Thursday, 29 March 2012

Frustrations & Project 2 Review

So I focus, finish Assignment 1, go to write up my learning log and find I have no Internet access. We had decided to save some money, shop around and change broadband provider.  They didn't warn us we'd be three weeks without Internet and it didn't occur to me that I'd have to change my e-mail address. My Google profile doesn't like my new e-mail address and the help pages say I have to close this account, set up a new account and move my blog over, following instructions very carefully otherwise I could lose my blog. Aaaaargh! Why did I bother?

Anyway, rant over; it's done now so moving on to reflect on Project 2..............

Can you begin to see the relationship between stitching and drawing?
Yes. Your needle is your pencil or brush and the fabric your paper.  Although it's a much slower process, you can still make marks that look dynamic and spontaneous.  I found the background reading I did during this project really helpful.  I particularly like Connecting Art to Stitch by Sandra Meech.  In the chapter 'Draw, Sketch and Stitch', she suggests working with line on paper at the same time as stitching on cloth and thinking of a stitch every time you look at a line in a drawing.  Gradually the connection between line and stitch becomes easier.

"Line is the single most important link between art and stitch.  Either line, shape, colour, texture, design or imagery can dominate the surface, but it is the way we handle stitched lines that will make the surface come to life.  The drawn line is a vehicle for creative ideas, to record observations on paper or to document our feelings.  Line is everywhere and a dynamic connecting thread between art and stitch."

(Meech, 2009, P.41)

Single stitch samples to keep for reference from ideas in my notebook 
Another favourite book is The Art of Embroidery by Françoise Tellier-Loumagne, who in her introduction says 'to embroider is to draw, paint and write'.   This is a good reference book with its gallery of line and textural stitches but then there are the most stunning photographs of stitched samples next to their original inspiration, images of the natural world.  There are no drawings in this book but she describes and gives advice on the design process.  These are some notes I made:

  • Don't aim for perfection in stitch.  Mistakes and reworking contribute to movement and expression.
  • Invaluable to draw from life, practise drawing from memory - mainstay of imagination.
  • Focus on a single topic to study in detail, spend time drawing and analysing. Understand what is particularly striking.
  • Concentrate on one aspect at a time e.g. colour, rhythm, texture, minimising rest.  Then replicate, concentrating on another aspect.
  • Leave out distracting or conventional details.
(Tellier-Loumagne, 2006, P.7 -P.9.)

The idea of drawing from memory mentioned here interested me.  It's not something I've thought about before but then earlier this month I met with the OCA Yorkshire Group, this time at Dean Clough galleries in Halifax.  We were invited to go into the studio of Painter in Residence and teacher Doug Binder, who kindly spent some time with us, showing his work and talking about his life. Growing up in Bradford, Doug saw David Hockney sketching and this sparked his interest in art.  He went on to follow Hockney to Bradford Art College and the Royal College of Art in London.  Doug was a leading Pop Artist in the '60s, well known in the art scene and famously painted Paul McCartney's piano.  He was also an extremely successful graphic artist but unfulfilled, eventually returned to oil painting, his first love. 

We met Doug Binder, shown here with an oil painting in his current trademark colours
Many paintings of nudes and horses are in his studio.  Along with landscapes in the galleries most are painted in his favourite yellowy green and blue hues.  He often has numerous canvases in progress and he talks about his passion for preserving life drawing skills and the importance of a good model.  Those he favours are not a particular shape or size but he says the best instinctively know a good pose, can hold it for hours and are highly sought after.  I asked about his horses as obviously they are not going to stay still for hours and there were no signs of any drawings or horses in the studio!  He says he tends not to draw, unless it's to get the proportions right at the start of a painting (part of a skeleton on the studio floor helps) and that often he paints from memory. 

Painting and drawing from memory seems quite a different approach to Gwen Hedley's.  I love Drawn to Stitch and my copy is covered in little Post-It notes.  She recommends drawing from close observation arming yourself with quite detailed notes, sketches and photographs.  I think for me, this will be the best approach until I increase my confidence in drawing though it might be interesting to try a drawing from memory exercise.  

Were you able to choose stitches which expressed the marks and lines of your drawing?
In the line drawing 'calm' sample, I chose a chain stitch for the blue green watery lines because I wanted the lines to have direction and the stitch to have some openness to give a glimpse of the background behind. I also wanted to combine threads so I could add and take away colour to give some graduation.  I like the graduation and I'm happy with the colours and background fabric and the way the blue green stitches overlay the pastel pink, cream and shimmery gold. If I half close my eyes, I like the sample overall.  Close up though, the line and chain stitches seem a bit too textural and harsh for something calm. If I was doing it again I'd use threads and stitches that gave a blurrier edge, maybe couching a smooth fuzzy yarn.

Line stitch sample with 'calm' drawing
I prefer the chain stitches I used texturally on the small sample I made for Stage 5 from a mossy bark print.  The exercise was exploring the effects of varying stitch size, direction and density and relating this to a drawing.  Wrapping parts of the chains altered the height to give a more tactile surface and I feel the stitches here connect to the drawing better.

