Friday, 26 April 2013

Shall we sit under the oak tree...

Dear Helen,

I loved your last blog post.  And speaking of rituals, let's sit right here and discuss it. Pull up one of the old white adirondack chairs and we'll sit here under the big oak tree and gaze out at the vineyards and enjoy being at the ranch.  It's very conducive to contemplation, don't you think?  Perhaps I will try to incorporate this as a new ritual.

As you know, I have been at the ranch for quilting retreat over the last few days and, as always, I had a wonderful time.  Setting foot onto the ranch premises just brings on an instant feeling of peace and well-being.  Plus there is the delightful sense of being surrounded by women with creativity and enthusiasm and a love for fabric and quilting -- it is a very nurturing and fun and happy energy.  I spent a lot of happy hours sewing and chatting and laughing until my face hurt. 

My foremost sewing task was completing a quilt for Betty, our chorus director, who at age 92 is retiring after directing the community chorus for the last 25 years.  We'll present it to her on Sunday.  I had the top pieced and sandwiched before I went, so while at the ranch I got it quilted and bound.  It's a soft and gentle quilt, with the pastel palette she favors, and I hope she will like it. The back has a label which includes a picture of the full chorus, as well as everyone's signatures, so it's a sweet addition.

From there, I went to piecing some tops that were in various stages in completion, mainly scrappy things I'd started.  Satisfying but mindless sewing so perfectly appropriate for sewing while talking with friends. 

I tried to take time each day to do some painting in my sketchbook.  On one sunny afternoon, I turned one of the adirondack chairs around, with my back to the vineyard view, and painted the beautiful old ranch house.  I'm not sure that you can tell that that's ivy growing over it.  Ah, well.  Sorting out how to do foliage that looks like foliage is something I'm trying to learn right now.


On another afternoon, Pat D and I decided to paint together, so we set off in search of a good site -- every view is a good site, really.  But it was quite windy, so we went into the ranch house and sat inside to paint the view out of the living room window, which looks out at the wisteria arbor.

Here is Pat's take on the same view, by the way.  It was fun to see how each of us interpreted the same view.

You might be amused to know that on another afternoon, I spent about an hour drawing and painting my shoe for an assignment in the online class from Jane LaFazio I've been taking.  This might seem as unappealing to you as drawing a lemon (I am saying that with a big smile, because I know you will know I am joking) but it was very enjoyable and a bit of a challenge to paint the reflective surface of those shoes.

 So all in all it was a very fun and productive time.  The most important thing for me this time around was just the sheer enjoyment of being surrounded by those wonderful friends.  I came home feeling very lucky indeed to have found such a collection of women and to have that twice-yearly event as a regular touchstone in my life.

But back to your post.

 I can so relate to your finding yourself in the doldrums, creatively and otherwise, and not liking that unmotivated and listless feeling.  I suspect that listless for you feels different for me, as for you it likely involves Boc boc, tea and cake, a basket full of decorated Filofaxes and pages and pages of lists and journaling, while for me it most likely it involves a cup of coffee, perhaps a bit of journalling, and a whole lot of staring into space.  

(I have just popped away to look up the derivation of "listless," as I suddenly wondered if it had to do with an absence of lists.  Wouldn't that be funny?  But no, it comes from the middle English word "liste" for "pleasure, joy, delight".  So now we know.)

In any event, I think it's not surprising when one has come to the conclusion of various long involved projects. And I don't think of it as a bad thing, actually.  Maybe it's about reframing the lull into a quiet celebration of completion and getting ready for the energy to start something new.

I do not have a ritual to get my creativity going.  Probably the closest I have is sitting in the wicker chair in the corner of my bedroom with a notebook to sketch or write ideas down in a brainstorming sort of process.  Actually, now that I think about it, I don't usually go into my sewing room with the question "what will I create today?" in my mind.  Instead, I go about other chores and activities, thinking about what interests me, what I'd want to make, what images or themes are pulling at me, so that by the time I head into the sewing room I'm already decided.  It's usually a constant thing, one that just happens whether I try to put it in the forefront of my mind or not.  I think perhaps the mulling going on in my head is a continuous sort of background to the things I'm always doing and thinking.  

Hmm.  Maybe it's a right brain/left brain thing, because I often notice that when I have a period of feeling busy with  legal work assignments, I will often have spontaneous creative ideas pop up -- new ideas or solutions to problems I've been pondering if I've been stuck on something.  At any rate, I suppose that might be, in part, why I've been especially lacking in creativity over the past few months.  My head has been so full of all of emotions and decisions and processing involved in making some drastic changes in my life situation, so it's no wonder that there hasn't been energy or brain space for the creative idea marinating that is usually going on. 

