Archive for December, 2011

Slow and steady with shapes

Stage 2 is progressing. After the preparation in the last post (here) I ventured into the first exercises.
Exercise 1 asks for 3 quick drawings, based on a favourite image from the preparation work. I chose the one I used when framing jacket outlines, from Tutankhamen’s Treasures by John Ford.



Drawing one is marks expressing surface textures in the image. Using black paper and pastels seemed a good fit for the original image. It’s not clear in the photo, but I used grey and blacks as well as white.






Drawing 2 focuses on colour. This was quite challenging, given my source image has a limited range of colours. I stayed with pastels, blending various oranges, terracottas, whites, grey… As I worked with the image I found a lot more variation in colour than I had first realised.
The course notes suggest 10 to 15 minutes for each of the drawings, and that felt about right for the first two drawings.



Drawing 3 is all about shapes. There’s not much to show for almost an hour’s work. I wanted to try collage, and while I’m improving I still tend to get into a sticky mess. I’m pleased with the fine pleating in white tissue paper for the drapery, and got the effect I wanted in overlapping tissue paper – even if I had to go right outside the colours of the image to find a tissue with the transparency I wanted.

The notes suggest being inventive to find my own way of recording shapes. I just hope to keep improving. Even at current skill levels I’m pleased with the results. Following the steps definitely helps me to see the original image in more detail, sharpening focus. On the bus this morning I was mulling over the relevance to weaving – although at the moment I’m quite happy to explore in other textile disciplines. On the weekend I read an interview with Rezia Wahid here, who responded when asked how she designs “It’s quite an organic process. I do lots of sketch book work first, but it’s not structural so there’s lots of room for freedom during the weaving process. The weaving is a journey, but there is an inner sense of reason behind it.” From her website I gather Rezia uses ikat dyeing and a form of inlay called jamdhani. I’d love to see her work. Clearly very accomplished weavers (non-tapestry) use work in sketch books as part of their process.

Back on topic. Exercise 2 asked for a drawing – a personal response to the image, being careful to emphasise my own point of view. I realised that my previous exercise was all based on the image as a whole, rather than a marked off area. In a way this liberated me, because the emphasis on what was important to me and the need to be selective meant I now felt free to adjust what I was seeing. I selected an area but it just didn’t feel quite right. After playing around with a mirror, then drawing off shapes onto tracing paper and simply turning the paper over, I found shapes and pattern that interested me.

I really like the end result, created using watercolours on cartridge paper. The framework of lines at right angles was crucial and I spent quite a bit of time ruling up an outline in pencil. Colour has been simplified – just the ochre and black on white paper. There is some texture, but the focus is clearly on shapes. Some of the patterning is direct from the original image, a few parts were improvised especially around the two rows of round shapes, where there was too much white and I created some filler shapes rather than using a tint of the ochre.

In fact I am so satisfied with the result that I’m a bit reluctant to move on to the next exercise, which asks for three more drawings based on this one. The Cunning Plan is that by documenting progress to date I’ll be able to let go, move on, and see what’s around the next corner.


Woolf, D. (2010) Maker of the month: Rezia Wahid [online]. The Making. Available from: [accessed 28 December 2011]

Looking for shapes

This next section of work has a lot to it and I feel the need to take my time, exploring possibilities. I haven’t got far yet, but already feel the need to record and reflect on progress.

The task is to take some images and use a frame to select arrangements of shapes, thinking about what is interesting, active, generates visual tension, or is dull and cluttered.

For base images I scanned a number of pages from a book about Tutankhamen and printed them in gray-scale. I then used tracing paper and a chinagraph (high wax) pencil. A couple of these I looked at the finished result and couldn’t see what initially excited me (for example second row right and bottom row left). Others I like, perhaps with minor adjustments (for example bottom row right, rotated 90°).

The notes suggested experimenting with different shaped viewing frames such as garment shapes. I wanted to try a specific garment shape – a Vogue pattern by Marcie Tilton that I’ve bought but not used – using the computer. The main reason for this post is to record my steps for future use, plus think about the pros and cons of the method.

