Archive for November, 2011

Mixing yellow

In my last post I was a bit disappointed with my colour mixing and had a Cunning Plan to simplify by using collage rather than mixing paints. The idea was to concentrate on identifying the colour I was seeing and select a match from my collection of painted papers. Each time I do a colour mixing exercise I paint any remains on some paper, which is later stored by colour in a series of envelopes.

The flaw in the Plan was quickly apparent – I didn’t have any of one of the major yellow I was seeing. I have around 40 different yellows in the Yellow envelope, similar numbers in the yellow-orange and yellow-green envelopes, and none of them were the right yellow.

I then came up with Cunning Plan B. I mentioned The new Munsell student color set in this post listing colour books. The set includes 264 colour chips that you assemble on Hue/Value/Chroma charts. Very useful, but of course only a small fraction of the full colour space. I wanted more when I did the exercise (this is a few years ago), so I created and printed a series of 40 A4 pages, each one showing a different hue in a table of 9 values and 7 saturations – 2,520 colours. Cunning Plan B was to look at my object, refer to the printed pages to find the right colour, print that out and use the result in the collage.

Interestingly (to me at least!) once I identified the colour I wanted in my colour table I was able to get a clearer idea of how to mix the paint. This was also helped by reading Claire’s post about exercise 2, where she wanted to shift hue, but achieved it using a smidgen of complementary colour. Cunning Plan C was born. A mix of lemon and cadmium yellow, some white and the smallest hint of purple was what I needed.

Here is a compilation photo showing clockwise from top left: the selected colour printout, leftover paint ready to go into my collage envelope, my object (the lemon, although without its blue background), slightly left is the collage attempt with the gap where no yellow was right, then down to today’s mix of yellows which were just what I wanted (ie Plan C), and today’s print of selected colours ready for collage (Plan B).

Plan C was the winner – just what I was looking for. It was basically the colours I played with back in exercise 1, but much, much, much finer steps in the mix.

I was surprised that Plan B didn’t give me quite what I wanted. For whatever reason (different inks or paper or possibly even printer), the colour printed today didn’t quite match the colour I printed and stored a few years ago.

Project 3 Stage 3 – Recording colours accurately

This has been a challenging Stage, which continues as I attempt to record my results. Most of these photos I took inside under a “daylight” lamp with no flash, partly for convenience (the sun is playing with the clouds) and partly because this is the light under which I work. Reasonable light for work, not good for photography  – improving my setup has been on the to-do list for a while.

Exercise 1

This was further time spent mixing colours, both intense saturated colour and the duller and paler colours. I started with one of my favourite combinations – lemon yellow and violet.

On the left is the page of paint mixing (gouache). On the right is a photo of the dyeing I did back in January which developed into the colour gamp shawl. The same colours are in the back row. You can see more of the shawl in a series of posts including this one.

I didn’t spend a lot of time on the exercise, although I did buy and try out some acrylic paints for the first time. The gouache paints come in small tubes and I tend to work in dinky little amounts with them. I’m hoping the larger acrylic tubes will help me to become a bit more expansive and free in my painting. Another example of the brain and eye influencing each other, like the stage 2 colour perception experiments (and the size of dinner plates vs appetite).

Exercise 2

This required glueing down an 8 cm square piece of patterned fabric, then mixing paints to match around the edges. My fabric stash is mainly solid colours or hand dyes, so I bought a fat square of quilter’s cotton – rather ugly, but the best I could find in a lunch break. Mixing and matching colours, allowing for colour change on drying etc is very tricky. I used a hairdryer on little samples at the edge of the page and still didn’t get anything spot on.

Exercise 3

This took the idea one step further. Instead of a printed fabric with a limited number of colours, we were asked to mix colours that we could see in a postcard or image. I used the cover of an old calendar,  an image of central Australia. I really love the colours in the image.

Overall I am fairly happy with the colours I was able to mix, with the exception of the irritating yellow ochre that I carelessly put over the background rock colour. I wanted it next to the middle ground brown.

Given the scale and detail of the photo, it was difficult to select specific colours to mix. The focus was meant to be on recording colour, not trying to copy the image. Given the recent experience of the interaction of colours next to each other, this seemed harder in some ways. I kept colours generally in the same relative positions as the photo, just to help keep track of what was going on. The biggest thing missing in my attempt are some of the darker tones in the foreground.

Exercise 4

Now the jump to matching colours from three dimensional objects.

We were asked to put a few objects on a piece of coloured paper, spend some time looking and concentrating on the colours seen, and mix and record them as brushstrokes of colour.

This is my first attempt. Those few dabs of paint are the result of maybe 90 minutes of effort! It was really difficult to look at the colours – I kept getting that shimmery effect from after images etc. Plus there were just so many colours in those pieces of fruit, even before any reflections or interactions. I couldn’t manage with the amount of input, so ended creating a small peephole in a piece of mid-grey paper and holding that in front (being careful not to block any light). Finally I realised the late afternoon light through the window had entirely changed the colours I was seeing and I gave up in disgust valiantly retreated to regroup and fight another day.

Here is today’s effort.

