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!).

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

 

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

 

 

 

“Aww, Go On!”

People often comment on how slow January can be but quite frankly I blinked and missed it this year! So here’s a little catch up on arty things a foot in my life at the moment. Remember my last post about the Textile Challenge for Canine Partners? Well, not content with creating one piece for this worthy cause I was compelled to do another. This time I left the paints in their pots and worked solely with the fabrics provided in all their mismatched pattern and colour glory, and used hand stitch as my method of unifying them. The result is a reproduction of an expression I see up close (Weimaraners are renowned for their inability to recognise the concept of personal space) countless times a day and the title was a toss up between “And me!” and “Aww, Go On!”, both of which would represent the sentiment behind this face equally well.

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“Aww, Go On!” by Nicky Barfoot.

The result is possibly my favourite piece of textile work to date and I felt a little reluctant to hand it over this morning when I dropped it and “Clown’s Crown” off to the lovely lady who has organised the challenge.

Both of these pieces will be for sale at the exhibition of work created for the Textile Challenge running from 18th to 21st February. Already it has raised enough money to buy a puppy and hopefully with sale proceeds from the exhibition more canine partners can be purchased and trained to provide independence and companionship to people living with disabilities.

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Textile Challenge Exhibition

So, one exhibition deadline met and two more to plan for in February, whilst also participating on a fantastic drawing course that I have started with Este Macleod called Creative Leap where we are being set a challenge for each day of February linked to the letters of the alphabet. No doubt I shall be showing you some outputs from that over the next few weeks or so. But for now I need to get back to making a fishy collage. Until next time folks ……..

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.

Renewing my Lust for Life

The last few months of 2014 got a little crazy what with the Knit and Stitch Shows and Christmas doggy head commissions and as a result the drawing side of my art practice took a back seat. So, New Year = Renewed Commitment and following an internet search to check what the local colleges were offering, I found a space in a weekly class at Peter Symonds in nearby Winchester. Just two sessions later I am already reaping the benefits of a structured class format, an excellent teacher (Michelle Buhl-Nielsen) and a welcoming and supportive group. The result: my love of Life Drawing has been well and truly re-ignited.

Each week, rather than trying to create the perfect drawing, we have been concentrating on one aspect at a time. This approach I have found to be both liberating and great fun and at last I have found a suitable and satisfying approach to tackling those frustrating 5 and 10 sec warm up poses which tend to be the start of every session.

Week one was all about gesture and here are a couple of my favourites from this session.

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10 second gesture drawings (six superimposed)

I love how gesture drawings can be so full of energy (possibly because the model is able to hold more dynamic poses for this short period of time?).

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Gesture drawing (15mins)

This seated pose was an example of how a slightly longer gesture drawing could be pretty accurate from a proportions point of view despite no measuring being involved. The tutor handed out rectangular grids at the end of the session for us to check this and I was pleasantly surprised at the result.

So on to week two and “mass”. The brief was to create form rather like we would a sculpture, working from the inside out, keeping it solid, no lines allowed and ignoring light and shadow. Having spent much of last year working in 3’d’ and having recently visited and been inspired by a Henry Moore print exhibition at the Winchester Discovery Centre, I found this technique particularly satisfying and loved the outputs.

"creating solid mass in drawing"

Creating solid mass using a back and forth technique

"creating mass by lifting charcoal in a drawing"

Creating “mass” by lifting away charcoal

This is definitely right up my street and I am already excited about experimenting more with this approach.

Next week is about contour and I’ll let you know how it goes. In the meantime here are my attempts at putting a few of these techniques together in an untutored session last weekend at the Art House in Southampton. It’s early days yet but I am already feeling a new (playful) Me coming out of these pictures and I kinda like her 🙂

"10 min warm up drawings of a clothed model"

10 min warm up poses, clothed model

"reclining clothed female figure drawing"

30 min pose, pencil on paper

"pencil drawing of seated female"

30 minute seated pose, pencil on paper

Sticky Fingers

Somedays I just find drawing harder than others. I don’t know whether it’s because I’m tired, bored or just hard to please but I know I’m not the only person who suffers from these “Creative Off Days”. Today’s Life Drawing session at the Southampton City Art Gallery was just such a day with most of my output from the morning ending up in the recycling bin. I almost gave up and flounced out at lunchtime but the sensible part of my brain urged me to make the most of having a lovely life model in front of me and after a superb veggie lunch at the fabulous Art House I got out the scissors and Pritt Stick and decided to seek solace in collage. A couple of therapeutic hours later time was called and while this depiction of the beautiful Jilly is nowhere near finished, I kinda like it!

