Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Certificate Module 4 Chapter 11 - making progress

My first task in this section of my work was to collect together all the elements from my sketchbooks and samples which I find particularly interesting.  To start with I put them all together on a design sheet.

4.11.H9 Design sheet 
Obviously there were too many ideas there for the cover of one book!  My next task was to select what I would like to have on the cover of the book.  One of my preferred themes was the combination of the circular shapes (of the fish scales and the tops of the barrels) along with lines (from the straight lines on the masts, cabin and funnels of the boats as well as the ribs in the fins of the fish).

By good luck, I had been watching You Tube videos on paper-making and, when one video ended it automatically played another video.  This was an artist at work, painting on paper.  He worked by dipping his hand in watery paint and then, using his fingers as a tool, described rough circles on a piece of paper on the floor.  It gave me an idea to work the circles theme in this way on the background of my book cover.  I tried it out, using diluted blue and white acrylic paint, diluted blue and black Quink ink and some diluted acrylic iridescent medium to add a touch of sparkle.  I used pelmet Vilene which had already been coloured a pale grey-blue as the base.  The herring are known as "the silver darlings" hence the use of silver and sparkle as well as the title of my book.

4.11.H10 the background for the book cover

(I'm afraid Blogger is playing up a bit.  Some of my pictures it turns through 90 degrees and I can't find out how to put it the right way round.)

I tried a variety of compositions for the cover.  My initial idea was to cut out the centre of the circles and use them as a frame for pieces of drawn thread work and machine stitched drawings of scenes from the herring industry.  However, it all seemed too fussy.

One of my favourite pieces of work was a piece of very coarse and loosely woven scrim.  I puzzled for a while over how to "round the square".  Drawn thread work is essentially a square technique.  How could I use it for my circles?  I considered Hedebo work, but the design was too precise and not loose enough for what I had in mind.  I then thought of a technique related to drawn thread work, pulled thread work.  The scrim was loosely enough woven that I could poke through a cylindrical object to pull the threads aside and make a circular hole.  I worked buttonhole stitch around the outside of the holes to keep them open.  I also withdrew a few threads in both directions and worked a spider's web filling to create small circles where the remaining threads intersected.  I used silver thread for the pulled thread work, cream thread for the bars and beige/stone coloured thread for the small circles.  I liked the contrast between the silver thread and the coarse brown scrim.  I decided that whatever else I chose, this would definitely be one element in my book cover.

4.11.H11 pulled and drawn thread work sample

I tried a few compositions on the background, just laying them onto the folded cover and photographing them.





To start with, I liked the first one I tried, H12, as I liked the simplicity.  However, when I laid on top (H13) the collaged fish I had done on hand made paper, with scales made of tracing paper painted with iridescent medium, and silver thread for the fins, I preferred that one.  To my amusement, it looks like the herring is caught in the net, so I may land up using one idea from my abortive first attempt at this chapter!

Alongside this work, I had also experimented some more with hand-made paper.  I wanted to make a finer paper and to explore how to size it so that I could write and draw on it with a fountain pen, dip pen or water-based paint.  To make the paper, I used tissue paper mixed with plant fibres bought from a papermaking supplier, pieces of cotton fabric cut up into tiny pieces and cut up linen thread.  When almost dry I pressed it with a hot iron between sheets of j-cloth.  I was really pleased with the paper which was fine and delicate seeming, but strong.  When researching size, I found that it was possible to use diluted PVA.  I didn't want a shiny or satin finish to my paper, so used matt medium instead which worked perfectly.  Below is a piece which I tested out by writing with a fountain pen.

4.11.H16  (Sorry it's gone all sideways again!)

Reasoning that iridescent medium had the same base as PVA I thought I might be able to produce sparkling paper by using it as a size.  Again it worked perfectly, but doesn't show up well in photographs.

Emboldened by my success, I decided to try printing onto my handmade paper from my computer.  It seemed my luck was on a roll as I was able to print a lovely sepia photo from the turn of the 19th/20th century of herring gutters at work at Point Law in Aberdeen.


