came from, the one I used as the basis for a painting here.  And it seemed only fair to use it as the basis for another painting (as you do).

I started with a sketch.  I've gradually accepting that sketching is the best thing to do in these circumstances: it lets you become familiar with what's going on in your source material.

So far, so boring.  Decided that I'd started too far along, so the line down the far right is a reminder that I need to pay attention to the balance.  What I ended up drawing on the paper as the basis for the painting, looks slightly different.

More of an interpretation, here, transferring what I learned from the sketch, onto the paper.  And here's the end result.

I like the rich paint on the far right, and the textures... lots of stuff going on.  Not at all what I'd planned...but then, it never is.    Not sure if this is the 'right' way up...

There's more movement, this way up: did try it the other way round, but it's very, very static that way, don't like it as much.  Decisions, decisions...

And then there's the obligatory monoprint...gotta use up that paint...

I like this one.  It's on paper: the ghost print is on Evolon.

Looking forward to stitching this one...but I like them both, probably more than the painting... which I suspect tells me something.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

On A Roll...

...with the monoprint thing... it's getting interesting.  I started with a painting, and then took two monoprints from it, one on cloth, one on prepainted paper.  I suspect the painting isn't quite finished...but I'll need to wait and see. 

And then I thought... use the rest of the paint... and play with greens.  These photographs aren't terribly accurate in terms of colour; apparently my camera doesn't like green... but they're an approximation.  They get looser as I go on, and the paint gets less.

All four are on cloth : the first is on transfer dyed lutradur, just for interest's sake, really.  I don't think every one of these is successful...but I won't know until I've added stitch.  And if they're not, it's okay.  This is about process, not about result.  What I am pleased about, though, is that these feel like mine.  They don't refer to anything or anyone, and whilst I have no idea at present what this is 'about', I have the feeling they'll tell me.  This is my preferred way of working: no idea, no picture in my head that I have to somehow follow, just me, the cloth and the paint.  And that's how I like it.  Now to see if I can find some thread...

Tuesday, July 23, 2019


...I did it again... apparently cutting things down a bit, wasn't enough.  I need a timer, so that I stop before I get overtired...oh well...  You can see for yourself if it was worth it...

I started, and ended, with monoprints.  My friend Alison encouraged me to make more beach inspired stitched pieces, so I made some basic monoprints for that, on a piece of pale green sheeting...

They'll make half a dozen small far so good.  Not particularly wanting to work in those colours, I wiped off the palette... and was so intrigued by the marks that wiping produced, I monoprinted again, this time on a bit of Evolon that happened to be lying around. 

Now this is intriguing, and I'm looking forward to adding stitch, and perhaps a bit of applique... we'll see.  I've always avoided putting paint on Evolon: the hand of the fabric is a big part of its charm, and paint interferes with that.  This, though, is well watered down acrylic paint, and although you can feel it on the fabric, it's not a huge change, so I'm pleased on that score, too. 

And then, because it was lying around, I added a bit more to this small piece, which I actually made last time, but didn't show you.  More monoprinting, to add small bits of colour and texture.

Not sure that it's finished... it'll sit in the studio until it is.  And then I moved to The Main Attraction... another painting on the same basis as those I showed you last time.  Complete change of palette, which makes a big difference...

A landscape feel... not sure that I like it as much as the last one, perhaps because it's moodier.  I can see some things I'll probably change in it when I go back to it...which is a good thing, because it suggests it's not irredeemable.  However, as I was finishing up, I decided I'd added too much paint (yes, it does happen), so took (yes, you've guessed it) A Monoprint from it, to add texture and remove some of the paint.  Look what I got...

I LOVE this.  Texture, colour, movement... it's got it all.  Much more my kind of thing than the actual painting, which feels really heavy by comparison.  I think I'll be doing a good deal more of this, on fabric as well as paper: I think this would be a great base for stitch.  Accidental breakthroughs are the best kind.

Sunday, July 21, 2019


I've been trying to get back into painting for some time, but a whole range of mental blocks and self criticism was stopping me, not to mention the thought that I might not have enough energy to do so.  I've been sneaking up on it, though...bought some canvas boards, got a wee bit of paint for my birthday... and the final kick up the pants was a conversation with my friend Alison, who said all the things that I would have said to someone in that situation... and I thought, sod it, why not? 

The real block is about representational drawing and painting, so I thought I'd warm up a bit with some abstracts, my comfort zone.  I usually start with nothing, other than a blank canvas or sheet of paper.  That's not always the best way to go, however, particularly if your inner critic is perched on your shoulder, giein' it laldy, so... Since I'm guilty of taking hundreds (literally) of source photographs, sometimes playing with them on PSP, and then doing nothing with them,  I leafed through my images and found this one. 