I whined often enough to you about this in private emails, but you know that I was feeling sluggish and ambivalent about a deadline for a specific project, but I pushed myself forward and got the thing finished.  I'm so glad I did!  That is where the adirondack chair above comes from, my piece "Serenity":

So even though this didn't come about via a ritual, perhaps having an impending deadline serves a similar purpose!  I was very pleased to learn that this piece (which is big -- 24 by 60 inches) has been accepted into a juried exhibit called "An Exquisite Moment," which will travel to the International Quilt Festivals in Long Beach, California and Houston, Texas later this year.  And I was very touched by the reaction when I showed this at the ranch's show and tell.  I told them about struggling to decide on what would represent my "exquisite moment," and then I unfurled the quilt and several of the quilters actually got teary-eyed.  I don't think I could ask for a better reaction than that.

(Speaking of exhibits, I wanted to say that I love your shack.  Will it just stay there?  Or will it ever come back to you so you can install it in your garden?  It looks FABULOUS set up and in a natural setting.)

Remember when we talked sometime ago about identifying words to define what we wanted in our work?  Your methodical analysis of the work you've made over the past year or so reminds me of that a bit.  Did it surprise you to see the results of your examination of your work like that? I mean, you obviously knew you were incorporating those elements in your work as you chose them consciously -- but did compiling the information that way surprise you? You said that there was more in common in your work than you thought.  That surprised me, as you plan things out so carefully and it has seemed to me that you were well aware of continuing to work with various elements.

I am intrigued by your decision to abandon working with african fabrics.  I'm not criticizing or disagreeing, mind you.  Not at all.  I'm just struck by how differently you and I approach these sorts of things, which is partly why these conversations fascinate me.  May I make a suggestion?  Even while you are recognizing all that you want to do with surface design and creating your own fabric, I know how much the patterns and colors and textures of african fabric call to you and make your heart sing.  My suggestion is that you not decide on an "all or nothing" choice, when that's not at all necessary.  Focus your time and energy on your own surface design stuff.  But recognize that sometimes sewing with the Magie fabric you love gives you pleasure and produces beautiful work, too.  You might find a certain relief in working with it from time to time, too.  Lots of artists have different series of work going at one time, without having all of them going full-tilt at the same pace all of the time.

So that's my suggestion.  Go forward with the surface design and use that beautiful new wet studio!  But don't prohibit yourself from working with the Magie fabric if you feel like it once in a while. If you love it and it makes you happy, it will fit.  And I have seen how you are inspired by those patterns and colors -- they'll inform the surface design work you do, I'm sure of it.

I will go now to put the last bits and bobs away from the retreat, and then feed the dog who is staring at me with great intensity.  Oh, and OF COURSE I want a video tour of the studio!