I decided to use the hand-made paper for the title banner for the book cover.  Years ago, while in Mallaig where my husband was working, I had kept a sketchbook in which I had made a page documenting the various registrations on fishing boats, which recorded the port of origin of the boat.


I noticed that they all used the same font and decided to use that font for my title.

So I feel I am now almost there.  I still have some final decisions to make and then the assembling of the cover.

My original little booklet about the herring industry was in landscape orientation (a printout of a Powerpoint presentation) and I decided I'd prefer the book to be portrait orientation.  In addition, my husband has come across some new photos and information while searching through his papers and so, although not a requirement of this chapter, I thought for my own satisfaction, I'd like to edit and rewrite the book and its illustrations as well as binding it.  I've therefore decided to take some time out to  do this project.  The herring industry is now dead and very few people are still alive who remember its heyday.  Since my husband has a vast fund of knowledge and stories and since he is now 86 years old, I feel it is important to record this while he is still around.  I can complete the book cover and do the necessary paperwork for Module 4 as well as researching three artists before beginning on this, but I'll take a short break before starting Module 5 in order to give all my time to this exciting undertaking.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Certificate Module 4 Chapter 11: Starting over

Anyone reading this blog must have realised that I've been really struggling with this chapter for several months now.  Whenever I tried to progress with it, I just seemed to hit the same brick wall.  I tried different approaches to see if that would work and Sian tried to help me simplify what had become an immensely complicated and difficult project.

When I sat down and thought about what was at the root of my problems, I realised that I had now completely lost interest in the poem that I was trying to interpret.  Because I could no longer get inspired by the poem, the very labour intensive way in which I had decided to interpret it had become an immense burden instead of a source of interest and satisfaction.

At first I even considered giving up the whole course.  However, I realised that I would really miss the friendship, companionship and swapping of ideas that I receive from my fellow student and from Sian herself.  I also thought I had invested too much in it to give up now.  So perhaps I could just give up this chapter and start it over again.  I got out the course notes and re-read them.  Some words there seemed to jump out at me:

     "Keep the construction of your structure simple and not complex to make, utilising the methods and materials used in this Module and any others you would like to add as appropriate." 

In my initial enthusiasm for the poem I wanted to interpret, I had lost sight of that.  Sian approved of my plan and  I immediately felt a huge weight lift from my shoulders.  At this time, I had attended an local art class, a four-week course on Monday mornings on "Creative Sketchbooks".  As I worked away over these four weeks, all the pressure was off me and I was just having fun.  As the weeks went on I found myself more and more taking the Scottish Herring Fishing as my theme.  My husband had been a herring curer until the herring industry collapsed in the late 1970s.  I had found out quite a bit about the life and culture of the people involved and found it very interesting.  As part of my teaching career, I had also written a little illustrated booklet about the herring industry, pulling together some information for my pupils to read.  I decided I would like to make a simple book cover for my little booklet.

As my research, I dug out all the old family photos.  Some showed the progression from sailing boats to steam powered and later diesel powered boats.   Some showed the women who gutted and packed the herring, travelling all round the coast of Britain to wherever the herring was being caught.  Some showed the baskets and barrels used for storage and others showed the various ports from Lerwick in Shetland to Great Yarmouth where herring was landed and processed.

4.11.H1  a selection of photos of the herring industry

I continued to work in my sketchbooks drawing anything that particularly interested me, without thinking too much, just letting my instincts home in on what I liked.  (In doing this I was delighted to re-discover my love of drawing.)

4.11.H2 some pages from my sketchbook

4.11.H3 some drawings of herring - the middle one is collage, the bottom one was done with a non-waterproof pen and then sprayed with water.

4.11.H4 some drawings of boats

I thought my drawings were a bit tight and precise in some cases, and so, following some advice given by the mentor on "The Great Painting Challenge" on television, I attached a pen to a long stick, blue-tacked a large sheet of paper onto the wall and drew at arm's length to free up my drawing.  I did two drawings in this way and rather liked the wonkiness of them.