  • Get an image of the pattern line drawing, here.
  • crop out just the front view and copy into the centre of a new layer
  • select the background by colour then invert selection to get the line drawing
  • darken lines to a solid black (I just brushed over with the paintbrush tool)
  • select the area outside the garment. Fill with grey
  • select by colour the white areas inside the garment. Delete (so they effectively become transparent).

The result is a layer to be used as a frame for exploring image areas:

  • open one of the scanned Tutankhamen images
  • copy the frame layer and paste as a new layer in the Tutankhamen image
  • at this point I saved the result as a new file (.xcf, which is the native file format of gimp, my preferred image manipulation software).
  • working with the frame layer, move, scale and rotate to view different areas of patterning.
  • I also played with the colouring of the base image, desaturating and doing a colour inversion.
  • Save results as required.

Here’s a sample of the results

One of the things I like about this method is that I can build up a collection of standard pattern outlines for future use. It was a matter of moments to open a different image (an old favourite from the Botanic Gardens in Sydney) and reuse the frame.
Overall I think no real con, as long as I’m careful to develop paper-based as well as computing skills. The underlying purpose is developing my own visual awareness and for me both paper and computer have a place.

Ford, J. (1978) Tutankhamen’s Treasures, (Albany Books, London). Note to self – check proper referencing.

Project 4 Stage 1

This project is Developing design ideas – developing visual awareness, working from drawings to develop visual ideas. At this point we stay in two dimensions (moving to 3 in a later project, I think).
Stage 1 is introductory, some experiments with visual energy and tension.
First up is placing black squares to create different effects.
Top left would be a static, centred design, but one square is tipping out of place. It is a bit jarring, unsettling. The falling piece demands attention, but my eye keeps moving back to the centre.
Top right is the most flowing and dynamic of the set, the blocks seeming to be falling out of the frame. The effect is more movement rather than tension. I think it would not be very effective as a final design as it leads the viewer’s eyes out of the image.
Bottom left has an empty space at the centre. The overall shape formed by the blocks is quite static and stable, but I find my eyes circling around the design then pulled back to the empty centre, never moving to the edges.
Bottom right I was trying to create a symmetrical, stable design with a little more interest. The central diamond is the focus, flanked and stabilised by the two squares. The band of blocks is slightly above centre of the frame, which gives a very slight nudge away from stability.
I’m getting a bit better at managing cutting and glueing without ending in a sticky mess, but found it annoying and hard to be precise – and somehow the black squares, outline and suggestions of a grid called for precision. After playing for a while with the paper forms I decided to try electronically, using gimp. I wanted to see how much effect, if any, small changes can have. Unfortunately this led into some technical issues (my main computer has had some issues, gimp wasn’t loaded on my netbook, etc).

Looking at things side by side gives a different impression than one standing alone, still the collection illustrates that what is basically the same row of squares, the same balance of light and dark, can give quite different visual effects. To my eyes the ones closer to the edge or closer together look crowded and less stable. Tilting the black squares definitely adds some energy. Breaking the boundary provides movement and tension. Which to use would depend on the particular purpose, but for something calm but not totally static I like the squares slightly below centre, and for something more lively I like angles and breaking boundaries.

Next up was dividing space with lines. This time I started on the computer, since it was more difficult to try out ideas without going through a lot of pages.

The version on the left is peaceful, although the asymmetry gives a little interest. It’s also a pretty classic weaving look. On the right the lines have been shoved over a bit, producing some tension and movement.

On paper the horizontal lines are peaceful. The variation in spacing top right is reminiscent of a calm ocean and big sky. Breaking the boundary immediately adds tension – where is that line going? Plus I’ve noticed I tend to see lines and square above centre as less peaceful. Tilting the lines also produces more tension and movement.

My sketchbook count is now 11 days in a row, although a number of them are pretty much just going through the motions, and I muddled up the dates I wrote on the pages. There’s a video on the OCA blog where a textiles assessor discusses one student’s sketchbook (click here – “How to tempt Pat into a bodice”, Pat Hudson talking about Jackie Ward’s work, November 14). Pat was clearly very impressed by Jackie’s work – very free drawing, sometimes messy, “not to any end and purpose, just to explore everything around her visually”, works with “the object of understanding” (that part I think where Jackie was focusing on particular artists). It seems an interesting switch. At the moment I’m still focused on the how – how to use different media, how to make marks, texture, selecting colours – rather than recording and thinking about what I am seeing. Something to consider.

