The Purrfect Summer (or where did August go?, Mum is introduced to Henry, and a few random sheep)

Well, that has got to be the shortest August ever? It was jam packed with exhibition visits, sculpture park perambulations, public garden sketching, drinking gin cocktails at a music festival (yep you heard correctly, it was a classy event) and enjoying a few cheeky fish and chip evenings by the sea side (we are so rock ‘n roll!). In amongst these happenings was wedged juried open exhibition entries, art work delivery trips and opening dos, paperwork and lesson planning for upcoming workshops, and a knit design itch that just had to be scratched (why I felt the urge to work with wool, silk-mohair and alpaca during the hottest month of the year I can’t say, perhaps the anticipation of cooler evenings and with it the return to wrapping up in cosy knitwear, hand knitted socks and boots (yay!)?).

So, firstly, all about me and what have I been creating? The latest of my new knitting designs is this rather cute looking kitty.  I have been pleasantly surprised at the high level of interest I have had in the double knitting technique, so last weekend I put crayon to paper and created a new character to add to my existing chart collection. After a few false starts I eventually found a suitable yarn combination from my stash to test him in, and here he is, fresh off the needles in Sublime organic cotton DK and Rowan Felted Tweed DK.

He looks like a Sydney to me……

Sitting Kitty dark low res

Sydney, light on dark version

 

 

Sitting Kitty light low res

Sydney, dark on light version

Or do I prefer…..?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I think he would look rather cute on a cushion, as part of a blanket, as the front of a knitted bag or on a child’s sweater? I have made the chart available in my Etsy shop (Sitting Kitty Knitting Chart) so you creative people can incorporate him into your own fabulous knitted creations (it would work just as well with intarsia as double knitting).  I’m going to put my Sydney to one side while I design a few friends for him as I feel a TV snuggle blanket coming on (yep, I am getting old!).  I’ll keep you posted.

Right, back to some of the other stuff. I grew up in Hertfordshire and I spent my teenage years during the summer months charging across stubble fields usually with a local farmer in his Range Rover (the old fashioned mucky and dented type that was bought specifically for towing livestock and driving off road, usually brown, dark green or burgundy, not the shiny white with black trim yummy mummy version we see these days parked outside school gates) hot on my hooves, to shouts of “Get off my Land!” Little did I realise during these adrenaline fueled adventures through the bridleways and fields around Perry Green that I was galloping past the home and estate of one of my now favourite artists, Henry Moore. This amazing sculpture park and house is open to the public during the summer months so during a weekend at the family home a couple of weeks back Mum and I thought it about time we paid it a visit. And I was sooo pleased we did.

Having seen Henry Moore sculptures in internal spaces such as Tate Britain, I didn’t really appreciate the scale of most of his work.

Henry Moore 1

Mum and a Henry Moore sculpture (wotta whoppa!)

It was pure joy to see these fabulous structures placed in the landscape and then to get right up close to see the intricate marks on the surface (which apparently were all intentionally placed using various gouging and scratching tools such as bits of wood with nails stuck in). You are allowed to touch the work in the grounds (and photograph it) and the tactile nature of the scarred bronze in the sunshine was very seductive.

Henry Moore2

Surface marks

We even got to meet the sheep which inspired his famous sheep sketchbook (well probably not these actual three but you know what I mean).

Henry Moore sheep

Curious critters in the Henry Moore Sheep Field

As well as a very pleasant walk around the 60 acres of grounds and a visit to the workshops and tapestry barn (I finally got to see the (mainly) West Dean produced work I have heard so much about and it was awesome) we experienced the tour of the house.  As no photos are allowed in there you’ll have to visit yourself to get an idea of the creative clutter that the Moore’s lived in. The house has been left as it was when he was alive and living and working from there, and is crammed full of the artefacts that inspired his work including african tribal masks and sculptures (he wasn’t well travelled apparently and most of these were given to him as gifts) as well as natural forms such as stones and shells, along with a few paintings from well known 20th century artists and a huge wall of reference books. It was wonderful to see how these treasured possessions fed his work.

Henry moore4

Reclining in the garden at the Henry Moore sculpture park

I am hoping to revisit before the end of the season, this time with a sketchbook so I can draw some of these amazing structures.  Apparently there is also a reason to visit next year as a big exhibition is planned to include work from other artists connected to Moore.  I can’t wait!

Anyway, I have probably tired you out enough for one blog post. I have lots more to show you but they can wait. In the meantime I hope you all had a good Summer, hopefully with a bit of a break to enjoy it, and good luck to all you folks who are getting your offspring geared up for the new school year next week.  Until next time…………

 

 

Tribute

Over the past month I have been working on probably the hardest piece of art for me, to date. It represents my humble tribute to an extraordinary man who’s sudden and unexpected death this March has left so many of us in a shocked state of bereavement. It is difficult to categorise what he meant to me personally: friend, mentor, brother….. none of these quite describe his constant presence in my life over the past 30 years. He was there helping and advising me during the pivotal moments in my adulthood. He taught me how to revise for my first degree, introduced me to competitive sport and the hard work required to train for it, helped me through the stress of buying my house by negotiating on my behalf, and found me a business premises to work from when I changed career.

