Sunday, 11 September 2011


Dear Diane,
Oh I am so happy that you found time to write to me so that I got the letter this morning. I am full of a head cold and it was so nice to have an antidote to waking up with squeaky ears and eyes that feel like someone punched them hard. I saw the email in my inbox and then shut the Ipad cover quickly lest I be tempted and then took you along to Cedar Farm to read there. I have so much I have been saving up to tell you. ( Eavesdroppers on this conversation will, I think be blog readers with stamina, as I think long posts are to be the order of the days. Open letters not postcards. Unless I have a postcard kind of week in which case I shall be short. I know that will be Ok with you.)
So,first as you can see I obeyed your instructions and went back and bought more unsuitable notebooks. Don't they look pretty?
Your ice dyed fabrics look very interesting. I shall have to try that sometime, although maybe for now I should let that be your thing? As soon as I saw your picture of them all cut up It reminded me of a piece of art I had seen but couldn't immedately place. It look a little while of walking around in my memories before I remembered. This ceramic piece at Art Fest we saw together. ( I have no record now of the artist. Can you remember?)

And the way your pieces are loose reminded me of Jeanne Beck's Fluttering Pages pieces.

Now I thought about whether to draw those comparators to your attention because I think until today if anyone did that to me I might feel rather deflated, as if someone was telling me my work was not original. But today I read this on a blog:

"Originality is rarely found in the idea, but in the execution of the idea. Its about what you bring to it and how you interpret it, use it as a vehicle to deliver your philosophy, your world view." (Elena Ray on

And of course you bring something new, a new discovery , a new expression to what actually is a simple format. Reading that gave me some kind of release. I don't need to reinvent the wheel. I just need to present it differently. Reminds me of the pigs. You know the city wide art projects where people are asked to decorate pigs. Or cows. Or whatever. All the same but all different.  All quilts are basically three layers with some sort of fibre and some sort of stitch. All the same. But all different.

So, yes I added colour to my last Fabric sketch after quilting. Paintstix for the green circles and Jaqcuard metalic paint for the bones. And yes thats very Kemshallish in technique. But it doesn't look like I copied them I don't think.  Its only a little piece. I'd guess about 30cm ish by 40 cm ish. I'm too lazy to go and measure it :) Deborah in her comment said that the green orbs were not totally unsucessful. Well maybe not as an idea but they are in real life because they puckered and pleated after quilting even though they are not that big. I think it was the scraps of black polyester battting I was using because I could get to it. Not using that again for art quilts. Unless I want pleating and puckering I suppose.

Now, let me tell you about London. You know I was down there overnight for a training course. Well, they very kindly let us out just in time for me to go to my beloved October Gallery en route to the train. (The taxi driver who picked me up outside The Ministry of Justice had never heard of the place and asked me why I was going there at that time of day. I don't think he understood my answer: because I have time.) Its not a big place, just a couple of rooms and there is rarely anyone else in there whenever I go. But they show really interesting art.

At the moment they have a solo exhibition by Owusu-Ankomah. You can see the work here . It was a stark example of working in a series which I know we have both been considering. I like the idea of a series. I understand why artists say you should so it. But at the same time I was initially put off by this exhibition. Not the work. I like the work, the concept, the cleverness of it. But I do not like the sameness of the pictures. I don't have any idea how this artist would view working in a series so I don't want to make any assumptions about what he was doing for himself. But for me- I'd be bored doing this I think. I'd feel I had a really successful piece and then I varied it. Two men not one. One man facing the other way. A blue man not a white and black one. A symbol varied. Yawn. Same, same but different. To me there was variation in this series bit not progression.

Of course, success is what you define it to be and it is highly possible I am not comprehending the artist's aim. But it was useful for me to stand in those rooms and have clarified what I mean when I say I want to work in a series. I mean each work linked to the next but moving away from it, not just rehashing in different combinations. How do you see the definition of a 'series?'

One of the reasons I made time to go to the gallery was to pick up the catalogue for an exhibtion I missed by Nnenne Okora.  She was a student of  El Anatusi whose work I adore and I was interested when I saw her earlier work how it was very different to his yet you could see a student/ mentor resemblance. In the latest catalogue you can see how she is moving on. She is using the same materials but different methods ( deconstructing rather than constructing) and you see a progression and development. You can see old and new work here.

I spent my time at Cedar Farm this morning sneezing and just reading stuff on my Ipad.  One thing I really enjoyed looking at was this video ( which I find myself totally incapable of embedding) about creative flow. Bear with it because after his introducton it gets more interesting. I was particularly taken with two things. First his simple defintion of creation and ecstacy: In the context of a composer it is getting a 'piece of paper where he can put down little marks that were not there before and as he does that he can imagine sounds that had not existed before in that combination'. It goes back to what I was saying before: no need to invent a new musical scale. Just put those existing notes which small children learn to drawn in music theory classes, into a new combination. Not even a brilliant, inovative combination. Just a new one. And when you do that you enter ' a new state of reality - that is a moment of reality'. 

I also liked his slide about how creative flow comes when you maximise both the challenge you set yourself and your skills. (The slide is at about 15.40 mins if you want to scroll ahead on the video)  High Challenge and lower skills result in anxiety.  I am quite good at setting high challenges. not so good at getting my skills up to the level that matches the challenge. For example, all those water soluble pencils and stuff you made me buy? (Ahem. All those pencils I bought of my own volition. But you didn't STOP me!) I have no idea how to use them well. So its frustrating when I draw something and use them like colouring pencils in the same way I did at playgroup when I was three. I get anxious that I am wasting my time. That there is no POINT to what I am doing. So I learned today that I need to get my skills up in that area. I have a fortnight coming up in the flat in Bath and it seems to me that is a good time to devote some time to experiment and play with sketchbooks.  I can say to myself that I am going to give it two goods weeks to prove itself to me as a useful tool.

Oh, you asked me if I use a design wall. Not so much. I did get my Dad to make me one for the previous house which was stored in the garage and then dragged into the house when I needed it.( I blogged about it here  and showed it in use here.)I did use it because it was really the only place to store blocks of a quilt in progress.  And I did used to walk back from it to see the work from a distance. (Sadly to walk back from it I had to walk through the door of the library into the kitchen and right past the fridge. Turns out I evaluate quilts best with cheese in my mouth!). But it was heavy and blocked Dennis' access to his books so I didn't use it all that much. I will be putting one up in the new studio. But you are right. Mostly I have to date been using a design ironing board or a design floor.  This is what is on the design ironing board right now. A new kit idea for The African Fabric Shop with the new Coral Tree Shweshwe fabrics. I like to mess about moving fabric about a bit then this will be enough tfor me to launch into the making of the whole thing based not so much with what is on the board as on what is in my head as a result of what is on the board. But then kits have to be fairly straight forward repeatable things. Different to what I would design for myself.

The other things I was going to tell you about were about rituals and creativity. I did a  lot of  reading and thinking about that today, but you know, looking at the time, I think I will save that for the next letter:) Time to actually go and make something. Like a cup of tea say,

1 comment:

Joyce said...

You say "But I do not like the sameness of the pictures. "
But if you were making a series for a living you might regard it differently. Sameness = less overall effort per series = more income per unit of effort.

Three UK quilters who I think do excellent work in series are Barbara Weeks, Christine Restall and Pat Archibald. All three combine technical excellence with artistic merit and I think the components of their series show what you are looking for: connectivity without repetition.