love, Diane

Friday, 19 April 2013

The three R's


Dear Diane,
This week has been hectic at work. Early starts, late finishes, short lunches and difficult decisions. Not excatly conducive to blogging or creativity in the evenings. But I always find that the universe provides just when you need it and the God's have sent me a kind colleague who has helped me out today to allow me time to catch up on paperwork and to leave work intime to visit Boc Boc for some sanity cafe time on the way home.
I have with me a notebook I started specifically to write notes about working in a series. Page two starts with a list of topics my first entry threw up as fodder for this blog. The first on the list was "How important is ritual?"
Well, lets think. I have been aware I am not blogging and have been dithering between thinking," I need to get my act togther, my filofax out and my brain in gear and plans some posts," and thinking, "Oh, sod it. Who cares about blogs? Maybe if I have no passion for it, its something I should just let go of anyway." Then I get this precious free hour or so. I could go home but its noisy there becuase my husband is hoovering ( well, Dysoning to be accurate, but either way I know I am lucky!) so I popped in here and sat at one of my usual tables and ordered my usual snack and suddenly, ideas for blogs came pouring in and I have had to whip out the ipad and get going. It really was remarkable. That always happens in here.
So it got me thinking. I am in similar doldrums with the art making, having just finished off three big projects and being distracted wth studio construction stuff. So is there a similar ritual that I can engage to get me restarted in the studio? I am not sure I do have one and whilst just being in the studio is a good impetus it is not as much like Pavlov's bell as the arrival of toast in Boc Boc for some reason. So I am wondering. Do you have a conscious ritual to get you going? I know your Rituals quilt was all about wine tasting but knowing you I am pretty sure drinking yourself into art is not your style! But that said I used to drink a lot of a 'tea' called Dreamtime ( I think I brought you some last time I visited) until I worked out it had never seen the gate of a tea plantation and was basically delicious flavoured sugar in hot water.. I used to call it Quilting Tea! Maybe I should brew some up when I get in. I have read about people lighting candles or having a moment before an little altar but I wonder whether the 'Boc Boc effect" can be artificially created like that or if it has to be something spontaneous and natural.
In any event the second R is for Re-organisation because, even as I sip tea the fitter is in the second studio putting the lino flooring down. So lots of this week has been spent carrying things up and down from one studio to another reorganising myself into wet and dry and receiving various mail ordered items of equipment. This was just one day's mail. Our postman hates us.
So the ritual question may be accademic. It would be simply BAD to build not one but two studios and then not make art in them. So in one sense the complete overprovision of space is going to make it a requirement that I simply get out of the doldrums and create. After all, it does not take any inspiration to just dye some fabric a pretty colour does it? ( Although the research as to precisely what type of glove - medical or decorators? Latex or non? Powered or not? - might actually prevent me dying my hands fuscia yet again, can be a convenient delaying tactic.) And of course I mentioned the first world problem of whether paints to be used for design but not production belong in a dry or wet studio! I totally appreciated the enabling response that I required two sets and I will order more once the restraining order the postman has taken out to ban himself from having to come near our house has run out.
The R for Re-organisation is also applying to the sorting out of my mind though. A few months ago I set myself goals to reach by Easter ( including this totally insane plan to make a lifesized African shack which is currently deteriorating in all weathers in a park in Belgium).
So now are three huge quilts all sent off and I need to regroup and decide to do next. As part of that I journalled about what I would like my art life to look like in ten years time and worked back all the steps I neded to take to get there. In all areas I came down to the hardly startling discovery that the first step was to build a body of work. Now I have lots of quilts but I see myself in the process of to defining my voice. So I use body of work not to mean 'stuffed cupboard full of past projects' but 'a coherent consistent collection of pieces that can be recognised as being in my voice.' I was somewhat frustrated that even though I have been thinking of that for a while now I still feel that I am all over the place stylistically. And thats how I come to the third R word: Refine
So I sat down and wrote a list of the quilts I had made over roughly the last twelve months give or take. There were twelve of them ranging in size from 20x 12 inches to 90 x 84. Plus a shack! But I counted the 20/12 as one set rather than individual quilts. I then looked at each one and made a list of what I saw to be their features. I came up with this list
  • Paint scraping/ stamping
  • Handdyes
  • Writing
  • Africa theme
  • Sense of location
  • Socio-political message
  • Shacks
  • People
  • Machine applique
  • Hand embroidery
  • Machine stitch
  • Screen printing
  • Use of bought african textiles
So, 13 characteristics. The least any one quilt had was seven ( the shack). The most was 12, which was my Joe Slovo Township quilt
. Of the characteristics almost all had multiple occurrences with the sense of location and the social political message being in every quilt. The weakest featured was the screen printing, which is because I have only just started to learn to use that, and the use of genuine african textiles.
It was easy to see that the list of quilts fell into two categories (a) ones which featured my own surface designed fabric and (b) those with what I call 'Magie Fabric' i.e using my stash from my friend Magie's shop of imported fabrics. What I could see clearly was that the (a) quilts were the ones I had dedicated he most design time to and that I was most invested in. I would say they were my better works. The two (b) quilts I did for fun and to please other people. Indeed I cant show you the african one that was not the shack above because it is a suprise for a friend. Plus the thing is so humungous that I can't photograph it at home!
I got two very important things from this.
1. If I need to focus down and refine more, the african fabrics have to go. Well, snippets may appear as they do on the shacks in Joe Slovo but the quilts completely of african fabric is not where my work is headed. Rather I need to be focusing more in my surface design skills.
I know this in my gut but I am fighting it a bit. I like working with Magie fabric, I like that is a collaboration with african artists who make beautiful cloth. I like suporting the fairtrade commerce that ensues. But I know that the result is my hand and the voice of Esther/ Musa et al. I believe that it is possible to work in two very distinct series, although it takes two lots of marketing if an aim is to get gallery space. Plus I know a gallery where a whole african village of life sized shacks surrounded by walls of african textile quilts would look great. And it wouldfe fun to do that. So its tempting to try to do both.

