Thursday, 27 October 2016

Exploring memories of Shakespeare

Not only does Water Street Gallery hold regular exhibitions,
it is a treasure trove for gifts that will appeal to many
who love creative work. (Image courtesy WSG.)
How privileged I am to have some of my work shown in a prestigious location, and even mentioned on the owners' website. I wrote a little about the pre-exhibition process in my last post and since then, apart from attending the preview evening have been away from home. Visiting Water Street Gallery in Todmorden, West Yorkshire is a magical experience and there is much else to discovers, besides my show-within-a-show. 

Checking part of my display before the preview evening
(image courtesy Mike Holcroft)
But hurry, as the whole exhibition is only open until Sunday 6th November. (Click on the link to enter the Gallery website). 

Explaining some of the techniques used to create the Shakespeare pieces 
(image courtesy Mike Holcroft)
Although I live far to the south of Todmorden, there's an excellent train service which took me to within a five minute walk of the Gallery. Without that, I would not have been able to be there for the preview. And how magnificently my work had been displayed.

These pieces in fact took me way outside my usual comfort zone - very different to the little zig-zag fabric books I had displayed at previous exhibitions at the Gallery. My thoughts on how I could interpret Shakespeare were accepted by owner Rosemary Holcroft. Then I had to decide how I would actually create them! All A4 in size, the first, "I know a bank" is quite differently created to the others - experimental in fact. I didn't know what I was doing! The background was a recent technique I had learned at a summer school in Oxford, collaging images using diluted pva glue on tissue paper - I am developing this idea for further new work. There are pasted paper napkin images (the roses top left) and as for the bank - it was a photo taken at an RHS Flower Show  at Tatton Park a few years ago of an imaginary garden. The whole piece took far too long to create; I realised I had to streamline the processes.

So by the second panel, I had determined that I would have to 'up my game' and devise a method that made them easier to display in their frames.  Nothing had been planned - only my long-time favourite Shakespeare quotes had been decided. Though there is a huge significance about this one, for Twelfth Night was the first Shakespeare play I came across at school (Leeds Girls High School in the 1950s). How to interpret it? The willow background is a photo taken, because I had nothing suitable, of a weeping willow opposite our house on a Cotswold village green on the day of stitching. The leaf spray is pressed and fused to fabric - advance thinking that it might come in handy.  The willow cabin is a woven willow structure at a local school three miles away. My husband (RQ) and most of his family from the long distant past attended there, as did our daughter, and now three of our grandchildren. And RQ's ashes are scattered in the little Quaker Peace Garden in which the willow 'cabin' is situated. And stranger still, I have just returned from a few days exploring the north Yorkshire dales where I unexpectedly discovered the village where at Guide Camp (around 1953) I declaimed "make me a willow cabin" - in private, practising for my practical entrance exam to college and theatre school! Such a small world. 

For the next panel, I wanted to put Shakespeare in context and also desired some colour - a child's book cover gave the perfect feel of the Globe Theatre and reminded me of childhood days constructing models from cardboard boxes and disgusting 'secotine' glue - made from fish bones I think! To complement the middle panel, I used a scan of fabric I had created some years ago - an image of willow bark; enlarged,  printed and fused to muslin.

But there is further method in my madness: why waste what lies behind all my five central panels? So once they were stitched in place (on calico, using a machine button-hole stitch), I cut the backgrounds away, and have them stashed in my remnants box, ready for using in other work. Much easier than cut-and-stitch and more accurate.

Panel Four, "The Running Brooks" is quite different. The play, 'As You Like It', is set in the Forest of Arden and is closest to what Shakespeare would have known as a child and young man. The forest stretched from Stratford upon Avon right across the central swathe of middle England - and is close to where I now live. There are still pockets of woodland - magnificent oaks. For the central panel, I used a paper napkin that included deer (as poached by WS, probably from Charlecote Park). The frame is a photo image of part of a large tree (actually ash, not oak) taken in a local ancient wood. I use what is to hand, recycling wherever possible. In fact, I also audition many photos, ephemera, fibres and backgrounds before determining what I will use.

My camera and iPhone are my constant companions, constantly in use wherever I am, taking anything that might be useful for future creativity, and particularly 'texture' shots.