It was a photograph of a bench, believe it or not, or a part of a bench, the seat,  made from a beautiful piece of natural wood.  As you can see, I played with the colour and contrast quite considerably, but if you look carefully, you can still see the grain and a few cracks in the wood.  As a painter, I'm not interested in making a copy of what I see : that's what photography is for.  \(Come to think of it, that's probably part of my block with representational painting...but that's another story altogether).  There are lots of different ways to use a photograph as a source: I meant to write a book about it (should I?), but thought I'd just combine a couple of them.  One is to pick up the colours in the image, and combine them in a different way, and the other is to look at the underlying structure of the image, and use that as the basis of a new work. 

There's a lot going on in this particular image, so I simplified it quite considerably.  I don't usually draw as the basis of a painting, but it seemed like a good idea, so...

The lines basically delineate three main sections in the image, with a bit more detail.  I used the lines as guidance, not gospel, and ended up with this...

As you can see, I've changed the orientation.  If you compare it to the original piece, it uses several of the colours intrinsic to it, but not in the same balance.  The lines have disappeared, though if you look carefully, it does still divide into three main sections.  I can see there's a lot I would rework, if it had been on board, but I probably won't on this, because it's on paper, which doesn't support layer on layer of paint terribly well.  It's fine as a first attempt, though, and I think it will be worth making a version on board, eventually.  I'll probably make another few sketches on paper first, though, just to see where it goes. 

I took things one stage further on another, smaller piece of paper.  Again, it started with lines :

No real resemblance to the image this time, just the basic idea of curved lines, and a using up of the paint from the first piece.   And here's how it ended up...

Different palette, this time, to some extent, but similar approach.  And, as before, I prefer the other orientation...

Thinking about it, this refers back to the grain lines in the wood.  Overall, I'm really pleased with these pieces, they're a good start.  I've remembered how much I enjoy painting, and why I prefer oils (though I'll probably stick with acrylics).  I'll definitely take this forward...but not today... I've used up all my energy... knowing when to stop is A Good Thing.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019


...with the quilts made from the original inspiration of  Scully's paintings.  I rarely ever mark a stitch line, but I made an exception for this piece.

You can just see the marks, here, made using a Conte pencil that happened to be the right colour.  I wanted flowing, unstilted lines, and felt that drawing them, first, would make them easier to stitch.  I was right, as it happened.  Plus, any kind of drawing is good for one. So, I stitched.

And yes, it was fine, but it didn't feel right.  I didn't really want to add more stitch, though I did contemplate whipping the existing running stitch, to get a harder line.  Somehow, though, that didn't seem right.  I liked the feeling of space that the relatively limited stitch was giving, but I couldn't see a story, a meaning behind the piece.  Until I turned it over.

And somehow, it made more sense.  That seemed to suggest a real flow, from the top of the quilt, down to the bottom.  It felt like a white river, somehow.  Positioning it in this way felt somewhat counter intuitive.  It is constructed the way you would expect a landscape would be; top level, one third, bottom level, two thirds, giving a 'horizon line'. Turning it over reverses that ratio, and it feels a bit odd.  I think, though, that the flow of movement through the quilt stops the viewer seeing the piece as a landscape, and I think in part it was that line, that construction, that was getting in the way of seeing the meaning.  So this is how it will stay... it's called 'Outpouring'.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Back To The Books... least for a moment.  I had cut a few 'pages' from an accordion book, made from Lutradur XL, and because they were lying around, and a bit battered, decided to experiment on them.  So I started by giving them a coat of acrylic paint, and then stitched into them to suggest a landscape.

Not the most exciting thing you'll ever see, but a good basis for continuing.  It had been a long time since I'd machine stitched on paint, so wanted to check that this wash wasn't going to give me any problems (and it didn't).  I had intended to add more acrylic paint in each section, a mixture of colours and marks progressing down the page, with a slightly different set of colours on each page, to suggest changing weather and/or times of day.  When I got round to actually doing something with it, though, there happened to be some watercolour crayons on the table.  I wonder....I thought... and this is what happened...

I like these strong blocks of colour, though I suspect they suggest different seasons, rather than times of day.  I was quite surprised by how well the watercolour sat on the fabric, though I suspect the acrylic underpainting was the cause of that.  I was even more surprised when I turned over to work on the other side...

