Stash Busting 1940s style (or the British weather, the folly of a beetroot addiction, caravan claustrophobia and a feminist applause)

In this country one of our favourite pastimes is complaining about the weather, particularly at this time of year. We love a good whinge about what a terrible Summer we had last year, are having this year and will probably have again next year, particularly how it rained EVERY weekend and for MOST of the school holidays. You may be forgiven for thinking that if it is like this every year we as a nation would have resigned ourselves to this fact and would no longer point it out as the opening greeting at every meeting from May until September but I guess in our own strange way (to the much asked polite greeting of “how are you?” how many times do we get a response of “not too bad” or “could be worse“) it is a sign of an enduring if slightly warped optimism.

As a family we gave up going on holiday when I was in my early teens when the challenge of trying to find alternative care for a house full of pets and horses far outweighed the “relaxation” of sitting in a caravan in rainy Devon playing Monopoly. The final straw occurred when Mum in her wisdom and strange addiction decided that what a family of five and a dog in a caravan in Devon could not possibly be without for two weeks was jars of beetroot. On arrival, after a particularly swervy journey avoiding head on collisions on the narrow West country lanes, we opened up the caravan door to find open cupboards and yes, you guessed it, purple everywhere! Dad decided after this incident that he would probably find his precious two weeks off work a year far more relaxing sitting in his armchair at home listening to Jazz. I for one had way too many horse competitions and stuff to do at the stables during the Summer months to miss the tradition of 2am starts to travel across the country with the prospect of enforced time with family members in an enclosed space with no bolt hole or bicycle for escape, and secretly applauded his decision.

Personally I love the British weather. Cited by many of my friends and clients as a potential reason to flee these green shores, I look forward to the changing seasons and the energy associated with the unpredictability of what we might awake to each morning.  I enjoy the full spectrum of possibilities from snow through to heat wave but with none of them out staying their welcome or being too extreme (usually!). Whenever I have flown to hotter climates I am always struck by how dry, dusty and brown everything appears and can’t wait for the lushness of the British countryside underneath the plane as I arrive home. I guess always having had animals to look after and exercise, one becomes somewhat immune to rain and cold as outdoor jobs still have to be done and as the famous saying goes, there is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothing (who did say that anyway?).

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the sky may be grey but the garden is lovely and green (except for the piddle patches!)

Anyhoo, neutral introductory ramblings over, let’s get back (briefly) to the political situation in good old GB which continues to fuel the headlines. So, we now have a new Prime Minister and while in my opinion she was probably the best choice out of the prospective candidates, the Brexit farce has somewhat dampened down what a significant time for women in politics this currently is. Theresa May is only the second female to take on the role in British history and one of her first trips as new PM was to visit Scotland’s female First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon in an attempt to avoid us becoming the DUK that I spoke of in my previous post.  This, along with the prospect (everyone please cross your fingers for this one because the alternative is just too awful to consider) of Hillary Clinton becoming the first female President of the US, and Angela Merkel already firmly ensconced as the first female Chancellor in Germany makes this an unprecedented time for woman in prominent positions of power in political history.  With particularly challenging times ahead I don’t envy them but politics aside, as an inspiration to the homogametic sex I applaud them and wish them good luck and judgement in their roles.

If you are still with me (I thank you for that!), this is where the relevance of the past four paragraphs will hopefully now become apparent in the context of creating.  Regarding the weather: I have no sweaters of a suitable weight and sleeve length to cope with chilly British Summer evenings (yes, really!).  Regarding all the political stuff: I needed a calming creative pursuit to lose myself in over the past month or so while escaping into the imaginary world of audiobooks. As far as the beetroot is concerned, that was just a childhood memory that surfaces from time to time at family functions and still causes much amusement.

I have a strange shape for knitwear, having a square body with broad shoulders, minimal bust and a high almost non existent waist (when I was in my early twenties I remember a Summer of baring midriffs completely passing me by despite having a rather splendid belly button ring at the time which I was desperate to show off as non of the T shirts or tops on sale in the shops were short enough to expose any of my flesh!).  I dread fashion returning to high waisted trousers which might as well be over the shoulder dungarees as far as I’m concerned.  Over the years I have learned that while I may lust after flowing or chunky knits, the only way to avoid the “Yikes, what was I thinking?” moment when first trying on the masterpiece that took 100 hours to knit, cost £100 in yarn, and made me look like I was wearing my Dad’s old gardening sweater, is to stick to 4ply and keep it small, fitted and neat. Hence you will not be surprised to hear that my favourite knitwear era is the 1940s which was by necessity a time of stash busting and colour work with unpicking and reworking and slim, neat silhouettes. I am a collector of 1940s patterns and while perusing my library I came across this in “Knitting Illustrated” by Margaret Murray and Jane Koster published in 1948.