Blog reading

I’ve had a lovely morning catching up on various blogs. A very quick sampling (apologies to the many others I read but not, as it happened, this morning) and no photos – you’ll have to click on the links:

Sue Lawty’s weaving/twining/knotting/wrapping in lead I find really exciting. The play of light over hammered and unhammered areas … I can’t articulate my reaction clearly (bad sign for a tertiary student). If you click the link, make sure to watch the videos in the last couple of posts.

Beryl Moody at Banner Mountain Textiles. In the colour vs structure divide I’m definitely colour. I hadn’t even noticed the magazine piece that inspired her. (I hasten to add that The Divide is one of those easy categorisations that sound plausible and have a sort of broad usefulness but don’t hold up to scrutiny.)

I like the little woven christmas trees at Marlborough Weavers. I am now a committed Bah-Humbug about Christmas (I won’t say scrooge because it’s not money, it’s the commercialism and the consumption of excessive amounts of rich food and the forced jollity and the social expectations and … settle petal). Anyway, the little trees are sweet, even if I don’t do that sort of thing.

Some very clever stamps created with tudor embroidery stitches on plastic fruit box and canvas by the enormously talented Helen at fibrenell.

Helen is a member of ATASDA, and I’m going to little cheat here, since I caught up on these other ATASDA friends yesterday. It’s always good to read Claire at Tactual Textiles – so talented, plus very interesting to see and read her interpretations to the OCA exercises. We have long phone conversations, sharing ideas and supporting each other in our distance learning. Claire pointed me to the fairly new blog of Jane – love the effects she got on her proteas.

Sampling is lucky enough to be at the 8th International Shibori Symposium in Hong Kong and already has some beautiful photos on her blog.

Finally, not a blog but a whole lot of interest – (another link from Claire). Make sure you click on “read comments” there for the interviews.

Project 3 Review

With each project and assignment there are review questions. It can feel repetitive, but I suppose part of the point is that we should be constantly reviewing and reflecting on our work, thinking about what does and doesn’t work, what’s working or not and why, where we need to develop…

Were you able to mix and match colours accurately? Overall yes. I sometimes had some trouble, for instance getting just the yellow I wanted, but with perseverance and the tools I have collected I was able to get a result that pleased me.

Were you able to use colour expressively? This is the weakest part of the work. I found it difficult to juggle all the things I was trying to think about – selecting colour, mixing, mark making… I also started second-guessing my reactions – what were just clichés and what really meant something to me? It’s all about context – partly cultural, but also a colour in one grouping can appear differently in another – and I’m thinking of emotional difference, not optical effects. There is definitely more development needed.

Can you now see colour rather than accepting what you think you see? This is a skill that takes a long time to develop. I think I’ve made a decent start.

Did you prefer working with watercolours or gouache paints? What was the difference? I did most of the work in gouache, with just a little watercolour and acrylic. Gouache is easier to use to get a flat, solid colour, which I thought more appropriate for the exercises. Watercolour’s transparency has advantages in the right circumstances, but not here. I wanted to do the colour mixing on the palette, not by layering on paper.

How successful were the colour exercises in Stages 5 and 6? How did they compare to the painting exercises? All of the exercises were successful in the sense that I learnt from them and looking at them triggers ideas and questions for future exploration. They hint at some of the possibilities, and I’m glad I used both hand and machine stitching because they seem to offer such different things. Painting is much quicker than stitching, for me at the level I’m working. There is also the advantage that you can mix up colours as you go, rather than being restricted to the particular yarns and threads on hand (I can always dye more, but it’s not immediate), balanced by the disadvantage of paint colours changing as they dry.

I like the textures that textile work allows – the different qualities of threads and fabric, the way the stitches are worked, the three dimensional nature that results. Painting in gouache and watercolour can suggest texture or mimic texture but generally aren’t textural in their nature. Threads are round and sit on or pass through the surface.

