February 2006

February 1st - 5th

I have now painted the fourth and fifth surfer. Between mark four and five (are all my surfers called Mark?) there has been something of a major change in the way the design looks. I don't know why - no conscious decision, but the wax suddenly took over. I am still using an outline here and there to retain dye but mostly I am trying to create effects by splashing wax through templates or over masks. I have lots to learn because the size of the brush, the amount of wax in it as well as the direction and strength of movement of the splatter offer subtle differences in effect. I was really interested to realise that last month's Life Class newspaper collage (below) was influencing me, as there I'd unconsciously used the direction of the print to describe planes. Flinging wax can be much the same.

Life study: with thanks to the North Devon Journal

 

Part completed details above and right

Here's the overall look of Mark 5. His hair looks unintentionally like a turban or dreadlocks , but I quite like it.

Sometime soon I shall remove the wax and do a steam and then I will have more of an idea how the Marks work as draped designs. There is just no way of telling at the moment. It could be that I am going to have to work harder at the corners and ends as these are vital areas of a scarf. Or are they really better off as hangings? Here we go again with that old debate. Hi Robin!!

It seems to me that a lot of contemporary textile study concentrates hugely on effect and surface rather than content, and the sense that if you just carry on adding techniques long enough you will achieve something that looks great. It's true, you probably will. But to me personally, this never seems the job of an artist. I need to start out with a feeling and an intention; work, review and modify, and then either finish the work and exhibit or admit failure and chuck it. Sometimes I re-cycle textile losers, with another creative intention altogether. However, I also realise that to achieve new works and creative intentions a knowledge of many techniques is essential and one certainly has to practise using these without the constraints of a creative intention - otherwise one might be bending technique and not fully exploring it.

Last March I went on a course with Robin Paris (she of the Hi Robin!) who introduced me to some new ways of using wax which involved a scary array of metal objects that could raise high levels of curiosity if one was stopped by the local Constabulary on a dark West Country night. Chains, forks, blades, spiky brushes, wire netting and meshes, and all manner of weirdly shaped objects were used to create textures and imprint wax onto fabric. I have been a whole year without using any of these ideas but they were clearly waiting to emerge and as nothing ever comes from nothing. Mark 5 has fork hair. I am now on the lookout for my own collection of suspicious objects. Creative intention meets technique because I can see all sorts of ways forward with this now. Thanks Robin!

 

5th - 10th February

I had a good Life Class on Monday. I took bits of rag, and black and white paint. I have stopped playing with newspapers now and want to achieve something with more chunk and volume without being distracted by detail.

 

These were the ones that felt as if they were working best.

Rest of the week: lots of writing, for a press release and also for possible articles in magazines, radio etc which I was invited to do last week. Quite an exciting project and if any of it comes to fruition I will explain more. I also sent a CD of images off to a new gallery opening soon to see if they might like some work, and I continued to work on another surfer - Mark 6 - but he's had to be fitted around the writing project. I am going to stop at 6 and then work on a new series of experimental pieces where I mess about with the individual marks that I can make applying wax in different ways. In the last entry I wrote that I thought creative intention can actually impede exploration at times. I think a new technique is opening up for me but I can't use it properly when it's tied to the surfer designs which in some ways are quite rigid.

I decided to buy a new camera as my digi went off for repair and it seemed the time to invest in something that is going to take much classier pictures. I've bought a Fuji S9500 and I'm in experimental mode with this too.

 

Here you see a solo camel crossing the Empty Quarter of a wax-resisted crêpe de Chine scarf. Perhaps it is looking for Wilfred Thesiger. Not often seen, but with Fuji all sorts of wondrous things seem possible. The small digi cam has been repaired and I will use that as my going-for-a-walk camera as it's very portable and simple to use. It doesn't do camels though, and hence is sulking to be replaced while on sick leave.

 

11th - 14th February

More writing, which is now finished. I ironed out all the surfers and they are ready to steam but I want to do a couple more experimental textured pieces before I set up Old Faithful in the garage. I have done one, and am starting another. The ironed-out surfers are now softer and scrunchable so I can get some sense of how the design will look when they are steamed and totally de-waxed and I must admit that I am not altogether convinced they / it works. Ug. Maybe they are hangings..