4.11.H5 arm's length drawing of fishing boat and crew

4.11.H5 arm's length drawing of fish

The wonkiness of the drawings reminded me of machine embroidery when I have tried to draw with the machine and so I couldn't resist trying one of the drawings as a machine embroidered piece.  See H4a below.)

4.11.H4a machine embroidered drawing of fishing boat and crew

One thing that interested me was the markings, fins and scales on the fish.  Another thing I found interesting was the patterns made by the piles of barrels in which the fish were packed.

4.11.H6  barrels at William Slater& Sons curing yard in Great Yarmouth

I wanted to combine many images of parts of the herring industry in my final design for the book cover.  One idea I had came from the photo of the barrels.  I cropped the photo and then cut out some of the tops of the barrels to show a drawing behind.  (See H7 below.)

4.11.H7 little vignettes of the herring industry, displayed in barrels

Another and similar idea I had was to draw little vignettes on circles and then to arrange the circles in the pattern of scales on the fish.  (See H8 below.)

4.11.H8 circular drawings arranged like fish scales

I can visualise either of these two techniques interpreted in a mixture of pen drawings on hand-made paper, machine embroidered drawings or hand embroidery.  I think a border done in drawn thread work to interpret some of the markings on the fish might look quite good.

My next tasks are:

  • make some more hand-made paper
  • do some more abstract drawings from the markings on the fish and patterns on the boat and other drawings
  • make some small drawn thread samples to interpret these drawings
  • think about colour.  I quite like the black drawings, either on a plain white background or on one coloured as in H2.
I am more and more sure that I made the right decision by changing my theme.  I am enjoying every minute of this work and look forward to days when I have time to devote to it as opposed to doing anything to avoid working on it as was the case before.  One disadvantage is that my house is no longer sparkling clean with the washing and ironing all done.  (My husband called them "displacement activities"!

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Progress report

I feel I've been lingering too long over this Module, so will attempt to post regularly now, even if I just have a small amount of progress to show.  As Picasso once said, "Inspiration will come but it has to find you working."  And so I have decided not to wait until I am in the mood to work, but just to sit down and start.

When I first decided to interpret the poem in the form of four small books, an idea was in my head already for one of the books, the starfish one.  It seemed to me that a concertina book would be ideal for this, like the children's cut out of a row of dolls etc.  I made a mock up out of paper painted orange and I quite liked the liveliness of it.

Starfish book 1 -  First mock-up of starfish book

In order to make all four books work together as a whole, I followed Sian's suggestion to find some way of linking them even though their shapes and colours would be different.  I liked her idea of making all the pages from silk paper and echoing the edge stitching on each one.

When I first made the silk paper for the starfish book, I thought that the success of the shell book's pages must have been beginner's luck, because this second attempt was soft and fragile and I didn't think it would be strong enough for the pages of a book.  However, once I had painted each side with diluted Marvin Medium and let it dry, it acquired the necessary crispness.  The oversewing of the edges will stop the layers separating too.

Starfish book 2 - The silk paper starfish pages

At the same time (I always like to have some "watching tv" stitching on the go)  I made a start on the embroidered cover of the book.  I intend to make it the same way as the shell book, with an embroidered slip covering a piece of stiff card, shaped by applying some self-hardening clay to the card before covering it with the embroidery.  I have found some clay that dries to a slightly soft rubbery consistency which seems ideal.  As before, I am using stem stitch in fairly thick thread (six strands of stranded cotton).  I intend to try to portray the texture of the starfish skin with French knots on top of the stem stitch.  (Hope it works!)

Starfish book 3 - work so far

Since Wednesday is usually quite a free day for me, my 2017 resolution is to post something every Wednesday.  It will be a spur to make me keep going.

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Certificate Module 4 Chapter 11 . . . and another little step . . .

