Archive for the 'Reading' Category

Book Review – Sonia Delaunay

Color Moves: Art & Fashion by Sonia Delaunay is the catalogue of an exhibition last year at Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum. The exhibition focused on her fashion and textile designs, so naturally the catalogue does too. Delaunay (1885 – 1979) was an abstract painter and designer who, it seems, approached both her painting and her design work in the same way, creating form using colour.

I knew very little about Delaunay before reading the book – just a few of her works that were included in Paths to Abstraction 1867 – 1917 exhibition at the NSW Art Gallery in 2010 and occasional bits read here and there. The essays included left me wanting more. This is not a negative reflection on the catalogue as such, just the result of the exhibition’s strong focus and my own lack of background. One essay concentrated on issues in the dating and recording of the textile designs. Another looked particularly at Delaunay’s work and relationship with Metz & Co, a Dutch department store which produced many of her designs. This was interesting because it gave some context about the other designers of the period, plus a few glimpses of Sonia Delaunay the person. There was also a more general introductory essay by Petra Timmer, “Sonia Delaunay Fashion and fabric designer”.

Delaunay kept a series of workbooks through her textile design career and the catalogue has many very good reproductions of pages from them and from the records kept by Metz. It is fascinating to see for a design the original gouache, ink and pencil drawing, the master print, and swatches of the final fabric in 6 colour-ways. The photos are large and crisp, so you can see the weave of the silk and the pencilled notes on the design cards. Delaunay cut some printing blocks herself, but many were created by a couple of commercial suppliers and it’s interesting to see the slight changes introduced in the process – especially relevant to me given the current stage of my OCA course. Some of the colour combinations she used just sing  (yes, I’ve noted some that really appeal to me in my sketchbook). There are only one or two of Delaunay’s artworks included and I’d like to track down some more as I want to compare her choice of palette for painting (unlimited) versus textile printing designs (3 or 4 colours and the base cloth). The fashion sketches and photos of models wearing Delaunay’s creations are also very interesting, but of course the contemporary photography was black and white.

I keep flipping through the book, admiring the colours and designs and working methods of a woman who had such a strong and clear vision and who was personally involved in a very interesting and creative period. I think the book is a great resource with such beautiful and clear images. On the other hand, I’d be really interested in any suggestions of books that take a broader view of Sonia Delaunay and her work.

McQuaid, M and Brown, S. (2011) Colour Moves: Art & Fashion by Sonia Delaunay. New York: Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution

Edited to add: I’ve just found a lot more material on the exhibition here, including a long video of an evening discussion by the curator and others.  I haven’t had a chance to listen/see everything yet, but a word of warning – some of the links failed for me because the link started with “beta” instead of “www”. If you get “server not found” just fix the address in your browser.


Project 4 Review

I finished work on Project 4: Developing Design Ideas a couple of weeks ago, so this review is well overdue. Partly the delay is because an earlier draft vanished into the ether, but more importantly it’s because even more than previous topics, this isn’t a thing that you complete and move forward. I want to –  and I have to – keep working on this. I need to practise and repeat and extend and hopefully get to the point where it’s so ingrained in how I work that it’s become a part of me. Not automatic, because I want to work with thought and intention, but one of those tools which is so familiar that it fits your hand like an extension of yourself.

Sometimes I can be embarrassingly earnest, but that doesn’t make the idea less true.

So, to the review questions:

Did you manage to ‘make space move’? Yes, in parts. Looking back at Stage 1, I now think I wasn’t very adventurous, but some examples in later exercises were moderately successful – and in one case I was able to recognise that space was moving rather too much and sliding off the page!

What are your thoughts about the drawings you did in Stage 3? As mentioned above, one had a problem with balance. Others I still find interesting and have developed further. Over the months of doing this course I have become much more relaxed about drawing and painting. It takes off a lot of pressure to see them, and the resulting work, as one step in a process, not a finished or polished thing in themselves. Plus it doesn’t have to look like the thing I’m drawing. Further design work could change it out of all recognition. In fact I’ve found that less “realistic” images are often more energetic and easier to develop.

