Sunday, 10 November 2013

Fom Hippiedom to Officialdom

This year some of my tapestry involvements have been spread over the countryside.
I became a member of the Blue Knob Gallery, a successful community-run venture in the hills behind Nimbin. For those not familiar with this area, Nimbin is the hippie capital of Australia.
Its known for its colour but some of the image it portrays on the surface doesn't necessarily  give credit to the amazing creative talents, intelligence and diversity of those that dwell in the surrounding countryside. Many live on intentional communities, in ways that haven't been allowed by councils in most areas. But regardless of how individuals live on the land or in towns, community has become a way of life in this area, shining through all local activities, including the Blue Knob Gallery.
I have just returned from a day helping out on reception, seeing for the first time the latest exhibition, based on the theme of Pandora's Box. 
Its always a treat to see how the different artists respond to a theme and I like the way the people here respond in so many different materials, whether fibre, clay, found objects, or paper.
Here's my contribution in tapestry weaving. Art does not equal painting here.
I couldn't resist this exhibition challenge when it was announced and I soon found myself whipping up a design and setting up a relatively coarse loom.  The basic design evolved fairly quickly as I started with the Greek jar, which is what Pandora's box initially was before it got mistranslated, and floated it in the Mediteranean. I let all the dark stuff pour out and decided it was just the precursor to the colour of life which we dance with until we have it purified. I chose the complimentary colours of olive green and red/violet to represent our polarity as they are quite intense and a bit unpleasant when together in their dark shades, but can become quite different in their light shades. None of my friends could see what I was on about until I explained it so maybe the design was not very successful, but I enjoyed playing with the colours as I wove in a freer way than I have as yet experienced. Then I framed it in a box structure to acknowledge the mistranslation we have come to accept. Click on the image to see the weave enlarged.
Earlier in the year I journeyed to Canberra to make a small mark on the Canberra Centennial Community Tapestry. This is a big project, sponsored by the Canberra Legislative Assembly where the tapestry will be housed soon. As a community project it has been gathering many experienced and newly trained weavers from near and far to contribute to the weaving.  This is what it looked like when I visited in February, with the design sitting behind it, just a couple of months into the weaving.
It was fun weaving alongside others for over a week, and I chose some icons to focus on.
This leaf design was quite a challenge and here I am in the process of doing some embroidery stitches to create the detail.
I left the Canberra weavers to it over the cold winter and returned early October, just as all the spring flowers were coming out.  They had worked hard over the winter, but with only a month before it needed to be cut off, weavers were moving fast and I spent a week filling in an area -  the dark hillside and the area just beneath it.
And here's a picture of Annie, the designer, standing in front of the grown tapestry, looking resplendent in her outfit printed with Canberra icons  and flora, similar to those in the tapestry.

 Annie is a printmaker, not a weaver, so it gave the tapestry design a special quality and made it fun to interpret.
Since then the mountains and sky have been woven in and the cutting off ceremony was held recently.
You can see the finished weaving if you Google Canberra Community Tapestry and connect with the tapestry's blog.
When its finally presented it will be accompanied by small tapestries that weavers have contributed on the theme of Canberra and its centenary. I chose to do a small one depicting Dan, the project manager, weaving in its early stages, as that has been my main experience of Canberra. Here it is before I cut it from the loom.
I used a new technique to depict the unwoven wefts and decided to incorporate Dan into the wefts as I am sure he is totally merged with it by now. The spindle in his hand came out like a weapon!
I have enjoyed moving between the environments as I also integrate my own move from Victoria to Northern NSW only a couple of years ago. I love the rainforest here in the misty hills, and the coastal bush, but I also need a bit of the seasonal changes from further south. And the subtropical freedom of this areas contrasts with some of the formality that cooler winters seem to bring.
Here's my favourite photo from Canberra's Floriade display of tulips and other flowers, which I caught in full bloom.
Thanks for travelling with me.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Back to Nature

When it came to weaving a 'large' tapestry I decided to go safe, with a spot of nature. I had been itching to do something with the water lily images I had photographed on the dam where I was living in Central Victoria. I had captured the light on the leaves and water at special moments and I created the design from a couple of different views. The dimensions were determined by the possibility that I would be weaving it while travelling in my fairly modestly sized camper van - I couldn't have the loom too tall. I was travelling north from Victoria and had no idea where I would end up. As it turned out, I designed it in a friends house in Lismore, and did the wool dyeing and weaving at 3 different temporary residences.

