I know I have said this before, but it is worth saying again :). Every year I am left in awe of the beautiful colours that mother nature brings us each October / November.
While the British deciduous woodlands make my heart sing with their beautiful yellows, oranges and chestnut browns, this year I was lucky enough to visit Japan for the first time and was blown away by the intensity of the golden yellows and crimson maples against the dark green conifers.
The FFS fourth quarter challenge is all about creating a colourscape (creating pleasing combinations of colours). It seemed an obvious step to use some of the photos from this trip as my inspiration, but what to make? Felt can be notoriously difficult to work with when you want to place complementary colours next to each other, by its very nature the fibres (and therefore colours) want to mix and mingle and of course that will lead to muddy browns and greys where the two colours meet.
A few months ago, Fiona Duthie posted a video on how to make a double-walled vessel on her course FB page (it is only open to former students of her online classes). I have been having lots of fun with this technique as it provides an excellent solution to the colour mixing problem.
This is one of the first vases I made following her video, the double-walled technique lends itself very well to placing complementary colours adjacent to each other.
Feeling inspired by the crimson and orange acers (Japanese maples), I set about planning my vessel…
First to choose the colours…. for the inner wall:
And the outer wall:
Laying out the silk and wools:
While felting I couldn’t help but adore the colour transitions from the inside to the outside wall:
I could have cut the leaf shapes from the outer wall free-hand but given how fiddly they are I decided to play it safe and made myself a stencil.
I used water soluble crayons to mark where I wanted to cut the felt (these are really convenient way to mark up damp felt and they wash out easily).
Once the leaf patterns had been cut away I continued to shape the vessel and heal the cut edges, et voila! It’s not quite dry yet but I think you can still get a feel for the colour combinations even though the sheen on the silk can’t be seen yet. What do you think?
This may seem like a rather philosophical title for a textile art blog but please bear with me, I wanted to share a new direction and body of work with you.
These thoughts and ideas have been slowly percolating through the recesses of my mind for about 20 years, since a fairly heated debate with a psychology teacher on whether humans are the only animals who possess cognitive abilities (perception, attention, memory, motor skills, language/communication and visual/spatial processing). She quite vehemently argued that only humans possess all of these skills, I was a veterinary nurse at the time and forcefully argued the opposite, taking it further and arguing that animals also feel emotions too.
This debate was recalled during a trip to India in January 2018 and a visit to a Jain temple. The Jains have an intriguing philosophy and what struck me most about the monks was the extreme lengths they go to in order to preserve and protect all life, they believe every animal is sentient and as such, must not be harmed by their actions (either directly or indirectly). Their vows of non-violence make them the ultimate pacifists, a stance which I thoroughly admire but have to admit have no hope of ever attaining. They are strict vegetarians and do not eat after sunset for fear of accidentally eating an insect on their food, and the monks pluck out all their head hair rather than shaving it so as not to harm any lice that might be residing there.
While sentience is essentially another word for consciousness and it is relatively easy to argue that most animals, even the smallest, are “conscious” on at least some level, even if it is just awareness of food sources and potential mates. The idea that all creatures are sentient rekindled my thoughts about the cognitive processes and expression of emotions in animals.
I knew I wanted to explore this idea from a creative perspective but was unsure where to start. Researching colour theory revealed a wealth of information about our emotional responses to different colours and this led me to play a game of “abstract word-association”; starting with a one or two words that described an emotion I worked on small squares of water colour paper, trying to express that emotion with just colour and mark making, these are some of the results:
These little sketches were surprisingly cathartic to make, if you or someone you know is going through a challenging time and finding it difficult to talk about how they are feeling, asking them to illustrate, in an abstract way, a series of emotions (both positive and negative) from a list of words may be helpful.
Taking Gladys Paulus’ mask workshop earlier this year has given this topic and my approach to it, a whole new lease of life, no longer confined to 2D work, I have been having a ball making various animal sculptures, each expressing their own emotion. As each new personality takes shape on my work bench I am finding myself creating whole backstories for them.
I am thrilled to introduce you to 2 new, very special friends:
While the king of the beasts has a fearsome reputation, Lionel is really a very gentle, affable soul who likes nothing more than a good chortle at the ridiculous things humans do.
She isn’t quite finished, but will be a wall-mounted sculpture like Lionel when she is.
