Inspiration Part 4 – Twisting

I always guessed when a new baby was about to join the family as my mum would get out her knitting needles and white 4 ply yarn. Each new addition would be welcomed with a full layette (I’m showing my age!) if a close relation. For a friend it would be a set comprising mittens (or pawkies as we called them in Scotland), bootees and a wee hat. Whatever the gift was to be, I remember being called to action to help make lengths of twisted cord for the mitts and bootees. This was a two person job involving a double length of yarn stretched out between us. Each end was looped over a knitting needle which was spun round by a single finger to create a twist in the yarn. The longer you spun, the tighter the twist became. Then the magic happened: after enough knitting-needle twizzing, the yarn started to twist round itself creating a cord four times as thick as the original yarn. I found and still find the physics of this intriguing and satisfying in equal measure, seeing the twist evenly and regularly spacing itself out along the length of newly created cord.

So when I was commissioned to work with the pupils at Cheetham Academy what better way to introduce the Year 4s to the delights of textiles than this little bit of woolly excitement? They worked in twos choosing coloured yarns based on simple colour theory and set off twisting – with pencils though as I couldnt bear the thought of herding 60 knitting needles! It was quite moving to see their excitement as they saw the energy they were twisting into it change how the yarn behaved. It wasn’t on a screen, it was real, it was a first hand experience. They were affecting a physical change using their own hands, feeling the tension in the yarn with their fingers, they were in charge.

Each finished cord was arranged onto a square of coloured card and glued into place. We had trees, spirals, hearts (lots of hearts), zigzags and knotted heaps. Each unique, all fantastic. 120 little works of art ready to be added to the final piece

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Inspiration Part 3 – Pyramids

As part of the Legacy Project at Cheetham C of E Academy I wanted to share with the Key Stage Two pupils some basic skills associated with textiles . Not only because having more physical skills can only be good, right? But also because learning how  to manipulate materials and to create one thing from another brings a deeper understanding of the world around us. Spectators become particpants.

Along with the skills of folding, tying, twisting, knotting and weaving I also introduced the pupils to some simple colour theory which they applied when making the colour choices for their small art pieces .

Year 3s used scoring and folding to create triagular pyramids from coloured card. Each pupil hid a letter they’d written to their Year 6 selves inside and tied the pyramid closed with coloured ribbon.

They worked in groups of six to create a tesselated arrangement which was mounted on a small square ready to be incorprated into the large piece. These miniature time capsules will be opened in 3 years’ time just before the pupils leave for Secondary School.

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Inspiration Part 2

The joy of this Tibor Reich piece was the inspiration for work I undertook with the pupils of Cheetham C of E Academy as part of their Aspirations Week activities. The school had recently had a new building with beautiful white walls just crying out for a big colourful piece.

An understanding of the materials around us and simple skills associated with textiles, such as knotting, weaving and twisting, were the starting points. And of course no art project is complete without a quick tour round the colour wheel.

Early Years and Key Stage One pupils had their sessions outside in the sunshine. The school fence provided the perfect loom for creating woven panels. I used the colour wheel to teach them about colours and their relationships to eachother. Each group was to work with homogenous colours or ‘next-door colours’ in KS1 speak. As well as learning a bit of simple colour theory, the pupils explored the repetitive over-and-underness of weaving, experienced the autonomy of making creative choices, worked together, took risks and shared skills -with those who could tie showing those who were yet to learn. At the end of the session they had the opportunity to stand back and reflect on what they had created. “That’s a volcano one”, “That could be grass and flowers” and my favourite “We made that! Are we artists now?”

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Inspiraton Inspires

Last summer I visited the wonderfrul Tibor Reich retrospective at Manchester’s beautiful Whitworh Art Gallery. The gallery’s curators created this textile mural to celebtrate his passion for design and colour. The satisfying repetition of a simple shape, each one carrying a different design and the whole piece subtly moving through the colour spectrum chimed with my own aesthetic.

 

Recurring themes in my own practice are patchwork and repetiton and my deep love of colour meant that this piece really stayed with me. When I was recently commissioned by Cheetham C of E Academy in Mancheseter to work with pupils to create a legacy piece for their new building, memories of the Tibor Reich collage came bubbling to the surface again.

So how to go about recreating the joy brought by this piece and making it relevant to 570 five to eleven year olds?

All will be revealed in  the next installment…..

 

 

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Plastic Angst

As I put my grocery shopping into cupboards, bowls and baskets the kitchen bin fills up with packaging. I recycle and reuse what I can. The cubby hole under the stairs is now almost unusable as a cupboard due to it being full 0f plastic bags disgorging more of the same, tubs and pots are treated to a round in the dishwasher before being saved into my special sister-bin and feet are stamped when I read NOT CURRENTLY RECYCLED on plastic fruit bags.