The problem is time. IF I was full time I could do that. I am not. I have worked out and tested that going full pelt with high motivation I can do about 55-60 hours most months including design and blogging and 'business time' ( like entering shows and packing quilts). That's about 35% time. On top of the early start/ late finish full time job. And I like to do other things in life too.
So the choice is: spread thin and take longer to get where I am going or give something up and build up a body of work that is narrower in scope but wider in competence and cohesion?
I know the answer ( jeez, the building of a whole surface design studio might have been a sort of a clue where my subconsious was leading me! ) but you will forgive me if I take a little time to grieve the relinquishing ( gosh there are more R words than I planned in this post!) of the easy and quick option in favour of more work, more vulnerabilty and more risk. And maybe more reward. I know that I will still use Magie fabric or other commercial fabrics, because I will allow myself some R&R time ( oh, they are just rolling forth now!) to make lap quilts and/ or kits just for fun. For example, I am booked on a retreat in a few months time where surface design work is not possible so I could use my African fabrics for fun there. And maybe the shacks will come back in surfaced designed way. Who knows. After all the reason I love those fabric IS the beautiful suface design. And Magie actually has the stamps used to make some of those wax print fabrics anyway. Plus, (she says trying to stop herself crying) quilts still need backings, and no harm will come to my refinement plan if I just sit and cuddle the african fabric from time to ever said that not working with a certain kind of fabric meant you should not buy the stuff. Well, maybe my husband did but I am sure he didn't mean it.
2. The second thing I got from this is that finding time to to looking back and to think is a good thing to do. I saw that actually there was far more in common in my works than I thought and that was encouraging to see my progress which I coud not see as I was on the path itself. And I can see where I can place more emphasis on certain characteristics in the future and to what topics I need to dedicate my learning time.
So I am going to need some support in actually making this choice and not waking up tomorrow convinced that it is utterley wrong. Or, more likley, reaching a difficult time learning surface design and being tempted to slide into the easier route again. Or seeing something exciting at Festival of Quilts and wanting to g off ona tangent.
Right, now my life is sorted I am going to go home and finish up sorting out the studio, mix up some dyes and get going this weekend. Would you like a video tour of the studio, inside cupboards and all for the next post?

Friday, 5 April 2013

In Defense of Lemons and Other Subjects

I am delighted to hear that you have finally caught onto an appreciation for sketching!  I suppose the experience your post describes illustrates an example of just not being ready until one is ready.  You had to see, via the Illustrated Traveler book, a reason to do it -- or, rather, a context in which doing it seemed worthwhile to you.  So I'm glad you have had your big light-bulb moment, so that you can experience the fascinating process of getting lost in the shapes and lines you see in what is around you and trying to put them onto paper.  The sketches you showed looked like they could have come out of the Illustated Traveler book! I'm impressed at how you've jumped in and made a lot of very nice sketches.  I hope you are finding it fun.  Me, I think that's the most important part.

Your description of Mr Barr and the way he squelched your art-making enthusiasm sounds all too familiar, I'm afraid.  I think a lot of people have stories of some teacher throwing out a thoughtless but confidence-squashing comment.  I suspect they'd be surprised at the way their words echo in people's minds for so long.  I hope that by now art teachers are taught NOT to stay such damaging comments!  Clearly, that experience still rankles even though you can see how stupid a comment it was, and how ridiculously UNcreative the situation was.  Well, go forward and keep proving that guy wrong. 

I didn't have any experience like that, but I have to say that I didn't even try art classes in school because I was convinced before I left home that I couldn't draw.  My sister, who is 4 years older than me, started drawing and kept right on drawing all through her childhood.  So by the time I could pick up a crayon, I could see that her drawings were far better than mine, and I was immediately discouraged.  I didn't have the logic skills to realize that of course she was better -- she was older and more coordinated and she'd had a whole lot more practice. I just thought that she was an artist, and I wasn't. Period.  It took me until well into my adult life to realize that drawing is a skill one can LEARN, and get better at.  It was a massive revelation.  

But, on the topic of unintentionally dampening comments, I have to talk about the paintings of lemons and butternut squashes and such that I've shown you. I get (and certainly don't quarrel) with your lack of desire to draw that sort of thing.  That's totally fine with me!  But while you see a sketch of a random, ordinary fruit or vegetable, what I see is an exercise in practicing seeing shapes, and drawing perspective, and composing a page, and getting the watercolor paints to do what I want them to do.  I've done a lot of those sorts of things in classes, for the exercise of working on various techniques.  So that lemon page?  I was trying to see if I could get the pebbled texture of lemon skin, and the shading of greeny yellow around the stem, and the translucent paleness of the lemon pulp.  It's not about drawing the lemon for the sake of drawing a lemon.  It's about the process of sketching and painting something, and trying to learn and practice techniques to capture what I see.  That peapod page up there?  It was not only hugely educational (and fun) to paint the peapod and try to capture the rounded depth of the pod, but I was playing with stylizing designs from those shapes. I've never looked at a peapod so closely before.

