One step removed

A couple of weeks back my friend, a runner and female of a similar age kindly agreed to do a photo shoot and model some particular poses based on stretches we would perform after running. I now have about 150 photos to work from (should keep me quiet for a while). As I’ve said before I want to combine these figurative drawings/paintings with my prints of pebbles or other abstract colours/patterns connected to the landscape. This is about women being strong and healthy and proud of their bodies and using them on their own terms.  As I embark on this project, I am conscious of the history surrounding paintings of the female nude (from the male gaze) and how I need to ensure my images are perceived differently, not sure how I will communicate that yet.

Having a friend pose has introduced a dilemma about ethics into my work; normally my life drawings are pinned up on my walls so that I can evaluate/critique them. When I’ve been to a public life drawing session, I take it as read that the model is comfortable being seen nude in public and they are also anonymous to my friends and family. However, a friend modelling presented a different issue, especially as I have photos in my care; is it ok to pin those images to the wall? I decided I should get her permission first and we agreed that photos would remain safeguarded but that drawings could be displayed.

This confirms that there is a difference between a photo and a drawing/painting, which is somehow one step removed. A drawing/painting gives something different to a photo, it provides an interpretation, an expression, something additional to mere fact



Last weekend I visited Hull; the Maritime Museum and Ferens Art Gallery. There was a good exhibition called “Portraits of the Sea” by  in which he had drawn men who had spent their lives in jobs related to the sea (Trawlermen, Navy, Fish Market/processing, the Social Club owner etc). It was a interesting documentary style exhibition with the drawings almost like passport photographs in their presentation and monotone colouring. I thought it was a shame that the stories of the Women in the Industry or women who would have been on the periphery (eg wives) weren’t represented.

The museum also houses one of the largest collections of Scrimshaw; women were depicted heavily here, the images suggest they were copied from cigarette cards or printed images.

Finally, the work of Ian McKeever was on show at the Ferens Gallery and a small selection of his “Portrait of a woman” series which appropriates postcards or images of portrait paintings, overpainted and framed in triptych by side panels of colour.


Putting one foot in front of the other

It’s that age old creative wisdom that when you are stuck, just keep working, just keep turning up at the page, the canvas, the needle and eventually ideas will begin to meld again.
There is a similar wisdom in long distance running/walking;

“when you are feeling good push and when you are not just keep putting one foot in front of the other.”

The last few weeks I have been stuck, I had reached a certain point in my experiments and didn’t know where to go next, so I did a bit of active procrastination, cleared my studio table and design boards, got out my sketchbooks and research and revisited my original trains of thought, I pulled out a few key images to put up on the walls and then finally I took myself off to my local life drawing class to force myself into activity.
AND ping, breakthrough. I took a screen print I had stretched and primed to paint/draw on top of (it’s been sat doing nothing in the corner for a while) and whilst the result is by no means polished, the idea definitely excites me with it’s potential.

Screen print, stretched and primed as a canvas

Life drawing/Painting on top of screen printed canvas

I have known for a while that I want to do a series expressing the female condition (from my perspective rather than any traditional notion – an idea that I am not fully ready to share in words yet) and to combine this with my abstract imagery based on found objects and the landscape (my symbols of experience and memory). The research I had collected was pointing me in the direction I want to go, I just didn’t seem able to make that leap to the next phase, I was still working the two elements (abstract and figurative) separately.

I know I lack some of the skills to bring the two together and so as much as anything the next few years will be a learning curve, with no doubt some horrid results along the way (to be expected when you learn anything new). Next steps,  I’ve arranged a friend to model some poses for me to draw and I have regained the enthusiasm to create more screen/mono/resist printed cloth which I can stretch/prime and use as backgrounds for my paintings.       I am off and running again….



Blobs & back to life drawing

I’ve been continuing my screen printing experiments using my pebble imagery as inspiration (my blobs as someone put it),  repeating screens over a larger surface; over laying colours/tones to create secondary shapes; working the negative image, changes in scale and repeating screens along a length of cloth whilst tying to make the repeat invisible.

Some interesting marks are building up on the drop cloth too.

I have no idea where this is all going at the moment but i’m enjoying the process, and learning new ways of working.

I’ve also returned to life drawing. A 2 hour drop in session where I can zone out and draw. I havent been for months and i’m rusty, struggling to see proportion again, a reminder of the importance of consistent practise. I sketch the shadows in loosely with watercolour before overdrawing with charcoal and pen.

Design boards are up!

In the last few weeks i’ve got my design boards up on the wall (they’ve been propped against them for 18 months). It’s made such a diffference and prompted me to distil my sketchbook ideas and notes into two clear projects.

Back in my post of July 5th I talked about mastering my craft and spending some time to hone skills in printing/painting which would allow me to reaslise a mixture of figurative and abstract works. I’m making progress; i’ve been experimenting with screen printing images inspired by my 100 Pebbles (post of March 8th), particularly focussing on registering the print layers. I’m restricting myself to layering of 3 colours (black, golden yellow and Cerulean), partly so I can focus on the process and partly to see what colours can be built up with just layering and mixing.

