Farewell 2016 (or the shite year that woz, leaving a legacy and street/river art arrives in Bishop’s Stortford)

Hello Blogland. Over the next week or so I’m sure you will be inundated with annual roundups and messages of new year resolutions so I thought I’d get in there early in order to draw a line well and truly through this frightful year and focus fully on the new challenges that 2017 will present. Despite the title (and of course you will already be fully aware of my leanings in this matter) I am leaving politics out of this post so please do read on.

This morning’s dog jog gave me some quiet time to muse over the latest sadness to hit our social media streams today, that of the death of yet another of the performers who, along with Prince and David Bowie, formed the musical backdrop to my teenage years. RIP George Michael.  Personally I don’t remember a year of celebrity loss that has been so affecting and I am wondering whether it is because of my age (i.e. I am older therefore statistically those entertainers and musicians who were significant to me whilst I was growing up are also older and therefore more at risk), or whether the rise of Celebrity and social media have made us feel both like we know these people personally because they live their lives under a spot light, and links us to others who are mourning their passing thereby generating almost a sense of self promoting “hysteria” when faced with news of the death of someone most of us have never met (apologies to any actual psychologists out there, these ramblings are purely personal musings and not an attempt to explain anything scientifically). Of course it could also be that 2016 was the year of unprecedented loss that we actually think it was.

Of course, regular readers of my blog will also be aware that I said goodbye to two very important men from my personal life this year and those of you in similar situations will sympathise with how family and friend centred celebrations such as Christmas can highlight these bereavements. So where am I going with this post I hear you ask. There is a link between loss from this year and planning for next. As you may have gathered from previous posts, I don’t do New Year resolutions as these tend to be statements of intent with no real planning and are therefore often doomed to failure. However, I do find the end of a year a great time to focus on what went well/didn’t go so well in the year I am about to leave and let these feed the goals for the one ahead. A planning technique that has been brought to my attention recently is the use of a word to guide, inspire and motivate. I have been struggling to come up with a single word for my business planning but have come up with a word to guide my life generally inspired by a letter that I read from an old work colleague of my Dad’s in response to the news of his passing. The first word that this man, like so many other people who interacted with Dad used to describe him, was “kind” (“I remember him as such a kind man”). While he may not have had a wide circle of social interaction, particularly after his retirement, I find it so moving that those people who did share him with us did not refer to his achievements, material possessions, hobbies etc but instead used this somewhat mild and greatly undervalued adjective to sum him up. While those celebrities we have lost this year leave behind them memories of their respective talents through their fame, music, writing and entertainment, for me, to leave “kind” as a legacy is such a noble and worthwhile thing to aspire to so for 2017 and beyond, my motivation shall be the word “kind”.

Right, bitter sweet indulgences over, here are some pictures to brighten up this post. While pulling into Bishop’s Stortford station last week I noticed some rather colourful and attractive graffiti so armed with Mum and her crazy Labradoodlepoodle, we went on a photography treasure hunt along the River Stort to find out more. And here they are.

img_5967

Ella and Mum duck watching

img_5965

Bright and colourful wall decoration 

img_5979

Still wondering how they did this, from a boat perhaps (no path on that side of the river)

img_5978

Decoration on a warehouse wall

I have so much wonderful visual inspiration from my treasure hunt I can’t wait to get started on some work. In the meantime, goodbye 2016. I (and many others) will remember you but not so fondly.

Wishing you all a healthy, happy, peaceful 2017. I’ll see you on the other side……….

Woven eccentricities (or a wonky weave of a geriatric Jack Russell)

Since topping up my sleeved sweater stash (see previous post) we have had a mini heatwave here in the South of England. With temperatures soaring to 30 degrees and little let off at night I have found it difficult to get stuck in to another knitting project. So what to do with yarn that doesn’t result in sweaty hands and squeaky needles and allows a little air flow around the old bod? Yep, you got it, back to the tapestry frame and warp speed ahead on another coptic inspired weave of a wonky portrait, this time Nelly being the muse.

low res nelly woven

“Today I shall mostly be fabulous!” Hand woven tapestry in wool, cotton and metallic yarn.

