A new drawing language

I usually love the springtime, particularly April, and I think it has something to do with the preponderance of my favourite colour blue in all that is growing around me.

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Forget me not

I am lucky to live on a road where parking the car(s) is not given priority over the health and appearance of grass verges and front gardens and so we have a fabulous growing season including a couple of purposefully “wild” sections given over to bluebells, primroses, forget me nots and other wonderful splashes of colour. This combined with the abundance of blossom adorning the cherry trees that line the road makes this the prettiest time of year.

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The blossom isn’t blue but just look at that sky

However, this spring I have had sudden and unexpected sadness thrown at me during this usually happy and productive time of year and my senses, energy and Mojo have taken a hit as a consequence. Not usually one for deep analysis of my behavioural traits (for therein madness lies?) I am self aware enough to notice and do find it interesting that I tend to revert back to childhood hobbies and interests at times of unhappiness, namely singing loudly while dancing madly around the living room, and drawing, drawing, drawing.  While the first of these has its own benefits (and potential embarrassment if the neighbours are in at the time), the second has resulted in an unexpected positive as I may have accidentally stumbled on a drawing language that finally allows me to express my self in way that I am happy to identify with. So I thought it about time that I publicly declare my intentions and share with you, dear readers, my latest scribbles.

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Him indoors

Of course the long suffering husband was one of the first to experience my modified blind drawing approach over brunch in our favourite coffee shop one Saturday morning. A wonderful man with few vices he does have the annoying habit of being attached to his i phone (like so many others these days I fear) and often finds “checking his life” more entertaining than holding a conversation with his nearest and dearest whilst out. So left to entertain myself I decided to teach him a lesson on this occasion by sneaking out the sketchbook.  I rather liked the result.

Encouraged by these beginnings it didn’t take long to subject my other regular muses to similar treatment.

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Little Nelly Bell

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Wonky Sas

Various family members have also been immortalised in pen and watercolour pencil this month and this weekend I was brave enough to try out my new way of working in a life drawing session.

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Xanthe 

I am finding working in pen so liberating. No rubbing out and no sweating the small stuff. Put it on the paper and run with it. So what if you get a wonky picture. I am finding using a blind drawing technique is such a great way of getting totally absorbed in the subject without the distraction of looking at the paper and without the worry of whether I have got it right. I think I may be experimenting with this way of observing and recording for some time to come but for now I’ll leave you with a picture of a dear friend. Until next time……

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Southampton’s Ironman

 

 

 

Reflections (or blimey is that where I’ve come from!?)

Happy New Year blogland. It is pouring down outside (the poor Amazon delivery man just had to swim to our front door) and the rest of the household has gone back to bed leaving me with a bit of peace and quiet to compose. With the prospect of rejoining the real world tomorrow morning after two weeks of enjoying being a full time artist (albeit one full of traditional Christmas lurgy), I felt today should be one of contemplation and planning and what better way to engage in a bit of naval gazing than through a blog post.

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Hurrah For Gin sum up the Christmas cycle perfectly 

For many people the Christmas and New Year rituals include a cycle of overindulgence followed by confusion and an often unrealistic therefore short lived abstinence, promoted by various companies selling diet plans and gym memberships. However, as I have mentioned before I’ve given up trying to give up something (why would I try to stop doing something that is obviously giving me some form of comfort and pleasure otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it in the first place, right?) and instead use it as an opportunity for planning and review.

Now please don’t panic, I’m not going to subject you to the whole process but I thought it might be interesting to share with you something that has come out of it which you may find useful to do yourself (that’s if you don’t already do this, after all I’m always a bit late to the party with these things!)

Firstly, as you will be aware, 2015 was a year of going solo for me, a dip into the world of putting on my own exhibitions. So many learning points came out of these experiences and some I have already mentioned in previous posts, so I shan’t linger again. However, something relevant for this time of year did occur to me when I remembered the words of two people who both know me well and were brave enough to tell me after seeing my work up close and personal at the Open Studio how much my art work had come on in recent years.

Now for an obsessive creator who is continually striving to improve their work I am used to looking at my output with a critical eye asking such questions as what didn’t work? what should I have done differently? why is my work not as exciting as that of someone else I admire? etc etc. I am always looking forward and never consider where I have come from. It reminds me of a time when I was serious about running and I remember a particular coastal run where I felt useless and slow and came to a sobbing stop part way through. A male friend who was with me at the time physically turned me around to show me where I had just come from. It turned out that we had been running continuously up a very steep hill which the walkers on the trail behind us were struggling to do without taking numerous breaks on their way up. Needless to say I saw my endeavours that day from a different perspective.