Were you able to use your drawings successfully as a basis for further work? Are there any other things you would like to try? It was definitely a struggle at times, but I think some of the work I showed here is really interesting and has possibilities. I hope there will always be more things I would like to try. I’m very happy with the inclusion of computer-based work, which I think is a good addition to the “toolbox” of techniques and, well, tools.

Now that you have a good working method, do you feel confident that you can carry on working in this way independently? I can’t really claim to have a good working method yet, but I definitely have the beginnings of one. I’m going to have to keep returning to this, keep working on it. I expect there will always be grinding times as well as flowing times, but I’d like to change the proportions! I am confident that I will be able to keep working on this, able to keep improving and learning.

In my sketchbook work starting 9th February I worked on an idea based on one of my shell sketches. I tried various iterations and developments over a few days up to 16th Feb, and to an extent was able to follow the general working method. I didn’t reach a fully resolved design, but more material was developed and I may well return to it in the future.

I want to keep extending what I do, and have just re-read “Finding Your Own Visual Language” which has ideas and exercises very relevant to this topic (one exercise tried in the sketchbook here). Overall I feel very positive, very committed to carry on working, experimenting, reviewing, questioning, thinking, learning…

Dunnewold, J., Benn, C., Morgan, L. (2007) “Finding your own visual language: A practical guide to design & composition” (Committed to Cloth & Art Cloth Studios)

Recent reading

Itten, J. (1975) Design and form: the basic course at the Bauhaus, revised Edition, London: Thames and Hudson

This is one of the recommended course texts, and I was lucky enough to find a copy in the local library. In it Itten writes about the foundation course he developed and taught over many years, from Vienna in 1916 to the Bauhaus at Weimar, to Berlin, Krefeld then Zurich in the 1940s. It’s not a syllabus or course in itself, more a presentation of what and how he taught.

Each chapter has some discussion about the topic, how Itten approached it and his observations about students responses, then page after page of students’ work, sometimes with more comments by Itten.  Some of the work is beautiful and complete in itself, some – well, they’re student samples, repeating with variation, trying ideas, focused on aspects of the particular topic.  I found this much more helpful than either finished works that include elements on topic, or careful cut-down samples by the instructor that don’t show a lot of variety.

There are multiple works from some students, and it’s really interesting to see how their personal style was apparent in different exercises. The index is very helpful in tracking this … there was just a pause in writing as I looked at a few illustrations of Gunta Stölzl’s work, saw one was of weaving, checked the internet, suddenly made a connection and checked the Mad Square exhibition catalogue* – and yes, it was her design I stared at just a few months ago. All very logical, quite reasonable that Itten would include the work of a student who went on to become a Bauhaus master (the only woman, and a weaver) – but it feels very exciting and personal (although the catalogue mentions Paul Klee’s influence, not Itten’s).

Notes for future reference: Chiaroscuro (tone value; light-dark harmony); colour (contrasts: hue; light-dark; cold-warm; complementary; simultaneous; saturation; quantity); materials and textures (fibrous, rough, smooth, hard, shiny, grooved…); forms (contrasts: triangle; rectangle; circle; cylinder; point; line. horizontal-vertical; long-short; broad-narrow; large-small); proportion, contrast, harmony, balance, positive-negative, 3D-projected onto plane, visual paths, picture space/line/value analysis, scattered points of accent – distribution; rhythm (repetition, stresses; regular; irregular; continual; free flowing); expressive forms (heart, hand, eye); subjective forms (the nature and talent of individuals).


Gordon, B. (2011) Textiles: The Whole Story, London: Thames & Hudson

I first wrote about this book here,  last October, when I was very excited about it. It’s taken me three months to read it – admittedly with many other books coming and going in the meantime. I think it’s a great book – an ambitious scope, a clear point of view and purpose, lots of clear and relevant images, an engaging style of writing. The author has managed to select examples that illustrate each of her points and is willing to allow them enough space, enough surrounding detail, to give them substance and make the book more than just a long list of facts. Even so I found it difficult to read. There is just so much information that it got overwhelming. Gordon continued to make connections, to refer back to previous sections, but I wasn’t able to retain the mass of detail. I have a lot to learn, and don’t have enough framework of knowledge for the brief touches on such a broad landscape to hang together (mixing metaphors with abandon).