My aim with this one was to use eccentric weaving (where the weft is not at right angles to the warp) to mimic the nap of the fur and to help give the illusion of three dimensions via the suggestion of contour lines. And here is the result: Nelly looking resplendent (and slightly worried i.e. her usual expression) on a majestic looking cushion. Note to self, for the next weave try to create a design that can be woven the right way up rather than on its side as previous ones have been if I wish to avoid developing a permanent kink in my neck and spine from regular progress checks.

Now, what to do next I wonder? I still have a knitting itch to scratch and the temperatures are becoming more conducive to picking up the needles again. However, I wouldn’t want to upset the Big Dog by showing favouritism to the Little and Noisy One so perhaps I should be sourcing some Weim coloured yarn for another wonky weave. Mmm, decisions, decisions, perhaps a cup of tea (or at least the tea leaves) will help? Until next time…….

Memories of Dad (or who invented Father’s Day anyway?)

My inbox is currently inundated with companies trying to sell me stuff for Father’s Day (19 June). This has prompted me to share with you some drawings and memories of my wonderful Dad who has encouraged and inspired me in so many aspects of my creative and sporting life and who I sadly lost at the beginning of this month (and who adamantly refused to believe in Father’s Day on the basis that it was an invented celebration purely created for commercial purposes while still appreciating the card that I would send him anyway!).

Dad 1965 low res

Dad on his wedding day in 1965 aged 27

 

A genetic predisposition to making stuff

Dad made stuff and while my art and textile interests are thought to come from my creative and talented Mum, I think Dad also played more than his part. Dad spent weekends in the garage creating amazing things such as the dolls house I was given for Christmas and which I treasured for many years, the go kart made out of pram wheels with a foot and string steering mechanism and a sibling powered motor, and the stilts on which the children of our cul-de-sac competed and broke records for number of widths, lengths and how many times you could go up and down the kerb.  My dining room table at home is referred to as the table of doom by my better half in reference to the vast quantity of drawing and painting materials, sketchbooks, needles and wool which cover its surface. It made me laugh the last time I visited my brother’s house to see his dining room table covered in bits of motorbike motor and bicycle. We can’t help it. Making stuff is in the genes!

Dad 1986 low res

Dad, 1980 something (although he never was quite as robust as this picture suggests)

An athlete was born……

Dad taught me how to ride a bike (a skill which through the encouragement of my husband I later learned I was good at when I started competing locally and nationally in cycle time trialling). All three of us children went through the rite of passage progressing from trike, to stabilisers on a hand me down bike which was usually slightly too big for us (we’d grow into it) and then to Dad holding the saddle and running down the road behind us. Or was he?! When it was my turn, I remember getting to the bottom of the road, putting my feet down and turning around to see that Dad hadn’t moved and was standing grinning at me from outside number 3 where we had started from. From then on I could ride a bike and as the saying goes, I never forgot it.  Bicycles have played a major role in our lives both socially and practically from the hours spent cycling up and down outside the house with the other children on our road, to being our main source of transport and our ticket to independence as teenagers.  For me, cycling also became a competitive sport.  A similar thing happened with swimming. I remember running out to meet Dad who was bobbing up and down in the Devon waves one camping holiday and being told to “swim to me Nicky”. And I did, completely forgetting that I hadn’t put my arm bands on.

Dad 2011 low res

Dad, 2011

Shine on you crazy diamond

Dad instilled in me very early on a passion for music. I was encouraged to play the piano for five years but never really got on with my teacher’s choice of music (classical or nothing) so fulfilled Dad’s prediction of “you’ll regret it if you give it up”. I continue to return to the piano from time to time and still dream of playing jazz. He went halves with me when I bought my first album, “Purple Rain” by Prince, another of my teenage heroes who sadly passed away this year. Dad had a really wide taste in music, with no genre excluded, and which thankfully I have inherited due to early exposure to jazz, classical, rock and blues. He told me I couldn’t sing but it never put me off. I can still sing whole albums that I haven’t heard since I was 15 (if only I could remember where I left my car keys or why I walked into a room) and as I have mentioned to you in previous posts, singing is a mood enhancing therapy that I have always resorted to in times of need and still use to this day. One of my greatest pleasures is attending live music and I am lucky to have a number of excellent venues within a three mile radius of my house which I frequent on a regular basis.  The music I associate most with my childhood and my Dad is that of Bowie, Pink Floyd, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong and Kate Bush.

