June 2006

June 1st -3rd

With the new month, summer has come. Down on the moor the air is humid and as it rises it lifts heady scents of wildflowers and hot damp earth with almost tropical energy. Two days ago frantic daylong bleating accompanied the visit of the shearers in a nearby field. Newly-neatened, newly-cool sheep now patrol the meadows.

I walked on the moor and tried to pick one stem of every different kind of grass I could find. This was made harder by the realisation that grass at different phases of growth can look like completely different plants. Similar or the same grasses also appear to be growing contemporaneously on the moor in various stages of development, depending on position.

It was interesting that I became aware I wanted to name the grasses, to know what they were called. There is no need for me to know, since I am interested in their shapes and not their species. This is a bit curious.

One of the perception "games" I sometimes offer students is to give them objects in a bag which they must feel. Sometimes I ask them to try to draw their object, and I have carefully chosen things that they cannot recognise by feel. Having done that, I then offer them another bag and tell them that inside is an object they will recognise very fast. The idea is for them to "know the moment" when the memories and mental baggage come in about the object they suddenly recognise. It is very interesting to watch. Most students are looking straight ahead, hands in bag and not "cheating" as they feel inside the bag. Their faces often hold a kind of expectant and concentrated expression, sometimes slightly anxious, which is frequently lit by a smile as they recognise their object. There is almost relief that they ":know" what they have.

Discussions about this moment often bring up interesting thoughts about the incoming flood of knowledge, and how it gets in the way of further productive feeling with the hands.

We obviously need to have words and names for things. Words help us to order life, communicate etc, but they don't always help us to know or see things properly because the knowledge that goes with them often bypasses the real object.

Having thought about this I had less of a burning desire to name my grasses, which is just as well. My book of grasses is good, and well illustrated, but even so, closely-related grasses are hard to distinguish. The one I clearly identified without a shadow of doubt turned out, on reading the blurb, to be something only rarely found in North East Scotland. So I gave up at that point. There seem to be about 17 different types here.



Big Washout Day

Today was big washout day at the scarf factory. The dry-cleaning came back yesterday, including the Denman work which looks great. So today I washed it all to ensure all loose dye is safely removed. Some of the Denman work had deeply-dyed objects such as flowers on lighter backgrounds and to ensure there was no bleeding of excess dye into the background I first washed each one in Synthrapol, one by one. Then I rinsed each in cold water, rolled it in a clean cloth, squeezed it dry, and when just damp hung it out to dry. No disasters.

The mystery pic is a gauze clamp-dyed scarf rinsing in a cream coloured plastic bucket

Clamp-dyed scarves drying (near camera) with other varieties further away

Appledore Visual Arts Festival

This week saw the ninth Appledore Visual Arts Festival. The theme Ritual Feasts was reflected in many exhibitions around the town, in halls, studios and yurts on the quay. The highlight for me was the Timeline Banquet Table, an unusual exhibit sourced, prepared, undertaken and presented with such painstaking love and care that I was more or less speechless. The photos will say more than I can. The banquet was prepared to reflect the long history of Appledore, using local recipes and food and items collected from car boot sales and charity shops. It worked on many levels, from the sheer visual impact of texture, colour and composition to the smell of the food which, of course, one could neither touch nor taste. It was prepared by Jacqueline Abrahams who has worked as a set decorator and food stylist in film, theatre and televison. The photos are reproduced here with her permission.

Jacqueline talking to a visitor in front of the long banquet table

There were many other exhibits and incidental sights and sounds which made our trip to Appledore enjoyable. Brilliant summer weather helped.

Young DJ at Seize the Moment marquee

Bideford Folk Festival bike

Gabriel Hummerstone, slate and letter-carver, carving initialled pebbles for visitors

Passing boat

June 4th -7th

A busy week.All the work from the Denman College course went back to the Claygate students on Monday, and you can see images of the course and their finished work here.