Given yesterday’s struggle I wanted to simplify as much as possible. The vegetables are much more consistent in their colouring than the fruit. I also propped up some white cardboard behind, to reduce the influence of light from the window. The course notes suggest spending as long as one can on the exercise, and I decided 2 sessions of 1 hour each was a fair goal.

The blue in the top left shouts badly – it was the last thing I did and I didn’t take enough care. Generally there was a tendency to mix a colour, adjust it a little, then say “can I see this somewhere? Good enough”. I’m pleased with the garlic, not so much in these photos but in life I thought it a good result.

Freestyle rosepath bag

Overall this Stage was much more difficult than I expected. I’ve done quite a bit of colour mixing in the past (in dye mostly) and I generally like my results. One major difference is that I don’t try to match – not even a previous dyelot (after all, even large commercial ventures tell you to buy enough wool in one dyelot for the whole jumper). Another is that I tend to go from memory and emotion – for example the bag on the right was woven on the theme “autumn” (more on that project here).

The next Stage is Colour moods and themes which might come more easily, though I won’t count on it. I want to keep working on my colour recording, so I’ll do some followup in my sketchbook. The class exercises combined colour observation with colour mixing. I’m planning to simplify further by working in collage.

Exhibitions – the bad and the good

Driving home from the Sensorial Loop exhibition we diverted to Newcastle to see TOUCH The Portraiture of Dani Marti. It was a calculated risk given it was the last few hours of the exhibition, but leaving it so late was in large part because the gallery wasn’t accessible for weeks due to a long-running local dispute around removal of fig trees.

Unfortunately the risk didn’t pay off. I arrived to find the gallery in semi-darkness, large parts of the exhibition already removed and other sections roped off, apparently due to the de-installation work (although no activity was apparent – this was a sunday afternoon, and I wonder when they started dismantling things). The woman at the entrance desk gave a brief, formulaic apology as people arrived (not many of us!), but was more interested in promoting the upcoming exhibition. Well, she’d had a pretty nasty few weeks or months – police and protesters at the door, unable to get to work…

There were no catalogues, fliers, postcards, or any other information from the desk and frustratingly little in the signage still accessible. I gather (more from his website than the sad remains of the exhibition) that Marti creates portraits using weaving (he refers to them as “paintings”), with video an equally important part of his work and exhibited with it – or not, in this instance. The weavings were large scale, varied in materials, colour, form, texture and structure. Unfortunately without help I couldn’t get beyond the trivial in interpreting the pieces – a teenage girl likes pink, a woman glitters in a controlled, minimalist black dress, is a man portrayed in a cube of lively yellows a “colourful identity”? The disappointment was topped off by a truely frightening drive back to Sydney – light rain causing slippery conditions, heavy fast traffic, and some “eager”? “creative”? “deathwish”? drivers.

Yesterday was a much happier experience – Elemental Reckoning: The art of Tim Storrier 1981-2011 at the S.H. Ervin Gallery on Sydney’s Observatory Hill. The volunteer staff (this is a National Trust venue) were friendly and happy to be there. The gallery is spacious and light with white painted walls. The intended exhibition was all there!! We had a lovely lunch at the attached cafe (important point to refuel me for a second round of the exhibition) and I enjoyed reading the curator’s (Gavin Wilson) essay in the catalogue last night. All of which has little to do with the paintings, except for helping me to focus on them. The one negative was that with such large canvases the lighting tended to be uneven over the work. Storrier is a master of light and shadow and the additional venue lighting could be confusing and contradictory.

It’s wonderful to see a collection of an artist’s work covering such a long period. On our first round we were fairly orderly, proceeding through the works. Energised by lunch we buzzed around finding links, themes and developments. This link goes to some images – I can’t describe them. They are variously theatrical, staged, melancholy, beautiful, menacing, self-obsessed… With current preoccupations from the OCA assignment I was very aware of Storrier’s use of colour. Normally I would find The carcass (1993) challenging – in fact impossible – but supported by the quote “Some people find it odd that one is interested in painting meat. I like it because it contains the whole spectrum of red. Red is a very emotive colour.”* I could look closely and appreciate at least elements of it. The flickers of colour in sky and fires in many of the paintings were amazing. The back corridor has some studies and pages from notebooks – very interesting insights to methods and a reminder that what OCA is teaching is real – not just learning about stuff but learning processes and habits that can support ongoing work.

* Tim Storrier interviewed by William Wright, 2004, quoted in the exhibition catalogue, Wilson, G. (2011) Elemental Reckoning: the art of Tim Sotrrier 1981 – 2011, Jam Press (p.34).

Initial stages of Project 3

Stage 1 – Introduction and preparation

The course notes begin with a very brief introduction into the huge topic of colour. I tried some quick mixing of paints to create colour wheels, first in gouache then in watercolour. I already had some gouache paints from starting the exercises in David Hornung’s book and was familiar with the idea that pigments have a colour bias or overtone. I used six co-primaries, to get the most vivid colours when mixing – for example lemon yellow when mixing green and golden yellow when mixing orange. Both types of paint went reasonably well, except for lack-lustre violet, and to quote Hornung (page 17) “when the goal is a ‘pure’ violet, those obtained through mixing will always be a little disappointing”.

