January 2006

1st January Happy New Year to all Log Readers

New Year's Day in Hatherleigh indulges the great British urge for men to dress up as women and jump into icy cold rivers. This is done annually for local charities and before I receive complaints there are as many women as men joining in the fun. This year the theme was Ardluck productions and teams of people dressed up as, among other curiosities, white and brown rabbits and a scarecrow and acted out a short scripted display to the theme tune of A Grand Day Out. I arrived too late to see the event properly and couldn't get close to the railings so had to photograph over everybody's heads. The people in green on the left below are something of a mystery- were they dressed as lettuces..?

They have to stay in the water for five minutes to qualify for the sponsorship money pledged by onlookers, after which a bonfire is lit and the shivering bathers flock around it and drink tea, and probably stronger liquids.

The studio floor is several steps tidier into The Journey of a Thousand Miles and I shall shortly think about getting back into some sort of work routine. It's the time of year when I like to work on new ideas and last January I worked for a few weeks on some thoughts and ideas that had been plaguing me - and which resulted in just one scarf!


Last January I said I would.. Did I?
Try to keep to a regular daily work schedule within a week More or less
Develop three or four themes that are in my head right now and keep plugging at them Yes
Try to make more time for drawings, and not just in sketch books Not enough
Keep a sketchbook for general drawing and others which will follow lines of creative investigation so the themes are separated and more easy to trace and use Yes, but didn't use them enough
Developing the existing work I have already started on grasses Yes: lots of work followed

Thinking on paper about letterforms and how I might take it onto fabric
One scarf only resulted!! But technically a real challenge accomplished
Developing the existing “Scribble” idea - maybe into graffitti Never happened. I lost interest in the idea
Find more outlets here in Devon and elsewhere Um- need to work much harder on this although I showed at Plymouth and now have work at Saltram House
Produce a good send-out pack of new work and SEND IT OUT.. I did this and the item below as one and it has been a great success. But I need to send more out
Produce a proper product care leaflet for buyers See above!
Maybe find a venue for teaching and set up a local course Tried hard with this but so far am not finding local students

This year I am clearer about what I am doing which will involve working on the grass and a related theme and making more drawings; thinking about a lurking idea I've had to do with the shapes of hands - but again I need to do some more drawing to see if it will work. And maybe, back to the Surfers design which may mean re-introducing myself to the gutta bottle.

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2nd - 6th January

Lack of log entries since New Year isn't due to a massive hangover but to the fact that I have been working quite hard. The studio completed its 999th mile of tidying and I got out the paints and gouache to make some big lengths of waxed, textured paper to use in planning the next project which will be Surfers. I also finished and submitted a residency proposal which had taken me a week to write - and so on.

Writing about the old Surfer design in the January 1st entry made me look out some inspiration - and I found and recommend the photo sections on the Surfer magazine site. The Californian ones I first looked at aren't there any more but they always seem to have amazing pictures. There are some things in my life I'll probably never do again, like ride a horse, ski down a mountain or attend a ballet class (no sniggering in the back there, please).There are also some exciting things I have never thought about trying as they were clearly so beyond my financial, physical, intellectual and / or emotional reach. Mountain climbing is one. Surfing is another. I've watched surfers in Australia, Sumba, Bali and here in the South West and there is something compelling about the all-weather, all encompassing commitment of surfers, their intuitive understanding of waves and the grace of what they do when they do it really well.

I worked on this subject some years ago after our trip to Australia where we'd watched a lot of surfers and I'd done some drawings. I made about 10 pieces of work on a thin gauze. They were complicated to do as I needed to make a full scale drawing, then templates as guides. The gauze is very stretchy and so design distortion always occurred between stretchings because I could never stretch them up exactly the same way again between drawing up and dyeing. They were done entirely with gutta resist. I stopped doing them not because I felt I'd fully explored the design possibilities at the time, but because the gauze was so fragile. I felt they weren't "value for my time" if sold inexpensively, or a client's money if bought at a more realistic price. The gauze snags easily and on the design I did any snagged thread would show up and spoil the work.

There are some designs I feel look good on some fabrics but not on others. I wouldn't have wanted to make the Surfer design I did back then on a crepe, or dense and non-sheer silk. They just seemed to look best on sheer fabric. That was working with gutta. Now I am working with wax most of the time so texture becomes much more of an active feature. Texture and dense, non sheer fabric go better together in my design head and so I now think I could redevelop the Surfer design onto a crepe, or perhaps the waffle or plain georgette.