On Friday the Crafts at Bovey Tracey event opens, and I'd like to go and see it. I applied to exhibit, but wasn't selected. So I want to visit and see whether I should try again next year. But I am giving a talk and demonstration in Exeter (America Hall, Pinhoe at 1.30 pm) on Saturday, and then exhibiting with Devon Artsculture in Barnstaple Pannier Market on Sunday (10 am - 3 pm). So I need to have everything ready for the weekend by Thursday evening.

Those who may have passed a characteristically unhinged collie and a crabby old woman muttering into her beard on a local road should know that was in fact me, "learning" the talk in advance, having mapped it out on paper first. I have notes with me when I give a talk but prefer them to be prompts rather than a full script. It sometimes goes horribly wrong, but I hate talks and lectures where the speaker reads from a script or their latest publication. I don't see why I just can't be given the notes to save me the bother of going. The collie is now a world expert on acid-dyeing. Most of them are, actually.

I have some photos of latest work out of the steam and dry clean which I'll put here.

Latest work; June 2006

Two crêpe de Chine scarves; Meadow theme

After the washout; scarves drying on the line

Meadow scarf

Crêpe de Chine scarf; Wheatfield theme

Meadow scarf; georgette

Wheatfield scarf; georgette

June 8th - 14th

We enjoyed our visit to the Contemporary Crafts event at Bovey Tracey, arriving early on Friday as we wanted to avoid queues and afternoon heat. I'll spare you the pun about the heat being in tents. This is the event's third year, but our first visit. It was a high-quality event and a much more manageable size for a day visit than, say, Art in Action, where you really need a few days to see everything properly. There seemed to be a lot of work we'd never come across before and a high proportion of makers from the South West. Given a bottomless purse I'd have bought a basket from Sarah Pank; a piece of furniture from Pacha, something from potter Arwyn Jones; a necklace from Charmian Harris and a woven scarf from Jessica Knot.

I did apply to show there earlier this year but wasn't selected. I shall definitely try again next year.

On Saturday I gave a talk to the Devon Guild of Weavers, Spinners and Dyers in Exeter which seemed to go well; apparently it's a good sign if there are a lot of questions afterwards, and there were. I talked a bit about my background, the materials I use, inspiration etc and illustrated the talk with scans of sketchbook drawings (see below left) and actual pieces of work. I used the Grass theme of the last two years.

Sunday was the day of the show in Barnstaple Pannier Market set up by Devon Artsculture. There were about 20 of us showing work. Most of us had met before at other events. I'd felt that it was unlikely to be a day to sell large pieces and so took lower-priced work, and a lot of cards and small items under £10.00. My instincts were correct for my own work - I'm not sure how it went for the others. But we had a great Jazz band bringing in shoppers from the high street, as well as a didgeridoo workshop for children, although these didn't happen at one and the same time, thank goodness. I gave out a lot of leaflets about my September courses and Art in Action.

So now I am in serious work mode until the end of this month when I will take a big load to dry-clean before Art in Action. The Design Department and I have been in several brainstorming sessions as he is making me a new set of display screens. Above right shows Planning Meeting Phase 1. This involved quite a lot of coffee, hundreds of bits of paper and some complex maths to work out proportions.


June 15th - 18th

Sunday... I've been in the studio doing about 8 hours a day all week and fell in through the theoretical door last night feeling creatively arid and that I never wanted to look at a brush or a piece of silk again. So I am taking today off. No studio, no dyes, no looking at sketchbooks and definitely no creative work.

Instead I am going to concentrate on the crossword and Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go, and visit some artists' studios in the neighbouring North Devon region's Art Trek event.

Monday... Did all that. Am one-third through the crossword which is rather unimpressive but I'll keep at it; finished the Ishiguro (very haunting) and visited two artists in the area - a potter and a letter-carver. Today I must start again with filling in the design and colour gaps in my stock for Art in Action, whether I feel creatively drained or not. I suppose it's the equivalent to production throwing if you're a potter, except I do have a bit more flexibility with colour and details.

Later.. Actually work was OK when I got going. Life Class this evening. Crossword: Bad week.