Using clear Gesso I have stretched and primed one of my prints ready to use as a drawing/painting ground experiment. I’ve added some collage and stitch as texture into the surface.

Do we ever get to achieve the intention we can visualise in our minds?


Solitude and the creative process

I’ve just come back from 10 days on my own in Cornwall. I’ve often travelled and holidayed alone but I will admit the prospect of having multiple days in solitude always daunts me; I imagine feelings of loneliness or worse, that I will start talking to imaginary cats (I already talk to myself so we are way past that bar)!!  I counter my fears by reminding myself that actually I usually have a great time and it does both my confidence and my creative process wonders.

I decided early in the week that my daily process would be to get outdoors (bike, run, walk) and then in the evening or the following day allow an hour or so to respond creatively to the experience and collected source material. I would also allow myself 2 days off to visit the Galleries at Newlyn and St Ives, and Heligan Gardens for a bit of creative input.

Inspired by seeing and reading about Terry Frost at Tate St Ives I started to look afresh at the shapes of the land, the shapes of rocks in the coves I am familiar with, windfarms and their rhythms in the mist and the flora of Heligan Gardens. I have been struggling with how to capture this wider essence of place for some years, always resorting to working from found objects, but this week I started to change my source material, using both sketches, memorised observations and photographs as well. The resulting book of paintings (entitled Caravan T8) incorporates all these ideas and experiments.

Rock land formations inspired by Frost


Tideline feathers

Solitude gives me the time to think and for my brain to consciously and subconsciously make connections between ideas. Without the solitude last week I don’t believe I would have started to look at the world differently and found a new way to start responding. My next challenge is to find a way to convert my travelling studio into a travelling textile painting studio, so I can work these little books directly into cloth rather than paper and with dyes/textile media rather than watercolours and pens/pencils. Watch this space…..




OS map, running shoes and a travelling studio

My job now requires me to work away from home a few days each week which has meant a re-think on how I structure my life, living out of hotels, being away from all my normal studio paraphernalia and the challenge of how I will continue to fit exercise and creativity into that new lifestyle.

I bought a suitcase which has the perfect pocket to keep a little travelling studio; a watercolour box, some brushes, a pencil case full of pens/pencils/scalpel and little offcuts of paper. Combine this with an OS map and my running shoes and bingo…problems solved.


Below are the last two weeks results;

Room 419 14-16Aug

Room 106 21-23Aug

Challenging culture

I’ve just got back from the Festival of Quilts in Birmingham. It always throws up frustrations and feelings of love v hate of the quilt world. I thought it was high time I thought about why.

Flowers in the Jungle by Joo Boeum – Korea

I cannot pinpoint the moment as a child when I started to love textiles; it just always seemed to be there, but I can pinpoint the moment which sent me down the path of quilt making and a love of quilts. My Dad regularly worked in America, he’d disappear off for two weeks at a time and when he got home he’d need to sleep, but before heading to bed he’d always produce a gift for me from his suitcase. One such trip he gave me a book, Quilts Quilts Quilts by Diana McClun and Laura Nownes. Using their instructions and a bit of my own imagination I made the sampler quilt.  The seed was sown…..

Roll forward 20+ years and I’ve made many quilts, my bookshelves are filled with books on the subject, I have quilts hung as curtains in my house, I’ve been to countless quilt shows and I am always drawn to them, but I don’t always consider them to be my “art”. Part of me would love to fall freely into quilt making, to embrace it, to allow myself the guilty pleasure of piecing and applique and creating something decorative, but it would be easy and would I be doing my creativity justice?

Sister of the other one No1 by Jenny Haynes

Like all “worlds” the Quilt World has an entrenched culture, a group think blinkeredness, which can create prejudice/constraints around the ideas of what is and what isn’t quilt making, which can become a barrier to creativity. I don’t think this is a symptom of just the quilt world, I see it in all categories of craft and art. A few years ago the competition category Quilt Fine Art Masters was born with entries beginning to break some of the moulds and challenge us, sadly this year it seems to have slipped back into the safe zone and whilst each quilt on show was good I know I wasn’t the only one who was underwhelmed and uninspired by the judges choices.

It’s interesting when I talk to people at quilt shows how many disassociate themselves, quick to tell me that they “aren’t quilters” and many who are leaving or don’t want to belong to the Guild. Even some of the big names in quilting don’t actually call themselves quilters. But the Quilt World and the Institution is important as the custodian of a body of knowledge and a history of the craft, providing education to future generations  and in terms of providing a network of people and support which in terms of social and human wellbeing can far outweigh the benefits of what is actually made.

Wabi-Sabi by Elizabeth Harwood

I have quilted since I was in my teens and so it was (and still is) seen by many of my peers as a hobby for older ladies or geeky. I took quilts as part of my portfolio to get into University and the comments from the interviewers was that I was so conventional with my quilts (despite the fact I had designed them myself). The label undoubtedly has a stigma. I didn’t touch quilt making again until after I’d completed my degree and didn’t know how else to find a network of creative people.  As I’ve got older, my acceptance and pride in my “geekiness” overrides what others think to some degree, my concern is more that I don’t allow quilting conventions to constrain my own creativity and so I choose to keep myself at a distance, to cross boundaries into other worlds and networks, to read and research widely in all creative spheres.

