Stocktaking, Studio practice, Textiles

Studio (dis)organisation and other questionable habits

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So when did a tidy studio become a thing? I’ve tried, believe me, but just can’t make it work. All those blog posts and magazine spreads that show studios looking like they’ve just been painted, pimped and primed for ‘work’ do my head in. Little snippets of showpieces, that’s all they are…

Mine, on the other hand, simply operates around a kind of chaos where I can generally find everything (thank you visual memory) but can’t seem to negotiate the time to put everything away before starting something new. In fact, I frequently work over the top of things because I haven’t cleared a nice, inviting horizontal surface first.

I can confidently say I have nil clear horizontal planes anywhere in my workspace. This is, of course, exacerbated due to preparing for an upcoming show in August, and an influx of more pre-loved clothing I’ve been taking apart, but I’ve come to realise – only lately – that I really don’t care. That tidy desk tidy mind stuff just doesn’t match my brain. Whatever works.

These pictures are of some of the tidier bits of my studio. Full of promise and wonder.

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In fact, the whole chaos thing seems to suit me. I love finding bits of cloth/paper/yarn/photographs/wood/clumps of tangled thread/hair around the place and allowing them to suggest form for another work. The process can take a while though… like years.

And while I’m at it, falling prey to chaos has been the reason for my non-blogging of late. My apologies to anyone expecting the regular fortnightly thing I promised earlier in the year, but sometimes you just have to go with the flow.

So my advice to you all is this: don’t even think of trying to conform to the expectations of others (within reason I suppose I should add); just get on with your thing, and; believe in yourself while you’re going about it.

 

 

 

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Experiments, Paper, repair, Studio practice, Textiles

Studio work: chaos, conflict, and the path to resolution

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I’ve been spending time in the studio working on some paper pieces – with cloth and text   too, of course – reflecting on chaos, conflict and resolution.

It seems to be part of an evolving theme I’m exploring about my dad. Always having thought of him as a fairly difficult man, with moments of intense love and attachment, I have for many years thought about examining his relationship with his family and his love of the Papua New Guinean people – his comrades during World War II.

Dad trained members of PNG police force during the war, and recorded, in Pidgin English, testimonies of the native people affected by Japanese war crimes after its end. You’ll see some of his handwritten and typed records in these photos.

Rather than embarking on a comprehensive analysis of his life, I’m finding myself drawn to examining bits, vignettes if you like, that catch in my memory. And the more I do this the more I see parallels with contemporary life, and sometimes specifically with my own.

In the contemporary world Japan is a major trading partner and friend of Australia; a remarkable contrast between Dad’s memories and mine. I love the Japanese, their culture, art practices and traditions. And the contrasts between the WWII era and now are both strikingly different and proof of the possibilities of reconciliation.

Having dug up some lovely vellum I bought in New York twenty years ago (in my painting days – and I’d always thought it too beautiful to use), I’m combining it with a variety of rice papers and vintage threads.

A selection of stitches that have their own particular meanings in this context: a ‘mattress’ surgical stitch, running/sashiko, and the stitch method used to repair Japanese sake bags (I don’t know if it has a name, but please let me know if you do) are really important to the work.

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Vintage Japanese rice paper from notebooks and ledgers.

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Burnt Arches paper, surgical stitching in vintage linen thread, handwritten text.

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Placement of layers of hand dyed muslin, like bandages, over the work, ready for stitching.

An attempt at mending.

I’m hoping to get at least one piece completed this week, so will show you the results in due course…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Experiments, Paper, Studio practice

The seductive qualities of raw materials

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Dyed mulberry bark

Sometimes (well, frequently actually) I get sucked in to materials. Their various qualities zap onto something in my subconscious and I acquire them, often letting them sit in the studio for a ridiculously long time before knowing what to do with them.

Often it’s a time issue because there are occasions I know exactly what I want to do with a certain material and by the time I do get around to using the thing I’m almost salivating while handling and making with it. This exact thing happened last week with three pieces of Japanese mulberry bark paper I bought late last year.

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Boiling the avocado pieces in muslin

First, I dyed two pieces of the (very white) paper with avocado.  I wrapped about 1 kilogram of chopped avocado pips and skins in muslin and boiled the bundle in my big aluminium dye pot, with about 4 litres of water (enough to cover the bundle) for about an hour and left it overnight. Next day I heated the pot again, popped in the loose paper sheets and left them in for about 45 minutes.