Next was some exploration with red and green, complements so I was expecting some nice muted colours and maybe chromatic grays. I’ve been noticing a lot of red/green combinations around lately – not the brash christmassy look but muted, the red still rich but greens trending to towards chromatic gray. (side note: grey/gray is particularly annoying to spell. I suspect I will vary depending on what I’ve most recently read. Wikipedia just told me that “grey” is the British spelling, but the edition I have of Hornung uses “colour” (definitely British) in the title and “gray” in the text. Microsoft Word spell check thinks both are just fine, in UK, Aust. and US english. Bah!!)

Stage 2 – Colour perception

The first exercise looks at the interaction of colours. I think I got some good variations in the turquoise squares in the top set and the red in the bottom. My camera had some issues processing the colours – in particular the line around the turquoise on red is not apparent in life and doesn’t appear to be a shadow.

Observations and my interpretation: The turquoise on lemon yellow looks dark and drab (influence of the much higher value of the yellow). On the blue-violet it is much brighter and more saturated (difference in value – the hues a not so different which is interesting), while it is almost lost on the green (just too similar). On the dark red it looks most like its “real” colour (difference in value, close to complementary colours).

The red looks dark and dull on the golden yellow. It is unexciting on the pale blue and lost on the fuschia. It appears lightest on the dark violet. It looks most pure and saturated on the green, its complement.

In the second exercise we needed to put a small grey square onto different colours. When looked at hard, the grey should appear a little different – a tendency to the complement of the surrounding colour.

I searched quite a few shops but wasn’t able to find paper or card in a flat, mid grey. There would be a blue or green or red cast, or only dark and light, or a textured effect. In the end I used Word to create a white to black gradient and a series of distinct values of grey, and printed it on matt photo quality paper. Then I found the point which appeared to me between “light” and “dark” and used that for my grey squares.

The result (above) was disappointing. I could talk myself into the square on the red looking a little green, but I wasn’t convinced. Then last night reading Itten (p. 53) I found “When achromatic colors occur in a composition and adjoin chromatic colors of like brilliance, they lose their achromatic character. If the achromatic colors are to retain their condition of abstraction, the chromatic colors must be of different brilliance. … When gray is used as an active component in a color composition, then the adjoining chromatic tone must match the gray in brilliance”  (using the bopk’s spelling (bah!) and “brilliance” being close if not the same as “value”).

So I tried again, this time using different grays trying to match the value of each background colour.

Here is the result, in colour and in grayscale to see how close I got to the matching value. Generally my matching wasn’t too bad (better than I expected), with the exception of the fuschia. To manage complexity I stuck with the discrete sequence of greys I’d already printed and often I had to choose between lighter and darker.

The exciting part is that when I stare at one of the grey squares I really do start seeing a tinge of the complementary of the surround. I can’t do one after the other, my eyes seem to get tired of the game. Still, very pleasing.

Colour books

Assignment 2 starts with colour. Over a period I’ve collected quite a few books on colour or with chapters about it, so thought I’d begin by sorting out what I have and deciding which would be useful currently. It’s another all-text post I’m afraid – I thought of photographing all the covers, but the effort-to-benefit doesn’t really stack up.

Birren, F. (1987) Creative color: a dynamic approach for artists and designers, Schiffer
I find it hard to categorise this. Some of the material is copyright 1961 and it has an old-fashioned feel in text and illustrations. It has an almost recipe approach to some specific effects, showcasing particular palette selections. Still, it has some good information that I haven’t seen elsewhere.

Brito, K. (2002) Shibori: creating color & texture on silk, Watson-Guptil Publications.
This book has been hugely influential in developing my understanding of colour and colour mixing in dyeing. It took me a long while to appreciate the methodical, process-driven approach of the book which at first seemed rather repetitive and illogical. It introduced me to the Munsell system, which is a really clear way to precisely characterise a colour using hue, value and chroma (saturation).

Bryant, L., (2011) DVD. A fiber artist’s guid to color, Interweave
This DVD shows a great way to approach dealing with colours in yarns (for knitting, weaving, whatever), including the extra challenge where a yarn is not a simple, single colour. The examples of Laura’s own work are remarkable. The format and style make this a good choice for those working in fibres who are not comfortable with colour.

Chevreul, M.E. (revised edition 1987) The principles of harmony and contrast of colors and their applications to the arts, Schiffer
This is based on the first english edition of 1854. I’ve dipped into this and looked at the pretty pictures, but found it too heavy-going.

Delamare, F. and Guineau, B. (english translation 2000) Colors: the story of dyes and pigments, Harry N. Abrams Inc
A small volume going from pre-history through colour in the middles ages and on to the discovery of synthetic dyes. Lots of interesting tidbits.

Edwards, B. (2005) Color: a course in mastering the art of mixing colors, Hodder
Clear explanations and illustrations of colour theory, with exercises in mixing and use for painters.

Finlay, V. (2002) Colour: travels through the paintbox, Hodder and Stoughton.
A travel journal, exploring the history of colour, the places it comes from and some of the stories behind its manufacture and use.