Detail of Kew Lillies by Jane Nairn

One aspect I am always drawn to at the show is the heritage quilts, or quilts from different nations and how the traditions of expression differ and what has driven different trends. I made several visits to the British Quilt Study Group stand to speak with them, look at the old quilts and read some of their essays. Having read an essay on Chintz I looked afresh at some of the quilts in the competitions the following day. This intellectual study of Quilt History might be an angle in which I could participate.

Detail of hexagon and chintz quilt – maker not recorded (apologies)

I am lucky in that I have found a similar tribe of quilters in CQ West, a group of women and men who come from a range of creative backgrounds and who bring their own slant to the practise of patchwork, applique, quilting and textiles and are continually expanding that practise and challenging each other. We had a gallery stand at FOQ this year, part of the Unfolding Stories III touring exhibition which started in Kingsbridge back in April. Perhaps then, through this group I have found my corner of the Quilt World and through continuing my own practise I am, in the only way I can, challenging the culture.

Thorness Bay Studies

The second 5 days of leave were spent on Thorness Bay in the Isle of Wight. With its mixture of mud sand and shingle, it does not have the instant beauty of golden sands and turquoise sea but, after spending 5 days walking it and, watching the tides and times change from a campervan doorway, it started to reveal its own charms.

  • cracked textures and grey creamy colours of clay/mud;
  • wading birds and gulls feeding in the shallow mud flat pools,
  • the tide slowly filling the mudflats and how the light reflected on them,
  • flint stone shingle and all it’s colours and crunch,
  • cloudy turquoise water- gentle,
  • fluffy carpets of seaweed,
  • layers of sharp white shell in the crumbly sand/mud stone cliffs – titbits of geological history,
  • old jettie, pipes and buildings scattered on the shore in ruins,
  • driftwood trees hung with shoes,
  • the far bank with its industrial silhouettes; lit up at night,
  • old wooden boats with fading paint and modern sail boats out in the channel.

As a response, I have created another little book of paintings using the beach finds I picked up as reference. Whilst the book is complete in itself – a visual document of this particular time and place; I might also look to use these as studies for possible cloth paintings at some point.

Back home I reflected on how I explore place and how I use the repetitive act of walking, picking things up, taking photos and looking as a means of settling into the unfamiliar. The more I walked, the more I noticed and discovered and the more it allowed me to feel at home there. Noticing what is the same and what is different.

I am running a workshop called “A walk in the Park” at Trowbridge Arts Centre on Saturday 18th August to share this process. Details can be found on their Facebook Page here;


Up to my ears in cobwebs and sawdust

I thought i’d reflect on the first part of my 10 days leave from work in this post (the second part will be next week);

I spent the first 5 days up to my ears in cobwebs, sawdust and bundles of old electric cable (my Dad was a hoarder of anything “useful”) moving my Dads wood workshop to my house. It was quite insightful to enter a space/place which was solely my Dads for decades; you can learn a lot about a person from their environment and the objects they keep.I discovered old tools from his Grandad Sam who taught him most of his practical skills as a child. Most were rusty or no longer of any use but my sister will treasure them as decorations and for their family history. My favourite piece was the woodwork bench which my Dad built himself and is full of saw marks and indents from years of his use. Then there were hand tools full of promise of new skills I hope to learn and encompass into my creative practise alongside a couple of scary looking power tools which I will need help and confidence to set up and use.

In a cupboard on the wall were rows of boxes and jars all neatly labelled with washers, hinges, screws, tacks, nails and other interesting shaped bits and bobs which,  alongside the 1970s lino flooring and 50s looking drawer liners chanted “printmaking patterns” at me. Balance this order against a myriad of unlabelled bottles and containers full of chemicals and liquids of unknown age and origin for me to dispose of!!!!!  (fear not I took them to the council recycling centre)


I’ve already been reading books from the Library on woodcutting and printmaking. My woodwork will no doubt be different from my Dads but I know he would be pleased by my interest and to know it was being used. I guess in some way I also feel i’m continuing a family tradition. There is still work to be done until my workshop is set-up and operational, but it’s a promising start.

The same but different – Installation in progress


So the day  finally arrived to install my small mussel inspired paintings into Trowbridge Arts Centre as their foyer artist for the next 6 months. I’m hoping the images below tell a story of the days hanging;

To see the finished wall installation you will have to come and take a peek! Entry is free and there are always other exhibitions on in the gallery spaces, as well as a café and artist co-operative shop so if you get a chance it’s worth a visit.

Alongside the exhibition I will be running two workshops based on a walk through the park and drawing from the objects or inspiration we find to create a group artwork which will also be displayed in the Foyer.

  • Sat August 18th, 10am-2pm, £8 (Adults), or
  • Sat Nov 3rd, 10am-12noon, £3 (Children aged 5+ accompanied by an adult)

Places are limited and can be booked via the Trowbridge Arts Website soon.