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from Knitting Illustrated by Margaret Murray and Jane Koster (Odhams Ltd, 1948)

After taking a quick stash inventory it occurred to me that I had enough Hobbycraft Women’s Institute Shetland 4ply (made in the UK by JC Rennie and Co Ltd and now sadly discontinued) to recreate this rather striking design so after a couple of false starts while I worked out that I needed a purple to complement the blues and green (luckily I had some Rowan Felted Tweed DK which worked well for this) and a provisional cast on so I didn’t have to decide on welt stitch or overall length until the end, this is how it came out.

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Fair Isle sweater in Shetland 4ply and Rowan Felted Tweed DK

And of course, since I finished it on Friday night, we have had a mini heat wave in the South of England with temperatures soaring (comparatively) to 25 degrees or more. You are welcome!

So, folks (Mum), thanks again for reading my ramblings. I am now without any knitting to do and feeling distinctly twitchy so I feel this afternoon I may be returning to my stash to see what else I can conjure up.  This little beauty also arrived in the post yesterday so I think a cup of coffee, a little sit down and a bit of a riffle is next on the to do list. Until next time…..

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New book!

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

 

 

 

Canine Partners Textile Art Challenge

At the back end of last year I found out about a textile challenge that was being put together to raise funds for Canine Partners, a charity which trains and provides (free of charge) assistance dogs to people living with disabilities in the UK.  These amazing dogs help their human partner with everyday tasks such as opening and closing doors, taking the washing out of the machine, picking things up from the floor, pressing switches and fetching help when needed.

Dogs and textiles for a good cause, well it would have been rude not to don’t you think? So the challenge is to buy a pack of 25 fabric squares from the Textile Challenge facebook page and create a piece of textile art or an object using at least part of every piece.

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My original pack of fabrics. 

Sounded easy until I had a good look at the fabrics supplied and realised just what a variety of weights, colours, materials and patterns there were (I should have realised by the word “challenge” in the title, huh?). So two days of standing at the ironing board rearranging, I came up with this.

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Trying to respond to the fabrics and coming up with this, mmm………

As you can see a few of the squares had foliage of some sort as a pattern so I thought I should use these in the final design and had some kind of stitchy flowering thing in mind. And then purely by chance I read an interview with the fabulous Grayson Perry who urged me to respect my muses and my techniques (my interpretation of his advice, not his words as such) and “what were you thinking?” came to mind. At the same time I decided that I couldn’t cope with all of those colours, textures and patterns (way too busy for me) and a bit of unifying was required so the paints came out.

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Now I’m getting excited but let’s move those leaves

So the leaves were replaced with, yes you guessed it, a dog! A free machine embroidered sketch of my usual Weimie muse followed by more paint and a few words hand embroidered on the top and this is the final piece.

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“Clown’s Crown” machine and hand embroidery on painted fabrics

All of the entries to the challenge will be exhibited at the Angel Inn in Midhurst (South Downs National Park) from 18 February for four days. The work will be for sale to raise further funds for the charity. Do check out the Textile Challenge facebook page to see what other people are making and there is still a bit of time left if you fancy having some textile fun yourself for a good cause.

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.

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….

Painting with Charcoal

After another challenging session at the Real Art Academy today, I think I might have reached a new stage in my resolution to get to grips with the craft of drawing.  Our ever  patient tutor, Martin, refers to charcoal as a painting medium and I think I might finally understand what he means.  The last two sessions I have had there I have been trying to break the habit of a lifetime making a conscious effort not to draw any lines and throwing myself straight into the shadow shapes once I have the proportion points on board.

"Charcoal drawing of hooded female cast"

Charcoal drawing of hooded female cast

This was the drawing from my March session, unfinished despite allowing myself three hours on it.