The last few days have been blighted by the frustrating failure of my e mail system. The initial response from my web hosting service was that it must be my computer at fault. But various tests and experiments here at home proved it wasn't the case. Now it seems that there are more complex problems afoot to do with Pipex and their barium production server. No, I'd never heard of one either. I am an optimist at heart and would love to believe the Pipex undertaking to have it all sorted out by the morning. If they'd admitted to a problem earlier I might have saved myself endless wasted time. I quote verbatim from their last update: "Update 19:05 At present data transfer is still completing which in this case means the email service is currently unavailable and we anticipate this will take several hours to complete. Will we update when this completes."

Probably not. Let's hope they are more careful with their data transfer than the wording of their update.

At the weekend we joined in the town spring-clean which was fun and a great idea. The two of us filled four bin-bags. More of the spring-clean team got together to pull a vandalised sign out of the river. You can see himself in his new role of Head of Traffic Control in this local website article, valiantly protecting our local MP, who is the one hanging on to the rope. I am sure there is a cheap political joke there somewhere but can't think of it.

This week also involved one of my infrequent visits to the hairdresser. I have never enjoyed having my hair fiddled with since I was forced to go along as a teenager to have my hair "done" - in the sort of way my mother felt it should look for a formal dance and I happened to loathe. It involved hundreds of pins and lots of yukky hair spray. I also hate hairdresser-talk of the "going anywhere nice?" variety. This is the only picture you will ever see of me looking (relatively) tidy.

 

 

15th - 16th February

E mail service resumed on Wednesday morning although it appears that I have lost a large numberof incoming e mails.

Above: Strips of paper laid on the surface. Wax splattered over papers and scarf so it lands in the gaps. Right : not the same scarf but how it looks after three rounds of paper, wax and dye

I'm carrying on making some experimental scarves made by textured areas of wax. So far the results are fairly arbitrary but I am basing the placing of the papers roughly on the compositional direction of some of my earlier scarves with grass as design source. I have to keep reminding myself that the gaps are where I retain the dye colour beneath.

February 17th - 19th

I set up and used the steamer on Friday. Below left you can just see the central rod sticking up inside the assembly before the whole thing is closed up for steaming. It's fiddly aligning the rod with the centre point of the conical "hat". For pictures and further info of the entire set-up process there are separate pages on this site here.

I am quite pleased with the "look" of the experimental wax pieces. Here's another scarf still on the frame.

 

The steamed work will still need a dry-clean as there is still a lot of wax left in it. The surfers are steamed but I am not sure whether I think they have been a success.

Once in a while mantras and mutterings fail, perhaps because the Steam Gods are angry. Water works its way into the roll of paper and silk and affects or ruins a piece of work or several, depending on the level of polytheistic rancour. It happened this time. It could be that I set the water level a fraction too high and it bubbled up beneath the roll of paper and worked its way through a fault in the foil protection. Or maybe I used the wrong mantra for February. I was lucky as most of the scarves were sited higher than the reach of incoming water, but one shows water damage.

Experimental scarf showing water damage. Below the pink line is the damaged area. The dye can move around before it fixes if water reaches the silk in the steamer.

Close-up of the blotchy marks. The wax marks on the scarf are supposed to look hard and crisp so this isn't at all what I wanted.

 

February 18th - 23rd

I've come to a bit of a halt. I quite like the experimental wax scarves but I am not sure if or how I want to proceed with them. The steamed batch ready for dry-cleaning isn't big enough yet (it costs me £15.00 for a load so I don't take it unless there is a large amount to clean) so I can't fully evaluate the work already in the pipeline until they are totally finished.

I have done a couple Tussock scarves which showed me there is still some life in the design. I know when a design is dead as I can't even bear the thought of going back to it. Some designs seem to exhaust faster than others. I never want to do another Streets of Dublin, for instance, but I'd do more Lizards. Perhaps it's something to do with the versatility within the design. Streets has very little, Lizards and Tussock a lot. Sometimes I have the awkward dilemma of being asked by a gallery or client for a piece of work in a design that makes me want to run screaming off Beachy Head. Is it more professional to say yes, or no?

A goodly cheque from a gallery this month indicated that I need to do some more clamped scarves as I have sold them all, and as I am teaching this again in a fortnight I need some more samples anyway. So a welcome diversion (or is it procrastination) to the "what's next" question has been dyeing up scarf backgrounds, and folding and clamping. I don't paint the backgrounds on a frame, I simply immerse them in dilute dye, squeeze them out and hang them on the line to dry. I had washing out on the same day and as the skies alternated between child's-crayon sun and day-of-doom clouds, I restarted my veg patch digging so that I was ready to jump when the rain came - which it did after about three rows of heavy clay work. Garden gloves flew, pegs were flung, all in boots weighed down with 60 tons of red Devon mud. But the scarves were saved before they were badly rain-spotted.