He was also an encouraging if somewhat brutally honest supporter of my art endeavours (if you didn’t really want to know the answer you wouldn’t ask his opinion) always making an effort to attend exhibitions where I had work on show and was the first person to buy one of my knitted paintings.

A high achiever in everything he did, his no nonsense hard work attitude was an inspiration to so many of the people he interacted with, both within the local business community and particularly the national triathlon and cycling communities. As it was originally through cross country running that I met him it seemed most fitting to me to celebrate his sporting achievements in this piece of work as competitive sport was such a major part of his life from runner to triathlete and finally, cyclist. One of his most significant achievements was as holder of the British Ironman record. This 8:15:21 time stood for 13 years until it was broken in 2008. In 2010 he was also national 12 hour cycling time trial champion covering 275.01 miles in the allocated time.

So here it is, I hope he would have approved. Made with love for John, Karen and especially Erica (the yin to his yang).  RIP Julian x

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“Tribute” hand knitted and stitched in alpaca/merino and silk mohair

 

Getting noticed in the digital age (or how to take a decent photo)

 

dog blanket scrunched low res

Hand knitted Dog Blanket

The digital age can make getting one’s work seen by others so much easier in many respects as we no longer have to rely on an intermediary such as a magazine or gallery to promote us. While this is not good news from their point of view with so many galleries sadly closing down in recent years, it does mean that without the significant commission payments to the gallery from sale proceeds (usually about 50%), pricing work from the artist’s point of view is more straightforward (although never easy as how does one factor in the time to create a piece of work when that includes a lifetime of education, experimentation and training while getting to the point of being able to create said piece?) and the customer can often get a more affordable price.

However! In my personal experience I have found it is so much easier to sell a piece of work when someone can actually see it in the flesh (so to speak). I think this is partly due to a kind of image numbness one gets these days with the constant bombardment from social media streams and marketing campaigns. Any one who has sat in a coffee shop and observed the activity around them from the other customers who are rapidly scrolling down their i phone screens whilst trying to hold some kind of conversation with the person sat opposite them will understand what I mean by  this. But, I can’t deny that it is also largely due to what has been described in the past by the editor of a knitting magazine as my “terrible photographs!”.

So how do we get noticed in this environment? (Any one who knows the answer to this question please tell me). On the basis that good photos must help (and my 10 year old basic digital camera combined with a cluttered and poorly lit house just can’t do my work justice), last week I booked a professional photo shoot with the lovely Rob Fry  who took some fabulous shots of my work, including these of the dog blanket.

dog blanket lower res

Dog Blanket charts available from my Etsy shop

Now this is a luxury that I can’t afford on a regular basis but then I don’t have the funds to buy the equipment or training to do it myself either. So, after seeing the output from the shoot I’m afraid my response to my title “how to take a decent photo” has got to be (for me anyway), pay a professional 😉

Until next time…..

 

Dog Blanket (but definitely not for muddy paws!)

Over the past month I have been a bit remiss in posting here due to the frantic production that has been required ahead of the Open Weekend at the Janice Barfoot Sugarcraft Centre 14 and 15 November (see previous post) and Harrogate Knit and Stitch show at the end of the month (what was I thinking!?)  However, I had to take some time away from stitching this morning as I am excited to share with you one of the things I have been beavering away making.  Remember my ongoing obsession with double knitting? Here is the latest product of this, my Dog Blanket (if either of my dogs goes any where near it there will be trouble!).

"dog portrait blanket by Nicky Barfoot"

“Dog Blanket” hand knitted in Rowan Creative Focus Worsted and Kid Classic

Featured in this collection (and working horizontally from left to right in the picture) are portraits of a Doberman, Boxer, Labrador, Weimaraner, Bull Terrier, Retriever, Spaniel, Husky and Greyhound. I’ve knitted my blanket (definitely NOT FOR DOGS) in a wonderful warm and soft combination of Rowan Creative Focus Worsted (the black) and Rowan Kid Classic (grey) and am now looking forward to relaxing in my chair this Christmas in front of a few films snuggled under my luxurious lap warmer perhaps with a cheeky little glass of port on the side table and a bit of stilton.

I have had the charts for each of the dog breeds in the blanket printed into A5 flyers so if you fancy having a go (they will work equally well for intarsia and double knitting) I will be selling them at Harrogate so do come visit stand TG623. I’m also happy to post leaflets out to any of you who won’t be able to buy in person but would still like to purchase so do drop me an e mail or PM me on Nicky Barfoot facebook page if you are interested.