So that I get a feel of the texture right from the start, I thought I'd make collaged designs using my textured paper and bits of torn up magazines. That means I will concentrate on shapes and textures rather than outlines, and stop myself from making a too realistic interpretation. What techniques I use to realise the designs remains to be seen. Here goes and here's one of the first lads I like from my initial work.

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January 7th- 8th

More surfers emerging from my sketchbook. The textured / collaged paper is an excellent formula for these designs which I now realise is a technique I have been using for ages on my handmade cards. I will need to paint more paper of a darker tone and in different colours. This is because I don't always want a blue background. The tone of the figure also needs to stand out strongly from the background and the papers I've made are too mid-tone. It seems to interfere with their integrity if I paint over them to darken the tone once they are collaged, and it sometimes isn't possible to paint over them at all if they are too heavily waxed. So I need them the right colour and tone from the start.

Collaged surfers (left) and some drawings


I have been painting up some of the tired old paper from my steaming rolls, which I have eyed beadily for a while. The rolls of wallpaper lining, which I use, often have amazing textures from wax absorbed during the steam process. When they are to waxy or marked I have been throwing them out, but often feel there ought to be something I can do with them.

Time for a dog walk. Anyone just here to read about Art, click here. That should keep you quiet for a bit.

Otherwise read on. Our furry friend made the mistake of arguing with another dog last week and ended up with a hole in her shoulder. She is now wandering around with a Buster (looks like a lampshade..) over her head to stop her worrying the wound while it heals. At first, terminal gloom descended on her (and us on viewing the vet's bill) when she found she couldn't get the thing off - but now she has become quite used to it. She sometimes misjudges lateral space and has close and noisy engagements with door frames and gateposts as well as our legs (ouch). She reminds me of a surreal, furry Hoover attachment. To scoop up crumbs the business end has to be pressed close to the floor while the wiggly end scoofs along following scents vacuuming everything it its path.

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January 9th

Another day wrestling with surfers, if that doesn't sound too much fun. I am working the designs up in size and more into the oblong shape they will finally need to be for scarves. That way I gradually cope with the stylizing I need to do to get them to fit the scarf shape. As the designs get bigger the surfer's body needs more detail and I can't use the accidental texture of the wax. I need to create some body-related shape and form within the flat areas. So I am wondering if I might use Life Classes to help me with this: perhaps by making collage Life studies using black, white and grey papers. Perhaps newspaper. Doesn't particularly matter that the Life model is female - I created a female surfer design anyway (see yesterday's entry). But it's the very basic shapes of legs, arms, neck etc that are causing me problems, particularly around the neck and shoulders. My problem is in looking at the body as a series of flat planes. I am used to drawing it as rounded form or line. I need to do Cubist.

If I build up the collaged figure in units it helps - eg I cut out the thigh or lower leg separately and position them as they would be seen. If I made a drawing of what the body is doing and cut out the whole shape, it just doesn't work. With the separate elements I can also shift, shuffle, cut, move, re cut etc. The only problem is that I can sometimes build up a picture with maybe 20 separate elements, some very tiny, before gluing. Getting them all back in the same place is a nightmare. When it gets really complex I will use the digicam before disassembling final gluing. Then I can recreate the image.

I have a little box full of the offcuts from the process because they are too useful to throw out. It is beginning to look somewhat macabre as I often throw hands or feet in that haven't "worked", have been cut the wrong way round or are the wrong size. There are also several severed heads floating about.

I took a call today from Denman College and they have booked me into two slots for 2007. This is great, as I like teaching there and had "missed out" on 2006 when there'd been a planning oversight after a change of administration. I am teaching a Short Course there in May, however, so will be paying a visit later in the year. This course is full, as it has been booked up privately by one WI group.