Gage, J. (2006) Colour in art, Thames & Hudson
Another good book that I haven’t managed to read carefully. Chapters include psychology, shape, and language of colour, with copious illustrations from art.

Hornung, D. (2005) Colour: a workshop for artists and designers, Laurence King
This book is on the reading list for the course. I started doing the exercises here in 2009/10 but only got a short way. In hindsight, my method of little paper weavings didn’t really work or at least needed more flexibility after the first few exercises. Still, an excellent book.

Jerstorp, K. and Köhlmark, E. (1988) The fabric design book: understanding and creating patterns using texture, shape, and color, Lark
This is one of my favourite books – flipping through now I think it may have influenced my desire to learn weaving. There’s something about the overall approach and aesthetic that really appeals to me. The colour section has a lot of information in relatively few pages, using the swedish colour system which uses six clear or primary colours – yellow, red, blue, green, white and black. This is definitely on my re-read list.

Lambert, P., Staepelaere, B. and Fry, M.G. (1986) Color and fibre, Schiffer
I had looked through this a few times in the Guild library and was happy when I saw it available on line. Another that I’ve only dipped into – partly for the foolish reason that the cover was put on or printed upside down. This makes no difference to the content or readability other than irritating me.

Lancaster, D. (2010) Color and inspiration, self published
This booklet gives a brief overview of basic colour language. Its main focus is layouts showing an inspiration photo, the palette selected from it, a woven swatch and finished piece. Basically it’s a set of practical examples.

Long, J. and Luke, J. T. (2nd edition 2001) The new Munsell student color set, Fairchild.
This has lots of information (rather dry), but the really good part is a set of little colour chips that you sort and use to create colour charts laid out using the Munsell system. Fun, and a good way to start training the eye and understanding what the language means in practice.

Menz, D. (2005) Color in spinning, Interweave Press.
This starts with information on colour principles and quickly goes on to illustrate them with some great photos showing small pieces of roving, the spun yarn, and a knitted swatch. The book goes through a number of options to dye and process roving to achieve different effects and includes self-study exercises. I highly recommend it.

Menz, D. (2004) Color works: the crafter’s guide to color, Interweave Press.
This book has two major points of difference. Color concepts are illustrated with photos of spinning, knitting, weaving, hand embroidery, bead embroidery, surface design, machine embroidery, pieced quilting and paper collage. There is also a set of colour tools –  a colour wheel, shade charts, cards to help pick out various standard colour schemes etc.

Paterson, I. (2003) A dictionary of colour: a lexicon on the language of colour, Thorogood
Interesting to dip into. For example Roman Brown is “A copper colour also called Hatchett’s Brown“. Look up that and find “A copper colour. See Florentine brown“. Which I did and the circle closed. Well, it was a random pick. How about Helminthosporin – “A maroon-coloured pigment from fungus” – and hemeralopia – “day as opposed to night blindness where objects are seen more clearly when it becomes darker”.

Varichon, A. (2006) Colors: what they mean and how to make them, Abrams
This book is organised around colour groups – white, yellow, red, etc. – and for each describes their significance and use in various cultures. Each chapter also has brief notes and instructions on natural sources of the colour, for example ochers and yellow earth pigments, weld, and turmeric in yellow. A good read.

Wilcox, M. (revised edition 2004) Blue and yellow don’t make green: or how to mix the colour your really want – every time, The School of Colour
A practical approach to mixing colour in paint, with lots of illustrations showing mixes of different proportions.

I think that’s all, though I won’t be surprised if something else is unearthed later. Lots of other books have a few pages on colour before they go on to their major focus – beading or silkpainting or whatever. I’ll only mention one in particular – Phillips, J. (2008) Designing woven fabrics, Natural Time Out Publications. This has a section specifically on colour, but every piece presented has a “design brief” and notes including colour and the reasons and impact of particular choices. This is another in the Most Favourite Books section.

On the one hand, I’m rather surprised and pleased at how many of the books I have actually read (I thought my habits were more on the purchasing than the reading side). On the other hand, it’s as I expected but disappointing how little has stuck in my brain. Still, each time round a little more shifts into long term memory (there’s always hope!).

Not having enough choice, I borrowed another book from the Guild library yesterday – Itten, J. (1973 english edition) The art of color: the subjective experience and objective rationale of color, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company. I thought this was on the OCA course reading list, but have discovered that is a different book. Still, it looks very relevant to the course so I think I will start reading here. It’s too big for carrying around to read on the bus, so I get to choose something else too…

Sensorial Loop

One of the course Research Points is to visit at least one contemporary textile exhibition. Last weekend I was able to go to Tamworth, 5 or 6 hours drive north of Sydney, to see the 1st Tamworth Textile Triennial exhibition. The Tamworth Biennial exhibitions were held 1975 – 2010. In this report I will follow the guideline questions from the OCA course. I don’t have any photos to share – click this link to go to the photo gallery on the Tamworth Regional Gallery website.

