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.


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.


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

"Something's Fishy repeat pattern"

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

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

Pooch Portrait, hoighty toighty style

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

"mixed media Weimaraner portrait"

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

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

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.


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

Can a Leopard really change his shorts?

OK so my title is a little misleading but you know how much I like my Terry Pratchett quotes and I have spent a weekend working on spots so it seemed an opportunity too good to miss.  My spotty weekend was the result of a commission I received a few weeks back to create a knitted dalmatian doggy head sculpture and here is the result: “Floss”.

"Knitted Dalmatian dog head sculpture"

“Floss” hand knitted dog head sculpture by Nicky Barfoot

It was challenging but also rewarding working from old photos (you remember, the type that needed developing and you didn’t know what they looked like until you got them back from the Chemist) of a beloved but long departed furry family member (she was born in the 1970s).  I also asked her owner to give me an idea of the doggy personality I was working with and was given a wonderfully moving account of a dog who was part angel and part devil (aren’t they all?).  I hope I have captured some of her endearing and fondly remembered characteristics in this 3’d’ portrait.

And while we are on the subject of dear departed furry souls (in a fondly remembered not sad way I hasten to add!), I have also recently finished my second Weimaraner (remember I mentioned in a previous post that there was unfinished business here?).  This is a representation of my old male Weimie, Biffa who was my constant companion for nearly 14 years, the most laid back alpha male you were likely to come across (apart from my husband that is!).

"Weimaraner knitted dog head sculpture"

“Biffa” hand knitted 3 ‘d’ doggy portrait by Nicky Barfoot

As usual with Weimaraners the challenge (and the fun bit) is trying to represent a dog which is described as grey but is actually a mixture of brown, green and purple. While this colouring is perfect camouflage for the New Forest, it isn’t easy to find in a knitting basket!

If you fancy seeing Biffa in the knitted fur so to speak, I will be exhibiting him, along with Pongo and Pickle at the Ally Pally and Harrogate Knit and Stitch shows as I have once again been selected as a finalist in the UKHKA UK Knitted Textiles Awards (Yay!) Do come find me and introduce yourself if you are coming to either show.  I look forward to meeting you.

Weimaraner’s noses are longer than you think!

It took a few weeks for my bloodied fingers to heal after my initial adventures into textile taxidermy with my Jack Russell head.  However, once the skin had calloused over it was time to start again, this time with Sas my Weimaraner, as model.  The first challenge was to source appropriate colours.  She is sort of pinky, greeny, silvery, purpley, grey, a colour not stocked by many yarn and fabric stores.  After some disastrous attempts at beetroot dyeing (the water went a lovely colour and the kitchen got good and steamy but not a lot stayed in the fabrics) I remembered a Rowan Kidsilk Haze sweater that I made a few years back and rarely wear.  While way too fluffy for Weimaraner hair (they are actually quite silky and greasy) it was at least a reasonable colour match so would have to do.

"Lengthening the nose and ears turns a Staffy into a Weimaraner"

Lengthening the nose and ears turns a Staffy into a Weimaraner


Bemused that my first attempts ended up looking like a Staffy I took a tape measure to a wriggling model to find out that Weimaraner noses are much longer than I thought.  Luckily I have no shortage of felted knitwear and was able to create a nose extension and Sas began to appear before me, particularly after I found a couple of buttons which colour matched the trademark Weimaraner spooky eyes.

"Textile Weimaraner Head by Nicky Barfoot"

Textile Weimaraner Head by Nicky Barfoot

The end result is a pleasing caricature of Sas.  While way too fluffy (but that could also be a statement of her character as she has often been labelled “blonde”), I think I have captured her permanently surprised (the Husband calls it gormless) expression rather well.  However, there is no doubt that this is Sas version 1.  Once I have found a merino/silk blend yarn in the appropriate colour and have worked out how to do the complicated folds and pleats that make up a Weimaraner ear, Sas version 2 will be born.

"Weimaraner and textile scuplture"

The model views the sculpture

The model was a bit non plussed when she saw the finished likeness but she also didn’t think it was a toy.  Hopefully that means I won’t find Sas Version 1 disembowelled on the lounge floor at some later date.


“Simple Pleasures”

Just back from a workshop at Southampton City Art Gallery led by talented artist, Abi Kremer, and inspired by the fabulous Philip Schlee exhibition, “Drawn together, drawn apart”.   Still undecided whether to stitch onto this.  Watch this space……

"Weimaraner wriggling on her back"

Happiness is a wriggling Weimaraner.  Ink, pastel and graphite on Khadi paper.