Last summer I sent in a proposal to tutor at the Association of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers Summer School 2007, which will be held at Falmouth College of Art and Design. One of my missing e mails last week had, apparently, been one to say I had been selected. Fortunately the organiser phoned me when she didn't have a reply. The proposal was so long ago I can hardly remember what I undertook to teach! But I am more than delighted to have been chosen. The course will be called "Creative Dyeing" and my general intention was to offer a selection of techniques to students new to dyeing or acid dyes and relate them to the creative process and creating work. Booking won't be through me and details will be put on my Courses page.

 

24th - 26th February

I have clamped up and dyed 12 scarves, all of which look very different. It's one thing doing them and being pleased (or not) with the result, but quite another to try to analyse in hindsight why one scarf worked better than another. Using the hairdryer between applications of dye makes quite a difference. A new squirt of colour creates a harder line on an already dry dye, instead of the softer meging that occurs when wet dyes blend together. But there are too many variables to predict a result, which is good and a bad thing. As most things are, of course, depending on where you stand. Which brings me neatly to:

Phil Smith's Crab Walks. I went on one yesterday, and it happened in Newton Abbott, in South Devon. You can find out more about what Phil and others do at the Wrights & Sites site here. I joined about 10 others at the Leisure Centre for the start of the walk.

Crab Walking, which Phil sometimes calls "drifting", is not about walking from here to there and having a place to go. It's about letting the walk walk you, I suppose, and being moved and alerted, distracted and diverted. What diverts you are the things you see and hear and experience on the way. These may be entirely unconnected to their intended purpose (a signpost, a bench etc) and reverberate within your own memories or experience, thus giving you a unique insight into a whole area and creating a route and a walk with its own atmosphere and history. On a shared walk, people discuss their insights and thoughts. In some ways I found this a distraction in itself because I only articulated what I had been thinking to myself as I walked after the event, looking at the pictures and having a think.

Phil writes that "mythogeography" dies unless it is shared and so I am going to publish part of "my" walk here. For some reason I only took pictures of the first half, perhaps because I started to talk to people more and simply forgot to use the camera. It isn't quite an honest account of the walk at the time, because lots of things have occurred to me since. I don't suppose that matters.

 

A Crab Walk with Phil Smith : Newton Abbott, 26th February 2006

Phil Smith has kindly given me permission to quote from his "Key to Places" contained in his Crab Step Cards and Maps. He writes that certain types of place seem to turn up again and again when you start to "drift". Here are three:

z worlds: little self-contained universes - lichen covered stone globe, a warehouse full of corrugated iron, a chest of toys, a pavement slab

wormholes: places that seem to connect to other places (real or unreal, near or faraway) - a rabbit hole to Wonderland, a tea cup with China beneath the leaves

accidental museums: where chance or neglect collects a whole history of things in one place - an abandoned factory, a skipful of hotel records

 

We had no fixed route and just started off up a hill on top of which there was a radio mast. Just under the radio mast:

1. What should I do if I find a dead or a sick bird?

I have no idea. If you think about it there is something strange about making a poster in which the headline is the reader, not the writer, asking themselves a question.

It was advice on avian flu of course, laminated and fixed officially alongside a conservation and interpretation board showing us the English Woodland pulsating with birdlife. (Note the many staples to deter the peripatetic phantom poster puller).

To the north on another slightly higher hill was a church.Two hills with different antennae.

Notes: I now know the radio hill is called Broadlands and the church is All Saints Church, Highweek

At the top of the hill looking south west-ish:

2. I'd show more pictures of the walkers but didn't ask them first. So for their privacy you have their backs - all but for Phil's. He's the one with the rucksack.

I didn't get Newton Abbott's permission to show this and other views of their dodgy town-planning but with branding going the way it is these days, maybe I should have. We were looking roughly south west and somewhere to the right of Phil's head was a blue house. I immediately thought of the Brahmin houses you could see from the Red Fort at Jodhpur. If you are keen to see more, there are some pictures in this blog I have found. It's nothing to do with drifting on the walk, just drifting from the webwise here. Thank you, Vlad.

I wondered if there are any Brahmins in Newton Abbott. I looked for other blue houses and remembered something I read about a specific visual function that allows you quickly to seek out similar things: try looking for yellow objects in a room, or fuzzy ones, or curved lines.