Is there a theme? I was not able to form a clear understanding of the major theme while there. Within the exhibition there was information provided by the curator, Patrick Snelling, in a video presentation and the catalogue that the theme was developed in the early stages of preparation while visiting with the artists. There were various phrases – “the end of which is connected to the beginning”, “sensory, haptic and emotional responses”, “slow making and sustainable practice”, “collaborative … influencing other disciplines”, “traditional and machine technologies” – but no single succinct statement. I have just checked his website and found “The exhibition title Sensorial Loop implies sensory and emotional responses to working with traditional and contemporary materials, processes and tools that are instinctive and connected to the trend of slow making.”

The clear secondary theme was the tools used by artists. Each exhibit had an associated sign with a graphic and artist’s statement about their tool(s).

Is it well displayed? Yes, it was very well done. The gallery is fairly new (2004), the large room neither too full nor too empty. The display method was carefully considered for each piece – for example Meredith Hughes’ organic fabric configurations were supported on bright steel pins, like specimens in a butterfly collection, while Cecilia Heffer’s postcards were individually suspended on more rustic nails, brief messages from far-away travellers.

Is the lighting appropriate? Most of the pieces were well lit, with spotlighting and attractive patterning on the floor below some free-hanging works. There was one area that was rather flat and uninteresting in its lighting.

Is there enough explanation of the exhibits? Each work was accompanied by a sign with an edited version of the catalogue text. As well as artist, title, materials and dimensions, it gave the artist’s statement about the work and a particular highlight of one or more tools used. In general it was informative and I think would enhance understanding and enjoyment for viewers with or without textile backgrounds. While the shorter text was appropriate for display purposes, I thought the editing for Meredith Hughes’ work was unfortunate. There was no mention of her use of digital printing and the desired “deception” and “curiosity about the authenticity of the woven qualities of the cloth” (quotes from the full statement) were totally lost on my interested but unversed in textiles companion who simply accepted the apparent woven material.

Is it visually stimulating and interesting? Yes, there was great diversity but overall a coherence. The inclusive curatorial approach led to a lively debate with my companion. Our focus was Would you like some cake? by Tania Spencer. This is a 1 metre diameter donut shaped piece, a knit-like structure suspended from the ceiling. It is made of mild steel formed with bolt cutters and a bending jig and is strongly reminiscent of chain link fencing. To me it was visually interesting, well displayed, fit well in the overall exhibition, had strong links to traditional textiles in structure and in emotional content (based on the artist statement) – but it isn’t itself a textile. My companion disagreed. We stood there and looked and debated and disagreed for quite a long time. Wonderful!

Some selected exhibits in more depth:

Lucy Irvine, Continuous Interruptions

When was the piece made and by whom? 2011, Lucy Irvine

What is it made of?  irrigation pipe, cable ties, steel, rust proof paint

What are the approximate dimensions? 115 h x 180 w x 130 d cm. It consists of three separate parts placed closely together and wrapped from the front around the side and to the back of a free standing wall at the entrance to the exhibition.

Can you identify the techniques used? It looks like a form of basketry. The irrigation pipe is flexible, lengths laid beside each other and held together with cable ties. As far as I could tell each tie is separate, but they are carefully placed to form twill-like lines across the surface.

Is the work representational or abstract? It is abstract. It is deeply dimensional with hollows and voids, and is very sinuous like an old vine or a lava flow.

Where did the designer derive their inspiration? Quoting from the catalogue, “Continuous Interruptions interweaves ubiquitous man-made materials that facilitate the order of our contemporary lives into a form that celebrates the seeming chaos and infinite contingencies of the world beyond the boundaries of our knowing.” The artist addresses concerns about landscape, memory, the flux of our environment both physical and cultural.

How would you describe it – decorative, expressive, functional or symbolic? It’s certainly not functional. I found it beautiful and fascinating and while it would work in a commercial building I think it would look fabulous in the right home (not mine, which is 1950’s suburbia, but I’m thinking of a friend’s) – so decorative. There are also strong expressive and symbolic dimensions to the work.

To what extent does the piece refer to:
– tradition (technically or through images)?
The structure has strong traditional links to weaving and basketry, but in materials, form and I think the artist’s concerns is contemporary
– a period of fashion? I am not aware of other work like this.

What qualities do you like or dislike about the piece? I like the play of light on the black surface – the piping is matt, the cable ties reflective, the curving shape catching the light or forming deep shadow. I like the combination of the very organic form contrasting with the formal twill placement of the ties. I also like the very tailored, finished, well-crafted look. The piping squashes to change direction, fitting together to fill what could be awkward spaces as the shape moves around. Rather strangely given the earlier discussion about what is textile, I had no trouble accepting this work as a textile. I can’t really justify the differentiation. Both use non-traditional materials, and the steel was smaller diameter (closer to “yarn”) than the piping. Perhaps it was that the placement was closer, forming a more solid-but-flexible surface. Perhaps I imagine the poly pipe is more giving and warm in the hands than the steel (of course I couldn’t touch either). It is a smaller step from a wicker basket to one than from a knitted doily on a table to the other.