93cm x 42cm
This isn't exactly large by traditional tapestry standards but it was huge for me and done on 12/18 warp with hand dyed wools. I struggled with the olive greens, trying out new recipes all the way through because I hadn't yet discovered that a touch of red would have given them the depth I needed.
I haven't mounted it yet, but when I do it will also need framing as the upper line is a bit wonky - due to my hand made loom getting variable tension adjustment along the top as I stuffed all sorts of bits of wood into the warps to tighten them.
Here are a couple of close-ups:
I look forward to having it on the wall - all that weaving and I am still fond of the image.
By the time this was completed I was ensconced in Lismore in Northern NSW, surrounded by rainforest, and the water lilies are now violet/blue or yellow.  I know there is a weaving waiting to honour them, but first I needed to explore all the new imagery of the dry rainforest where I
was living at the time. Lots of drawings helped this, but not for long outdoors as mossies are always lurking around the forest and it doesn't pay to stand still for too long.
I put together bits of different views in a fairly dense design, which made it a challenge to weave at times as I kept running out of weft space to express all the details. I really enjoyed bringing out some of the hidden colours in this environment - we are often not conscious of  all the colours that are creating the richness before our eyes.
This is my first shaped tapestry so there was much to learn in new techniques of shaping. I like the potential of shaping.
38 cm x 34 cm
Click on the image to enlarge it and see the texture.
Here are a couple of enlarged details. As you may be able to see I have woven it sideways to give smooth lines to the tree trunks. This may be an odd thing to do if you are not a weaver, but often it actually suits the design if the subject matter is changing as you move across horizontally.
At the end of 2013, with all my formal weaving assignments behind me, I was ready for the annual Australia and NZ small format show, generously organised by Ymmyarns, who also supply dyed tapestry weaving wools. The subject matter for this was 'From Mountains to the Sea'. This is a small affair, with a size limit of 20cm by 20cm, so a good excuse to try out some finer texture - for non-weavers this means a finer and denser upright warp and thinner wool mixes for weaving, so the potential for more detail, but a limit on the number of different coloured strands can be packed into one pieces of warp being used at any one time. Here's what I came up with:
I realised as I was weaving I was creating M shapes for Mountains and an S shape leading out to the Sea - so it was a lesson in our letter formations as well.
I haven't been able to get to the exhibition which has been travelling to various places in Victoria,
 so I look forward to seeing all the other entries in CD soon.
That just about completes my study journey and future blogs will happen as I have things to share.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Exploring people

When it comes to drawing I have always been more comfortable with nature than with people, but I welcomed the challenge to move out of the comfort zone.

But so we don't rush too quickly into this domain, lets begin with a design which was really based on leaves, as we have Eve still half hidden behind the fig leaves.

I wove a small section of this and enjoyed the challenge of creating the same effect on both leaves while weaving them from different orientations to the warp.
15.5cm x 10cm
Having got beyond the leaves as a disguise I thought it best to start with myself, so as not to  disgrace anyone else. Responding to an assignment to depict a story of a difficult moment in life, I went back to myself as a small child being put in a bathing beauty competition. Not being a willing party to this idea, and probably not having a clue what it was about till I was thrust out on the stage with 4 other 'bathers', it was a bit of a shock. Returning to how I felt at the time, I came up with this drawing of myself frozen in the overwhelming experience.

Drawing this really helped me love that little child, threatened on all sides by adults, grabbing hands and flying lollies. I chose a small area to weave which included ME and hands and the lollies. Notice I have woven it on its side to avoid any stepping in the body outline, so I was pleased I managed a bit of a nose, though it made the shadows on the lolly wrappings a bit more of a challenge.