The explanation of my final panel depicts the ending of 'The Tempest. It may seem strange but all came together in my celebration of times past and future. It depicts the closing speech where Prospero announces he will "drown his book". I remember a magnificent performance a long while ago at the theatre in Stratford, with Paul Schofield playing Prospero. And I recall many plays by WS where the scene was set overseas ... a scene from the film 'Shakespeare in Love' sprang to mind which ends with the actress (Gwynneth Paltrow) walking over a wide sandy shore. One assumes she drowned; it was all somewhat fanciful, as is my interpretation of Prospero's final speech! I just knew I needed the feeling of  a cave and sea storm.

Out came all my images taken in around 2012 not far from Douarnenez in northern France. RQ and I were exploring in our motorhome. He was already not well, and I decided to walk along the beach, leaving him to sleep. In the distance were cliffs, with what appeared to be a cleft in the rock. Could it be a cave? Two miles of walking, and yes it was. And oh, the colour of the rock (as if I had struck photographic gold) where there had been cliff falls. I've used a close-up to frame the central panel. It started to rain - quite a storm in fact - and I suddenly realised the tide was coming in and I could be cut off! Not exactly panic. How useful that wherever I travel, I take photos - often just of texture; but still always in the back of my mind is the feeling of theatricality, and that I am not exactly back in childhood, but revelling in words and images. It might of course explain why I live in a house so full of potential material, that all I can often see is clutter! 

If you like the story behind the creation of what for me is a new genre, go to Water Street Gallery before November 6th, and see these pieces at close quarters. They are for sale by the way, as are replicas of each. Indeed, apart from Shakespeare - a very small part of the much larger exhibition 'A Face to the World', you can do much of your Christmas Shopping in the Gallery Shop.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

My work on show

Water Street Gallery owner, Rosemary Holcroft (left) and me
on a former occasion when my work was being exhibited
I am so excited - my five A4 paper-collage stitched 'Shakespeare' panels are bing exhibited this month at Water Street Gallery, Todmorden, West Yorkshire. It's not the first time I have been invited to participate. From my little fabric zig-zag books, adorned with my own word-whispers and photographic images, to 'The Dream Coat' which was pure theatre - and the last time my beloved husband 'RQ' (Raymond) was seen alive in public. He dressed particularly smartly for the occasion and somehow managed to drive from our home an hour north of Oxford to the Gallery. I was supposed to be the driver but had been up all night completing the coat! The last time I exhibited at Water Street was not long after RQs demise - the subject 'pushing up daisies' focussed on death and dying. I was not phased: put on my professional hat, and start creating. As it coincided with my recovery from cancer, I had no shortage of material. 

Guess which Shakespeare play this represents? (In my mind, at least)
This time, my exhibits are under control - actually completed and submitted ahead of schedule! I even have a little time to create some stitched cards to take when I go to visit. I cannot show the panels pre-launch, but developed techniques that were totally new to me. How could I not love the added theatricality of this subject? Something that was instilled in me in my school days, though I must promise my sister that I will not spout poetry, as I used to do in the open spaces on the Yorkshire Moors when I was at high school in Leeds. I will leave readers to guess which play the image above relates to.

I can at least let my friends and acquaintances know about the exhibition as I have this lunchtime received a press release from the Gallery; there are lots more exhibits and an erudite explanation of 'A Face to the World'. Mine: 'Shakespeare - the Man and his World' is described at the end of the release and is has it's own special slot. Such a thrill for me. I am now exploring other new techniques for another body of work, just in case I am invited to participate again. If you find this difficult to read (I had to convert it), please email me at and I will email it to you as a pdf file.

Saturday, 13 August 2016

Creativity on a roll

My Broughton Castle 'paper' cushion
It has been such a busy summer - not ended yet, of course - and I have been trialling many new techniques. Not always successfully! Making an illustrative cushion panel out of paper for the ‘Capability Brown’ project (exhibited at Broughton Castle amongst many others executed by skilled needlewomen) was not the most sensible idea. I wanted to hurl it into the moat! I will remove the paper panel and mount it in a frame. The background was created from four ‘dragonfly’ paper napkins, symbolic of those skimming over the waterlilies at the castle.

Have zig-zags had
their day?
Recently, have felt the urge to move on from the inevitable textile-and-paper zig-zag booklets I have been constructing for at least ten years. Exhibiting in my new studio/workroom at ‘Warwickshire Open Studios’ gave me the perfect opportunity to take stock. 

new freeform method

Between visitors - who were extremely complimentary about my display (thank you to anyone reading this who left such lovely written comments) - I and had time to experiment. A couple of new ways to use teabags pleased me and will be incorporated into new work. 

