Thursday, 23 April 2009

Deadlines approach ..... !

 page three from my farmhouse project notebook

Although I am creating my fabric 'Farmhouse Memory' album in celebration of our 40 years here in this beautiful part of England, and of the work we have done on the house and garden, and our family life together over the years, it does have another purpose. I want to offer pages from it as illustrations to a commissioned magazine series upon which I shortly start work. The series is entitled - or will be - 'Recipes from a Farmhouse Kitchen' but is to be more than a cookbook.

I suddenly realised that I have not yet started on any actual fabric pages and my first copy date is 1st June! They will add an extra dimension to the articles. I am almost ready to begin, but find with all my projects that I have first to go through a notebook period when I brainstorm my ideas, and then sampling time when I experiment with various bits and pieces integral to the project. Some people laugh at this stage in my creating but it is so necessary to the way I work, and certainly serves its purpose in these days when I cannot remember most things from one day to the next. However hard I try to just create, I always come back to planning, even when I start spontaneously with just the germ of an idea. (I could no more write an article or lay out pages in a magazine without some structure and planning - it would be like throwing words or images into the air and publishing them exactly where they fall.) My method works for me even though it is slow and sometimes tedious. And so the project notebook builds and the samples accumulate n my workbench.

 page four from my farmhouse project notebook

My initial brainstorming is now complete and I have moved on to the sampling stage: preparing page backgrounds (using Angie Hughes' method which she describes in her book 'Stitch Cloth Paper and Paint'. Basically, you use curtain interlining soaked in a solution of pva glue and water. When dry, you iron it and collage onto it bits of tissue paper and scrim (open-weave muslin) using very diluted pva. I have made this before (I call it faux-suede, because it really does feel like that before you add the collage bits) but this time I decided to try other collage materials - lace curtaining and open-weave jute etc. The pages when finished need to have just the right 'feel'; sufficiently stiff that they are not too floppy yet pliable enough that I can hand-stitch into them where needed.

four 'faux-suede' samples awaiting next stage

The next step is to iron the pages and then stitch at random to anchor all the pieces, and then you cover them all with gesso which results in a lovely texture. 

one of the page samples before adding gesso

The gesso stage (not shown) adds a pliability to the surface and seals it ready to take a wash of acrylic paint to add colour. I hope to do this today and then decide which sample to use. Meanwhile my notes are up-to-date - it is frightening to look at samples a week after making them and not be able to remember how I made them.

 page five from my farmhouse project notebook

Reclaiming our house and garden over the years has been a labour of love, as will be this fabric celebration of it. I do a little each day (in spare moments), but deadlines always spur me on and so out with the paints today, in between digging out nettles in the garden and transplanting seedlings in the greenhouse, and then a decision on which of the samples will be 'manufactured' into some starter pages.

Please click on any of the images to view them at a larger size.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Cotswold Farmhouse Memories

(our 'new' house, forty years ago)

In my other blog (Wild Somerset Child), I referred to our 16th century farmhouse and the fact that this year we celebrate 40 years of reclaiming the house and garden, which has been a joint labour of love, and is still ongoing. To celebrate these years since our purchase in 1969, I am creating a fabric book of words, photos, poems, papers, memories and bits and pieces of this old place, plus a little of its history. This blog will record how the idea came to me; in future postings I will detail its making, bit by bit. As always with my art projects, I am keeping a journal of sketches and notes on my thought processes, and the techniques I use.

Serendipity occurrence: Do you ever feel that, out of the blue, you take a great creative leap forward? Something out of the commonplace occurs; you are no longer a stranger to yourself, with projects and techniques seething in your mind, half-fulfilled. Such a moment of serendipity occurred to me a couple of weeks ago; I was not seeking inspiration, but suddenly it presented itself to me.

Metaphoric journey: It was as if I had been trying for the last four years to cross a broad, fast-flowing river, on giant stepping stones. At times I have fallen in, been wedged between dry vantage points, just keeping my head above water. Sometimes jumping to the next stone, more often gingerly easing myself forward from one to the next. The magazine ‘Cloth Paper Scissors’ has been part catalyst – I have bought it from issue one, and since then have been searching for my own voice. So much (materials and ideas) was new to me; I had so much to learn of the mixed-media world.

The river in full spate

Slippery rocks to catch the unwary

Giant stepping stones (a leap into the unknown)

and a bridge to take one over the water, to new adventures

Eureka! And then quite by chance, I reached the other side; climbed a high hill, saw a way forward. 

There  at last !! - and end of metaphor

(These pics are to me symbolic of my journey; they were taken last summer in the upper Dart valley and on part of Dartmoor, whilst we were working on a magazine article that has 
just appeared in the current issue of  'Practical Caravan' magazine.)

My creative treasures glow all around me - though I must admit that some are still half-finished, stuffed into jute bags and innumerable boxes. Suddenly I realise that all I have been practising and assimilating can be brought together in a vision that came to me as I tidied my work-room and re-organised my ‘stuff’ after the booklet project (please see last two postings).

I now know where I am going …. the path lies ahead, and it’s all connected to this house, this garden, our beloved home – the springboard to my creativity. I have a visual story to tell and began that very afternoon, two weeks ago; and it felt so good.