January 10th - 13th

More surfers, and a studio floor covered in shards of paper offcuts. New toys arrived in the form of three goat hair brushes I am going to sacrifice to the wax pot. Hitherto (that's a nice word) I have only used skanky old cheap household brushes for wax but I think the time has come to use something better. Once they have been in the wax they can't be used for anything else, and I think goat hair will stand up to the heat. I shall try one of the small ones to see what happens before using them all. I also bought some lovely brushes for dye to supplement my current crew, and a neat pair of scissors which I need for cutting tiny shapes in paper. They have a squeeze action, like garden secateurs, and are incredibly sharp. I don't know how long they will hold up to the current punishment and am not sure whether they can be sharpened. Here's a pin-up-pic of the new toys:

Around the town there are some thatchers are busy and the streets are strewn with straw that's fallen from a roof. Yesterday the sun was shining down the street and it really looked like a street paved in gold.You can tell it's winter from the picture below. In the summer thatchers never seem to miss an opportunity to strip off and display Thatchers' Chest to passing admirers below.

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January 14th - 16th

Still working away at surfers and the studio is back to the state before the New Year Tidy-Up laid waste to the floor, or I suppose, laid waste to the basket. I was trying to remember an extraordinary toy we used to be given in the Christmases of long ago. It looked like a fat cardboard tube, and it could be made to explode, showering brightly coloured little novelties and streamers and goodies everywhere. It certainly wouldn't be allowed these days in case one was blinded by a flying Christmas motto, which is a bit of a shame as I thought it was a magical experience when I was a tiddler. My studio floor is reminiscent of the effect, without the precipitating explosion and the fun of finding pink plastic monkeys behind the sofa well into the summer.

I am now working larger (but not full) size and at correct proportion with the surfers, and feel I am getting somewhere. I am keeping eventual "change of medium" at the back of my mind. The collages are interesting to do but they are essentially preparations for fabric. As I work I am ruminating about the translation to fabric that will not allow certain of the effects that are possible when I stick one piece of paper on to another. The main thing at this stage is to work out a tight design with interesting features at both ends (as I am going to be producing a scarf and not a wall hanging).

Talking to a photographer friend over Christmas, we were discussing the experience of putting in for a job, entering a proposal or competition or juried exhibition, and being turned down. He was saying that in his very small world, where so many are after so few jobs, rejection is a constant fact of life. It never feels good because it feels hugely direct and personal and the reasons for the rejection are rarely explained. I wonder if artists talk about this enough, or if they don't like to because rejection is rather like bad luck or disease and might be catchy. Or maybe there is a sense that rejection might have a whiff of "no smoke without fire", so you don't talk about it because you sneakily feel your work might not be up to the mark and the Rejectors Are Right. So I am talking about it here. Recently I have had two rejections, one to to a large prestigious show, and most recently for an Artists' Residency (I heard last week that my proposal wasn't being taken up). The main thing is, like a fence barring your way, to get over it. But there is always the time when one is clambering over it - and "it" can be like a barbed wire fence.

A surfer - or maybe a fisherman - decribing the great size of something that has concerned him recently.

Actually it was never a proper surfer but a collage trying to work out some structures and proportions and colours that I can use on the surfers. Right hand arm looks a bit thin.

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January 17th - 18th

An interesting couple of days. I am ploughing through a wonderful collection of memoirs which I recommend to anyone with a lively sense of the absurd, but who might also have more than a passing interest in travel, politics, and the fortunes of our once great - or just large, depending on your stance - Empire. The book is called Bagpipes in Babylon : A Lifetime in the Arab World and Beyond. It is written by Glencairn Balfour Paul. Glencairn has been a soldier, Administrator, diplomat and academic. He is also a very fine poet. We ordered pre-publication copies and Himself from The Admin and Technical Department has been reading the book before me - chortling happily at regular intervals as the pages turn. Incredibly irritating. Now I'm reading it, and as I chortle happily at just as regular intervals Himself (now reading about Pocahontas..) says "which bit have you got to?" and the annoyance goes into Round Two.

Textile-y readers of this log will perhaps recognise the name Balfour Paul because Glencairn's wife, Jenny, is the author of a very fine book on Indigo (see my links section for more details). Bagpipes in Babylon is published by I.B. Tauris and is being launched at the end of this week. It can be ordered through bookshops. Warning: Don't buy it if you want to get on with something in your studio / garden / whatever: the surfers have had to chill out while I read it.