Is there anything you would like to change or develop? I enjoyed and was excited by the layered cross stitches I did in my second sample in Stage 6. I would like to try taking that idea further.

Overall, I simply need to keep practising, trying things out – as suggested in the course notes. I haven’t been working regularly in my sketchbook. When working on a project, especially in the earlier stages when working on paper, it feels like doubling up. Yet I know how useful it can be, to follow up other work (eg the lemon) or as input to later work (eg the Monet colour analysis). I’m wondering if it would also be a useful shift of focus when I am working on a project, along the lines that it is often good to walk away from something for a while and see it with fresh eyes. So I’m going to make a serious attempt – at least 10 minutes every day. Current count: 2 days.

A final note: I’m current reading a book by Sebastian Smee about Picasso and Matisse (mum bought it when we visited the Picasso exhibition). Smee writes about the influence on Matisse of Paul Signac, “… the most convincing of Seurat’s Neo-Impressionist followers” (page 30). The leader of the Divisionists, Signac “… applied pure colour in discrete, highly organised cells, following an almost scientific system of local complementaries and overall harmonies” (page 32). I’d never heard of Divisionism, but from a brief check in wikipedia I gather it is a variant of pointillism with a more technical, colour-theory based approach. In writing about Matisse’s shift from Divisionism to Fauvism Smee explains that Matisse realised “…that the effect of colour, its intensity, was crucially bound up with the size of any given area of colour.” “The problem with Divisionism … was that breaking colour up into discrete dabs or points created an overall haziness which – for all the rhetoric one heard about the primacy of colour – actually diminished colour’s potential effect” (pages 63 and 64). I’ve been trying to think through implications of this, especially given the exercises in Stage 6. Perhaps it is that for all the theory and techniques we may learn or develop, there is no silver bullet or formula. Thoughtful, purposeful choices informed by experience, knowledge, and intuition, selecting the most appropriate answer for the current, particular question is the goal. Perhaps.

Smee, S. (2002) Side by side: Picasso v Matisse (Duffy & Snellgrove, Sydney)

Stage 6 – Combining textures and colour effects

Racing along, no time to dawdle. I really wanted to extend some of this colour work with felting – pretty much infinite flexibility in proportions of colour in the mix, and you can’t get finer mixing than individual fibres. But if I do that I’ll either fall behind my preferred schedule or have to skimp on something else. Darn.

Onwards. At this point the course notes suggest looking at the work of Seurat and the technique of pointillism. One of the colour books I’ve been reading recently is “The art of colour” by Itten. As well as the now-standard illustration of colour theory using squares of colour etc, this book has the really nice feature of large colour plates of works of art accompanied by comments on colour use and design. It includes (pp 112-113) Un Dimanche à la Grande Jette; preliminary study by Georges Seurat. Itten points out the use of dots of pure colour, the importance of complementaries, and the balance of light and shade. “The individual colour areas are resolved into restlessly vibrating modulations of contrasting tones”.

John Gage in “Colour in Art” includes a detail from A Sunday on La Grande Jette (using the title given in the book), in addition to other works by Seurat. Gage also highlights Seurat’s interest in tone in addition to the luminosity provided by optical colour mixing (pages 54-55). In particular, the comment “Seurat must have been impressed by Blanc’s description of Delacroix’s hatchings of pink and bright green in the flesh painting of the cupola…” (page 53) influenced one of my choices in the samples below.

I can’t remember whether I’ve mentioned in a previous post how important the concept of optical colour mixing can be for a weaver. If they are of different colours, the crossing of warp and weft creates many dots of colour, and understanding and taking advantage of this is one of the basics of weave design. It’s very common to weave colour “gamps”, precisely to explore colour interaction. I did a detailed study earlier this year of the interactions of just three particular dye colours, culminating in a colour gamp shawl. Click on the thumbnail to go to the final post on that. The shawl itself doesn’t work as a colour design, but as an information source it is fantastic – over 1,000 colour combinations!

The requirements for this stage are all stitch, not weaving (which I’m really missing), and I went back to hand stitching to form dots of textile colour.