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Post dye pot – Beautiful textures of the bark

The result was a lovely soft, goldy-pink colour with the beautiful surface sheen of the mulberry glowing through. I’m always amazed that you get pink out of avocado but there you have it. Note the beautiful, gnarled spiderwebbiness of the bark.

Looking for deeper colour I tried adding Spanish onion skins that I know can produce a very appealing rosy-pink. I really love the colour of these onions (and beetroot, which I understand is hopeless to dye with) … and purple carrots, by the way. With the uneven openness and quite firm body of the paper I knew the bunding method would be unlikely to work because it couldn’t be tightly rolled. However, I thought the result might be some pretty rosy blotches on the lighter background shown in the picture above.

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Mulberry bark with Spanish onion skins

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Loosely bundled for the dye pot

After bundling with rubber bands (being careful not to break the paper) I put it in the heated avocado dye pot, which now had only about two litres of dye water, simmered it for about 45 minutes, then left it to soak for a while.

The result was a richer, darker, fairly evenly distributed, dusty rose-pink with a lovely unevenness due to the bark’s construction. No rosy blotches, but a happy result nonetheless.

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The lovely deep pinky brown result

I intend to stitch with these pieces, either individually or sewn together into one larger work.

Something sculptural.

Watch this space to see what happens! And whether or not it works…

 

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Artists, Inspiration, repair, Studio practice, Textiles, Uncategorized, upcycling

The heirloom theory

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Donya Coward, Brown sitting Rabbit – photograph from her website

Do you have any artists or makers who do it for you? Are they an inspiration for your principles and practice?

I often find research addictive. One find leads to another. Before you know it you’ve got a chain of inspiration and empathic appreciation for the work of others that informs your own work and sits comfortably with your beliefs and principles.

Discarded materials, ratty old preloved garments, mending, and disparate bits & pieces often have reuse potential that goes unheeded. Memory is embedded into everything. These examples of creative work are very much aligned with my own philosophy and love of materials.

Slow work.

Hand work.

Considered.

Ethical.

I say that (ethical) because I firmly believe in the Less Is More theory.

Less consumption, more human contact, less fast-paced living. Purchase something of great quality that you love, that will last and last – and take pleasure in handing it on to others when the time comes.

Donya Coward is an artist whose work is an exquisite example of what I like to call ‘the heirloom theory’. She takes bits and pieces of very different materials and turns them into sculptures and other textile art that are brilliantly handworked treasures. You can see more of her incredibly detailed work here.

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Celia Pym, Norwegian Sweater – photograph from her website

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Celia Pym, Hope’s Sweater, 1951 – photograph from her website

Celia Pym is a UK artist whose penchant for darning and mending is a quirky and beautiful way of extending the life of garments and objects. In her hands anything textile can be preserved in a way that gives a refreshing and individual twist to its existence. You can see more of Celia’s unique projects here.

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Mayer Peace Collection – image from Instagram

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Mayer Peace Collection – image from Instagram

Berlin designer Christine Mayer’s practice is one I’ve watched for a while. She is superbly skilled at repurposing textiles in a way that’s individual and deftly structured. Her work extends to theatre costumes as well as fashion. Check out her work here. I’m happy to say I’m a proud owner of one of Christine’s pieces, bought during trip to Berlin in 2012. Timeless and beautiful.

I love finding inspiration in the efforts of like-minded creatives. There is satisfaction in finding similarities in practice, using your own resources creatively, and sharing ideas, whatever limitations might be in place.

Who are the practitioners you find inspiring? Does your list keep growing? Let’s compare notes……

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Studio practice, Textiles

Returning to the studio…

After a spell of two months looking after and fretting about my sick mum, I’m at last back in the studio gathering up the threads of different project ideas. Taking time off of this kind puts everything in limbo, so play time is now my priority (within the limits of the usual commitments, naturally).

I thought I’d show you some of my experiments of late.  These are textile memory maps (I quite like these). Old fabrics that are memory triggers. I think there’s more to be done on this theme so will get onto some large ones soon. These are 30 cm square.

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Perusing the fruits of a rummage through the vintage fabric pile before getting the shears out.

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The beginnings of shibori stitching on linen (heavyweight Belgian painter’s canvas actually). So nice to work with. Will be dyeing this with something other than indigo – but plant dyestuff though.

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More studio work in the pipeline…

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