Right, more caffeine required then back to manic stitching.  Hope to see some of you at the Sugarcraft Centre on 14 and 15 November for an open weekend of art and sugarcraft demonstrations, and at the Harrogate International Centre 26 to 29 November for the textile feast that is the Knitting and Stitching Show.

Seeing Double (or perhaps, tangle free intarsia?)

Have I ever told you Chaps how much I enjoy gift shopping for Mum? It gives me the perfect excuse to “research” knitting books, gadgets and textiles for an obsessive yarn addict other than myself, the only concern being that she might already have got one of those (think blocking mats, carbon fibre knitting needles, stitch markers etc and you get the idea). Of course it also presents an opportunity to get a trusted review on whether said book or gadget can change a life for the better (how on earth did we ever survive without it?) and if so, well you can guess the next instalment.

So while perusing the latest books on Amazon, sifting through all of the mouth watering delicacies that have probably already been digested from cover to cover by the intended recipient, I came across this little gem.  While the front cover photo would normally have put me right off (embarrassing memories of 1980s knitting patterns and how many hats does one really need living in the south of England?), what competitive nature could resist the title!?

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Also, being a big fan of Nini and Wink‘s cheeky double knitted scarves (and do check out their wonderful knitted faces, they make me chuckle every time!), I have been intending to give this technique a try for quite some time.

Nini and Wink double knitted scarf (photo credit Nini and Wink‘s facebook page)

So, as one can never have enough books, I gave a copy a home and have been obsessively double knitting ever since.

Between you and me, I have to admit that after skimming the first few pages and finding the rather dry narrative too much to bear for my enthusiasm to just get on with it, I quickly skipped to the how to cast on section and haven’t really dipped into the book since (don’t tell the Long Suffering Husband this, as far as he is concerned I am working my way methodically through it, just like I do every other book that takes up all available shelf and floor space in the house).  But the seed of inspiration has well and truly been planted so I say it was a purchase well made!  The most exciting thing about knitting a front and back of a two layer fabric at the same time is that two or three colour intarsia becomes a piece of tangle free cake! No more twisting bobbins dangling off the back of the work as you go. The downside is how many scarves and blankets does one really need and of course, knitting two sides of everything is a little time consuming.

“The two sides of a Spaniel” double knitting in Rowan Cotton Glace

I am currently obsessively working my way through portraits of various dog breeds, some of which have come out a treat, and others have failed to meet expectations.  Currently I have a Jack Russell, Weimaraner (of course!), a Spaniel and a Pug. More terriers are on the way and a gauntlet has been thrown down by a labrador! I was thinking Andy Warhol when I started these but who knows where (or in what) they will end up.  A Dog Blanket, probably.

“What are you looking at?!” Double knitted pug in Rowan Cotton Glace

Anyway, I have a French bulldog in mind that needs charting and a rummage through the cotton glace stash for two suitably contrasting colours is required (not as easy as one would think after the blue, green and orange combo I tried for that pesky labradog just didn’t work!). I am also keen to experiment with a bit of texture in double knitting too so until next time…….

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.

“Carnevale di Venezia”

My hands are aching from a weekend of Extreme Knitting, finishing a piece of work for the Jersey Textile Showcase at the same time as submitting seven pieces of work for the upcoming “Out of the Blue” exhibition at Rum’s Eg Gallery.  Fingers crossed that “Carnevale di Venezia” makes it to Jersey before the submission deadline tomorrow.

"knitted picture of a Venetian mask"

hand knitted picture

 

“Kiara” a knitted sketch

Sometimes I have to force myself to persevere with a piece.  It is so easy to stop part way through thinking it isn’t working.  At this stage I behave in one of two ways: either I throw my toys out and rip the work out, or if my voice of reason is around at the time (long suffering husband) I am persuaded to put the work onto a vertical stand and leave it for an evening or more propped up on a chair in the living room where I can glance at it from time to time whilst doing other things.  More often than not when this second situation arises I am drawn back to why I started the piece in the first place and ideas develop as to how to continue.  “Kiara” was such a piece and thankfully I chose the second path and finished it.  This picture is definitely one to view at a distance to get the best effect.

"knitted life sketch"

Hand knitted “sketch”

And the 3 minute warm up sketch that inspired it…..

"3 min life drawing pose"

charcoal on paper

“Frankie in Ink” or maybe “A Rorschach Test”

It’s funny how some pieces of work take much longer to finish (and in the case of this one, start) than others.  When I created this water blasted ink life drawing last Summer I knew that it was going to become a knitted piece but it took a bit of courage and a couple of false starts to actually produce it.  As much of my recent work has been quite stylised and dare I say it “pretty” I kept shying away from this more obscure and almost abstract image, but at the same time I kept being drawn back to it.  So, here it is, a more adventurous picture than the rest in the series but I kinda like it.  Hope it grows on you too.

"knitted life painting by Nicky Barfoot"

Hand knitted “painting” in a merino/alpaca yarn with mohair and embroidery cotton