So while it's not A-R-T or even an effort to capture a specific moment, it's part of my enjoying the process of learning to draw and paint.  And, I find, looking at my drawing of a lemon or squash or peapod brings me back to the time when I was painting it in a surprisingly clear way.  

At this point in my life, my "travel sketching" is all about my daily travels. I've been trying to get better about carrying sketching materials with me.  So although I've not been anywhere terribly foreign or interesting lately, I've had fun drawing some of the ordinary places I go.  The other day, I sketched and painted the scene as I watched my daughter's horsback riding lesson: 

 I've sat in the car between appointments to sketch a garden that struck my fancy.  (I find that drawing houses and buildings is forcing me to figure out perspective a bit better):

 I've captured a moment at my local library:
and the view from a parking lot when I stopped for a cup of coffee on a busy errand-filled afternoon:

I sketched a bit while visiting my sister and sitting with her in her backyard:

 Hmm, maybe one of the more "travelly" pages I did was at the Bishop's Ranch last time I was on a quilting retreat there:

 When I went to PIQF last year, I sat for a while (again, with a restorative cup of coffee) I was inspired by the snatches of conversation I was hearing from quilters around me and sketched a bit of the lobby area in which I was sitting:

When I went to the quilt show in Houston, I spent an evening in the hotel room sketching and painting some of the items I'd brought with me

 I really admire your tackling people ... I've tended to shy away from faces.  But looking through my journal, I find I've tried a few.  Here's a page that I drew while Caroline was getting her teeth cleaned:

 Oh, another from another library trip, one of the few head-on faces I've tried:

I have to part ways with you on the using a filofax for sketching.  I've tried, I really have.  I'm glad to hear that it's working for you and that the rings don't bother you. They sure bothered me.  But I'm happy using my assortment of bound sketchbooks -- sometimes I have have a moleskine with heavy drawing paper, sometimes I use a Stillman & Birn "Beta" journal with a heavyish drawing paper that holds watercolor paints suitably...  I have a bunch of different sketchbooks going and I'm not letting it bother me that different drawings end up in different places.  I work by size, really -- I'll grab a small book to carry with me somewhere, or use a bigger journal if I'm painting at home.

When you come to California next fall (squeal!) we shall have to plan our own sketch crawls! But I might drag you to a vineyard and make you paint grapes... 

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Suddenly understanding sketching

Dear Diane,

I thought I would bring you to Cafe Lucca in Bath today for rooibos tea and cinnamon biscuits. Although I only come to Bath maybe twice or three times a year I have a favourite seat I make a beeline for. But today I have gone to the sofas on the diagonal opposite side of the restaurant. Daring, huh?! Got to shake things up and try something new sometimes:)

Which, is, as you know, sort of what I have been trying with the sketching. You and Terry Grant have been encouraging me to do this for a long time and I have been Resistant. A little of it was time. There are too many things I want to do already without adding more. But really, it went a lot deeper than that and related to how I defined myself and how I approach life. See.. Look how much hippy-dippy-Haight- therapy talk has rubbed off just from having a Californian friend!!

I am sure I am not alone in having a formative 'bad teacher moment'. in the UK at the end of your third year in senior school you got to do your 'options'. I.e to choose which subjects you would study to exam level for the next two years. Your choice was influenced by your own likes, your teachers guidance and parental influence but oddly the choice was made before the exam results at the end of the third year. Nontheless I clearly remember my art exam that year.

We were given a list of themes beforehand and had to produce a piece of work in a set time which was then graded for the exam. (Because of course all artists produce their best work to time deadlines and art can be graded accurately as right or wrong just like maths.. But that's a rant for another day.) I chose the theme 'Streetlife' and chose to draw with my paper in portrait orientation. Down the left side was the side of a building with a myriad of Chinese neon signs sticking out, the right hand side being night sky. ( For night sky read 'pretty much blank and therefore less work').

Photo from

(Photo from

Mr Barr the chemistry teacher was invigilating. That's the Mr Barr with a comb over and dandruff who still lived wth his parents and always spoiled your 'effort cards' by making it impossible to get a set of straight E for Excellent grades saying that he expected excellence from everyone and so even if you put in superdooper effort you could only get an S for satisfactory. (Of course the fact that he is right and that anyway the scheme was designed to make kids who got really poor achievement grades feel better about themselves because they could be said to have put in excellent effort to get a failing grade is also a rant for another day.)