The colour had bled through two layers of underpainting (one on either side), and  I think they work really well.  This side has a completely different feel to the reverse, and I'm pleased.  There were a couple of sections where the paint hadn't migrated, but a bit more water on the reverse side sorted that out.  I'd like to add some text, but the words haven't suggested themselves, so we'll just have to wait until they do. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Changing My Mind...

...happens all the time, but it doesn't often happen when I've finished a piece, and twice in the same series is... interesting...  The piece I showed you here just didn't seem quite right, and a chat with my online creativity group buddies confirmed it, and helped to clarify what the problem was.  Here's the adjusted piece, with a smaller circle on the right, which somehow improved the balance and flow over the whole piece. 

This second piece also comes from the Scully series, and when I finished it I thought... no...(the blue isn't part of the quilt, it just happened to be lying on a piece of blue when I took the image). 

Oddly enough, the issue was balance, again.  I was worried about the size of the stitch in the bottom section, and whether the whole piece wasn't just overly fussy, to boot.  So I did what I tell everyone else to do in this situation : I slept on it.  No, it wasn't any better overnight.  Which was unfortunate: there's a lot of stitch in there, and unripping was the only thing I could possibly do.  Turns out I was wrong.  I'm going to leave it as it is.  Why?  I hear you ask... well, because I had laid it out on the sofa, and happened to look at it across the room...and from a distance, it looks fine.  In fact, that's something else I tell everyone else to do... usually by putting the piece on the floor and standing up to look at it.  I really should take my own advice, now and again. 

Note the circle in the bottom right: yes, you guessed it, it's the trimmed off circle from the piece at the top of the page.  Waste not, want not, and all that. 

As well as the Scully influence, I think this piece has echoes of some of the work of the Glasgow Girls, notably the shapes in the upper section, and the stitch that supports it.  This series seems to be taking me to surprising places...I'm not a huge fan of Art Nouveau, though as I get older, my taste seems to get broader.  Maybe I'm just less judgemental...who knows.  I wouldn't have expected it to appear in my work, though, which is perhaps foolish.  Everything appears in the work eventually.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Finishing Touches...

...are often easier and less than we think.  Here's the finished piece, the development of which I showed you here.  I said it needed stitch...

...and now it has it.  Much less of it than I'd thought.  I originally set out to stitch all the way round the piece.  I found a variegated hand dyed perle which had all the colours in the piece in it, including the tannin stains in the background.  The lovely curving line was complete chance, but when I looked at it, I decided there really wasn't any need for any more.  I did contemplate adding three more at the bottom, but thought it would be gilding the lily.

Knowing when to stop is essential, and often very difficult, particularly when you have more ideas.   That usually means that there's a need to explore more within a series format, rather than that you need to add more to the particular piece you're working on.  Ultimately, it's all about intention, as I've already said elsewhere, in a conversation about a piece of work made by someone else.  Part of my intention when I work is to keep things as simple as possible, while expressing whatever it is that I'm trying to say. 

I'm happy with this, now.  Yes, I could melt the lutradur a bit more, but it's a risk: if I melt too much, it'll just look silly, and as it's not distracting from anything, it's a risk I'm not prepared to take.  Perfection, as I've said before, is the best you can do on the day, and that is constantly changing as you learn more, and become more confident.  Sometimes discretion truly is the better part of valour.

Friday, July 05, 2019

Changing Direction... always a possibility, given the way I work, but sometimes it's inevitable.

I spoke here about being inspired by the work of Sean Scully.  This is the second of those pieces, which would have been three pieces of fabric set together, had I had three suitable pieces... however, these two seem to sit fairly well together, so here we are.  Nothing like the work of Mr Scully, but entirely like mine...nobody can ever accuse me of not being flexible in my approach.  The fabric itself was two pieces which were donated by a couple of kind friends, when I bemoaned my lack of scrap fabric (I'm still bemoaning my lack of hand dyes, but that's another story).  The pinky brown fabric on the right has been reversed, to tone down the patterning, while scraps of the fabric on the left have been used to create a vertical and a couple of horizontal lines, to develop the relationship between the two cloths.  Finally, there's a lutradur circle, with a shell inside it, at the top.  And it's ready to stitch. 

Which is my problem.   I spent a fruitless ten minutes looking for thread with which to hand stitch this piece.  I don't have the money to buy any, and I don't have any dye, either, so I can't make my own.  And I can't see myself hand stitching with machine thread, because it doesn't have the impact that perle and other thicker threads have.   I do have choices, though.