Margo is an old soul in a young body, she takes offence at almost everything and wears a permanent look of indignation on her face. She believes her purple spots are a sign that she is descended from aristocracy and therefore everyone is beneath her; if anyone is going to look down their nose at you, it should be the tallest of the beasts!
These two sculptures (and hopefully one or two more if can finish them in time) will be on display at the Art Box exhibition, at Denbies Wine Estate, Dorking RH5 6AA, UK, between September 23rd and 29th. If you are in the area please pop in and say hello, it is a beautiful place to visit and entry to the exhibition (with artworks in a range of media from 8 independent artists) is free.
Which animal and emotion would you like to see paired together?
Do you think I am anthropomorphising (applying human characteristics) the animal kingdom, or do you agree, animals do feel and express emotions, and perhaps some humans are too ignorant to understand when the animals around us try to communicate these emotions?
I first saw the masks of Gladys Paulus 4 or 5 years ago and was instantly mesmerised, to me, the photo below is iconic of her work, stunning felt, photographed in curious and inspiring ways.
When I started to see photos of her students’ work appearing online I KNEW this was a workshop I HAD TO take. Gladys has a young family so understandably limits her teaching schedule to only a handful of events each year, she also teaches internationally, this means there are typically only 1 or 2 dates each year when she is teaching in the UK. Not surprisingly, her workshops sell out pretty quickly, having been pipped to the post on 2 previous occasions I wasted no time when she announced there would be a fantasy mask workshop at the beginning of April. Cheerfully glossing over the health warnings and assertions that it would be very hard work that came with the sign-up form, I suspect I was the first person to book a place! 🙂
In preparation for the workshop, Gladys asked us to collect photos / create drawings from different angles of what we would like to make. I knew I wanted to make something based on a leafy sea-dragon, a very flamboyant relative of the seahorse, and found lots of photos from the front, a few from the side but none from behind. I attempted to sketch what I thought it might look like but found that almost impossible.
In a moment of epiphany I remembered I had a bag of clay left over from my diploma in art and design course. Would it have dried out and be unworkable?
It was perfect! Still soft and malleable, it was a delight to work with and it was strangely cathartic to see my leafy sea-dragon evolve as I worked the clay.
Until finally, a flowery-sea-dragon was born…
And of course, the all important view from behind 🙂
I went back to sketching based on on the model, as you can see I was already brainstorming possible names; one of my instagram followers suggested with a nose so large, she should be a perfumer.
It turned out I wasn’t the only one who made a clay model before the workshop, Suzie did too, only she went a few steps further, glazing and firing her work:
Carolyn also made a super-cute needle-felted model of her gargoyle.
Gladys commented that we were the first group to make models in preparation for the class making it all the more interesting that the 3 of us had done so independently of each other. Great minds eh? 🙂
With nervous anticipation (I had waited over 3 years to take this workshop) I filled the car with as much wool and felting paraphernalia as I could cram in, carefully perching my fragile clay model on the pile in the front seat, and made the 2.5 hour drive to Felt in the Factory on the Welsh border.
There were 7 students on the course, all lovely, very experienced felt-makers. Two had flown over from Canada (they did not know each other before the workshop), now that is dedication! The first day started with introductions and how to design and plan your mask template before creating the template.
Templates made, we started laying out the wool by the end of day 1 and this continued for the next two days interspersed with making prefelts and some rubbing. I am so glad most of us were staying at Felt in the Factory or nearby as we worked until 10pm most evenings and coming in an hour or 2 before class officially started again to work on our creations. Did I mention that the sign up form included a health warning regarding the level of fitness required? I thought it was exaggerated but we really did end up spending 12+ hours each day on our feet, only stopping to eat and sleep. The ever-helpful Nina provided a constant supply of tea, coffee and cake while we worked, ensuring the meal breaks were kept to a minimum.
I think most of us went through quite an emotional journey with our masks, starting with excitement and a little trepidation at the scale of the task to despair that it would always be a twisted misshapen mess to finally the joy and fulfilment as it finally started to resemble the sketches and photos it was created from. For some of us even even the animal that we thought we were working on morphed into something else, when I bumped into Nickie at the Contemporary Textiles Fair she said she would make a dragon, by the end of the week it was a griffin, I will let you decide which it is….
At the end of our 5 days together everyone left with sore hands, a mask they could be proud of and a big smile on their face. I think all of us have continued working on our masterpieces since we departed.
I think I am the only one to name my new pet, perhaps you can help suggest some names? Introducing…..