Exercise 1

My stitching went a bit crooked, but this first sample is meant to be two rows of work, each with colonial knots placed widely, then closer, then very closely.

Size 5 perle cotton was used in the first row. The apparent colour lightens and brightens as the knots move closer together. The shine and texture of the thread shows clearly and attractively against the matt black fabric (a moderately heavy cotton twill – I call it “drill”, but am not sure if that’s correct).

The second row has the same perle cotton (shiny), plus a mohair/wool/alpaca yarn (“mirage” from Bendigo Woollen Mills – larger and hairy), cottolin (matt), silk ribbon (some sheen, larger), and a fine silk thread – in a range of reds. In the wider-spaced area the differences in colour, size and texture are very apparent. Overall the effect is quite dull. The central section appears lighter and brighter. On the dark, dull background the differences in yarn size have reduced impact. It would be interesting to compare the result on a lighter fabric which could show shadow more. The differences in colour seem greater. In the closely stitched area I spaced the larger yarns fairly evenly, but worked the smaller ones in little clumps or rivers. As I was working this seemed to let each individual type of yarn keep some of its individuality, while still forming a cohesive whole. It also seemed to make it easier to include and still see the very small silk thread knots. I like the result, although I think it has a more formal and traditional appearance than I would normally prefer. The different sizes and textures of the yarns produce an interesting surface and combine with the variation in colour to give a rich surface.

The second sample uses some of the Lunatic Fringe 10/2 cotton. I chose the colours – 10-red purple and 5-green – thinking of the quote above about cross-hatching in pink and green to produce flesh tones. Straight lines were again a challenge, but in theory there are three rows of stitching, moving from bottom left up to the right. The sample is small – the circle of fabric is around 11 cm diameter.

First are patches of the two base colours, using the thread doubled.

The second row is a series of 50-50 mixes of the two colours. Going from left to right and down, there are clear bands of colour then an even mix (both sets with yarn doubled). I wasn’t getting much optical blending, so I tried the two colours together in the needle – effectively the same total grist, but very mixed colour. In the fourth patch I used the threads separately and undoubled – back to the even mix, but smaller knots.

At this scale the bands and large even mix remain two distinct colours, which look marginally more intense to me. The two colours in one needle produced the most mixing of colour, but is a bit dull and uninteresting. The smaller scale section is the most successful in blending colour but retaining some individuality and liveliness.

Top right are two 80-20 mixes, both in single-thread knots. The colours don’t really blend or shift, but I like the extra pop that the contrasting colour provides.

Exercise 2

The course notes asked for pastel colours, mixing for a gradual colour movement across the sample. I decided to use some of the 20/2 silk I dyed back in January (seen here), at 1% depth of shade and in particular the run from Red 2 B to Navy R (lanaset dyes). Feeling the black background had drabbed down the earlier stitching I moved to a creamy fabric which I think is a cotton-hemp mix.

I started with the bar on the left, using three different colours – 100% Red 2B, 80% Red 2B/20% Navy R, and 60% Red 2B/40% Navy R. I think I was quite successful in gradually introducing each new yarn, but the work was very slow. I dropped my original intention of using the full run of 6 colours.

Instead I decided to try a less densely stitched sample with the colour change radiating out from the centre. Wanting to complete the Project by the end of the weekend (that didn’t happen obviously!) I decided to limit myself to one length of each colour (that is, one “needle full”) and one hour (which turned into one and a quarter). I think the colour movement combined with the decreasing density of stitching creates an interesting but harmonious starburst.

For the final section of work I went totally off the requirement. It started with a simple mis-reading of the notes, which called for “a drawing with pastel colours to develop in terms of image making”. Looking back at the context, this clearly means pastel colours. I read it as pastels the medium, and found this page done in September in Project 1. I was really attracted to the lively mixing of colour, and especially the idea of doing some lively freeform cross-stitch – No More Knots!! I didn’t want a flat overall mix of colour, and had the idea of using some of my recent sketchbook work.

Earlier this month I did a colour study of a work by Monet – “Yacht Races at Argenteuil” (Kapas, page 48). I got very excited about the idea of doing some stitching using lively overlapping cross-stitches of colour, based on the design and colours of the Monet work. I got out the sketchbook to plan it out, referred back to the course notes to check what I needed to do – and realised my error. These were certainly not pastel colours.