Dad 2016 low res

Dad the last time I saw him

Always in my heart

During his final year of life Dad would often ask me when I telephoned if I was happy. He also told me regularly during these calls how much he enjoyed hearing my cheerful voice and to “keep cheerful”. The happiness of his children was so important to him and I think he needed to know that he had done a good job.  I was lucky enough to visit him in the last few days of his life and while he wasn’t aware I was there I was grateful to be able to spend some time drawing him as he slept.  Dad told us that you make your own luck in this world through hard work and perseverance. I agree with him up to one very important point. You have no control or say in who you are born to and we certainly lucked out on that one. Rest in peace Dad.  I couldn’t have asked for a better male role model in my life and I thank you for your unconditional love and support which have encouraged and inspired me to become the person I am today.

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.

IMG_2903

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.

IMG_2898

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.

IMG_2778

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.

IMG_2828

Little Nelly Bell

IMG_2820

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.

FullSizeRender

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……

IMG_2859_2

Southampton’s Ironman

 

 

 

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.

DSCN4773

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.

DSCN4774

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.

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.

IMG_1384

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 ……..

Artistic origins and the best rainy days, EVER!

I often get asked by friends and customers to explain what originally got me interested in Making and Art. As long as I can remember I have made Stuff. I usually blame a childhood diet of Blue Peter for my inability to throw away empty washing up bottles, toilet roll tubes and cardboard boxes (I never did find sticky back plastic lying around the house but a bit of improvisation and a few poster paints usually provided a reasonable substitute where required).  At Junior school I was allowed to sit out side of my headmasters office drawing and painting the fresh cut flowers that used to decorate his coffee table, and at home I had the influence of my Mum, a talented knitter and dressmaker.  However, a couple of Sundays ago after suddenly feeling the need to illustrate my day in a pictorial format and after looking at the resulting page I was suddenly transported back to the 1970s and realisation hit. It was all Richard Scarry’s fault!

"pictorial diary page"

Pictorial Diary Page

Richard Scarry and his Best Rainy Day Book Ever was the best thing about school holidays (other than riding bikes, playing on roller skates and generally running about with the other kids on my road).  I would sit happily for hours colouring pictures, making bookmarks, putting together cardboard buildings, and generally drawing and making, inspired by Lowly Worm, Sergeant Murphy and all the other wonderful characters of Busytown. If only I had known at the tender age of five that forty years on I would be as entertained by these activities as I was back then. Happy Days!

0001xV

Please feel free to share in the comments your own childhood influences.  I would love to hear what started some of you guys out on your creative journeys.

More Doggy Doodles and my new Nicky Barfoot Etsy Shop is now up and running.

I’ve been quite productive since my last post, utilising the luxury of a couple of lazy weekends in revisiting the embroidery threads and pointy needles.  The result has been more doggy doodles, with the finishing touches put to this doodle, “Tune”, this morning.

"hand embroidered doggy doodle on painted calico"

“Tune”: Hand stitched on painted calico, decorated with vintage lace and mounted on Khadi paper.

“Tune” is currently available to buy and has just been listed in my new Etsy shop.  Do have a look.  More items, including knitting patterns as pdf downloads, will be added to the shop over the coming weeks.

New doggy doodle for sale: “Bff”

Faced with a wet and gloomy Bank Holiday Monday and confined to the house to supervise an injured but still hyperactive Weimaraner, I have just finished a new doggy doodle.  Hand stitched on painted calico and cotton rag paper, and decorated with vintage lace, the theme and colour scheme is unashamedly girlie.  This unframed piece is for sale (£39 including UK postage) and measures 29 by 23.5cm.  Please E mail me if you are interested.

"hand stitched doggy doodle by Nicky Barfoot"

“Bff”: hand stitched doggy doodle on painted calico and cotton rag, decorated with vintage lace