So anyway, he sidles up and looks at my pencilled in shop signage and asks how I intend to finish it. "With coloured pencils", I told him. He shook his head sadly, "You won't get high marks if you don't use paint. Proper artists use paint." And off he went leaving me feeling a failure before I had even started to add colour. I knew that if I went anywhere near paint I would make a mess of it. Now, I appreciate that, given I was being asked to use poster paint on rough sugar paper, I was not excactly being given a head start with my equippment but then I blamed it entirely on my ineptitude. So I decided that it was better to do the best I could and not do it properly than try to do it properly and mess up. (See how that stupid effort card system worked to stop you taking risks?!)

So, pencils it was and actually, I came third in my class. So yah-boo-sucks Mr Barr. (On a whim I just googled him and found this description of him posted on Friends Reunited .Sarky’ Barr – Prone to uncontrolled sarcasm and chemistry tests with a pass mark of 100%. Had the capacity for genuine human compassion but kept it very well hidden. And also this one I remember being terrified of Mr Barr's verbal Chemistry tests. If you got an answer wrong you had to stand on the chair, if you got a second answer wrong on the chemistry lab bench. I remember that it was usually me and Gillian Boulter who would end up on the bench, with everyone looking up at us. Unfortunately, short skirts were also in - cringe!!Nice legacy he left in all our memories then! I remember that he refused to mark work nor written in fountain pen.) I dropped both art and would have dropped chemistry except it was compulsory and so I went on in life labelled as 'not a proper artist'.

Which might not have mattered if it wasn't for my perfectionist personality. Why do something if you can't do it properly? Waste of time when you could be doing something you can do properly. And its not enjoyable to know that you are not doing things properly. Not for me anyway. I don't mean that its not enjoyable to learn how to do something properly. It certainly is. But in this context there was no point getting a third place in art because I got a third in something of no value because it wasn't proper art. I was just less inept at doing it improperly than someone else was.

And so I trundled on in life having been strongly encouraged to take all the accademic exam options and being told not to choose typing or child care as I considered because 'they were really for the bottom sets'. And now I spend my work life making judgments with no childcare qualifications on how people bring up their children and typing whole family law books out very badly. Go figure.

Anyway, to come back to the point ( its sitting on this sofa - its making me all analytical) I was defined from early days as an accademic not an artist and I knew ( believed?) that I had no talent for doing perfect representational paintings. Which is why quilting was something I so warmly embraced because it was creative, artistic even and required no painting.

So, sketching to me was a nice activity for other people that just wasn't me. I like to look at your sketchbooks, I really do, but I have no desire to draw a lemon for the sake of drawing a lemon. What do I do with it? What is if for? Ooops, sorry, I had a moment of chanelling my Mother there! Journalling I took to like a duck to water on the other hand. Words are fine. They are in the academic camp where I belong. Drawings? Primary school and bottom set or people who do it properly like David Hockney. Not me. Just not who I am.

Then As I mentioned on Down the Well I found Danny Gregory's books Creative Licence and Illustrated Life. I enjoyed seeing those quirky casual drawings and started to admire them from afar. But I didn't make a connection to them. Danny Gregory is an advertsing executive not a lawyer. He is supposed to draw and clearly he does it properly for his field. And he has time in the morning to draw his breakfast.Huh. Not in my house. So I kind of began to wish I was the kind of person who did sketch but knew that 7am bagel illustration was not me or my life. I wrote in this post about setting up an Osterley Filofax with paper so I could sketch and I did do some half hearted doodling in there but I was not really committed to it.


Then I found the Urban Sketching book and somehow the penny clanged right into my vacuous brain. First: these are people like me. They like what I like, to travel, to meet up, to observe people in cafes. (2pm cakes in a cafe are entirely different animals to 7am bagels at home!) Secondly, they are not even trying to produce a perfect painting. Not even a beautifully balanced and delicate spread about a lemon. They capture a memory of travel, of place of people. (Note to childhood self: they draw Hong Kong with pencils if they feel like it). They keep journals which are about their life experiences not fruit. Unless they happen to spend a day eating fruit in which case those bananas are fair game. And they are a community.

One quote from the book in particular struck me for its obviousness. One guy advised not spending too much time on a sketch otherwise it becomes a painting. I looked at the examples, done with intricate ink lines or hard scribbly markers, with pencils and fountain pens (Mr Barr ought to at least be accepting of that!). Some even let their watercolours go outside the lines! And suddenly, without warning, I was into sketching. I had found a way to connect to it that allowed me to feel I was doing it properly and that it was something that a person like me was allowed to do.