Further Trivia: I am part of a radio listening survey this week and I have to write down everything I listen to, when and where and for how long. They picked the right household for radio freaks: we have 19 of them, including car radios. I listen to the radio almost all the time in the studio unless there is a phone-in, a too-predictable radio drama, a financial programme or a feature on the heavier sides of religion or politics. Then I'll find a CD. BBC Radio 4 is my preferred station. Radio 4 is a real gem.

This morning I heard a discussion on Radio 4's Start the Week. There is a new book that argues we have no shared public language to assess language itself. The speaker threw in a quick example of a people in Mexico who speak a language called Tzeltal. They have over 400 terms to describe the way in which language is used, in relation to the voice. They have a word for "when you say you're leaving but you're not". If you are interested in the discussion about Anne Karpf's new book The Human Voice, pick up the Start the Week broadcast at about 33.24 minutes from this page.

June 19th- 20th

An apology and a dedication to Carol Mackenzie Gale who I met for the first time at Bovey Tracey a week or so back, and then again in her studio this weekend during Art Trek. She dropped in to see me today and cheerfully remarked that she had been looking at my log and why wasn't she mentioned when others were.....oops, well, I said, face reddening, she hadn't appeared in my ramblings yet because I wanted to look at her website a bit more carefully. There were some things I was thinking about before writing. I had heard of her some time ago after reading an article in the local paper, and had also seen work at the Burton Gallery and Museum in Bideford. These days I also have work there. Carol's work, if you haven't clicked the link to see, features immaculately designed and screen-printed silk. She mostly makes scarves and hangings which are influenced by Japanese culture, the work of Bridget Riley, Art Deco etc. She uses a restricted palette, has an intuitive sense of design, proportion and shape and uses "empty" space very effectively. And she lives less than 5 miles away.

Our work could not be less alike. She likes perfect, flat colour, and her designs hinge on sharp outlines which allow for no imperfections in design or printing. I paint rather than print and allow designs to evolve on the frame; I like texture in the colour and have also had to learn to incorporate and adapt to my errors which then form an intrinsic part of the design. Nevertheless, despite out very different approaches, I like her work very much, admire her meticulous accuracy and also her committed and researched origination - which starts in sketchbooks. So there you are Carol - if you're reading this... I wanted time to think why I liked your work when it's so different from mine. It's nice to know you're out there.

It is the time of Summer Solstice. I shall not be trotting up to Stonehenge so will probably watch the sun rise over the parsley and an old tree stump instead, dressed in an old sheet and some mistletoe. If they haven't carted me away, I shall return to this space in due course.

One reason for my midsummer madness is trying to make sense of this type of thing, which I came across trying to find out about the Tzeltal language (see yesterday)..

...Note that subject as used here refers only to the sole obligatory argument of an intransitive verb. "Subject" as it is typically defined in grammars of nominative-accusative languages - combining intransitive subject and transitive agent roles - is incorrect when referring to ergative-absolutive languages, or when discussing morphosyntactic alignment in general.

If you understand a word of this, I recommend that you visit here for yet further enlightenment.

June 21st - 25th

Well, they didn't cart me away as the sun rose, nor have I been imprisoned in a wicker basket uncomfortably close to a box of Swan Vestas. But, as they say in these parts, the evenings are drawing in and the time for sukebind mollocking is well nigh complete.

Incomplete, however, is the pressing problem of filling a stand at Art in Action. Today I am working on the last waxed piece to be steamed in order to have the dry-cleaning bag off on its travels to the cleaners' in good time. Last visit they had a problem with their machine and my work took a week to process, so this time I am taking no chances. The next two weeks until Art in Action will be spent making smaller items and things that don't need dry-cleaning; doing the labelling, pricing, making lists etc etc.