Martha McDonald – Weeping Dress – video and activated dress from performance

When was the piece made and by whom? 2011, Martha McDonald

What is it made of? The basis of the work was a performance. Displayed was the “activated dress” from the performance and video documentation of the performance itself. The video soundtrack of fiddle (Craig Woodward) and singing (Martha McDonald) was quietly audible throughout the exhibition.

The dress was sewn from crepe paper fused to calico to a simplified Victorian dress pattern (fitted bodice, wide skirt etc). It was originally dyed black in a fugitive dye. In the performance the artist stood on a platform, wearing the dress. She generally took a passive stance, swaying slightly to the music, hands loosely held together. In the early part of the video she sang with the fiddle, using a greater range of arm movement. It appeared that her early movement triggered release of a liquid from areas around the shoulders and waist. The matt fabric of the dress gradually became shiny as the liquid slowly flowed down. Eventually dark drops started falling from the hem to the platform, to me looking like drops of blood, forming a pattern on the ground as McDonald swayed.

The dress on display was mounted on a torso form. At first it looked like a standard floor form, but I realised it was actually suspended by wires from ceiling to attachment points on the shoulders. The dress swayed very slightly in the air movement – you could increase the sway by walking past quickly – in an echo of the original performance. The crepe paper surface was worn and distressed, faded unevenly to light greys.

What are the approximate dimensions? 170 h x 140 cm in diameter

Can you identify the techniques used? The dress of crepe paper fused to calico and interfacing was machine sewn. Specialised dyeing techniques were used.

Is the work representational or abstract? It is representational, being the actual costume used in the performance.

Where did the designer derive their inspiration?  The artist was exploring Victorian mourning rituals and etiquette. Women wore black clothing, which apparently often didn’t hold the dye, the running colour staining the body of the wearer. In the catalogue the artist writes “I am fascinated by how this public display of grief was experienced in such a private and corporeal way… I am interested in how the instability of the crepe paper suggests presence, absence, and our own impermanence.”

How would you describe it – decorative, expressive, functional or symbolic? It is expressive, exploring culture and emotions.

To what extent does the piece refer to:
– tradition (technically or through images)?
The piece is based on traditional practices, interpreted and presented in modern ways.
– a period of fashion? The styling of the dress is clearly Victorian.

What qualities do you like or dislike about the piece? I felt the work was very personal and deeply felt, really trying to explore the experience of the women. It managed to avoid being trite or saccharine. The slight swaying produced by the hanging method was very clever. I like the idea of a performance element in textile art, and felt the combination of video and actual dress allowed the viewer to get a reasonable sense of the original performance. The faded, distressed surface of the crepe paper was beautiful – I would like to try using this myself.

Belinda Von Mengersen – The Dusting Cloth

When was the piece made and by whom? 2011, Belinda Von Mengersen

What is it made of? Silk voile, silk organza, cotton, rice paper, interfacing, direct digital print, paper, camel hair, alpaca fleece, and silk, cotton, and linen thread.

What are the approximate dimensions? 100 h x 150 w

Can you identify the techniques used? This is a layered, stitched textile piece – a quilt. It uses a digital print of a photograph taken by Belinda Von Mengersen, onto a translucent fabric – possibly organza. The visible layers underneath interact with the printed image. It is hand stitched in simple, uneven running stitch, the changing directions and voids of stitching emphaising elements of the image. The threads used in stitching are quite fine, in a range of neutrals. There are also threads and scraps trapped in the layers.

Is the work representational or abstract? It is representational. The photographed image is an interior – an old fashioned panel door, a section of wall above dark panelling. A dusting cloth hangs on the wall. The muted colours and transparent layers suggest a dream or memory of a place.

Where did the designer derive their inspiration?  The artist’s statement refers to “a landscape of memory between the past and the present”, with dust “matter caught between states” and symbolic of the eventual disintegration we all face.

How would you describe it – decorative, expressive, functional or symbolic? This piece is expressive, giving a sense of contemplation and fond memories.

To what extent does the piece refer to:
– tradition (technically or through images)?
The use of quilting reflects the domestic, interior subject matter.
– a period of fashion? The image gives a sense of past places, although I find it difficult to give a specific time period. The panelling suggests to me early twentieth century.

What qualities do you like or dislike about the piece? I like the quiet, contemplative nature of the piece. On reflection I am surprised that I didn’t get any sense of “down-trodden, oppressed maid or servant” – perhaps this was helped by the obviously fine material, silk not cotton. The impression was a sense of peace, of order and quiet pride in the home, possibly of a lost world. The dusting cloth itself was not stitched, which combined with the image to give a strong three dimensional effect which for me introduced an element of unease. The piece didn’t sit totally flat against the wall, which I felt emphasised the very textural, tactile dimension of the cloth – particularly welcome in an exhibition that pushed the boundaries of what is textile. My one criticism is that the lighting in this area was very flat and I thought the works looked a little lost on the wall.

Sculpture by the sea

After a busy couple of weeks I have a little backlog of outings to write about. First up was sculpture by the sea. The event is celebrating fifteen years but this was my first visit – nothing like an overseas visitor to make one appreciate the back yard.

