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.