Some pacing around the room later I decided I didn’t care. The Plan was relevant to the material being covered in the course, I wanted to try it – the course would just have to bend a little.

I used tracing paper over the plate in the book to get the basic shapes of the image. I didn’t want to reproduce it in any sense, just to get some blocks of colour mixing happening. Next came a quick tryout of the idea using coloured pencils. The result was very muddled and it looked like I would have some trouble with level of detail and scale of work. However I was feeling very committed to the idea and wanted to give it a go.

I decided to use the same creamy cotton-hemp fabric as a base. Threads chosen were all my hand-dyed 20/2 silk.

Here is the result. It’s not finished and it never will be – I’ve run past my (personal) deadline, I need to build up the colours differently (starting bolder and refining with later layers), the scale and detail is challenging (no surprise there!), and if I were going to do a finished piece I would want to start with my own design.

Regardless of all that, I really enjoyed the work and I like it  – or at least the potential of the idea. It’s hard to see in the photo, but where the stitches are layered (particularly the building and greenery middle right) it is starting to get that lively complex mixing of colour. I keep insisting that I’m not a stitcher, but I really hope I get back to developing something like this in the future.

Well, this has turned into a very long post, and Tuesday evening instead of Sunday – but the project is pretty much done. A final overview and I’ll be on to Project 4 – Developing design ideas.

Kapas, M. (ed) (1991) The Impressionists: A retrospective (Beaux Arts Editions)

Gage, J. (2006) Colour in art, Thames & Hudson

Itten, J. (1973 english edition) The art of color: the subjective experience and objective rationale of color, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company

Stage 5 – Coloured stitches

Colour exploration continued in this stage, moving back into stitch. I needed to select two primary colours, work on a black background and experiment with proportions and placement to see the impact on the apparent colour.

I chose yellow and red as my colours. Wanting to continue a mix of hand and machine stitching, I decided to use the machine and to start off with the 10/2 mercerised cotton from Lunatic Fringe (I discovered back here that my sewing machine is quite happy to use these direct from the cone).

photo from Lunatic Fringe site

The set of colours includes two reds (10-Red is marginally towards yellow, 5-Red is marginally towards blue) and two yellows (10-yellow is lemony, 5-yellow is more golden). The top few lines of the sample is just a check of tension settings and a try of cottolin to see if the machine liked it and if it would give a more matt finish. The machine wasn’t keen and the look wasn’t hugely different so I didn’t continue with cottolin.

My comments on the samples are based on looking at the original under a “daylight” lamp (it’s a dull, rainy Sydney afternoon outside). Unfortunately the colour of the photos have shifted a bit.

Using the numbering on the photo, in section 1 I tried the two closer primaries – 10-Red and 5 Yellow. Proportions of each colour remain constant throughout – 50/50 – but the distance between varies. In the wider spaced area to the right the yellow looks slightly more lemony than on the cone and the black around it very faintly greenish. The red looks unchanged from the cone. On the left they combine to give a variegated orange effect. The red is not individually apparent at all – it looks orange. The yellow retains some individuality throughout. The impact varies depending on distance and angle of viewing. Typing at my desk and looking across at the sample lying on the worktable, the background fabric is hidden by the closer stitching. The red and yellow are hard to focus – the effect is a textured orange.

The next experiment was combinations of the slightly different yellows and reds, plus I’d read about long machine jump stitches on Claire’s blog (her post here, describing a class with Pamela Priday) and wanted to see if I could do something similar (I don’t know Pamela’s technique unfortunately). The thread on top covers some of the thread below, changing the visible proportions.

Top Row of cross-hatching:

Combo 2: 10-Red over 5-Yellow. A rich combination. From a distance the colours blend to a textured orange. Closer, the colours enrich each other.

Combo 3: 5-Yellow over 10-Red. From a distance the red is not apparent. The yellow appears shifted towards orange. Closer, the two colours remain distinct but the yellow dominates and seems to have an additional glow.