The back of our house and barn as bought, in 1969.

Part of the reclaimed garden (my potager) in 1991/92
(It's now on its third reincarnation)

Other projects will of course insert themselves but this celebration will bring together so many aspects of our life together. I will continue to tackle new techniques, but will also include sewing skills and other things I learned so many years ago. So to a certain extent this 'fabric memory book' will be a child's primer, an embroiderer's sampler. I am trying to do a little bit each day so that I continually move forward - and will report my progress by-and-by.

Here are the first notes I made in my layout notebook - click on them to see them full size. They may not make much sense initially as I was thinking on the page, jotting down my thoughts, holding an early brainstorming session with myself.

I am taking it gently, but do so hope you will enjoy following my journey - and I truly welcome all comments, thoughts and advice; positive or negative. 

Friday, 3 April 2009

Little Journals - other techniques

The little booklets I wrote about yesterday have more to them than patterned scrapbook papers. I incorporated some of my favourite techniques though still sufficiently simple that anyone could attempt them. First, I took heavy watercolour paper and large brown paper bags (which I buy in bulk from our local business supply store). I use acrylic paint to colour these - a few swirls of three colours usually. I spread these at random over the paper, as thinly as possible, scraping with a credit card. Sometimes I squeeze out too much paint and then I blot two papers together, and continue scraping on both. It is easy to create 'mud' but if that happens, I put all those non-descript papers aside for a journal that demands something low-key.

I wanted to introduce the use of napkin motifs to embellish the pages, and chose a selection (to show readers something of the range available, appropriate to a gardening journal).

I explained how to apply the motifs, and showed some pages with motifs glued on (I suggested the use of diluted pva glue, as newcomers to napkin callage might find it difficult to discover a source of gel medium). The pic below shows motifs applied to scrapbook papers and to the painted (acrylic) watercolour pages.

But the ones I liked best were the painted paper bags with napkins applied; they took on an antique, wrinkled effect.

Not content with suggesting the acrylic paint colour technique and the napkin motifs, I went one stage further and explained how to create pockets into which such things as seed packets could be stored, or extra notes, plant tags etc. The method for making these pockets was adapted from one sent to me by Kristin Steiner from South Carolina, and my sketch of how to make this was illustrated in my handwritten notes posted on 9th March - just click on that image to see it at full size.

Had I been making these booklets for my own use, I would have used fabric as well as paper, and a little stitching. I compromised in these samples and added a fabric panel to my 'Vegetable Heaven' notebook - an image transfer of an artechoke printed on muslin, stitched and frayed and then bonded (with bondaweb) to the cover. This becomes almost translucent and you can actually see the cover beneath the image if you look closely. I will adapt this method (one I often use) and experiment so that the image still has an ethereal quality without the background intruding. Finally, I added suede cord to tie the pages together and a couple of engraved bone medallions. I have more books in progress (begun before the article cropped up) and want to use my painted papers throughout, with bound fabric covers and other embellishments.

I know that these little journals do not constitute 'real art', but it seemed to me to be a simple way to introduce magazine readers to the fact that they could quickly create a handmade diary in which to record their gardening activities; and move on from there.

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Booklets & Journals: a sea change

The booklet-journals I wrote about in my last two posts - the first over a month ago!- have gone through a sea-change since my first thoughts on why I should or would produce them. Three are finished and will appear next month in 'Organic Garden & Home'. Originally, I was asked to make some samples that might sell in a local gift shop, and that was when I started on the process of putting something together. But then a last-minute commission for an article on making a garden journal - for beginners - had me scrambling to complete the samples and write instructions.

And that is when everything changed. For as I worked towards my deadline, I realised that a) I did not particularly want to spend all my spare time making booklets en masse to sell (if they were acceptable to the gift shop), and I couldn't imagine that anyone would want to buy them anyway, and b) the things I really like making would be too complicated to explain for beginners in one short article. So I decided to adapt and complete two of the initial booklets and make a third very simple one without embellishments.

So instead of the painted pages and framed 'text' pages I had originally planned, I took sheets of scrapbooking paper/card and cut and folded those, plus plain card to interleave between the patterned sheets. I cut and folded, punched and eyeletted, and then strung the pages together with cord. This would be quick, simple and inexpensive, and easily explained.

My idea was that the patterned pages would form a background onto which journaling photos could be pasted whilst the blank card would give space for notes or journaling. With the eyeletted binding, extra pages could be easily added. In the sample I made, I added a name tag, and some horn beads to the cord binding.

I then turned back to my original idea and created the pages from painted paper bags and water-colour paper, and added paper napkin motifs for embellishment. This was step two, intended for those magazine readers who wanted to progress beyond scrapbook papers. I added stamping and embellishments to the cover of this second book, and horn beads again.

But what I really wanted to do was to incorporate pockets and transferred images, and I worked on those for the Garden Journal, and for the third booklet 'Vegetable Heaven' (see first pic, left hand photo, click on it to view it at enlarged size). I took numerous progress shots whilst I was making the booklets and also 'how-to-do-this' photos, and will outline some of these other stages in another post.