A totally new trial - flower
sketch needs attention
Using teabags is a complete thrill - the house is filled with bins of them. I love the way different brands of tea and ways of drying them affect the finished result, though I do get some strange looks when friends call and find wet bags laid out on radiators to dry.

A poor attempt: manageable with arthritic wrists and hands
Next in new experimental work was the excellent Bookbinding Course at Oxford Summer school. I will be forever grateful to tutor, Janina Maher, for her kindness, help and encouragement, for I was not at all well during the four days and would have been better staying at home in bed. I sadly also came to realise that my hands are now insufficiently strong for bookbinding. What I did complete was poor in execution and I am ashamed of it.

Very proud of this!
Fortunately, however, I had previously attended Janina’s ‘Vibrant Papers’ two days workshop in the Spring - a fascinating technique for producing papers that can be used in a number of ways. This I can manage, though I have to admit to ‘doing my own thing’ initially, though I did branch out on the second day and work on what I should have been doing! 

In progress: my 'tree of life'.

Acquiring new skills and techniques has been critical to me this year, moving me forward from the personal traumas of 2014 and 2015 which have necessitated a total lifestyle change. One-day classes tutored by Anne Kelley at The Fibreworks in Chipping Norton (only 5 miles away) have been a revelation and become a lifeline, soothing my soul. Most apposite was a day creating ‘A Tree of Life’ (work not yet completed).

If you love textiles - and the natural world - obtain a copy of this
remarkable book. (Click the link at the end of this post to buy a copy.)
This latest class, just a month ago, coincided with the publication by Batsford of Anne’s new book: ’TEXTILE NATURE’. A book to covet and drool over. Nature in so many forms, whetting your appetite for engaging nature. Those fortunate to actually experience Anne’s calm and gifted approach will already be aware of how her suggested approaches to creating new pieces in many formats are paramount, giving the student, or reader, freedom to adopt whatever approach best suits their chosen topic. 

Anne's 'Wildflower Book Box' - superb, and
different. (This took me back to 
childhood days collecting wild flowers, 
then teaching young pupils in the 
mid-60s to love natural history.)
‘Textile Nature’ provides the basis for creativity, using the natural world as a catalyst; bringing the outside into your indoor workspace. Copious examples are given, not only of Anne’s beautiful and very varied work, but also of many contributors, both professional and amateur. 

Anne's 'English Country Ducks' - a stitched textile 
that speaks so eloquently of the countryside. 
Click this link to purchase a copy. And as I have, read it cover to cover. You'll find it hard to put down.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Time does not stand still ...

A beautiful ceramic poppy created by Whichford Pottery
I look at all my blogs - and cannot believe that it is eighteen months since I posted on most of them - though the last Inspirational Sparks offering was one of particular significance; even more so now as we approach commemorations for the 100-year anniversary of the Battle of the Somme. Indeed, that particular post, in November 2014, gave readers helpful hints on creating the sort of book-art that features regularly in my work. Instructional as well as informative. So, on Saturday 2nd July, I and two of my children (and maybe some grandchildren) will be gathering to remember my father-in-law who was badly wounded on the Somme, but survived. How fortunate we are as a family to have that direct link to the past. Though WAB never spoke of the horrors until just before he died.

Taken when my potager was in it's heyday - self-seeded herbs which I still
encourage. My new Veg Plot / Flower Patch is will one day be as beautiful.
And now to update readers on preparations for Warwickshire Open Studios: the link will take you to my gallery page on the WOS website (hover over each image to reveal the caption). I'm frantically making artefacts to sell - simple things that will not cost the earth. I'll be demonstrating in my studio some of the techniques I frequently use, with the caravan available for tea, coffee, cake and biscuits. If the weather is fit, there's an acre of wild garden to wander in: my inspiration for so much of what I do. Anyone is welcome: it's totally free.

The map is visible beneath the napkin, using a technique
that evolved after much experimentation.
And do take a look at my other Blog: Ann's Art Retreats, which outlines the Warwickshire Open Studio event, and my participation. Those who know me well realise why my blogging and other work lapsed over the last couple of years. But now, with the kind help and support of family and so many friends and acquaintances, I have re-invented myself: a new lease of life. And I will be demonstrating how to layer paper napkins  over maps, with stitch to enhance the finished 'pages'. That, and the use of tea-bags! Such joy to be creating again, and to be devising so many tutorials to offer potential students. Time indeed does not stand still.