Could develop from this exploring different threads, stitch density and height

For my final sample I chose a collage that would give me chance to try lots of different stitches, both on machine and by hand.  I could visualise the stitch to use in some areas immediately, like the grey piece of envelope that looked like close rows of chain stitch.  Others were trickier like the green Lloyds TSB words repeated over and over.  Obviously I wasn't going to painstakingly copy each miniature word.  I decided to experiment with machine embroidery used in rows to give the impression of text and I was pleased with the effect.

Did you choose the right source material to work from?
I initially struggled to find a drawing that jumped out at me for the Stage 3 sample that had 'strong linear qualities' and the variety needed.  In the end I scanned my drawings and used the editing tool in Picassa to crop them and this helped.  I choose the 'calm' drawing as a bit of a challenge to myself as I wanted to attempt a stitched sample of a feeling rather than an object.  It didn't quite come off but I'm glad I tried.  I think it taught me that I find it easier to convey an idea using colour rather than the stitch itself.

Plenty of my drawings were suitable for textural samples, I found. Though I was itching to try something with the butterfly wings or waterfall studies, as I felt like I could be more expressive with these, I was a bit concerned that I would be enticed by the rich colours again or the thread rather than the stitch.  Therefore I chose the envelope collage to help me focus.

Was I right to try to challenge myself or should I have gone with the source material I was most drawn to?

I'd also just been reading an article on the OCA website about putting something of yourself into your work. The colours of the collage reminded me of bills, bank statements - unwanted post generally. Also the utter boredom of my last few months at work before redundancy.  There was so little to do in the office, I would offer to stuff envelopes just to keep occupied.  The stationery, just like corporate wear seemed so dull to me.  Why do work shirts also have to look like the inside of envelopes?  Coming out of Dean Clough galleries, I passed my old office and smoking outside was a miserable looking man in a typical pale blue narrow striped shirt. Why do so many people end up wearing these pale envelope colours that do nothing for the complexion of the average pasty skinned British office worker? 

I enjoyed ripping up those reminders of a dull time in my working life. Tearing the small pieces of stitching gave nice raggedy edges that I could pull threads from in some places to increase the effect. I arranged the pieces so that they overlapped in places, pinned and stitched them together but it still looked a bit flat when I'd finished. I decided to introduce a hairy thread and couched it around some edges of the patched pieces.  I liked the way this enhanced the in front or behind effect.  Now it's finished I'm remembering a meeting at school I went to recently.  Parents had come straight from work and I remember thinking there were twenty people in the room and all the others were dressed in black apart from one lady with yellow boots.  I feel like stitching a tiny pair of yellow boots on my sample.              

Do you think your sample works well irrespective of the drawing? Or is your sample merely a good interpretation of your drawing?
When I put the sample on top of the collage, it seems to almost disappear into it so I'm confident it's a reasonable interpretation. I really don't know whether it works independently as I'm not 100% what the question means (one to ask my tutor).  Françoise Tellier-Loumagne says after each of her projects 'this design might be suitable for..... a sunshade, a tie, bedside rug' or whatever.  If this question is how I might see the design being used then I'm imagining opening up and enlarging an envelope to use as a pattern i.e. a rectangle with four triangles around it.  The fabric would be lined to stiffen it and then it could be made into a document file for all my boring post like my P45.  Maybe the buttons I cut off old work shirts could be used to close it and perhaps there would be a window in the front with a glimpse of a panel behind stitched with of a row of cartoon legs in yellow boots marching away from a grey office block.

The stitch sample seems to disappear into the collage 

Update: Thought about this question again overnight after looking again at the samples in Drawn to Stitch. Now I'm thinking it means could you display your sample in it's own right without the source material?  Still unsure how to answer this about my samples though.  Often I walk through a gallery and unless there is obvious skill or something immediately jaw dropping about an exhibit, I'm initially unimpressed.  Full appreciation does not come until I read and research further what the artist's aim is. Some of the samples in Drawn to Stitch I would look at and find them beautiful just as they are and for others I would need some explanation. 

Which did you prefer - working with stitch to create textures or working with yarns to make textures?  Which worked best for you and why?
I really enjoyed twisting unusual combinations of thread and yarn together as I have a pretty large stash so I could experiment infinitely, be playful and the results were quick.  My favourites were organza ribbon with craft wire so the finished yarn could be twisted into 3D constructions. Bright yellow ric rac with black leather reminded me of snakes. Cutting the elasticated edge off an old fitted sheet leaving a bit of fabric attached gave an interesting ruffle.  On a t-shirt I'd dyed orange, the stitching didn't take up the dye so gave a contrast on the overlocked edges I cut off to make flat strands.

Making yarn from recycled materials

It is very easy to be enticed by the qualities of yarn.  For the final sample when I made my colour bag I felt strongly that the thread should be plain and uniform, with not a hint of bling so the texture would have to come from the stitches. I didn't enjoy stitching it as much and was happier as soon as I decided to introduce the hairy thread I couched on to enhance the torn effect.