I must confess that Sian's last feedback kind of stopped me in my tracks.  I was thinking that things were going well, all major decisions made and this module was nearly done.  Instead, Sian suggested that the plain painted canvas would be a very large part of the finished composition and so should reflect some of the content of the module.  My feelings were mixed: a feeling of "Oh no, I thought I was nearly finished, now I've got lots of thinking to do, experimental samples to try, decisions to make and a lot more work to do."  At the same time, I realised that Sian was right and, as she has done so often, she had got right to the heart of my slight feeling of unease about some aspect of the project, although I couldn't think what.  I realised that a "that will do" attitude in order to get the project finished by Christmas would devalue the whole thing and that the only way to continue was to make this project the very best that I could do.

It prompted me to think again of how to display my little books.  I wondered about making a box to contain the books, perhaps in the shape of a bucket, with perhaps the first or last lines of the poem written on the spade.  The books could nestle in the bucket, perhaps on a bed of sand.  Another idea I had was for a large book with hollowed out spaces to contain the little books.  However, neither of these would use the fishing net, which I very much like as part of the whole thing.   A friend suggested using the fishing net as a hammock which could contain the little books.  That seemed a good idea too, although I didn't particularly want to do it.  However, considering other ways of displaying it helped me to realise that the picture background of sky, sea and sand was important to me as an integral part of the whole work.

So, following some of Sian's suggestions, I tried out various ideas for backgrounds, things that used some of the topics and techniques earlier in this module.  Laying the net over some drawn thread work samples made me realise that this would be too busy and detract from the net and little books.  The same applied to a large square frame which I had wrapped with string and applied paper pulp.  The latter, however, was closer to what I had in mind. - a rejected idea

I did like the look of the net over the paper pulp, although I wanted something simpler with bands to represent the sky, sea and sand.

One thing I realised was that my original canvas was too large for the size of the little books.  I tried a smaller canvas and tried Sian's idea of using bands of paper pulp.  I covered it with strips of hand made paper, some which had been bonded onto drawn thread fabric, and spooned on some dyed paper pulp as well.  I was pleased with the result. The canvas background.  (Note that the mottled beige background is not part of the piece, just the window blind I leaned it against to get the photo.)

While thinking about the background and trying out ideas, I had also been working on the first of the four little books, Maggie's shell book.  I made the front and back covers of stiff card (the back of an old pad of cartridge paper).  The back cover I covered with silk, tea-dyed silk crepe for the inside and cream dupion silk for the outside.  The front cover I also made of cream dupion silk,   I embroidered a piece of cotton  with close rows of stem stitch in various colours for the markings on the outside of the shell.  This I stretched over some self hardening clay made to the right shape and size and then applied this onto the outside of the front cover. The front and back covers of the shell book

For the pages, I tried making some silk paper and then painting it with a mixture of acrylic wax and irridescent acrylic medium to capture the irridescence of the nacre inside the shell.  I machine embroidered the wording in a dark blue metallic thread (echoing the sea).  I made each page double and bound the book as a simple signature.  I attached the pages to the book by stitching the front and back pages to the inside of the front and back covers.  This stitching (simple oversewing on the edge of the page) made the page look better and so I hand oversewed each page of the book.

17.4, 1..5 and 17.6 show various views of the completed book.  An overview of everything I've done so far.

My next tasks will be:

  • Make the other three books
  • Decide how the first and last lines of the poems will be displayed.  The first line I thought could be written in the clouds, the last on a piece of "seaweed" caught in the net.  I tried making a piece of seaweed out of silk paper but it was too fluffy to have the right texture, I think perhaps painted tracing paper - some experimenting to do...
  • Work out how to secure the net and books to the canvas board securely but discreetly.  My thoughts are running along perhaps jewellery findings so that each book could be unhooked to look at.
  • Assemble the final piece.
I'm pleased that I'm once more out of the doldrums and voyaging on once more.