23cm x 13cm
Well, I am ready to tackle people a bit more head on, but I start relatively safely with 2 imaginary mythic faces.
I called this 'The Sun God Awakens Mother Earth'.
Getting more courageous to try something more realistic I turned to the local paper for news photos which I redesigned in my own way
This I titled 'The environmental Executives"

This was based on 2 figures watching for race results but I exaggerated the expression a bit to make it seem they could have been watching something a bit more horrifying. Then I chose to weave a section of one of the faces. I really enjoyed  mixing all the exotic colours for the shading. Getting the mouth shape right was a challenge as it kept compressing as I wove above it - a bit of 'unweaving' was required.
Another challenging assignment was to design a hypothetical commission for a community performance space. I chose a local dance/theatre training space which has beautiful clear walls. The owner of this space chose to have a vaudeville theme for this hypothetical $25,000 tapestry, so I set about my research on suitable imagery. I didn't think I could escape figures in this one.
This is the design I came up with. The outside colour is the colour of the feature wall it would hang on.
Its really just a mosaic of images which I have tried to put together in traditional tapestry style. I would love to have been able to take it further and made it more impressionistic or abstract, but I am not quite up to that yet. So I wont be looking for commissions with figures just yet and I am glad this was just a pretend commission. But I did weave a small section at the scale it would be in the hypothetical weaving.
This piece is 26 cm x 16.5 cm
After all these explorations I was ready to get back to nature. Coming up soon.



Saturday, 26 October 2013

Next steps - beyond the raw beginner??

The second year of study began on what I thought would be a more relaxing note, copying a small section of a historical weaving, to try out some new techniques. But I had to make it hard work when I was enticed by a section that used tiny slits for leaf veins. My teacher thought they were accidental sagging slits due to the age of the tapestry, but I am still convinced they were intentional. They were a challenge, I can tell you and my first attempt at the bottom is barely visible.
20.5cm x 16.5cm

I still really like this piece. We were supposed to find out the exact weave density to copy - drawing on photocopies and the measurements of the tapestries found in books. I had chosen a very small section of a medieval hunting tapestry and although I wove it with as fine a warp as I could find, it is still twice as dense as the original. It really made me appreciate the enormous amount of fine work that went into the huge  medieval tapestries.

From that I moved onto an environmental tapestry which got far more complex than it needed to. I had trouble just taking a few small elements and making them into an interesting design, which would have been a better challenge for me.  Maybe it was because I was living in a caravan in the bush in Central Victoria surrounded by complex vegetation and I don't think there was much simplicity around me. Well, here it is.
Approx  40cm x 35cm
I think I got the chair a bit awkward. I was doing a trip round SW NSW in my newly created campervan by the time I was into the weaving, so it was woven under all sorts of circumstances, some of them rather divine. I did enjoy putting so many different threads into the tree trunks and the challenge to vary  the shading on the background trees which are supposed to be wattles.
I was glad when the course started to focus more on design as I felt ready for this. I think I'm into the 3rd year but I have lost track of what I wove when now. I had just been on a trip to Fordland in New Zealand. Its hard to believe I grew up in Christchurch and I hadn't been there before, but I got there at last.
One of the most amazing days was when a group of us took a helicopter up to the top of Mt  Titiroa, a sacred Maori site. It looks like it has a dusting of snow from the ground, but when up there you see it is the rock which makes a fine dusting of dolomite and quartz. I chose this place to focus on for a design challenge of making a few semi-abstract drawings from an environment.
This is one of my drawings, which is a very colourful interpretation of reality, but it really did have this feel of being on the moon.

And then, instead of weaving the whole image, I just wove a small sample.

I hope you can recognise which part I wove. It was enormous fun blending threads for all the purples and blues.

I finished my second year weaving with this one:
Approx 33 cm x 29cm
The design arose from some colour doodling which produced a blue triangle on a vivid yellow background, so I kept doodling to let it evolve into something more real. The blue triangle became a tent, which is a nomadic sort of space, and hence it became a very mobile sort of tent that could skim the surface in the imaginary landscape that took shape. I was a bit sorry I lost the original bright yellow. Its a rather private sort of image really. I enjoyed crafting the textures on the edge of the sea  and the undulations on the path, and mostly enjoyed the challenge of the shading on the tent.

Well, that enough for now.  thanks for being interested. More to come.


Early stages

To continue with my love affair  with tapestry weaving - I connected by chance with a private teacher in my area. Kirsten didn't put me through any sampler exercises to learn the slow way. She asked me design anything with a circle or oval in it and let me go for it. That's when I began my 'learning the hard way' mode of weaving which certainly gets you through the technical challenges fast. Here it is:

23.5cm x 21cm
Well, eventually I found my way into the Warrnambool TAFE course and went back to the beginning with samplers and that was much more relaxing I can tell you. Here's my sampler of colour exercises which I just loved doing and hope to do more of, as exploring colour combinations for itself is as valid as any conceptual design.