After the gin-fuelled gruelling self-critique at New Year I gridded my lions a week or so ago and wrote three letters. One was to a good local gallery / museum, and the other two to galleries in other parts of the country at which I've shown before. The local gallery phoned and the result is that I shall soon be showing my work at the Burton Gallery in Bideford. They would like me to have some work in their Craft Gallery. I am putting a varied collection together to see what sells there. I've heard nothing from the other recipients but the idea was to remind them of what I do, which has certainly changed since they last saw it.

Then there was Life Class, and I carried out my intention of working with torn paper. The idea was to force me out of the box of looking at line and tone with charcoal. The surfer collages have been interesting as I have been working with flat textured shapes so I wanted to see what would happen working from a model in the same way.

The text that appears on the models' chest was a pure co-incidence - I was working without my specs and someone drew it to my attention later!

This is one of the studies. I found that the direction of the print was important and that I could use tone by searching out suitable greyed patches of the pages. Newsprint is not high quality paper and it's hard to tear it accurately so it's possible that I might be better off with recycled leaflets etc, printed on better paper. I realised that some lines are better cut with scissors as this lends some tension and a better sense of structure. I am going to carry on with this next week and also take some toned paper to work on.

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19th - 22nd January

Bagpipes in Babylon finished (see last entry) so it's back to the studio. More surfers. I have a design that looks as though it might work but now feel at that dangerous stage where I might have over-explored it on paper and it's starting to go stale. So to proceed swiftly through this I have washed a few scarf blanks and may give a fabric version a whirl to see how it looks. Tonight I drafted it up to full size using a squared-up drawing.

Yesterday I photographed a lot of work as tomorrow I have three parcels of work to send out to galleries. There are over 30 pieces of work and some of them need recording.

It seems that we are at the stage with exhibition and organisation submissions, juried events and so forth, that some regulations request digital images only, some request transparencies only (this is now rare) and some will accept both. This makes submissions tricky because if you are required to give an overview of several years' work, it is unlikely all to be available at high quality on digital only. You can have CDs made of transparencies but they never look as good as I'd like. So I had to set up yesterday to photograph some work using digital, and some on transparency film. That way the overview submission I am making can at least be in one format. I don't think submitting both a CD and transparencies is a good idea. In may ways it will be easier when everything has settled down to digital.

My SLR camera cranked into action and I actually had to remind myself that I wasn't going to have a look at my photographs through the back of the camera to "see what I'd got". It is a much more disciplined way of working, but of course, much more expensive as everything has to be processed whether it's useful or not. I must have saved myself hundreds of pounds since I bought my digital camera and now have images available for every purpose from juried submissions, to publicity, to reference for future work.


One of the pieces photographed yesterday : shawl on 18mm crêpe de Chine. The lovely raku bowl was made many years a go by Jo Firth, a Berkshire-based potter

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23rd - 26th January

I drew up a surfer on waffle georgette and worked it through, becoming gloomier and gloomier as I went. My digital camera packed in yesterday so I am spared the possibility of displaying my work here. Did it know what I was up to and bow out before I pointed it at a surfer? It's off to digi-cam hospital and I hope they can mend it, but it's the second one that's gone wrong in just the same way and Kyocera don't manufacture cameras any more. So I am not too hopeful. The other day I wrote how much money digital photography has saved me over traditional film. But the digital cameras I've had haven't been at all reliable and have cost more over the years than my SLR.

So what's the problem with the surfer design? It's not supposed to be a serious piece but as I've done it, stylistically it spans looking too real, even pretentious, and if this isn't a contradiction in terms, too stylised as well. It sits uncomfortably not deciding which it is. I need to treat it far more decoratively and lighten up. The paper collages looked fine but the translation to fabric needs more thought. I am even considering working it in the old white outline method as this will accentuate the decorative qualities it is (supposed) to have. There's nothing quite like this miserable descent into what-the- **** confusion when a design goes wrong. Doom, doom and yet again doom.

Rather than ditch the work mid-way and to try to learn something I eventually completed it, played around with wax and dyes layers where I had intended to leave it plain, then waxed the whole surface and did the crackle thing. It now looks less pretentious and has "sat down" as a whole with the unifying quality of the crackles. I shall see what to do next when it's dry. I might work on with another design altogether and give myself a break - perhaps I have got too close to the surfer thing. If I feel brave I will borrow a camera from another family member and exhibit a pic later.

All my work went out to three galleries in the last few days: Art in Action Gallery near Oxford; Oriel Mostyn in Llandudno and the Burton Art Gallery and Museum in Bideford.


