Weaving around the EU referendum

Here in the UK we had a little vote the other Thursday. On 23rd June we went to bed as part of the EU and on 24th June we awoke in the middle of a Terry Pratchett novel (don’t panic folks, this isn’t really a political post, I’m just putting the arty stuff into context with a little background reading for those who may have missed the joke due to holidays or non European domicile). So, in a nutshell, a media magnate (think Reacher Gilt in Going Postal) got together with a couple of posh boys (I’d like to reference Bloody Stupid Johnson here but we are probably talking Assassins Guild drop outs) and as a laugh sold the country a few whopping porkies about: money and public services (“I would never have made that claim, it was one of the mistakes the Leave camp made”, said Farage regarding that naughty bus advert and leaflet headline); immigration (too many dwarves and trolls here already and what about when the goblins start arriving?); and democracy (apparently we needed to get our country back even though some of us were blissfully unaware that we had misplaced it. Can’t have people who put “avec” in their cooking having a say in what goes on in our country, particularly if we haven’t voted for them to do it).

Mix that together with some disgruntled lefties unhappy with the current leadership and direction of the opposition party (likened by Labour supporter and comedian Bill Bailey to the experimental album of a long established rock band), the impact of years of austerity under the current government, all combined with the leave campaign’s advice to dismiss the claims of the Wizards at Unseen University (as apparently we have had enough of experts), and you get 52% to 48% voting to go it alone to “make Britain great again” (although to be fair, as nearly half of the voters thought GB was pretty awesome a month ago some of us probably need a bit more information regarding the context of the word “great” and a historical reference point to clarify the word “again” so that we can properly get behind this sentiment).

So, what are we left with 11 days later? The resignation of the PM, a rudderless ship and a leadership battle (“Every organisation needs at least one person who knows what’s going on, and why it’s happening and who’s doing it”, Terry Pratchett, Going Postal), Boris and Nigel temporarily leaving the spot light perhaps to “find themselves” and prepare for the next reality TV show, an imploding opposition party, a significant handful of leave voters asking if we can do it again as they didn’t think their protest vote would actually count (X Factor has a lot to answer for), a strong taste of “Oops this wasn’t supposed to happen”, a small but nasty dose of xenophobia (it transpires that a small but sadly active number of people were under the impression that they were voting for immigrants to leave the UK not for the UK to leave the EU. Oh the power of words!), the potential dismantling of the UK (will we be calling it the Disunited Kingdom or DUK when Scotland and Northern Ireland attempt to retain their EU status?) and as part of this last point lots of English people frantically searching their family history for an Irish granny.  But perhaps most scary of all, it transpires that there was no cunning plan (and even Baldrick had one of those although according to Blackadder,”Give the likes of Baldrick the vote and we’ll be back to cavorting druids, death by stoning and dung for dinner…”).

But, in the spirit of balance I must warn you that these observations are coming from a Remainer (I bet you couldn’t have guessed) and someone who spent a large proportion of a previous career in a strategic, organisational and contingency planning role for a large company. Perhaps running a country has nothing in common with running a business? The Leavers are more optimistic, telling us “whingers” to stop scaremongering, suck it up buttercup, and pull together. Once they come up with a direction, I for one am prepared to listen as procrastination is never a good look. After all, in those wise words of Turner and Kane in their fabulous tune “Aviation”, “it’s the way you wing it, while you’re figuring it out”. While we may have lost the future genius of the likes of Leonard of Quirm, be assured that there are plenty of Cut-Me-Own Throat Dibblers out there already planning “the range of pewter figurines and exciting T-shirts” to turn this potential calamity into a business opportunity (I’ve seen their posts on Facebook).  But it’s not over until it’s over, as they say, and the fat lady hasn’t even got her make up on yet let alone warmed up her voice for this performance.

Of course none of this would have actually happened in Ankh Morpork which “had dallied with many forms of government and had ended up with that form of democracy known as One Man, One Vote. The Patrician was the Man; he had the Vote”. It is such as shame that Mr Pratchett is no longer with us as he would have written a corker about all this.

So, enough of politics. During all of this malarky I ran away to West Dean College where I could hide from TV, social media and newspapers and immerse myself in the wonderfully repetitive and calming world of tapestry weaving (while trying very hard not to mention the P word at break times or in the bar after hours).  As my regular readers (Mum) will know, I have recently been entertaining myself with producing wonky portraits of friends, family and our beloved pets so when I saw that lovely teacher and talented tapestry artist Pat Taylor was doing a course on weaving tapestry Coptic style I knew it was destiny and I booked the last place.


Wonky weave of a wonky self portrait (pulling a face in a mirror)

What characterises coptic tapestry for me is it’s decorative element (it was originally small scale weaving used to adorn clothing), often depicting non symmetrical faces, certain animals like deer and hare, and repeating motifs. So, right up my street then!  The techniques used give a wonderful sense of drawing with the weft and for me presented common sense applications of the weaving principle and problem solving without the self imposed constraints of “doing it the right way”.


Coptic Marc, produced during the workshop

While it was somewhat frustrating at times, I particularly liked the challenge of the coarse setting we used (the weaves shown are approximately 15cm “square” and set at 3 e.p.c).  It adds a certain charm and another dimension to the original drawings and I have plans to continue the series in this scale.