As life drawing has been a continuous artistic discipline for me over the past few years it makes sense for me to use it as a measure of progress.

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Pencil on paper June 2013

At the time this picture of Elise was one of my better drawings from 2013. I might look at it in horror now but I still have a fondness for it as it inspired the first of my knitted paintings.

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Pencil on paper March 2014

I was definitely getting better a year later as this picture of Gilly shows, after a number of courses at West Dean College, a few terms at an Atelier and a particularly enlightening discussion with one tutor in particular about quality of line.

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White pencil on black paper October 2015

This drawing of Stone is my favourite from 2015. At last, after a few terms of weekly classes at a local college I feel that as well as developing the accuracy that the discipline requires I am now also starting to develop a style of drawing that I am happy with and reflects my identity.

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Pencil on paper January 2016

And after a couple of months off this was yesterday’s 25min drawing of Hilary which I am rather pleased with, particularly as it was done small scale in a sketchbook on my lap rather than with the luxury of an easel and board.

So, onwards and upwards dear reader. I am planning for 2016 to be another fun year of arty endeavours for me. However, while it is exciting and healthy to push forwards and strive for improvement in our work, I’ll leave you with the thought that sometimes we also need to step back and reflect on where we have come from. Here’s to a healthy, happy and creative new year for us all.

Hampshire Open Studios 2015

This year I am very excited to be part of this fantastic tradition where over 200 artists and makers in the Hampshire area open up their studios, homes and other venues to show and sell work, talk to the public and demonstrate their working practices.  I have been beavering away getting work finished, framing and mounting, and of course sorting out my venue which has been kindly provided by Studentnofee Property Agency at 24 University Road, Southampton, SO17 1TJ.

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I shall be in situ daily from 22nd to 31st August, 10am until 5pm, possibly drawing, possibly stitching and probably feeding my current obsession with double knitting, and am looking forward to showing you my work and talking about what inspires me and the various mixed media techniques I use.  Do rest assured though that if you would rather be left to your own devices to quietly walk around without my chatter in your ear I shall have plenty of work to do so can leave you to it if you would prefer!  I am also happy to provide a (free of charge) knitting surgery if any of my visitors have UFOs that they are struggling with so bring your knitting, and can do demonstrations on the WIP I’ll have with me if the techniques I am using interest you.

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Some of the framed mixed media pictures which will be on display

The items I’ll have on display will include mixed media work, prints, textile pictures both framed and unframed, and wall mounted sculptures.

"Doggy Doodle by Nicky Barfoot"

“Bert” hand stitch on calico by Nicky Barfoot

If you are a regular follower of my posts you will already know that subject matter is usually (but not exclusively!) canine, feline or life inspired.

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“Frankie in grey” knitted picture

I will also have a few hand knitted accessories on display such as this double sided scarf in a cashmere and wool yarn (pink) and a rare sheep breed yarn (green).

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Nicky Barfoot hand knitted double sided scarf

And of course, many of my designs are available as limited edition greeting cards and these will be available to purchase if any take your fancy.

"Nicky Barfoot limited edition printed cards"

Nicky Barfoot limited edition printed cards

Despite the manic last minute preparations, I’m now really looking forward to this event and it would be great to see some of you lovely people next week. The only downside is that as I am exhibiting on my own, I won’t be able to visit any of the other open studios this year.  Mmm maybe I can employ a stand in on one day?  So if you do arrive at the door and are greeted by a bald, bearded six foot plus male, he has to live and breath my art work (being subjected to it on a constant basis) so rest assured that he probably knows as much if not more about it than I do!

Mixed Media Messing

As alluded to in a previous post, I have recently been forced into a clear up/out of nearly 20 years worth of stuff. While this might sound like it would have a negative impact on creativity due to diversion of time and energy (and during the most intensive week that was probably true), it has since led to a surge of productivity due to the distraction caused by reacquaintance with my ever expanding library of inspirational reading.

Two books in particular have driven me to obsessional making over the past week. The first is “Creative Illustration Workshop for mixed media artists” by Katherine Dunn, one of those wonderful spiral bound books full of fabulous photographs of this illustrator’s quirky work.