Combo 4: 5-Yellow over 5-Red. The yellow is fractionally cooler, the red looks slightly dull.

Combo 5: 5-Red over 5-Yellow. The red is shifted slightly to orange, the yellow is shifted slightly green.

Bottom Row of cross-hatching:

Combo 6: 10-Red over 10-Yellow. The red is distinctly shifted towards orange. The yellow isn’t changed.

Combo 7: 10-Yellow over 10-Red. The red is shifted, but looks dull. The yellow is unchanged.

Combo 8: 10-Yellow over 5-Red. Neither colour appears changed.

Combo 9: 5-Red over 10-Yellow. The red has shifted towards orange. The yellow is unchanged.

Overall the differences are slight, but the 10-red and 5-yellow combination looks more harmonious and shows the greatest and richest mixing of colour. The yellows tend to dominate in all combinations, and the 10-yellow shows no impact from either red.

The large scale of the cross-hatching limited the amount of optical colour mixing. I moved to rayon machine threads, red in the needle and yellow in the bobbin. The red is on the orange side, the yellow is golden.

The first run goes from top left, clockwise around the perimeter. I gradually tightened the top tension. At the beginning no bobbin thread is visible. As the stitching progresses first tiny pin-pricks then dots of yellow bobbin thread start showing. I kept going until I reached maximum needle tension, which still wasn’t pulling up much bobbin thread. While at the machine I was disappointed. The lighting there is not good and I couldn’t see any change in the apparent colour. In better light there is a subtle but distinct shift in apparent colour, gradually moving to orange as the yellow bobbin thread takes effect.

The second run starts at the bottom and moves clockwise. I had loosened bobbin tension and was able to get much more yellow bobbin thread to the surface. I had the machine running quickly and the stitches are very small. The rayon looses all sheen and just looks dull. There is actually a sick green tinge, presumably be the influence of the black background with the more open stitching pattern.

Middle left I went into a frenzied zig-zag motion (by moving the frame, not using the machine stitch), trying to get more solid areas of yellow visible. This leads on to the central meandering zig-zag part, which I think is the most interesting, energetic and successful section. I like a line that manages to be jagged and smooth at the same time. I was also able to get some good colour change by modifying the needle tension, effectively changing proportions of yellow and red. The colours mix and work together well, but still retain some individuality which I think adds to the interest.

Stage 4 – Colour moods and themes

This Stage goes beyond the objective recording of colour to consider the personal – intuitive responses, likes and dislikes, associated moods and feelings.

I’ve just finished reading Colors: what they mean and how to make them by Anne Varichon which is full of information on the symbolism and significance of colours across cultures and history. One theme throughout was the strong association between cost/rarity/difficulty to produce and symbolism. For example “For many years, green’s appreciation in the West was marked by the failure of green dyes, and as a result, it retained connotations of risk, transience, and instability” (p 207). Colour is easily available to us now and there is so much mixing of peoples that maybe such cultural sharing and knowledge of colour symbolism is lost. A lot of marketing effort and dollars suggest I’m wrong on that. On reflection, I’ve lived most of my life in temperate Sydney where most of the garden stays green all year round and snow never falls, yet I’m still very clear on “proper” colours to represent seasons – so yes, culturally shared symbolism of colour is alive and well. On the other hand, my instant reaction to a particular light and dark blue as “boring” is definitely personal and related to years of school uniform.  No conclusions here, so on to the exercises!

Exercise 1 asked for three pairs of opposite words and colours to express them – sad/happy etc. A quick half hour should do it.

I found this really hard and got totally stuck. At the top on the right is my first pair – ill and well (I’ve had a cold!). Not a good result – my “ill” could be someone else’s “muddy spring”, and “well” is rather feverish. Plus the expressive mark-making is all over the place. Figuring out the colours I wanted, mixing them and making meaningful marks was just too much to think about all at once.

I needed to manage complexity, so I split the task into separate steps:
1. identify colours needed using coloured papers
2. mix colours
3. focus on appropriate marks

The bottom section of the page shows sad and happy. I was feeling much more pleased with this, especially that it seemed natural for happy to expand and take up lots of room, when suddenly it looked very familiar.