Just a final thing.  I'd love to quote what the poet David Whyte says about procrastination:

is not what it seems. What looks from the outside like our delay; our lack of commitment; even our laziness may have more to do with a slow, necessary ripening through time and a central struggle with the core realities of any endeavor to which we have set our minds. To hate our procrastinating tendencies is in some way to hate our relationship with time itself, to be unequal to the phenomenology of revelation and the way it works its own quiet way in its very own seasonal and gifted time, only emerging when the very qualities it represents have a firm correspondence in our necessarily struggling heart and imagination.
… Procrastination when studied closely can be a beautiful opening to the way we are; a parallel with patience, a companionable friend, a revealer of the true pattern - already, we are surprised to find, caught within us - acknowledging for instance, as a writer, that before a book can be written, most of the ways it cannot be written must be tried first, in our minds; on the blank screen on the empty page or staring at the bedroom ceiling at four in the morning.
Procrastination enables us to taste the single malt essence of our own reluctance.
An endeavor achieved without delay, wrong turnings, occasional blank walls and a vein of self-doubt running through all, leading eventually to some degree of heart-break is a thing of the moment, a mere bagatelle, and often neither use nor ornament. It will be scanned for a moment and put aside.
What is worthwhile carries the struggle of the maker written within it, but wrought into the shape of an earned understanding.
Procrastination helps us to apprentice ourselves to our own particular reluctance, to understand the hidden darker side of the first enthusiastic idea, to learn what we are afraid of in the endeavor itself; to put an underbelly into the work so that it becomes a living, satisfying whole, not a surface trying to manipulate us in the moment.
Procrastination does not stop a project from coming to fruition, what stops us is giving up on an original idea because we have not got to the heart of the reason we are delaying, nor let the true form of our reluctance instruct us in the way ahead. To properly procrastinate is to be involved with larger entities than our own ideas, to refuse to settle for an early underachieving outcome and wrestle like Jacob with his angel, finding as Rilke said, 'Winning does not tempt that man, This is how he grows, by being defeated decisively, by greater and greater beings.'
The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words.
© David Whyte & Many Rivers Press 2015

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Certificate Module 4 Chapter 11 ... one more step ...

I have come to enjoy the quiet stitching of my fishing net.  Since deciding to try to spend half an hour each day on this task, it has become an oasis of peace and quiet in my busy life - something to anticipate with pleasure rather than  a chore.

Alternating the stitching with more creative work has also proved a successful way of working, bringing variety to my Distant Stitch work.

I have now finished the fishing net, strengthening the edges with a narrow, close machine zigzag stitch.  I am pleased with how it has turned out: soft and light and it drapes very well.

4.11.FS 5 - completed net

Alongside the stitching, I have also been working on how to compose the piece.  The net on its own will not be strong enough to support the weight of the four little books.  Inspired by a little sketchbook I had made earlier in this module, I decided that it needed a firm background on which to fix the net.

4.11.FS 6 small sketchbook

 I had a canvas, 45cm by 35cm and thought I would try this.  I painted it in bands of colour to represent sky, sea and sand.

4.11.FS 7 painted canvas

Sian had suggested that I try mock-ups of the books to decide on the best size.  I coloured pieces of paper to represent each book and used plastic coloured with oil pastels for a mock up of a message in a bottle for the first verse of the poem.

I laid the whole thing out flat on a table and photographed it from above to give myself an idea of how the completed piece might look.  When I found an arrangement I liked, I photographed it.  I have not yet decided how to display the last line of the poem "for whatever we lose like a you or a me it's always ourselves we find in the sea".  One idea would be to make a piece of seaweed from fabric and stitch the words onto that.

4.11.FS 8 suggested layout

My task now is to make the little books.  My feeling at the moment is that little concertina books might work.  I have not yet decided whether all the books will be the same type of if they will all be different.  I have many decisions and experiments ahead of me, which I anticipate with pleasure.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Certificate Module 4 Chapter 11 continued ...

It is three months since I last posted on my blog, so I feel it necessary to recap.

I came back from Summer School in July all fired up and keen to proceed with the final push of this Module.  My best of intentions were derailed by helping two lots of friends pack up and move house, a succession of minor assorted bugs and viruses, major house refurbishment, visitors and more illness.  I completely lost my direction, enthusiasm and energy.