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Apart from thoroughly enjoying drooling over her inspirational illustrations, the most helpful thing I picked up from her hints and tips is to “honor your muses” (page 48).  I find I can from time to time lose direction, caused by concern with what I think other people would value as suitable subject matter in my work (sometimes driven by an observer’s throw away comment and sometimes totally made up by my inner Critic). This never works well for me, as without full involvement and engagement in a subject matter, the resulting output is lacking.  While not everyone likes dogs, cats and life studies, if an abstract landscape (for example) doesn’t do it for me I’m hardly likely to do it justice am I? So with Ms Dunn’s permission I have for the time being put aside concerns that my art isn’t pleasing other people and am indulging in some work purely for my own amusement, entertainment and satisfaction. 

So, the first of this weekend’s finished outputs is this mixed media piece called “Hebe Dreaming”.  During the Summer months my Weimaraner can be found in the garden either flat out bathing in her sun puddle by the garage, or she can barely be seen as she stands with her head in our overgrown hebe, quite literally a hive of activity with bees, bugs and butterflies, just watching the activity around her.  When people ask me what type of dogs I have, they often don’t know what a Weimaraner is and I am forced to attempt a description of her colour using words such as grey, green, pink, purple, brown……. Basically, Weimaraners adopt the colour of the vegetation around them and this camouflage effect of her colouring was the inspiration behind the picture.

"mixed media weimaraner picture on water colour paper"

“Hebe dreaming” mixed media on watercolour paper

The second book that has grabbed my attention this weekend is “Playing with Sketches” by Whitney Sherman, another talented illustrator.

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Whereas the previous book inspired me visually, this one has inspired me intellectually (?) having me working methodically through the exercises.  One task was to create a “tile” for repeat purposes by cutting up a simple drawing into four pieces and rearranging it to form a frame for another drawing. This is what I came up with using a fish as the original sketch, and creating a physical tile using a combination of ink, pen and collage, then digitally arranging and repeating by scanning the original into Photoshop.

"Something's Fishy repeat pattern"

“Something’s fishy” digital reproduction of mixed media on watercolour paper

I am rather taken with this technique, not least as for each exercise you get two pieces of work, one being the original tile for framing purposes etc and the other a digital piece where the applications are endless (at the moment I’m thinking the creation of a custom fabric via Spoonflower.com) so, dear reader, I will stop here as I have another “tile” to create before close of play today involving a chopped up and rearranged bunch of flowers and a poodle. Au revoir.

Pooch Portrait, hoighty toighty style

Forced into a major clear out over the past few weeks, I have had to throw away my collection of arty magazines.  This, as some of you will appreciate, has resulted in much distraction leafing through said treasures prior to deciding which should be saved and which should be thrown.  Whilst embarking on this long winded filing process, I came upon a picture of William Larkin’s “Portrait of Lady Anne Clifford” (1618) and inspiration struck!  All I could see in place of the non smiling, slightly smug face gazing at me with unblinking eyes was my Weimaraner’s snooty stare and I just had to pay homage to it with a hoighty toighty, mixed media pooch portrait.

"mixed media Weimaraner portrait"

Portrait of Lady Saskia: stitched water colour and mixed media on cotton rag paper

I now can’t wait to get going on an homage to Cornelis Johnson’s “Portrait of an Unknown Gentleman” (1631) featuring Alf the ridiculous Cocker Spaniel in place of the ginger bearded man in his lace collared jacket.  First things first though, where did I “file” the rest of my vintage lace………..

Art: A window to the soul and laying oneself bare

Hey, I have a Collector! This has got to be the pinnacle of my art career so far that an almost random (the use of the word “random” not in any way a reflection of this person’s personality who is actually anything but, and is more along the lines of someone who is not related to me and has never had a meal at my house) now has two of my knitted life paintings hanging in his home! Wow what a buzz. To think that someone has connected with my artistic vision and interpretation of the world not just the once but TWICE, although credit has also got to be given to the person many years ago who told me over a cup of coffee that of course one should always work in series.

Selling creative work is a funny old business isn’t it? I was brought up in a world where children were encouraged to ponder on the meaning of life and have opinions but it was also drummed into us that while it might be a fundamental right to have that opinion it didn’t necessarily extend to sharing it and having it listened to (social media is still a relatively new phenomena!). “No one is interested in what you think/have to say” was a phrase I heard on numerous occasions while growing up. Navel gazing was not encouraged as a healthy pastime and debating in a family of five was just too noisy.  And then I ventured into the world of Art where a good dose of anger, opinion and angst can inspire a lifetime’s work and therein lay a problem. What if you don’t think you have any?

“A problem with Beige” by Nicky Barfoot. Hand stitch, paint and cotton applique on calico.