Back down the hill a short way:

3. I hate seeing discarded, littery things because of what they represent in terms of waste and (possibly) vandalism: but at the same time their intense shiny redness amongst the equally intense rich shiny greens was visually compelling. I then remembered magical childhood parties where we had to search for our presents: you'd go tramping through the forest looking for a glint of gold wrapping, coloured paper or a ribbon. Something incongruous in the leaves alerted you to the presence of presents. You had to keep on searching for the one with your name on and weren't supposed to tell if you found one belonging to someone else. We all did of course. "I'll tell you where yours is if..."

4. Already I am rewriting history because we saw this before I saw the fire extinguisher. But it fits the narrative better this way. At the top of the hill was a twisted tree trunk partly painted blue, with the word BLUE painted on a branch. Reminded me of Andrew Lawson's blue tree in his garden at Charlbury. I can't find a link to a picture of his tree, but it seems he is not the only one to do it: click here.

We set off down the far side of the hill and came across more blue paint, some of it painted as arrows on branches or the ground. Or just painted as dots or splashes on tree trunks. It felt like a trail, so we followed it.

 

 

 

 

 

5. And then this amazing thing. I knew it was amazing as soon as I saw it but didn't know why. It just seemed important.

A blue arrow had been painted on a large and ancent tree, an oak, I think. But more than that, its trunk was full of nails. You can see a group of three old square- headed nails bent flat at the top of the image. There were a lot more visible, but they seemed to be more recent and round-headed. Some were in threes, and some may have been once (a tree-o? ouch) as there were many twos together where a third could have been lost.

A group of us wondered why they were there. Deep in my memory, maybe from Pitt-Rivers-Museum-Lectures-days, something stirred about folk-customs regarding nails in trees. I remembered a stool in the PR Museum in which human teeth had been set. I think this was against toothache. But I couldn't remember any more about nails and so later on Google came up with this. When you get there scroll down to: Customs Related to the Tree.

An old Sacred Tree? Gypsy customs? Or part of exorcisms; nails in the eye of the Devil; a tying ritual; to cure toothache (referred to in the article as a Cornish custom), or for good luck. Plenty of Christian symbolism too. Who you are is why you'd do it.

 

 

6. As Phil said, this seemed to be "closure" for the Blue Trail and it ended here, unless we were intended to go underground. The arrows seemed to say, "This and here is IT".

We all wondered who had made the trail.

Why did I find this idea of a "drifting walk" so intriguing? Probably because I do a lot of walking myself, which isn't exactly drifting as I am taking myself or the dog from A to B. But my imagination is certainly drifting along as I observe things around me, one thing reminds me of another and I make some bizarre mental links. I have often taken students on "observation" walks where the idea is not just to explore the visual but also try to experience a place through other senses, and to bring a personal focus and knowledge to what is experienced.

 

A walk in an urban landscape is not what I'd normally choose to do but I can see the broader point that Phil writes about making a place as you move through it and disrupting it, and yourself, if you don't like it.

I like anything that makes us look at things again and not just fall for the conventional line.

 

Conclusions?

I should draw a pictogram of the entire walk because that's the sort of thing I did as a child and probably more than anything else the entire walk reminded me of the way I used to be as a child. But I am not too hot on Photoshop and I must get on with some other stuff. So the map thingy on the left will have to do. It is based on a "proper" map so the actual proportions of the walk drawn in black are correct. I don't know why that should matter, but I love looking at conventional maps so this is a nod at convention. I put in some of the key drifting things that I remember as significant. They seem, in retrospect, to fit into themes:

Starts, finishes, cycles:

Live and dead birds; the beginning and end of the blue trail; the church and the coffin trail; the beginning and end of the walk itself

A discussion on the Coffin Trail where we considered the idea of walking our own coffin's route to the cemetery (or place of ash- scattering) while we were still alive

The Unexpected; Stories Untold and Colours:

A view of the sea; stark sharp blue paint of the trail; a sudden vibrant memory of India; the bright red fire extinguisher in green woods; the bright blue of a bad school report torn up and not taken home; a curious house name curiously written

 

Mysteries:

The nail tree; the blue trail.

 

 

Links to other sites related to "drifting" and psychogeography

Wrights & Sites

Mis-Guides

Psychogeography - what is it? (Wikipedia explanation)

Urban Exploration

Re-mapping High Wycombe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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