‘What’s a sister-bin?’, you may ask. Most weekends my sister visits. She travels about half an hour from another authority, an authority which has a very generous list of plastic items it’s happy to recycle. So ever on the look out for ways of reducing waste headed for landfills I keep a special bin of clean plastic just for her to take away with her on a Saturday night! It’s not a perfect system, carbon wise I’m probably cancelling my good intentions out with the hot water and petrol but at least my yoghurt pots, margarine tubs and meat trays are not heading for …… but wait a minute. Where are they going? How can neighbouring authorities have such differing policies?

I do love a system. To me the little-number-in-the-circular-arrow symbol suggests great sorting possibilities: we could all be sorting our plastics into bins according to this number and off it could all go to the particular process suitable for that type of plastic. No? Here my scientifically savvy friends check out the ceiling and sigh.

So as you can see I have plastic angst. I read about The Great Pacific Garbage Patch which contains 100 million tons of plastic. Our oceans full of tiny pieces of plastic – microplastics. The fact that they are tiny pieces does not mean that they are decomposing in the accepted sense. They are still plastic, an unnatural material whose chemical bonds are forced to fuse under tremendous heat. They are still plastic, a material mistaken by the digestive systems of marine life as hormones. They are still plastic, an everlasting material created by the ingenuity of man but often utilised in single-use, cheap or disposable items.

(Not) Currently Recycled

(Not) Currently Recycled                 20cm x 20cm             Acrylic paint on canvas

So this piece is my response to that angst. Tiny dots of colour suspended in bright blue. The scale here is ambiguous. It could be a satellite shot of landmasses and oceans. Equally we could have zoomed right in and be looking at microscopic flecks.

Either way the plastic is here to stay.

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A True Portrait

Another little piece in the series of shed paintings. This particular wee beauty had a real glow to it due to the back wall being made almost entirely from glass panels. I like this idea: that there is a transparency of character which becomes apparent in how we create things, be they conversations, families, quilts or sheds. So in painting these little shed portraits I feel I am almost painting a portrait of the person behind (or in!) the shed.

shed2

When You Leave Somewhere …  20cm x 20cm       Acrylic paint and found materials

In this piece I have incorporated a tinned food key as part of the fence, a little black safety pin with an interesting round end and a rusty washer: an opener, a connector and a facilitator. The text is snipped from a newspaper interview given by Lemn Sissay MBE when he became Chancellor of The University of Manchester, he said ‘When you leave somewhere you take it with you.’

I also like to think that as we move through life we leave a little of ourselves with whatever we have created.

 

 

 

 

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Sheds from Leftovers

These little shed portraits are a continuation of the work I did on Patchwork Plots. They celebrate the creativity and ingenuity of plot holders and gardeners in reusing objects and materials which are regarded as having come to the end of their useful lives: old window frames spanning a range of styles and ages becoming a greenhouse extension or cold frame; decapitated plastic containers lining the boundary of and allotment sprouting with an abundance of strawberries; lengths of piping providing protective collars around brassicas to keep away munching pests or providing obstacle free growing space for the straightest of carrots.

When I come to paint these characterful little buildings I too make use of things that might otherwise be thrown out. In truth I can’t throw them out because of their histories, known or unknown, so honouring them in this way seems apt.

The Key's on the Hook

The Key’s on the Hook          20cm x 20cm          Acrylic paint and found materials

In this piece I have framed the work in a series of rectangles and squares to suggest it’s a small part of a larger whole, making reference to the original inspiration for this series – the patchwork quilt. The palette is muted echoing the pale colours of the oft washed quilt as well as the faded paintwork of well weathered sheds. My favourite circles appear in metal as well as paint. (My son is now well trained in picking up rusty washers and lost buttons.)

The text is torn from old sheets of cello music from my childhood, once practised weekly now yellowing in dusty piles under the bed. The little vest button was an extra raided from my mother’s button box for another project and the little rusty key has long lost its keyhole, isn’t it hard to throw away a key?

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Circular Coincidence

I pulled Will Gompertz’ modern art book off the library shelf, it fell open at the chapter on abstract art.

A conversation I’d had at the last collective meeting about reading round themes and researching ideas encouraged me to take an unexpected half hour at the local library that morning. I was supposed to be dropping off a painting at the gallery next door but had arrived too early.