Then my first design, which was supposed to be a few simple shapes, but my path was already set towards  complexity and I couldn't resist the view from my caravan window. The pink on the left of the curtains happened because I was running out of violet wool - I am learning how much wool gets consumed in the process.
31cm x 22.5cm
Oops, the yellow bowl was a bit strong. I have resisted the temptation to embroider over it as some friends have kindly said they like it like that. I loved weaving the folds of the curtain, but I don't think the wall in the front really works as anything other than an unfortunate gap in colour.
My next weaving was based on a photograph near where I was living on central Victoria. Some of you may know of Lake Jubilee on the outskirts of Daylesford. Down the back of the lake is a row of stately elm trees and if you are there in late afternoon in autumn you can catch glorious evening light shining through the trees on the grass and the ankle deep leaves.
42cm x 34.5cm
The shifting colours in the fallen leaves were a bit of a challenge for my stage of technical development but I look on this tapestry as a testing trial that made all life seem easier after that. And you do have to love tapestry to appreciate the stepped tree trunks on this coarse warped weaving. In case you are new to tapestry I had better explain that I had woven it sideways to make the trunks smoother it would have been much more of a challenge to render the autumn leaves and the other horizontals in the landscape.
Somewhere during that first year we did a lot of textural samples as shown below.

As you can see we tried out bizarre knots, weaving with anything looking vaguely string-like, composting and dyeing after the weaving. I loved it and I am still trying to find my way back to that innocence after all the more complicated design concepts I have gone through since then. I vow never to put these priceless pieces out of sight again.
My final weaving first year was based on a dream-like image which came to me quickly one full moon after many attempted designs with pinks and emerald greens together.
42cm x 29cm

Elements from nature have played around in my unconscious. I like the idea of leaves forming some sort of guardian role when upright, here guarding the more fragile branching structure. I wove them with knots to give them more textural strength, and discovered how easy it is to create a complex of colours in knots rather than in normal weaving. I am sure it will look better when I get around to mounting it.
Well, that was an exhausting first year of study along with all the drawing, design, colour, and history assignments. I didn't do much else with my year. I will leave the next years progress till the next blog and take a rest.


Wednesday, 23 October 2013


Hi, here we go at last!

I want this blog to be about my creative journey, which at present is focussed on tapestry weaving, plus all the drawing, photography and design adventures that go into a weaving.
I have enjoyed other artists blogs so much and it seems a great way to share what is really going on behind our work.

I didn't discover tapestry weaving till I was 58, and that's only 5 &1/2  years ago. I found it curled up with my hot water bottle in my caravan on a chilly Victorian night, pouring through a copy of Fibre Forum. I had been doing this every night for a while, as I felt there was a message there somewhere which would change my life direction. For the 10 years before that my creativity was channelled either into my inner spiritual life or outwardly in the form of physical work, which seemed like a good idea in a cold climate.

Prior to that I had worked hard at unleashing creative blocks through meditation and drawing practices. I even ran an art-healing group for 7 years, where we explored emotional issues and processed them through pastel drawing. My drawings were rarely as interesting as other people's, but they meant a lot to me as the only way anything flowed with me was through genuine inner feeling.

I also had a ceramic thread from my early 20s, beginning with thrown pots, and gradually moving into hand building, which lead me to large scale sculptural work over 20 years ago. It was an exciting time at art school in Darwin, where I was given an amazing creative freedom and I went for it in a na├»ve and technically challenging way, creating 2 life-size installations in my second year. And I even managed to top that experience off with a commission to sculpt a Coat of Arms for the new NT Supreme Court Building. I left Darwin with some earnings from that and from one of the installation sculptures that surprisingly got purchased by the NT Museum of Arts and Sciences in their annual Craft Acquisition Award.

But my life was periodically nomadic and I wearied of the bulky inconvenience of working in clay. I always thought there would be some sort of fabric art (I didn't even know the word 'textile' then) that would leap out and claim my attention, following on from some primitive applique experiences when quite young.

About ten years on from that thought and it finally happened. My eyes met with a picture of a tapestry weaving and it was love-at-first-sight. How come I had spent a few weeks in France and never seen one??? How come my knowledge of history was so lacking??? Well, it was time to begin and before long I found a teacher in my area. But that another story.