First off, I could just not stitch it at all.  And that's really tempting.  This piece feels like a painting, and were it a painting, it would be finished.  Fact is, though, that it isn't a painting, and it feels like it does need some stitch, albeit perhaps not as much as I might usually do.  So it looks like machine stitch is the only option.  Given the amount of machine threads I have, there's bound to be something suitable.  And if there isn't a variegated thread, I'll combine two plain threads.  I think I'll be stitching, not for pattern, but for texture, which will hopefully make those elements stand out a bit more, as well as connecting them.  For the meantime, though, I'm going to put it aside, and see how I feel after a couple of months.  Building time into design decisions is A Good Thing.  I don't think this will lead to a shift back to machine stitching in general, though, partly because it's too tiring, and partly because I've come to enjoy both the process and the result.

Thursday, July 04, 2019


...are really useful things.  When I took a closer look at the photograph of yesterday's fabric collage, I thought...there's something wrong with that...    And there was.  Plenty, as it happens.  Here's the new version : see if you can spot the changes.

Here's the first version, to compare it with.

Basically, of course, it looks the same, or very close.  So...what did I think was wrong? Firstly, the positioning of the whole thing wasn't right.  It was too low on the backing fabric, and that made it look unbalanced.  It was also closer to the right edge, than the left, so, not centred, and whilst it's not a square, it's close enough to being one, for that to feel wrong.  Then, there was nothing to connect the lutradur to the lovely Japanese Ogura paper, which is lacy and delicate, while the lutradur looked solid and straight edged. 

So... I started by removing some of the Ogura around the central motif, and then trimmed back the top and left side of the backing fabric, to achieve a better balance.  No, it's not perfect, but I don't want to overdo it...though looking at this photograph, I think I'm going to have to take a little more off the top.   While I was at it, I removed some of the edges of the Ogura beneath the constructed fabric, because it looked far too straight and orderly for this piece.  Then I took a heat gun to the Lutradur, again, removing the solid straight lines at the edges, as well as adding holes to the lutradur, reflecting the holes in the tissue paper, which are made by letting drops of water fall onto the pulp, apparently.  I also tried to heat the constructed cloth, but it didn't want to melt, so it will have to stay as it is.  It, too, has unfortunately straight edges, but there's not a lot I can do about it.  It's really too heavy for this piece, but it is what it is. 

I now have some more decisions.  It wouldn't be a bad thing to add a border, but I'm not sure that I have suitable fabric.  I will probably add some stitch, perhaps echoing those strong central colours in the background.  I'm happier with it than I was, but I'm not convinced it'll be worth having after all that... we'll see, I suppose.  It actually doesn't matter much : I've learned things, today, or at least been reminded of them, about combining fabrics and paper, about balance, and above all, about attention to detail.  I think this was done during a workshop, and probably flung together to see if it was possible.  As a learning piece, it's fine, but it is a salutary reminder that rushing is Not A Good Thing.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

To Collage...

...or not to collage, that is the question.  I've talked about this already, here.   I've done a bit more work on several of the collages, but the only one I feel is reasonable is this one...

That's something of an improvement, but I doubt I'll keep it.  I've been trying to work out what my problem is with this; there seem to be several reasons for it.  Firstly, and possibly least directly, I'm not a fan of using other peoples' work in mine.  This doesn't use images or newsprint, but several of the other collages do.  I like the theory of using newspaper and found images, but the practice is something else.  Secondly, I don't seem to have the same relationship to collage as I do with paint.  Paint is a mark, and another mark, and another mark.  Collage, though, somehow seems to be more structured, at an earlier stage, than either paint or textile...and I don't really do structure.  There's also something about meaning... if this piece has a story, I can't seem to access it.  Perhaps I'm too caught up in the techniques involved, to be able to hear it speak. 

I'm not sure much is going to be gained in pursuing this particular least, not on paper.  Intriguingly, while sorting through fabrics for a completely different project, I found this.

I don't remember making this, to be honest, but I rather like it.  The base is cotton, dyed with tea and onion skins.  Then there's a layer of Japanese paper which has been coloured with what looks like Brusho.  Then, a layer of transfer dyed lutradur, with some pieces of painted paper and a scrap of constructed cloth.   I like this.  Perhaps it's because it's much closer to my usual style than the paper based collage.  Perhaps it's the combination of elements (though, looking at it, I think I want to hit that lutradur with a heat gun, put a few holes in it, to relate more closely to the Japanese paper).  So if I do make more collages, this looks like it is the way forward.  Okay, I feel comfortable with that... glad we sorted it out.  Back to work...