Joan and Margaret (mum)

Joan and Margaret (mum)

Joan, my mother’s sister, was in Sydney for a few days. Joan lives on the Isle of Wight (off the south coast of England) so is surrounded by water, but even so Sydney’s Bondi Beach is hard to beat.

She was very taken by the view (Judy writes with proprietorial pride, despite not having been to the place in who knows how many years, given the local assumption that it’s overtaken by tourists, backpackers and other people’s cars parked leaving nowhere for me). Still, it’s not all bad…
Rather a difficult ask to produce sculptures to compete with the locality and the different artists had taken a range of approaches, responding to different extents to the location.

Samuel Chamberlain - Windswept

Windswept by Samuel Chamberlain was one that fitted in well, strong in itself and with clever placement near the yellow groundcover. Even so, my eye was taken by the backdrop of rock.

Many of the exhibits had a humerous or whimsical element. No photo, but one of our favourites was the hazard by Chava Kuchar – a 3 metre circle of synthetic grass on a low rock shelf, complete with a centrally placed golf flag. A challenge for any golfer!
There was even a textile “piece”, coping well in the exposed environment. I heard an interview on the radio, and the artist used recycled advertising banners for much of her material. A clever, amusing and popular exhibit!

Margarita Sampson - the yearning

Margarita Sampson - the yearning

Lace in seafoam and rock

You may not be able to see it in the photo on the right, but there are actual holes in the fine shelves of rock left by erosion – combined with the movement of the waves quite entrancing.

Joan with <em>now i see</em> by Margaret Sheridan

It was great to be able to spend some time with Joan, very interesting to visit the exhibition, and rather exciting to be reminded of another part of the amazing landscape to be found in Sydney.
If you’re near Sydney, you have until 20 November to enjoy the sculptures.

Assignment 1 Reflective Commentary

Looking back through the Assignment work, selecting what to send to my tutor, I am happy with what I have achieved.  I can already see progress and improvement in my work and I’m excited about the path ahead. I can see that the course is introducing and building on concepts in a measured way and it’s just this kind of structure that I was looking for in my learning. One constant has been feeling the need to keep moving and to jump! even when there was more that I wanted to do. That has continued during the (literal) wrap-up of this Assignment, which has taken longer than I wanted or expected and even so is not as considered or complete as I would like.

From being unsure about the meaning of “mark-making” I have become much more aware of the marks and textures I see around me. I am continuing to grow in confidence in using a range of media in my sketchbook, although the daily discipline has slipped a little while focusing on assignment work. While every aspect would benefit from continued practice, I would like to push myself to use collage more.

Stitching has not been a major focus for me in the past. Once I loosened up I found it more engaging and enjoyable than I expected. I was pleased with some of the work, particularly the stage 3 sample. Stage 6 was very difficult largely because I felt I hadn’t been challenging and pushing myself enough earlier. It was a valuable experience – I feel I learnt a lot, partly about stitching but more about taking risks and letting go of control.

I haven’t completed the research points of reviewing textile exhibitions. I expect to have opportunities to do this in the next few weeks.

Working on the assignment has allowed me to reconsider my level of knowledge and expertise in textiles. I tend to see myself as generally inexperienced, a latecomer to the field. However I’ve found I know at least a little about quite a lot, and I think it would be useful to recognise and value my experience more.

The assignment has also led me to review my general work methods and time management. My work area has become more organised over the past couple of months. I have always kept work notes and reflected on progress and outcomes of  my various projects, and those habits are adapting to the new requirements. I’m going to try reading ahead more carefully to see if that improves my understanding of the requirements in each stage. I also want to keep track more carefully of the wider reading I do, both related to the particular assignments and on textile subjects generally.

Assignment 1 Project 2 Review

Unlike project 1, no specific review questions were included in the course notes. The questions below are based on other student blogs, in particular Claire at Tactual Textiles, because I felt they provide support for a broad review of the project work.

Do you feel happy with the work?
Overall I am happy with what I have achieved, taking into account my current level of development. I have dabbled in stitching in the past but it has not been a major focus.

Do you prefer working with stitch to drawing? Can you begin to see the relationship between the two?
There is no simple answer to this. I have not done much of either in the past. I can see that drawing is fundamental to a design development process, and given my desire to progress in my textile work drawing (in various guises) needs to become embedded in my methods. I enjoy practising each (or most!) days and am keen to extend what I do and to increase my fluency and skill.
I have an overall preference for various qualities of textiles over paper, so in that sense prefer stitch. However I don’t see stitching as necessarily a major part of my ongoing textile work. I found the process pleasant if sometimes frustrating and slow.
I can see the flexibility and ease of creating marks lines and texture in both drawing and stitch. I’d like to think I am open to change and everything is on the table, but at the moment my core interest is weaving. It will be interesting to see how the design process being taught will relate to future weaving projects.

Were you able to choose stitches which expressed the marks and lines of your drawings?
My results were mixed. I was pleased with Stage 3 and the effects provided by cretan stitch and some of the straight stitch. In Stage 5 the raised chain band was very successful in suggesting the plant texture. I have blogged extensively about my difficulties and disappointment with the sample in Stage 6.