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“Jilly”: paper collage

Mab, Faery or Alien?

Over the past year I have been obsessively making (quite literally!) my way through the fabulous and witty Dresden Files series by Jim Butcher on audiobook (what a discovery Audible was, a way of “reading” a book and knitting, all at the same time!).  I recently finished number 15, narrated by the silky smooth James Marsters, (he of Spike fame for those Buffy and Angel fans amongst you) and am hoping Mr Butcher gets a move on with the next instalment as Harry Blackstone Copperfield Dresden, Chicago’s only wizard still has plenty of evil supernatural beings to battle in his efforts to save Chicago and the human race.  Long time readers of my blog may also remember that I am a huge Terry Pratchett fan, another talented author who’s stories use an entertaining collage of myth, faery tale and science fiction, to make a light hearted observation of current affairs.

I thought this was an Arty Blog I hear you say, not a book review!  Fear not, there is an art connection so please indulge me a little further.  Whilst in Butcher’s series, Mab the queen of the faeries is a traditionally beautiful and sadistic human-like being with super powers who regularly visits Earth to manipulate Harry into fighting her cause, Pratchett’s new Long Earth Series written in collaboration with Stephen Baxter, explains the myth of supernatural beings as dimension travelling humanoids who step between parallel worlds.  I particularly like this idea of aliens and faeries possibly being one and the same thing and from this my latest textile piece, “Mab” was born, inspired by one of the mono prints from the recent Life printing day.

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“Mab” by Nicky Barfoot. Woven tapestry, wool and metallic polyester thread mounted on linen.

Bev (Seated)

At last, with urgent commissions out of the way and exhibition entry deadlines met, I have been able to indulge this week in a bit of decadent stitchery translating one of my favourite monoprints from the recent life workshop (see post “Inky Fingers”) into stitch.  The result is “Bev (Seated)”.  Hope you like.

"embroidered life drawing"

“Bev (Seated)”. Cotton threads and silk mohair yarn on printed cotton

Inky Fingers

Life drawing and monoprinting, what better way to spend a Saturday? I’ve just got back from an inspirational workshop at the Art Shack (a wonderfully Bohemian venue complete with chickens and a gorgeous Black Labrador) in Bishop’s Waltham taught by Hampshire based artist, printmaker and tutor Jo Morley and modelled by the lovely Bev.

Our inky adventures began with linear drawing, using a range of different implements to create interesting marks including biros, pieces of wood, rubbers and things that one might find useful during a pedicure.  I particularly liked this “blind” drawing I did with an old biro at the start of the session as while it doesn’t look anything like Bev it is kinda fun and makes me smile.

"linear life drawing"

Linear drawing

After an hour or so of experimenting with line we moved on to Reductive monoprinting and it really was a race against the clock to get an image onto the print plate before the ink dried.

"reductive monoprint of seated female"

Reductive monoprint

 

We tried out a range of tools but I found cotton buds, a finger covered in a baby wipe and credit cards the most successful tools for removing the ink.

After spending a couple of hours in black and white it was time to get colourful and we moved on to Additive monoprinting and were given three colours to experiment with.  I particularly liked the painterly effects produced using this method and found myself instinctively incorporating the reductive technique with it.

"Seated female using combined additive and reductive monoprint techniques"

Additive and reductive monoprint techniques combined for a seated pose

The rest of the day was spent happily covered in ink as we experimented with these techniques trying to keep up with Bev and her wide range of dynamic poses.  I love the way that the quick and prolific nature of this type of printmaking encouraged us to move out of our comfort zones and experiment widely with mark making.  It quickly became obvious why many artists including Edgar Degas, Tracey Emin and Paul Klee use monoprinting in their work.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself and came away with a blister from frantic rollering, black fingernails that are going to take hours of scrubbing to get clean and about 30 images which are all begging to inspire follow on work.  At the moment I can’t come up with a favourite from the day but after spending a few hours last weekend with the charismatic and talented James Hunting at West Dean College, this linear print is currently shouting at me to be stitched in some way.

"linear monoprint seated female"

Linear monoprint, seated pose

Now where did I put that nail brush?………