I decided some time back that I have too many rejects and dodgy scarves to process myself into new things like bags and so I am going to offer them for sale. I tried this a long, long time ago and found there were a lot of people interested, most of them quilters or embroiderers. So I posted an appeal for input on the Dyers List and Complexcloth. Basically, what I wanted to know were the answers to the following:

1. Some of the scarves will chop neatly into squares. Is there an optimum size for squares that would be of use to a quilter?
2. Should I bag according to colour? Or is colour variety more useful? I don't want people swapping stuff around and intend to seal bags.
3. I assume that around £5 sterling per bag (about $US 8.50) is an affordable price for a reasonable quantity of silk pieces - but then what quantity is reasonable... ??

Replies were really interesting, generous with advice, and very varied. The majority of quilters actually use cottons, but there are some who value silk for Art pieces and also Crazy Quilts. Some like squares, based on Fat Quarter sizes and fractions of same; others want strips and suggest not cutting my scarves at all. (This, however, won't suit me because unless I cut and "destroy" the work, I might have the embarrassment of someone deciding they have scooped a bargain Whitworth scarf and wear it. It's happened to me before).

There are embroiderers who like scraps to layer and so like sheers; dollmakers who like tiny pieces and will buy odd shapes; some people use fabric for collages on paper and even for jewellery. So, it seems, I can choose how to market the scraps with a fair chance that someone will be interested. There was really useful advice on selling by weight, and I am going to find my post scales and try out small quantities to see how they look for price. I probably don't have enough to sell according to colour so I will probably be putting mixed bags of scraps together.

June 26th - 28th

There's a short story called "Good Evening, Mrs Craven" by Mollie Panter-Downes. She was The New Yorker's correspondent in London between 1939 and 1945. The story centres around the covert meetings of a married man and his mistress during the war years, her growing anxiety about their relationship and the fact that she will not automatically hear if anything happens to him while he is serving abroad. "The War Office doesn't have a service for sending telegrams to mistresses, does it?", she asks him when they meet for lunch at Porter's. It's a powerful and understated little tale and, I imagine, rather daring for its time.

A few times this year I have accidentally (via internet searches) discovered that people I knew had died some time ago, and I hadn't for various reasons heard the news. None were close to me in the Mrs Craven way, but had been important or influential in others. Hearing so long after the event added an odd dimension to the loss. Finding out via an internet obituary is oddly clinical.

The way things work these days, the mistress in the Mrs Craven story would probably have been able to do an internet search too- or there'd be a website about the missing or lost in action. That wouldn't have any easier for her; but at least she'd know, instead of waiting in mounting panic for letters that never arrived.

The way it is with contemporary communications I assumed I would one day receive an e mail informing me that a correspondent of mine had died. As they once did with an an old paper address book, the family would go through an e mail contact list and let everyone on it know. That happened to me this week: I heard that Mrs M., one of my old school teachers had died, in South Island, New Zealand.

I hated being a part-time boarder at school and was often homesick. The convent school I attended was not particularly interested in artistic creativity, imagination or intellectual independence although we did have some splendid teachers from time to time. One of these was the redeeming Mrs M. I have often tried to analyse what it was about her that clicked with me and made school a more bearable and useful experience. It was probably because she taught with humour, determination, great energy and the occasional wicked and un-convent-like hint of an interesting world outside the school gates. She made O Level studies of Northanger Abbey and Henry V interesting, an achievement for any teacher; she fed me books that she thought I'd like to read (she lent me Lord of the Rings, volume by volume) and she encouraged me to write. "If you've ever got anything to say", she advised me once, "publish it". (I must add that I don't know whether she ever read any of this blogstuff or she might have changed her mind. She did know about my website..)

I did get to know Mrs M. as an adult and we were in e mail contact from time to time since she went to New Zealand a few years ago where she continued to write, research, and take an active part in the community despite failing health. I am glad to have found out about her death "at the right time" and not months later. I'm sure her family and friends will miss her, and I'm sure I'm not the only person who owes her a big thank you.

She loved the English landscape: so this one's for her.

Good Evening, Mrs Craven : The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter-Downes is Persephone Book Number 8, published by Persephone Books in their lovely paperback editions