26th - 29th January

To cheer myself up after my experience with the Surfer design I made two new pieces developed from the old Savannah theme. If you are new to my studio outpourings, Savannah designs were based on studies and observations of grass, tussocks etc and have part-occupied me for about 18 months. There are examples at the bottom of the What's New page. Sending work out last week has left me with the ones which a) have yet to find the magic buyer wanting dreary beige and grey or b) are all in blue. Sometimes one has to deliberately make work in a certain set of colours to ensure that a varied selection is available. So the new ones are: greens pink and bordeaux; and blues, sharp greens, olive and purple. (This can sometimes guarantee the sale of the dreary beige, but that's another story altogether).

In the middle of one of those nights when one wakes with the brain fully-functioning I was aware that I was (mentally) splashing wax all over the Surfer design and preoccupied with a grinding, nagging thought that there was more that could be done. The reading on Creativity and Brain Function I did last year suggests that this, simplistically, is the gestalt half of the brain doing its thing while the logic side is sleeping off the days' excesses - and shuts the hell up for a time. It was certainly true that I hadn't been actively thinking about a new approach to make this design work on fabric as I had already decided it wouldn't, and might have to proceed on paper.

So yesterday I started out by stretching up new fabric and treating the whole design as areas of textured wax - not as shapes to make a torso, a surfboard, water etc. It was this unarticulated, idea which I had as a result of my night's brain-work. Or brain's night-work. I also kept the colours monochrome- so it's basically blue / green. (Dreary beige and grey yet to come).

It's not yet finished but I know it's going to work. It's probably because the design feels more at home with the medium and also leaves a little room for adjustment throughout the working, although basic shapes have to remain constant. I can change the textures, and without relying so heavily on a gutta line the edges are softer and the whole thing more alive.

Humility pie. This is the hated reject version.

These are the masks and templates I have been using for both initial and reworked versions. I've been splashing wax on through holes in the templates and probably need to cut them in heavier paper. Paper taped to the template is sometimes where I have decided to alter the design without redrawing and cutting.

This is much more the look I'm after. Exactly the same design but completely different handling of technique. The head developed some drawing faults (bulgy forehead, receding hairline and pale lips!) but they are easily sorted next time round.

More details of texture.

I have to sort out some design and drawing irritations now and cut my templates on heavier paper so they sit as flat as possible on the surface. Splashing wax mustn't creep beneath the template edge. I also need to organise my dye/ wax sequencing better: for instance the mouth should have been made darker in tone before I splashed on the wax that then made this impossible!


30 -31st January

Every Sunday I do a check on the grey cells to ensure dementia has not yet taken hold and attempt the Sunday Times cryptic crossword. Sometimes I am still wrestling at teatime with three clues completed - and other times I have the whole thing done but for three clues. This week was one of the latter sort. IHID (In-House Information Department) is not as helpful as it might be with crosswords despite having a planet-sized brain - although this week it did come up with Trembling Poplar and binge.. I was well impressed. So, seeing the empty spaces in the puzzle and no doubt calculating the amount of dusting, hoovering and collie- polishing time I'd waste trying to solve them, IHID proceeded efficiently to a crossword site on the internet where you can enter the letters you've got and it comes up with several options. When you see these options it's usually a piece of cake working out which one to fill in - and very wicked I felt doing it. Unfortunately for IHID this sudden release of free time has not resulted in more hoovering, dusting or even a pristine collie, but rather the production of the second surfer.

I made some alterations in the drawing and cut an entirely new template from heavier brown paper, which should sustain more punishment. More mistakes in sequence as I went, but I am getting more confident with splashing the wax on and building a texture over several layers. This technique means I am using a lot more wax and it gets about, so it's apron time.

Paper template fixed to frame with stretched silk beneath. The cut shapes of the water can be changed because I don't feel I've got this part of the design right yet. Hence I will stick them on each time, until I get it right

Wax splashed over the template

The two versions so far. Full of wax, of course, and unsteamed. I changed details of the back foot, top of the board, the water and the hem of the Bermuda shorts

Concusion so far: There are things I like better about version one and things that worked better in two.. so I shall soon be on to version three.

And just as a postscript to January and in case you think us West Country dwellers don't have a wild and exciting life, here's something that will totally blow you away.


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