I decided to give it a time limited trial. I had two train journeys to London and a fortnight here. I devised a Project ( its official if you call it a Project, did you know that?!) in which I was to try out one sketchbook for that time only. The Project was not to do it to my perfectionist satisfaction. It was to do it. If, after that time I got no pleasure from it then I would set it aside and move on.

On my first train journey I drew this man. And this one.

And then I sat there thinking: they actually do look like that! And I did that! Me! I did it properly. And it was fun!

So I kept going. For specific inspiration I googled 'Bath Sketches' and found Ed of the Mostly Drawing blog. He invited visitors to Bath to contact him so I did and togethet we formed Bath's first urban sketching sketchcrawl. Very cool! Ed is a teacher and a lovely warm personable guy and was exceedingly generous with the knowledge he has accumulated over the last couple of years since he too was drawn in by Danny Gregory's books. We met in the choir stalls in Bath Abbey and I was able to look through his self-bound sketchbooks and try his kit out before we set out to a cafe to litter the table with said kit and sketch. This is his sketch of me to prove what I was doing!

I realise that if I am going to do this, it is important to me to do it in a way that reflects my personality and that the tools and results reflect what I understand work for me and not someone else, whilst at the same time I want to take every opportunity to learn from others. So I was very intererested in what Ed has to say about the paper he uses and why. I saw how he bought a job lot of out of date moleskine diaries and used the covers to bind in watercolour paper. The results are personal, practical, cheap and every sketchbook including his current one has 2012 embossed on the cover... I cannot tell you how bananas that would drive me!!

Down here I am using two small sketchbooks, a gorgeous leather bound Windsor and Newton cartridge paper one that you cannot get anymore which has been in my cupboard being intimidating for years. And a Moleskine watercolor pocket book. Which has a very annoying thin shape and orientation.

I did consider trawling the second hand ( sorry, this is Bath, antiquarian) book shops and finding covers to reuse. ( I have just read and highly recommend A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Oskei in which the diary key to the plot is made in that way) I understand the logic of the bound book ( continuity, portablity, telling a continuous story) but also know that I like new beautiful covers that feel good in my hands with total flexibily of paper. So.. You know where this is going, don't you?!....

An A5 filofax will obviously work. Would a personal? Wouldn't the rings get in the way? Nope. Not even if I do a full page spread. I just hold the pencil differently and draw around them. I used pencil only here because I only had very thin Filofax paper in the Malden at the time. Its not even a good pencil, its the mechanical plastic ones you get in hotel rooms. It also works if I turn the pages to landscape orientation.

And it was lovely to hold which is going to help me be motivated to pick me up. i can always fold bigger paper in and the pockets will be great for carrying colour mix charts. But this Malden is earmarked for my yoga binder ( containing class schedules, pose instrutions and benefits, sequencing instructions, mediatation notes etc) So I had to grab another one in grey, cheap from Amazon warehouse. Shame! You will notice that these urban sketches are the kind of urban sketches you do at midnight in a hotel room when there is nothing urban to draw :)

So, my plan is to equip myself with different papers and try out different media as I go and make this very much a visual journal. I have all those tins of stuff that you tied me down and made me buy at the Pencil Museum, remember? A personal sized filofax is portable enough for me. But I also often use a pocket as a wallet and can carry oages to draw on in that too should I want to. As I plan to do with my word journal which is also now in a filofax, for archiving I will make beautiful covers and bind with book rings at the end of the year so each book can ( to please my OCD) have matching covers with the right year on the front. Ahem. And of course there is a whole new world of shopping opening up to me including things like Noodlers Lexington Grey ink that you cannot get here and which is likley to arrive at your house for me a few days before I do!! Ed used this in waterbrushes, neat and diluted to paint with and add watercolour over in places - it was very effective.

I am still struggling with making the pages feel they have a point to them ( other than at the moment, just being a for the sake of learning kind of page) and with intrusive bouts of self loathing at the standard of what I do. ( Yes, yes, I know. Its been three weeks, I am not supposed to know anything!). But I shall perserve. If you look at mabeloos on you will see this page where she sketches right along her to do lists and daily diary which is interesting and inspiring. And scary for those of us used to nice neat worded planners! And also how she put watercolour pages into her Malden. I am such a copy cat. If only I could copy her art that well!!