Happy (excited); Happy (contented)

This is work from stage 2 of project 1. The “sad” from that time is pretty similar too – vertical lines and drab colours.

So why did I find it so hard, when presumably (one hopes) I’ve learned and progressed in the meantime?

Apart from obvious answers (ie lack of learning and progression!), I think I was trying to do too much. I wasn’t working intuitively. I was worrying about a “good” colour scheme, thinking about all the colour concepts in the course and my reading. I even started flipping through Itten and making a summary list of things to think about:
Colour Agent – the pigment, a physical thing
Colour Effect – the perceived colour, through comparison and contrast, a psychological and physical thing
Successive contrast – the afterimage in the complementary colour.
Simultaneous contrast – a colour shifting surrounding colours towards its complement
The seven colour contrasts – hue; light-dark; cold-warm; complementary contrast; simulataneous contrast; saturation; contrast of extension (harmonious areas yellow 3 : orange 4 : red : 6 : violet 9 : blue 8 : green 6).

Way Too Hard. I gave myself a bit of a shake and tried Agitated/Calm. “Calm” doesn’t quite ring true, but I think I nailed “Agitated”.

Exercise 2, identifying a colour mood or theme and making a “colour bag” really was the “quick and direct way of creating a bridge between source material and textile work” that the course notes suggest.

I already had a picture picked out, having put aside a few that caught my eye when I was sorting materials for collage a couple of weeks ago. The stepped approach worked well:
look carefully
describe what you see
select colours from collage papers (already sorted into colour envelopes)
select colours from fabrics and threads (already sorted into colour plastic tubs)

It was fast, fun, and effective. Definitely something to play with again.



Itten, J. (1973 english edition) The art of color: the subjective experience and objective rationale of color, Van Nostrand Reinhold Company

Varichon, A. (2006) Colors: what they mean and how to make them, Abrams

Picasso exhibition

Yesterday I went to the Picasso: masterpieces from the Musée National Picasso, Paris exhibition for the first (and second!) time. It’s on at the Art Gallery NSW to March next year and given I have a gallery membership that allows me to go as many times as I want, no cost, no worries about queues or timed tickets, I plan to take full advantage of the opportunity.

There is so much known and seen and written about Picasso. I have nothing to add. However this blog is now my learning log and however trivial, shallow, misled, banal my comments and experience may appear to others, it’s important to me to capture them.

So with notebook remaining in my bag, no particular plan, no pressure to “take it all in” in one great gulp, I wandered through, going where my gaze took me. With current OCA course preoccupations the gaze tended to focus on colour and marks.

Faun uncovering a sleeping woman (1936) is an acquatint and I found multiple images on the net including this one (the British Museum announcing an acquisition) although some of the shadowing on the faun’s torso and front arm looks a bit different. Amazing contrasts of light and shadow, and the ray of sunlight illuminating the scene. The practised voluptuous clean curves of the woman’s body, especially a line which is the calf of one leg and the buttock of the other side, contrasting with the detail and scribble and angular hard muscular faun.

The reader (1932) – click here for an image. Fascinating lines and connections – a horizontal discontinuity across the belt buckle was jarring. I found myself trying to remember and identify bits of colour theory. How conscious would he be of this as he painted, how much would be instinct or ingrained learning and practise and experience?

I went in wondering if there was an element of emperor’s new clothes – everyone “knows” Picasso is a mighty force in art and doesn’t want to be the ignorant philestine who questions. There were a couple of individual pieces  such as Bather opening a beach hut (1928) which left me wondering – but I just found an article here discussing it at length. Even without that, the thundering overwhelming wave of talent plus pracise and exploration over such a long period can’t be denied. It’s a strong childhood memory – playing in the surf at harbord beach, every once in a while there would be a “dumper”, a wave that picked you up and swallowed you and threw you down so you didn’t know which way was up and there was sand in your swimmers and water up your nose and the salt taste. Well, when I write it all down it doesn’t seem so appropriate, but it was exciting and overwhelming and after catching your breath you couldn’t wait to go and jump in the waves again. That’s the exhibition.

Calendar of Posts

December 2011

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