No bling for the office

For a while I wanted to have a go at making plarn.  Usually I'd have looked up a tutorial on the Internet for the best method but without broadband connection I just had to work it out for myself - no bad thing.  I cut circular strips about 35mm wide from quite thick bags and looped the ends together so it ended up being doubled.  Then I raided the textiles bag destined for recycling and cut up strips of jersey. I couldn't resist knitting up a few of the combinations afterwards and really like the plant-like qualities of the orange jersey cotton mixed with the thin plastic bag when knitted in stocking stitch.  In garter stitch it was nothing special whereas the opposite was true with the white jersey strips that I'd wrapped and knotted with blue yarns. Lengths of jersey were tied from handles and knobs crossing back and forward over the kitchen while I twisted and knotted yarn round it.  Then I tried mixing red jersey t-shirt with a bright pink cotton from a cardigan.  The two subtly different colours and textures together gave an interesting result.  

Combination of jersey and thin polythene in stocking stitch reminds me of bark. 

Blue yarn knotted around white jersey was better suited to garter stitch
Liked the effect of mixing two subtly different textures and colours

Make some comments on individual techniques and sample pieces.  Did you experiment enough? Did you feel inhibited in any way?
I realised that I like to fill a space and sometimes it was good for me to draw a shape to stitch within, otherwise I'll get overwhelmed by the variations that can be achieved and just carry on going and going.  It's amazing how many stitches you can fit in a tiny space and how experimental you can be.  My left handed embroidery book has been a brilliant buy; it's helped me so much to understand stitch construction.  I loved trying stitches and making up the mini stitch samples and having that technical knowledge has improved my confidence and speed.  I used Gwen Hedley's idea of attaching my samples to luggage tags as they're great for keeping things tidy, attaching to other things, easily removed and I can write notes on the back.  I could do with some ideas of whether it's necessary to finish off larger samples in any way.  The envelope collage seemed fine as it is with its frayed edges but I don't like just cutting round a sample with the pinking shears like I did on the bark.

Cretan stitch. Had to draw rectangles to stitch within otherwise I'd keep going till I'd filled the space!

With regard to experimentation, I think I could have gone further if time allowed or I made my samples smaller.  I like the way Gwen Hedley tries drawing in a number of mediums and does a few different small stitched samples for each subject.

Do you prefer to work from a drawing or by playing with materials and yarns to create effects?  Which method produced the most interesting work?
As soon as I had to connect with a drawing I began to feel a little inhibited.  I preferred filling spaces with stitch without trying to make them look like anything in particular as I felt I could be more experimental and often the results would remind me of something.  When I knitted up plastic bags for example, the polythene had a lovely transparency quite like the daffodils on the table when the sunlight streamed through the window. Think I can safely conclude I enjoyed using yarns for texture more than the stitch.

Line stitches in curves and spirals. I enjoyed just filling spaces with stitch
Trying out some textural stitches

Are there any other techniques you would like to try?  Are there any samples you would like to do in a different way?

While I was trying out satin stitch and getting to grips with the techniques of turning corners, I came across an image of an impossible triangle.  This set me off looking at optical illusions and I thought it would be interesting to experiment to see if I could recreate some illusions in stitch and optimise the effect by the direction of the stitch and shade of thread. Although the course manual says to forget about row of neat stitches, I loved the smooth effect of satin stitch when worked well with a silk embroidery thread. 

I was wondering what effects I might get by melting the knitted plarn somehow but I'm a bit worried it might stick to my oven or I might poison the family with fumes or something so might have to think about how to best do that first!

Transparency of plarn reminded me of sunlight streaming through daffodils.
 What will happen if I bake it though?!!!  

I'm happy enough with what I've learnt from the samples from my drawings as a 1st attempt and realise I could develop them further but think I'd prefer to do it with an initial subject that I feel more drawn to.    

Is there anything you would like to change in your work?  If so, make notes for future reference. 
Not that I can think of.  If something hasn't worked then I've learnt something and I know I'll be able to recycle it in some way later.  With regards to the way I work, I could do with speeding up a bit.  I don't mind too much that I'm taking longer than the time guides for each exercise as I feel I've explored each exercise deeply and I'm working regularly. On the other hand I'd like to be well on my way to achieving a degree before the fees go up in 2017!

Reading List
Edmonds, Janet (2010) From print to stitch. Tunbridge Wells: Search Press
Greenlees, Kay (2005) Creating sketchbooks for embroiderers and textile artists. London: Batsford
Hedley, Gwen (2010) Drawn to stitch: line, drawing and mark-making in textile art. London: Batsford
Meech, Sandra (2009) Connecting art to stitch. London: Batsford
Stanton, Yvette (2010) The left-handed embroiderer's companion. Westfield NSW, Australia: Vetty Creations
Tellier-Loumagne, Françoise (2006) The art of embroidery: inspirational stitches, textures and surfaces. New York: Thames & Hudson