Did you choose the right source material to work from?
I really like the photo I used in Stage 6 and I hope to do it better justice in a future work. I should have been more selective about the size and complexity of the area used.

Do you think your sample works well irrespective of the drawing? Or is your sample merely a good interpretation of your drawing?
I like the Stage 3 sample and think it works well as a piece on its own.
My Stage 6 piece is not a good interpretation of the source material and does not work on its own. However I have posted a number of ideas on what went wrong and where I could improve in future. I wanted to push out of my comfort zone, and despite not liking the result I’m glad I did. I want to learn from this course and take risks and extend myself. I have a tendency to caution and I want to go on challenging it.

Which did you prefer – working with stitch to create textures or working with yarns to make textures? Which worked best for you and why?
I think the samples creating texture with stitch were more successful and I enjoyed doing them.
I had too much going on in the final sample and overall it didn’t work. My created yarns were difficult to work with and I didn’t enjoy being so out of my depth. However I think some of the individual elements have promise.

Make some comments on individual techniques and sample pieces. Did you experiment enough? Did you feel inhibited in any way?
It’s never enough! Looking through the work I have definite preferences for less regimented, more freeform stitching and for layers of stitch. For example when using cretan stitch in Stage 5 I think the layered, multi-coloured area bottom right is the most interesting result. The callistemon area in Stage 5 is another favourite, with a lot of texture and interest.
I find it very difficult to work evenly and neatly. When I attempt it (for example the satin stitch at the top of the green Stage 5 sample) my hands and wrists tense and ache. I prefer both the process and the results in more spontaneous work.
There are aspects of the exercises I have found challenging and generally these are recorded in my blog entries. It is not precisely an inhibition, but the nature of doing work as part of a course is that one focuses on meeting requirements and must resist chasing after particular ideas. As in the first project I sometimes struggled to understand quite what I was meant to do.  It’s an interesting balance, trying to be creative and adventurous but remaining within the constraint of producing finished assignment work. Still, we pretty much all always are working within constraints.

Do you prefer to work from a drawing or by playing with materials and yarns to create effects? Which method produced the most interesting work?
I think the two approaches work in tandem. A drawing helps to clarify intention. When I got lost in Stage 6 I turned to drawing to find a way forward. Playing with yarns extends what I have the skill and knowledge to do – plus it’s fun!

Are there other techniques you would like to try? Are there any samples you would like to do in a different way?
One sample I really wanted to do was raised chain band on some of my handwoven cloth. I had already chosen some to experiment on, but felt pressured by time and don’t want to hurry it. I’d also like to try stitching while at the loom – on the unwoven warp or on the cloth in process. It’s already there under tension as if in an embroidery frame and perhaps could lead to interesting effects with differential shrinkage in finishing.
Another area of interest is stitching on felt. I think there are a lot of possibilities for contrast and play with colour and texture.


Over the past few days I’ve been pulling things together – putting my notes and work from Project 2 in order so I can write my review of it and of Assignment 1, package up a selection of work and post it all off to Pat (my tutor). It’s a good time to think about how I’ve been doing things, what is and isn’t working…

One thing that’s working quite well so far is my mix of log/note/sketch book(s). This blog is my logbook, but its electronic nature makes it better for some things (eg reflecting) than others (jotting notes while at the sewing machine). The jottings tend to go into an A5 notebook, which also travels around in my bag so gets oddments on current reading, works seen at exhibitions etc. I tend to use A3 paper when at my worktable, sketching or trying to figure how to rescue a sample. A3 was a bit too big to take on holiday, so there’s an A4 folder. The part that’s really working for me is that the A5, A4 and A3 folders are all looseleaf – I use treasury tags (a short piece of string with two metal ends like this |—–| ) to hold the pages together. Which means I can put a mix of papers into each folder, and even better means that every once in a while I can consolidate all the pages of work into one storage folder (as in the photo). It means my final “sketchbook” is a bit of a hybrid but for me easier than having four or more places to check when reviewing progress or searching for something. Hopefully this non-purist but practical approach will work for Pat and the course assessment.

The last post detailed one thing that didn’t work for me – my Stage 6 sample. A little time and reflection, plus some valuable input from friends, has helped. A couple of final thoughts – I think I tried to do too much and would have been better selecting a smaller area of the photo; and I confused visual and physical texture. Yesterday at the White Rabbit Gallery I saw a brilliant example of visual texture on a quite flat surface – High Seas by Shi Zhiying. Follow the link, click on the Portfolio tab then on the thumbnail. It can only give an idea of the actual painting, which is 8 metres wide, 2 metres high. It has amazing visual texture, you almost feel seasick, but there is no deep layering of the oil paint. The painting fills your field of vision. Dribbles and blots emphasise the paint but it is still a very realistic image. It’s almost monochrome – perhaps a little blue in the middle distance. The texture, the waves, the depth, is produced by variations of value, of brush strokes, of energy and movement in the marks.

On the bus during the week I’ve been reading ahead in the course notes for Assignment 2. Some interesting stuff coming up but what caught me was some exercises separating texture, colour and shape. I think this is really going to help me move forward.


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November 2011

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