If you are interested in taking this workshop I recommend signing up to Gladys’ newsletter on her webpage so you are notified as soon as the next class dates are released.
Several people have requested an update following this post that I wrote following a felt-making session I led for the Farnborough Embroiderer’s Guild. We met the following month with the intention of adding some stitching to the pieces we had made and these are the results. They are all work in progress so please don’t judge them too harshly (not that you would, I know 🙂 ).
It is almost a year to the day that I gave up my day job of setting up clinical trials of new drugs for hospital patients to pursue my dream of making felt full-time.
A post on FB this week, prompted me to reflect on why I made that choice. One year in to my new adventure and the start of a new year, this seems like a good place to pause and take stock.
The post on FB asked us to choose the 3 main reasons why we chose to use our creative talents to go self-employed because lets face it, most of us don’t do it for the financial rewards, if economic security is top of your agenda, going self-employed in the creative arts is likely to be low on your list of employment choices.
This is the list of values to choose from but you are welcome to add your own, they came from Shannah Kennedy’s book: Simplify, Structure, Succeed.
Which 3 did you choose?
Freedom and Health: being self-employed means I can go for a 2 hour run or a long walk in the middle of the day if I want to, being able to down tools and go outside when the sun is shining has made me far more physically active and the psychological benefits of spending more time outside, in our beautiful British countryside, means I am far less stressed. This also relates to biophilia (see below) which is also supported by working with wool.
I also love that I don’t have to get up a silly o’clock in the morning to sit in traffic jams with thousands of other equally miserable people trying to get to the office before 9 am. There’s a lot to be said for home-working!
Order/stability : I found working in the corporate world could be incredibly stressful, every 2-3 years we would have a new VP, none of them could ever accept that the systems installed by their predecessor worked just fine and so felt they needed to restructure the entire company in an effort to leave their mark, like dogs peeing on a lamppost. We were constantly working in a state of flux, trying to navigate new processes but never being allowed to do the same thing long enough to get good at it before a new VP would come along and change everything again!
I wouldn’t describe my life as particularly ordered; Einstein summed it up well, “If a messy desk reflects a messy mind, of what does and empty desk reflect?”. I am messy and proud! 🙂 But compared to the corporate world my current work-life does feel a lot more stable, my processes only change when I need them to, not because someone else is peeing on my lamppost!
Of course, one downside to being a self-employed maker is that many of us feel we have to take the work when it comes, this can lead to working 18 hour days but that is my decision to work long hours (not due to some arbitrary deadline set by a faceless manager) and if I don’t want to work that many hours, I can always refuse a commission or only accept it with an extended delivery deadline. There’s nothing to say you have to take on every piece of work that is offered to you, in fact I think there are some things you should always say no to, but that is a whole other post!
Biophilia: Not on the list I know, but I think it is very relevant for most of us. Those of you who make felt on a regular basis will understand the deep connection with nature and the past that it brings, taking natural fibres and thousands-year-old techniques to create beautiful works guided only by your imagination and what the materials want to do.
I recently discovered this connection with nature and the desire to surround ourselves with natural materials has a name; biophilia. It seems to be something of a trend in textile studies at the moment but of course felt-makers have been familiar with the concept (if not the name) for centuries 🙂
One of the respondents on the FB page also talked about how isolating it can be to be a creative working from home, she described how she has changed from an assertive, confident woman to feeling like a timid mouse. I felt so sad reading that but I can easily relate to where she is coming from. Working on your own, 7 days a week can be tough, even for introverts who are comfortable with their own company, I can only imagine it must be an impossible challenge for extroverts.
For me, while designing and making are where I find the most fulfilment in my work, I realise that attending fairs and teaching are what keeps me sane. I need that social interaction, while Pickle (my cat) is very chatty, his conversation is hardly what anyone would think of as intelligent.
If you mostly work alone, how do you find it? Do you have strategies for coping with the isolation?
I think we are social animals (even the introverts!), we need to connect with other humans and for me, I am finding I need to collaborate and share with others, Open Studio events and craft fairs are great ways to connect but are quite sporadic so I was chuffed to bits to spend a day with Janine and Nancy making winged vessels in Janine’s studio (she has a studio to die for!). I am already looking forward to our next play-date and hope this will become a regular event in our diaries. I have long admired Ruth’s creative textile gatherings and hope we can develop something similar.