Now I’m definitely not saying that I would trade my safe and loved childhood/early adulthood for the type of emotional trauma that some of the revered artists of our time have suffered (Tracey Emin and Louise Bourgeois being two who immediately spring to mind) but in the words of talented poet Kate Tempest “enjoying the beigeness” isn’t really going to cut it either.  The importance of the word “Why” was highlighted during college and for every piece of work made there had to be research, context, planning and critical evaluation. It certainly wasn’t acceptable to write an artist statement along the lines of “I just fancied making it” or “I thought it looked pretty” and it still takes me hours to write a 50 word exhibition statement even after practising it for a number of years now.

The problem for me is the exposure.  When I create a piece of work it comes from within, a place that I keep hidden from all but my husband and even he shouldn’t have access to all the dark corners of my brain as it just wouldn’t be healthy. In other words I’m just not used to sharing.  Showing the work without explanation allows the viewer to come to their own conclusions and as long as I don’t have to confirm or deny, they don’t get to SEE me and while the work itself is judged, I’m safe. However, where I am required to verbalise what was going through my head at the time of creating the work and what I am attempting to say with it, I open ME up to judgement, MY thoughts, MY feelings, MY opinions (and no one wants to hear those anyway, right?) and MY emotional state. Now that’s uncomfortable and a little scary!  I think this feeling of laying ourselves bare through our work is why when someone buys a piece it is so special.  We feel a sense of connection to them. They got it! They understand where I’m coming from! It isn’t just me!

“Window to the soul” photograph by Nicky Barfoot

I think that it must be even worse for authors, this feeling of nakedness created by allowing readers a glimpse into your head.  A very talented customer of mine recently wrote a novel and being of a Sci Fi nature and therefore right up my street, I read it. It was a great story and I thoroughly enjoyed it but I have to admit that the first few chapters felt uncomfortable.  I was being given access to a place in the head of a person who I knew well on a professional level but not exactly on a personal level.  Thankfully there wasn’t too much raunch in it as that would definitely have been a step too far!

A friend of mine also bought a picture from me this week.  I was pleasantly surprised and somewhat shocked when she expressed her interest in it as not being one for gushing over previous “stuff what I have made” (although a strong supporter of my greeting card range), I had no idea that she would like it. So, while she was looking at it and knowing that it is probably good practice for me to talk about my work, I explained my vision. Her response was “Well I don’t know about that, I just like it because it looks like she’s walking out onto a stage”.

That theatrical interpretation was exactly the metaphor behind my intention, so it worked for me!

“Woman Awakening” – at defined stages in her life a female will awaken, she comes into existence, and is reborn as a Woman

So, readers (Mum!) I shall keep producing my artistic interpretations of the world according to Nicky (verbalising when required), encouraged by all of the lovely people who have bought my work over the years (blame them not me!). The only slight problem I have now though, is that after this week’s unexpected sales, I no longer have any work suitable for an upcoming exhibition in a few weeks time.  So, I must sign off and get on with some knitting as the weekend is fast escaping me and I still have thirty rows left on the substitute.  Have a healthy, happy and creative week.

Knitted painting, work in progress.

Turn up the Volume!

Apologies for being a bit remiss on the posting front recently.  This isn’t a reflection of a lack of productivity, in fact, quite the opposite.  I have been extremely busy making over the past month driven by commissions, a number of internal and external factors, and inspired by everything from the weather, exhibition visits, recent workshops, my usual doggy muses and exhibition deadlines.

“Jess the Doodle” recent commissioned knitted doggy head

Perhaps it is the volume that has created the problem in searching for an interesting sharing experience with you. A bit like driving into a supermarket car park and finding too many spaces to choose from? Anyway, rather than just post pictures of “stuff what I have done” which probably only interests my Mum (sorry Mum, I’ll post one of those soon too!) I thought I’d share two inspirational experiences that have really added to my productive drive.

The first was a video from Ira Glass, the host of “This American Life” radio show which a friend had posted on her facebook feed. In the clip Ira talks about how creative people are trying to be good at what they do but due to their inherent sense of good taste (as per their creative nature) they are continually being disappointed by their output.  At this point it could be easy to quit as one invests so much time and energy knowing that the work being produced just isn’t up to one’s own high standards.  He urges us instead to keep going and in fact create a huge volume of work with the aim of closing the gap between our ambitions and our output.  Thanks Ira, that was just the excuse I needed to drive on!

The other source of huge inspiration I wanted to share with you today is this book.  I picked it up at the Tate book shop a little while back and nearly missed my train stop on the way home as I just couldn’t put it down.

