Spring is here (despite the sleet and hail!), so it's time for students at the shedio to dust down the watercolours and indulge in some glorious colour to hail in the new season. There have been a couple of timely exhibitions in London recently - The Royal Watercolour Society and the Royal Institute of Painters in Watercolour - and a closer study of the entries shows that the definition of watercolour is definitely changing. No longer the preserve of traditionalist, purist painters, this wonderful medium is now being used (and abused) by a new generation of artists who are more than happy to challenge the rules. White watercolour (yes white!) was evident, along with plenty of abstracted compositions that allowed artists to revel in the wonderful haphazardness of trying to paint with coloured water. Full respect goes to the wonderful students this week for embracing these, and many other ideas ... the course is still ongoing, but I couldn't resist showing their fabulous work so far. Well done guys x
It's been a hectic couple of weeks, but I've finally got a chance to share some photos of the great work students produced at the Thing Big, Draw Bigger workshop I held in March. I've often thought that if we work in a domestic space (i.e. at home), then our work is destined to be domestic, if not in subject matter, then certainly in scale. It was lovely, therefore, to open my studio doors wide and let students unleash their larger scale ambitions.
Day One started with white, white everywhere ... paper covered walls and tables, with drawing materials and small, random objects scattered about. Mark making, exploring lines, media, colour, texture and energy were the themes of the day ... gradually increasing drawing size from postcard size up to A1.
Day Two, and the sun was shining. A3 sketchbooks (opened to use the full A2 spread) were clipped to drawing boards and we headed out to take a line (or two) for a walk. Back in the studio, these drawings were used as starting points for larger scale, studio based work.
Day Three - lots of discussions had taken place over the previous couple of days on what makes a drawing 'accurate'. We had explored tactile self portraits (eyes closed, feeling our face with one hand while recording what we felt with our drawing hand), working with emotional marks (spiky and brittle, dramatic and flamboyant), and although I don't believe there is ever a single 'right' answer, it's great to pose the questions and use drawing to try to find solutions. In the words of Pablo Picasso: "To draw, you must close your eyes and sing". By the end of day three, my beloved shedio was full of drawings that sang out loud and clear! What joy.
Waking up to a light dusting of snow, and my thoughts jumped straight to the Shedio ... or more specifically, how to warm it up! Three fires on maximum setting, a host of crochet blankets and rugs, hot tea and coffee on constant supply, and we were soon warm and toasty (well, warm-er!) and able to get to work. Today's workshop was a 'back to basics' session looking at drawing with pencil, graphite and charcoal - and encouraging students to build their own vocabulary of marks. As always, they threw themselves into the challenge with great gusto and produced some fantastic drawings - at least 9 each!
What do a conservationist, a knitter, a medical college dissecting room, a darning mushroom, a criminologist and a photograph of Judith Scott have in common? All, it would seem, have something to say on the question "What Do I Need To Do To Make It Ok?" - a current touring exhibition curated by Liz Cooper, and more specifically, at the accompanying symposium held at the Crafts Study Centre yesterday.
So, in no particular order, are some of the highlights, favourite images and thoughts from the day (which was fabulous).
Bouke de Vries. Wow. Bouke's practice sits in both contemporary crafts and fine ceramics conservation work. Exploring the changing fashions of repair in conservation - from once ensuring the repair was invisible, to more recent preferences of proudly displaying broken shards of pots embedded in forms made from a neutral material, Bouke takes these ideas to extremes in his own practice. His exploded works appear to rejoice the fact that the original item is broken, and instead of reconstructing (as a conservationist), he uses the same skills to deconstruct (but this time as an artist). The ceramic object has a new status, with new values, and a new narrative that allows the life of the object to continue. And in case you were wondering, Bouke was keen to reassure that he only works with already broken ceramics, or as he said "no pots were damaged in the making of this work!".