However I'm now fit as a flea and my get-up-and-go seems to have crept back home.   My former studio is now a downstairs bedroom all ready for a disabled guest who is coming to stay for a few days, as well as (hopefully not too much later) for Moray when he has the hip replacement surgery that his doctor says is necessary.  One of the upstairs bedrooms is now my new studio with a pleasant view of the garden and thanks to IKEA, plenty of storage and work areas.  I'm now back in harness and ready to proceed.

Former bedroom, now studio

Former studio, now bedroom
To recap, I am interpreting a poem by ee cumming:

'maggy and milly and molly and may'
maggy and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach(to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles,and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles:and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
its always ourselves we find in the sea

e e cummings

My plan is to make a book for each of the four girls, shaped as the object each one found on the beach.  The books will be caught in a fishing net, with the first and last verses as messages in bottles, also caught in the net.

4.11.FS 1
My first task was to decide how to make the net.  I thought of four different methods I could use to make the net:

(1)  Russian Drawn Thread Ground, where threads are withdrawn and the remaining bars overcast.  This could be worked in a very open fashion.

Mary Thomas's Embroidery Book

(2)  Using the technique of "gloop" from summer school.  A mixture of PVA and cellulose would be painted onto a black bin liner and then threads and pieces of fabric could be laid on the gloopy surface with more gloop added.  Once dry, the adhesive would have fixed the threads in place and the whole network could be peeled off the black plastic.
4.11.FS 2 An example of a gloop structure now applied to a painted background
(3)  Crocheting a mesh using thin string and a large crochet hook to make a very open structure.

(4)  Researching and trying genuine netmaking techniques.

The first one I tried was the Russian Drawn Thread Ground.  I first bleached a piece of window-cleaning scrim then withdrew threads - withdrawing 16 and leaving 4 each time.  I then used the withdrawn threads to overcast the bars.  I was so delighted with the appearance and fragility of the resulting structure that I decided to settle for that method instead of trying the others.  As well as being satisfying because it used the techniques covered in this module, the delicacy and fragility seemed to me to echo the  emotional state of the girls in the poem.

4.11.FS 3 fishing net

I'm currently still working on the fishing net as it is time-consuming work.  To save getting too bored and risking getting bogged down again, I've decided to spend half an hour every day stitching at the net until it is finished.  (It's more than half-way now!)  In the meantime I'll also work in parallel on something more exciting.

Today I started working on ideas for the covers of the four books.  I started with May's book " a smooth round stone as small as a world and as large as alone".  Today I painted some paper in stone type colours, using some metallic paint and irridescent medium.  I hope to make 3-D covers for front and back by layering successively small round pieces to build up a dome shape to represent the stone.

4.11.FS 4 stone coloured papers

I have been worrying a lot about losing track while being unable to do anything about it.  It is good at last to have the time, a space to work and most of all, my energy and enthusiasm back.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Certificate Module 4 Chapter 11 - a little bit more

I've been giving some more thought to my special book structure and thought I'd just record my ideas so far.  I still have some book structures to try from the Chapter 10 course notes and a few I've seen on the internet.  I'll try to make the content of these samples relevant to my ideas for interpreting ee cummings' poem "maggy and milly and molly and may".

I have three main areas to focus on for my work now:

  • explore some more book structures and, from my samples, select ones suitable for interpreting the poem
  • decide on the content of each girl's book
  • devise a method of linking the books that contributes to the theme

I've come up with three main ideas, which I've scribbled down in my notebook:

4.11. idea 1

4.11. idea 2

4.11. idea 3

Sorry about the untidy and scrappy writing and sketches!  At the moment I'm liking idea 2 best, I see the net as being suspended with each book clipped on so that it can be removed to read.  The first two lines, "maggy and milly and molly and may went down to the beach (to play one day)" and "For whatever we lose (like a you or a me) it's always ourselves we find in the sea" would each be written on a piece of paper inside a bottle, while each girl's book would contain her part of the poem along with stitching inspired by it.  I like the idea of shaped books, possibly concertina style like the little rows of paper dolls that little girls used to play with.

4.11. concertina stars

I feel happy and excited that I can see my way forward and know what I need to do next, yet have enough leeway to change my route if the work brings new ideas.