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In it the author asks 50 successful artists in various media a number of questions regarding why they do what they do, where they get their inspiration from and particularly how they deal with creative blocks.  This is, of course, accompanied by mouth watering pictures of their work.  At the end of each interview the artist is asked to set a task for the reader to help boost creativity and work through a creative block.  One of the really interesting things for me was to see how even these successful creatives have huge amounts of self doubt (I thought it was just us aspiring types!) so I guess this links in with the taste thing that Ira was talking about.  In particular, US illustrator Sidney Pink came out with a fabulous quote which has burrowed into my subconscious and I’m sure will keep surfacing in times of need: “Any thing of value comes from hard work and unwavering dedication.  If you want to be a good artist you need to look at other artists, make a lot of crappy art, and just keep working” (ref page 88 of Creative Block by Danielle Krysa).

So readers, yet again we are faced with the dilemma of not enough hours in the day (and storage space!) and I am feeling the need to get the inks out and create an illustration triggered by my Jack Russell’s antics this morning. I also recognise that there are not enough pictures in this post and far too many words so I shall leave you with an image of an illustration I finished a couple of days ago inspired by Sas and Alfie on a recent Sunday dog jog.  Get creating!

“The Hunters” ink on watercolour paper by Nicky Barfoot

Inky Imagination and little lost pups

This Easter weekend I had the privilege to be on a course at West Dean College taught by talented illustrator and charismatic raconteur, Paul Cox. This frustrating but inspirational three days saw me totally out of my comfort zone being asked to illustrate a poem from my imagination. The task threw up all kinds of creative challenges regarding how best to compliment a text, as well as theoretical ones such as perspective and vanishing points (I never did find it!), light sources, colour schemes etc……. We also only had a short period of time to make best use of the huge wealth of knowledge and constructive criticism that Paul was generously offering.

I chose a particularly lovely poem by Arthur Guiterman (1871-1943) called “Little Lost Pup” (no surprise on the subject matter there then but at least I am practised in drawing dogs so I wasn’t completely out of my depth!).  Once my eyes had de-blurred from the tears, I came up with this little chap in the lead role.

"Nicky Barfoot illustration for Little Lost Pup"

Front cover illustration, ink on watercolour paper

Then followed a scene to illustrate each of the four verses, this being the first.

"Nicky Barfoot illustration for "Little Lost Pup" by Arthur Guiterman"

Nicky Barfoot illustration for “Little Lost Pup” by Arthur Guiterman

Not wishing to spend too much on new materials I dug out some coloured inks for this series and had a wonderful splashy time. I particularly enjoyed using Quink dabbed onto wet water colour paper (it disperses into all sorts of wonderful colours), have learnt a new use for household bleach and made lots of use of stinky masking fluid.

So next week I’m off to the local copy shop to get some A3 scanning done so I can create a printed book of this series.  In the meantime, with the luxury of another bank holiday ahead of me I need something else to illustrate.  Perhaps now is the time to start writing that book that I have always talked about ……..

Exhibitions, inspirations and a head full of bees

My head is buzzing! Not in the annoying tinnitus kind of way but in the full of so many ideas all jostling with each other kind of way that I feel like I am permanently over-caffeinated and can’t follow a single train of thought. The reason behind my rather excited but muddled state is two indulgent weekends spent immersing myself in the talent of others.

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A head full of bees (self portrait)

Here are just a few images that I can’t get out of my head.

Marlene Dumas is at Tate Modern (an actual FEMALE painter being featured at Tate Modern and one who is still alive!). I had seen images of this artist’s work but knew little about her. Interested to learn that she doesn’t work from life, rather uses “secondhand images” which she says “can generate first-hand emotions”, I was particularly taken by her compositions, especially how she crops her portraits, and also by the large scale of some of her work. This was one of my favourite paintings on show.

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Marlene Dumas  Amy – Blue 2011 photo reference Tate.org.uk

From the wonderful Henry Moore collection at Tate Britain:

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Henry Moore, Reclining Woman, 1951

and also at Tate Britain I discovered the fabulous work of Caroline Achaintre who marries ceramics with textiles beautifully.

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Caroline Achaintre “Skwash 2014” ceramic

And at Pallant House from the Leon Underwood exhibition. Interesting to see how Underwood’s work inspired Moore’s.

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Flux (The Runner), 1924 by Leon Underwood

So you can see how I might be struggling to sleep with all of this floating around in my subconscious at the moment.  Now all I have to do is allocate some time to play and feed this excitement through into my artwork. I can definitely see some figurative 3d work in my near future and maybe some large scale 2d textile paintings. Perhaps a little raunch? Definitely more mixing of media. Buzz, buzz, buzz….