Dr Charlotte Bilby, Senior Lecturer in Criminology in the Department of Social Sciences at Northumbria University, raised the question of the impact of the work undertaken by prisoners via the organisation Fine Cell Work. Is prison a place of punishment or rehabilitation (repair)? There is growing recognition of the positive impact on mental health of slower, meditative crafts such as knitting. And I am certainly 'guilty' of sitting down to crochet just one row, only to find myself still snuggled in a comfy corner hours later. To a prisoner, the irony of getting lost in time while mindfully working on a complicated stitched work is not lost, but contradicts the very nature of 'serving time' as punishment.
Before I go any further, I need to thank Freddie Robins for taking me back to warm, comfortable afternoons when time seemed to stay stuck forever. You know the times - when you're not long in from school, shoes off, toes wriggling in socks, tea time smells are coming from the kitchen, there's no homework to be done and Nelly is knitting a ridiculous contraption to solve the latest problem encountered by Noah and the animals in the BBC series, Noah and Nelly. Rather than learning from a mother, aunt, or grandmother, when I heard that it was Nelly who introduced Freddie to knitting, suddenly her practice makes a lot of sense.
“ 'It’s not perfect, but who cares?' Well I do. I enjoy imperfection in you and yours but not in me and mine. I am very attracted to the imperfections, failings, and roughness of the material world. I enjoy the evidence of human hands, the inevitable wear and repair of objects. I love the obviously hand-made. But I suffer from being a perfectionist ... Perfectionism is associated with good craftsmanship, something to aspire to. I aim for perfection in all aspects of my life, my work and myself. It can be very debilitating and exhausting and it is of course, unachievable". http://www.freddierobins.com
After much laughter throughout Freddie's presentation she left us with this simple, yet sobering thought:
"What can you do to make it ok?".
Well, sometimes, you need to accept that you just can't.
So, that's the conservationist, criminologist and knitter covered (albeit briefly)! It's now shoe kicking off time, which can mean only one thing ... Noah and Nelly! I'm off to track down old episodes on youtube now ... I may be some time!
Oh happy days! I have super fond memories of guiding a talented group of ceramicists, jewellers and textile artists through their Contemporary Design Crafts degree at the University of Hertfordshire, during my time as a Visiting Lecturer there in recent years.
Happy news of the day, is that one of this talented bunch, Scott Carter Wilson, has just been selected by New Designers for their “One Year On” showcase. What great news! Well done Scott – we’d all better buy a pot soon, as I predict bigger things in store for you. I’m hugely proud x
Yesterday provided an outing for my new shiny shoes! I headed into London for the CraftNet and Crafts Council event, exploring collaborations in craft practice, at the fabulous Conway Hall – a 1920s listed building (home of the Ethical Society). And what more appropriate phrase to find above the stage in the main hall than this: "To Thine Own Self Be True". For a bunch of artists makers, this seemed like the perfect motto, and we decided that we couldn't agree more!
There was a great conversation between Sarah Warsop, (choreographer/jeweller) and Tracey Rowledge (artist/bookbinder), discussing their collaboration on “What Isn’t Here Hasn’t Happened”, and how drawing can act as a bridge between movement and object.
We also heard about work and collaborations in the Acts of Making Festival too (held in 2015), as introduced by Lorna Burn. The highlight? all of it to be honest, but I particularly loved the work of Keith Harrison – collaborating with skaters, who used his carved stone work as grinding blocks … craft as performance not product. Love it.
It has been a great start to the new term in the Shedio (albeit a bit blustery!) with various Creative Sketchbook workshops looking at artists who work on found postcards and photographs with stitch ... Julie Cockburn, Jessica Wohl, Diane Meyer, Shaun Kardinal amongst others. As always, the wonderful students far exceeded all expectations, and leapt at the challenge ... the results? Absolutely fantastic work ... don't you think? Lots of questions were raised, and we delved into concepts of memory versus nostalgia; the "uncanny"; identity and history - phew!
Thoughts, works, adventures and responses from the studio and beyond