However I think that this may in the long term turn out to be the book’s strength. There are lots of notes and information about further reading and resources. I suspect this book will be great to dip into with a particular focus, get what I need or pointers to other sources. I’ve heard that a review pointed to some inaccuracies in the text, but unfortunately don’t have specifics. However for me that isn’t a major concern (some trembling in case this is academic heresy). No history is ever complete, there is always selection, differences of emphasis, perspective, context… No matter how well researched and edited, there will be errors and omissions. There is a wide enough range of examples within each major theme even if a few of the supports are suspect.

As it happens, I have a very small and indirect connection with this book too. In the final paragraphs Gordon writes about The Thread Project, a project creating a physical reminder of our global family united by a common thread. One of the participants in weaving the banners was Kaz, who mentions it here and here, and my brush with fame is that the loom Kaz used now lives with me. Typical but human – to take that huge mass of information in the book and make it about me 🙂

I’m looking forward to reading and using this book for a long time to come.

* Strecker, J. (editor) (2011) The Mad Square: modernity in German art 1910-37, Sydney: Art Gallery of New South Wales.

Back to work!

The last time I posted about actual OCA assignment work was in late December. I can be confident that not a day has gone past that I haven’t thought about it – the one thing I’ve been able to maintain is at least at little sketchbook work every day (started 14 Dec, so 39 days including Jan 21). This weekend I’ve finally been able to get some time together.

I had produced a design and really liked it – so much so that the next step, doing three more drawings based on the first one, was really difficult.

The distance in time helped. I also was very clear that I wanted to base the new drawings on the old, not reproduce it. I wanted to see if pushing further even when you’re happy with something helps to find new possibilities.

Stage 2 Exercise 3

Version 1 uses dry media – conté pencils on black watercolour paper.

The instructions were to keep one’s point of view clearly in mind while working. I wanted to focus on pattern and texture development within the very rigid geometrical grid.

The end result is still very close to the original, but I think successful in the texture and pattern focus. It now looks much more “stitcherly” in nature, while the first looks like a graphic print.

The columns are now much less distinct against the heavily patterned “background”. I considered putting some white onto the columns to give them more presence, but decided it would all get too busy and start fighting for attention in an unpleasant way.

Version 2 asked for wet media. This gave me lots of trouble, in large part because the original was in watercolour (? or gouache – can’t remember just now).

My first idea was to move away from the heavy geometry to a more organic, less controlled image. I wanted to use watercolours to form those hard drying lines to make the patterning of the background. This went very badly – way to much water around for a start. The end result was ditched as an assignment exercise, but recycled into sketchbook work. You can see it here, but it’s still unexciting.

Plan b was to continue the focus on patterning, this time using stamps to create the texture.

First I created a cardboard stencil, to protect areas of the image while stamping. Since I had it, I used the stencil to gently colour and texture the background with sprayed, diluted, sepia coloured ink. I have a motley collection of stamps gathered over the years. This image has some chinese stamps carved with my sons’ names, a couple of (maybe indian) wooden blocks, and a variety of business stamps that were being thrown away at a workplace. I used acrylic ink (black and burnt umber).

Ignoring the clumsiness of various things, I find this result interesting. I like the reduce colouring, which makes apparent how strongly coloured the previous versions were. The columns don’t work well, but I like the overlapping and incomplete stamping on the lightly coloured background. Some very nice marks there.

I like the result on the stencil too. I think the colour combination is one to use again.
The image on the left is another experiment. To create the stencil, I used my stored photo of the original design, and using gimp created a layer with all the major lines. This was printed onto a light card and I cut out along lines as required – you can see some of the construction lines I didn’t need on the stencil under the stamping.
Further work within gimp produced what might be an e-stencil (I just made that term up). It’s made up of layers, and I’ve put in a screen grab of my layers dialog hoping it makes some of the following clearer.