With few distracting illustrations or plates to flick through – I’m guessing it was published for the Google generation who have a world of images at their fingertips – I started taking notes on an artist new to me called Frantisek Kupka, a member of a Paris-based movement called Orphism. Mr. G describes, in typically eloquent detail, a painting of Kupka’s which is made up of a series of circles and discs; an exploration of our relationship with outer space and the planets; how the sun, the moon and the planets relate to each other and to us. As I continued reading I discovered the first satisfying coincidence of the morning: Kupka painted this moon inspired painting in 1910 and prophetically entitled it First Step.

frank kupka first frank kapka first step frank kapka

Thirty minutes soon passed and I returned the art book to the shelf. The painting I was dropping off was for an exhibition of work created in response to poems written locally during WWI.

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I had been drawn to this poem called “Address to the Moon” and had created a piece inspired by the numerous ways the moon is described in the poem.

Address to the Moon Acrylic on Canvas 60cm x 60cm

address to the moon                      acrylic on canvas                   60cm x 60cm

A satisfying synchronicity.

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A Patchwork of Memories

My paternal grandmother made this quilt as a gift for my parents when they married. I lay under its colourful heaviness as a child as did my sisters.

The pieces in my connected exhibition were inspired by memories of my beloved grandmothers and their sewing. To balance these misty recollections I needed tangible evidence of their needlework. I retrieved the carefully folded quilt from deep within my mother’s linen cupboard. There it was, much smaller and tattier than I remembered. I laid it out on the floor and instinctively climbed underneath it. It was still heavy.

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Not for my Granny the luxury of matching and co-ordinating prints or symmetrically tessellating shapes. My Dad showed me again the patches he’d shown me as a child: left over pieces of garments sewn by his mother for her family. His four sisters’ summer dresses; his mother’s ubiquitous aprons; an old cushion cover; the trimmed off hems of too long curtains; his tie HIS TIE!

I was suddenly four again wishing I could read the “writing” on one of the patches: rows of random black marks on a white background. I stroked the silky stripes of the paisley tie, conjuring my parents dressed up and dancing in their youth. The chequered patch along one side became the police station of my little sister’s bedtime imaginings.

Can you see the tie?

Can you see the tie?

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I still can’t read the writing.

The back of this quilt holds the secret of its warm weight: leftover scraps of tweed and heavy worsted gathered together by my tailoress grandmother when the men’s suits she made for a living were finished.

DSCF6358

This is my favourite part of the quilt, its muted tones functional against the breezy gaity of the other side: its private face.

The tiniest pieces found a place

The tiniest pieces found a place

An ariel map of love

Stitching an ariel map of warmth

So I found the tangible piece I was searching for but it had become much more than that, more than pieces of fabric sewn into a quilt. It is a lesson in creativity in the face of scarcity. It speaks of hard work, skill and tenacity. Ingenuity and wit.

But most of all it is a lesson in love.

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Sew and sow

My grandmother’s gift to my parents on their wedding day was a patchwork quilt . Irregular pieces left over from making clothes for the family stitched together, nothing wasted. Each piece, regardless of shape or size, finding a place.

On his allotment my husband shows a similar ingenuity: old drainpipes become long pots for growing the straightest of carrots; the legs of a broken trampoline hold up netting over the fruit bushes; plastic lemonade bottles are being saved to create an invincible green house wall.

The old quilt and the plots at the allotment share a shabby, haphazard elegance: a quirky creativity of faded colours, patches and corners gone slightly awry.

The allotments are an almost overwhelming source of inspiration for an artist. I used the idea of wonky squares to contain and separate the individual elements of the painting below.

patchwork plots acrylic on canvas 60cm x 60cm

patchwork plots      acrylic on canvas       60cm x 60cm

I started by sketching the innumerable sheds. Some new, neat and freshly painted, most however more characterful with sagging roofs, patched walls, questionable extensions, mismatched window frames and palette steps. The personality of each shed setting the tone for its plot. They really are a testament to the ideal of make-do-and-mend and are all the more beautiful for it.

I found ways of expressing other details of the allotment by creating patterns often found on patchwork fabrics: checks, spots, flowers, dimity print and polkadots. It wasn’t until the painting was finished and I looked at the quilt again I saw how closely my patterns resembled the material my Granny had used almost fifty years before.

checks

Rows of bright blue plastic buckets I saw neatly placed along one side of a shed became the blue and brown check at the top of the piece.

dots

Six white dandelion seed heads represent the six members of our family: we all had blond hair as children, four more recently than two.

leavesThe three pale butterflies are accompanied by a lacey green cabbage leaf: the cause of many a heavy heart, but a pretty image.

fmn

A cluster of forget-me-nots, which grow in abundant hazy blue clouds around the edges of my husband’s plot – thoroughly encouraged as they were one of his mother’s favourites.

polkadots

The pink and white polka-dots represent my favourite produce : the rows of red and white onions brought back in shining heavy bunches and laid on the kitchen table, the little heaps of dried soil from their stringy roots forgiven for the sweet pungency they bring to our family dinners.

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