"charcoal drawing of a female cast"

Charcoal drawing of a female cast

And this is today’s drawing, and yes unusually for me it is pretty much finished (although I did have a whole morning and three warm ups practising it!).  Hoping this aha moment is a turning point in my drawing journey.  I guess we’ll see in a couple of weeks……

Becoming a Loose(r) Woman

A fabulous long weekend spent at West Dean College on Dynamic Life Drawing with the wonderfully energetic Christopher Gilvan-Cartwright.  My aim was to re-ignite my love of Life Drawing, having become increasingly frustrated with this discipline in recent months.  Previous tutors have told me that I  need to “loosen up” so having read the wacky agenda for this course, I was hoping it would be the answer to making me a Loose(r) Woman!  I wasn’t disappointed.

The first evening was spent in the dark, drawing the delightful Frankie who was painted in neon paint and under a UV light.  Sadly, without a UV light, the output is not nearly as exciting but I still liked the use of pattern to create the illusion of a human body.

"neon pattern on life model"

Drawn in the dark. The picture really comes to life under UV.

 

After a morning of warming up with various exercises (continuous line, non dominant hand) and short poses, the second day was taken with a Frida Kahlo scene.  Funny how drawing fabric seems so much harder than the unclothed human body.  We used some pre-made backgrounds for these drawings.

"charcoal drawing of a seated, clothed female"

Frida Kahlo scene

 

Day three got messy with wet on wet techniques, painting ink over acrylic then blasting it off with a water sprayer, and using a long bamboo stick and ink to draw on the floor (while hoping not to draw on the ceiling) at a distance.  I really like the potential of the acrylic and ink layering technique but sadly without a large sink unit and a studio, practically I can’t see this happening in my dining room.

"layered acrylic and ink painting"

Messy but effective partial removal of ink from acrylic using water spray

The final day was using collage to depict a clothed scene.  Funnily enough despite my usual love of collage, this was probably my least successful day.  However, as is usually the case, I’ll put the work away and then will probably be more excited by it when I revisit in a few weeks time.

"seated figure in collage and drawing"

Paper collage (what to do with the drawings that don’t work!) and pastel pencil drawing

I now have a huge A1 folder full of stuff to inspire some follow on work and while “the leopard can’t change his shorts” (yes, I am a massive Terry Pratchett fan), I am definitely feeling much looser than I was last weekend 😉

 

 

New Ideas for Sketchbooks at West Dean College

Wow, I have just finished a full week of fabulous food, wonderful surroundings and excellent teaching at West Dean College.  The super talented Maxine Relton had the task of taking seven students on a voyage of sketchbook discovery through a mix of theory and themed exercises.  I have got to admit that I was a little daunted on arrival as Maxine had generously set out about ten of her own beautiful sketchbooks for us to peruse at our leisure.  Each one was worthy of sale, featuring brightly coloured watercolours depicting her foreign travels (mostly India), along with thought provoking text.  However, once we got started, there was so much to inspire and explore that I soon forgot my apprehension, and spent an amazing week with some great people, and have brought back the beginnings of several bodies of work.  If only there were more hours in the day………

One of my favourite exercises of the week was taking two contrasting words, in my case geometric and organic, and creating three separate sketches from our immediate surroundings, onto acetate.  These were overlaid to create a new abstract design which was then used to experiment first with tone, and then a colour scheme.

"abstract line drawing"

pen on paper

 

"tonal abstract picture in black, mid grey and white"

pen and ink on paper

 

"abstract in an analogous colour scheme"

gouache on paper

This proved to be a great way of creating an abstract design for me, and I am looking forward to experimenting further…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Portraiture at West Dean College

I am exhausted, enthused and inspired in equal measures following a great course at West Dean college this weekend.  I was really impressed with how our tutor, Andrew Fitchett, managed to cope with a class of 12 people, all with different experiences and objectives, ensuring that each of us got the maximum amount of help and direction.   On Andrew’s suggestion I used charcoal for the first day experimenting with different ways of creating form through tone.  My favourite was this drawing which attempted to divide the subject into dark and light.

"charcoal portrait"

charcoal on paper

On the second day I was persuaded to move into colour and after a quick practice run before coffee break, this was my first proper attempt at a pastel drawing.  It took about 90mins and I think I am encouraged enough by the end result to use colour again!

"pastel portrait"

pastels on paper