I was chatting to a filofax seller earlier this week and she said she kept two diaries in hers, one for her plans and one to deal with her Mother's life as her Mum had Alzheimers. Maybe I should have two - one for the lawyerly wordy neat side of my personality and behind another tab one for my artist self! It would be quite fun to put in entirely fictitious appointment entries too don't you think? The life I wished I was living today. Or an armchair travel diary . Tab one: 10am, windowless courtroom in Northern England. Tab two 10 am, yoga class, beach, Bora Bora with sketch of me in tree pose under a palm tree. I found this little gallery quite fun too.

At the moment I am seeing this more as an extension of my journalling than my art quilting but I am very open to seeing how, if at all, they begin to blend. One major irritation I have always had with the concept of designing in paper for quilts is that the colours would never be extactly the same. Well, duh! I can fill waterbrushes with dye solution and work on paper. So obvious! Ed wonders whether I will end up sketching direct onto cloth. We will see, but I can see maybe sketches becoming screens rather than starting with manipulated photos. A big challenge will be finding time.

Speaking of which, my Brick Lane transition quilts are here with me having the final hand stiching put on. I need to get on with them as they need to go off for the Uttoxeter show soon.

And I need to have a poke about the internet and choose a hotel in Stockholm. We hope to go in July and I hope to be confident enough so do some good travel journal pages by then.

In the meantime, to stop you feeling aggrieved about the lemon comment I went to the fruit stall outside the Thai Restaurant where we had lunch ( it had taken all day and a tour of Bath eating places to finish this post!) and drew some fruit.

I really could do with you getting over here sometime soon and showing me how to do it better.




Monday, 1 April 2013

Forward Movement

Did I ever show you this small quilt I did in a mini group quilt challenge years ago?  The theme was "coffee and cream" and this was my response.  (The mini-group preceded 12x12, and was short lived because the 6 of us lived too far apart and getting together was just too inconvenient.)  Anyway, this came to mind because I was thinking about how bad I feel about not posting here, and how totally uninspired I've felt in terms of creating art, and how I've been relying on coffee a lot for energy during a period when I've been feeling rather dull.

The dullness, as you know from our emails, comes I think from this time of big emotional processing.  And, I think, my creative impulses have been consumed in other areas -- changing some things in the house, figuring out garden and decor plans, etc.

But I have the double-edged sword of an impending deadline.  Some months ago I agreed to submit a piece to a quilt exhibit and the deadline is approaching.  The bad news is that I don't feel like doing anything at all.  The good news is that this deadline is pushing me to do something despite my case of the Art Blahs.  So I have been pushing ahead and I know I will be glad to have done this.

Some good things are coming out of having to do this.  I've been reminded of how much I like working in this collage style of fiber art.  Although I've done this sort of thing over the years (look, that coffee and cream was this style, too), I've used different processes.  I still haven't settled on one that I love.  In this case, this piece is quite big so I'm sort of free-cutting and creating the image as I go.  At any rate, I'm about to get to the quilting/thread painting part and that will move it along quickly.  (A side note:  I remembered, too late, that I should have laid this on top of the batting and backing already layered together.  But no, I didn't do that.  SO I have to transfer this to batting which will be tricky as it's not fused, it's tacked lightly in place.  Ug.)

But what I really wanted to talk about here was the subject of sketching.  I knw you have been sketching a lot while on your vacation in Bath, and I'm interested to hear how, after that week has ended, how you've felt it went. Did you enjoy it? Did you find that your process, or your approach to it, changed over the week as you did more?

Over Easter weekend, while visiting my friend to help her after surgery, I found time to sit out on her patio and do a bit of painting.  I signed myself up for an online class from Jane LaFazio to give myself a kick start back into doing this.  As I've told you, I like Jane's classes a lot because she's so enthusiastic and positive, and makes drawing and painting so accessible.  I like the loose style she encourages and find that sort of thing very freeing.  Our first week's task was fruit, and I did this:

 It reminded me that I've got lots of issues to improve on (not the least of which is my tendency to overwork things) but it was very fun.  Looking at it now brings me right back to the porch where I was sitting, the scent of the sliced lemon, the feel of the springy breeze... It was a very nice hour.

I took a stab at painting some dogwood blossoms from a tree blooming in my friend's backyard.  The individual sketches aren't horrible, although I did even worse in the over-working problem.  And then I thought I'd try to unify things on the page, and got to this point, which clearly needs more to pull this together.  I'd call this Not a Success.  Still, it was enjoyable doing it.
So I am starting off April with the goal of getting back to sketching more regularly -- twice a week, at least, is my goal for the month.  It has made me think again of putting a small table in the family room for sketching while I listen to/watch tv in the evenings.  Hmmmm.

I feel a bit like I'm starting to pull my feet out of quicksand.  I suspect I'll be making muddy tracks for a while yet...