The bottom layer (ignoring an info layer where I’ve put some reminders to myself) is the background or wall. In the example shown I filled it with a stone pattern (extra detail – to get the slope of the pattern right, I created a separate image and filled it with pattern, then rotated that image by -64 degrees before selecting a square, copying and pasting into my background layer).
Next up is the column layer. It has two parts – the layer and a mask. The mask controls which parts of the layer are actually seen. Where the mask is black, the layer is blanked out – it doesn’t show in the end result. I have the column shapes in white on the mask, so that part of the layer will be seen. I used the same technique as for the background, this time using a purple lightening pattern and rotation 26 degrees. The purple lightening columns are seen on top of the background.

The spray decoration is another layer, again with a mask so only selected areas of the pattern are visible. This time I rotated the pattern by eye to get what I wanted (there’s nothing magic about the other rotation amounts, just what works for this particular design).

Finally I have a layer at the top which puts a little frame or border on the image. I now have a file which can be used to audition colour and patterning ideas for the design. I could even scan or photograph some fabric and use that in a simulation.

Back to the assignment. The third media was collage materials. I used some calendar and magazine images, plus some tissue paper from a shop. The black spray area is actually a calendar photo of lava (maybe?) by Frans Lanting. I think this is the least successful variation. Perhaps there isn’t enough contrast between background and columns, plus the different background images don’t meld well. It reminds me of patchwork, and if it really was it would need significant stitching to reinforce the directional lines and perhaps differentiate texture – say leave the columns relatively unstitched and slightly puffy.

Hopefully in all of these my textural/pattern point of view is apparent. I’m still mulling over my texture questions from my earlier angsty post. I emailed my tutor, Pat, who gave some helpful advice and reassurance. The other day I came across a book in the library, “Capturing texture in your drawing and painting”, and have been reading through. It’s full of techniques in all sorts of drawing and painting media, some interesting stuff that I want to try out… but I’m beginning to get the idea that you get so involved in producing an image that a lot of the freedom and gestural mark-making gets lost. It all gets very controlled, which might be fine if I wanted the image as an end product, but perhaps not so much as an exploratory, resource building for other work exercise. A lot of the stilted problem is due to being a beginner and it all being new to me of course. Always more to learn and think about.

Warr, M. (2002) Capturing texture in your drawing and painting London: B T Batsford Ltd.

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]

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 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

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).

Reading and looking

Penny Leaver Green is a new-to-me textile artist, highlighted in a post on the Mr X Stitch blog. She asks that her images and words not be used without permission, so you need to follow this link to learn more about her approach to using stitch and fabrics to explore ideas and create meaning. I find the images draw me in, I get a sense of space and thoughtful consideration. This doesn’t mean the subject matter is easy, for example recent work explores aspects of the Japanese tsunami – a map, growing sunflowers to absorb radiation, another map of radiation levels.  Penny has produced a series of work on button phobia, and seems to use buttons and circles in a lot of her work – in particular an appliqued circle with a cross stitched over, seen in the colour pictures (like tests for colour blindness) and placemarkers on maps. Maps also recur in her work, some made by her, some collected.

Another chance find yesterday (it was raining, so I did my lunchtime walk in a bookshop!) was Textiles: The Whole Story by Beverly Gordon. The author herself admits it could seem grandiose to attempt the full story of textiles, their importance today and in history, in myth and ritual, in all cultures, physical, spiritual, emotional… (of course we already know the Ultimate Answer to Life, The Universe and Everything). I’ve only just started reading, but already know this is a wonderful book that will change and deepen my understanding and love of textiles. I like the personal, warm, intimate style of writing – this is someone who loves her subject and wants to share with us all. I like the broad focus and the perspective given, and already feel as if things half-perceived are being put into focus. I find her storytelling engaging, beautifully and relevantly illustrated. I feel like my little hobby is part of an incredibly bigger whole – coming from a maths/science background there’s almost a sense of validation that this isn’t a soft diversion, that textiles are fundamental to human existence (not that I’ve been wanting or needing validation, still…). Even the paper of the book feels nice, a tactile pleasure.

Two strong, multiple-thumbs-up recommendations.

Calendar of Posts

September 2020

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