Before I sign off I must also show you one of Pat’s wonderful weaves. Although these are not coptic inspired, they show her incredible skill at depicting portraits in a simplified but incredibly effective way. From memory, this piece of work was approximately 35cm square and worked on a much finer setting than we were using.  Just lovely! More of her work can be seen on her website.


One of Pat Taylor’s woven portraits

So, for now it’s a bit of a breather while I decide on the next wonky weave subject. I also have a fairisle sweater on the needles at the moment (a bit of comfort knitting during these stressful times) in need of sleeves. Until next time……….


Life in Layers

Firstly apologies for the prolonged silence here this month. Lots going on in the background both in life generally and on the art making front resulting in time running away with me somewhat and before I knew it July was looming and no posts had materialised. Anyway, to make up for it here are three pictures of a new series I have been working on inspired by the techniques and generous teachings of talented artist Emily Jo Gibbs at a recent West Dean College short course.

"hand stitched life drawing on silk organza"

“Catherine” layered silk organza and hand stitch

"hand stitched life drawing on layered silk organza"

“Georgie (2)” layered silk organza and hand stitch

"hand stitched life drawing on layered silk organza"

“Chris” hand stitch on layered silk organza

I will be dropping Georgie off at Eastleigh College later this week where she will be on display at the end of year show as work of past graduates.  Inviting back past students is a new thing for this annual event and I am really looking forward to seeing how the work of the three years worth of Stitched Textile Degree graduates has progressed since their degree shows.  Do have a look if you are in the area.


Eastleigh College end of year show

So, lots of stuff going on here, mainly involving stitched life drawings of which I have more planned (there is a bit of a stick and prop theme coming through!). But for now it is back to the knitting needles and a commissioned fairisle sweater (“sweat” being the operative word in this summer weather).  Back soon……….

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 ……..

Warp Speed Ahead!

I couldn’t believe my luck when I noticed early this year that a Tapestry Weaving course with the lovely Caron Penney had been scheduled at West Dean College for my birthday week.  Well, it would have been rude not to so off I trundled armed with tapestry frames and images from recent life drawing sessions hoping to use Caron’s expertise to find a satisfactory way of interpreting the latter into the former in a way that made good use of the uniqueness and sensitivity that this particular medium has to offer.

"charcoal gesture drawing"

Charcoal gesture drawing

This warm up gesture drawing has been haunting me for a few weeks now but I hadn’t quite worked out what I was going to do with it.  I had considered knitting it but would have had to change the character of the image away from line to form.  Embroidery would have worked well but that would probably have been too close to the actual drawing so what would be the point? So weaving it had to be, but due to the enormity of the scale required to achieve the sensitivity of the line in a woven form for the whole image Caron suggested that I used a view finder over sections to see if anything took my fancy.  The result: a whole new body (no pun intended) of work is now planned!

"woven tapestry"

Woven tapestry

I managed to finish this first piece during the workshop and was pleased with how it came out. However, I think I will probably do another version, perhaps with a bit more blending to soften the lines a little. I also have some appropriately coloured mohair in my stash somewhere which might prove useful (but don’t tell Caron as I am sure this is probably cheating!). Frustratingly though, after warping up and starting the next image in the series, I have had to put the weaving on the back burner while I attend to more immediate commission and exhibition entry deadlines (oh and the small matter of the day job) but I am itching to get back to it. If only there were more hours in the day!

"Charcoal drawing enlarged on a photocopier"

Charcoal drawing enlarged on a photocopier

An unexpected positive to come out of this workshop for me was a realisation of the design potential of the good old fashioned photocopier. Not having used one of these beasts for more than 15 years and having only bad memories of paper tray jams and toner issues I think I might now be a regular at the local Rymans after discovering how wonderful charcoal lines on sugar paper look blown up. I am starting a coin collection as we speak for that very purpose.

Printmakers Exhibition, Oxmarket Gallery, Chichester

Print Exhib Flyer 2015

If you are in the Chichester area in early March do drop by the Oxmarket Gallery and have a look at this exhibition organised by talented printmaker and teacher, Will Dyke.  Last year’s exhibition was a great success and 2015 promises to be even better.  I have a couple of large, framed monoprints on display and five unframed prints in the browsers. The Private View is 6-8pm on 3 March and is sponsored by West Dean College. Do come if you can as all are invited and the more the merrier!

Fantastical Mixed Media Sculpture

My brain is buzzing with potential narratives after spending a fantastical weekend at West Dean College on a mixed media sculpture course with Samantha Bryan, she of fairy and fairy dust spreading contraptions fame. As you know I am getting more and more interested in 3’d’ work and being a big fan of Samantha’s art (and her imagination) I hoped that this course would provide me with a few additional methods of combining soft sculpture with other harder media. It certainly did and while a few of my colleagues followed the literal fairy route, most of us came up with some pretty diverse sculptures (and related narratives) ranging from a dog, to an elderly trapeze artist, to a Tomte (yep I didn’t know what that was either but am planning to do a Christmassy post on this soon so watch this space).

We started off with an evening making heads out of air dry clay, a media that I haven’t really used before. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds, particularly getting a smooth finish with a clay that is rapidly drying in your hands, but it did give us a great opportunity to play with beads and other found objects we had lying around, as well as creating simple expressions. So by the second day I had a library of heads to work with Worzel Gummidge style and could start sketching possible bodies to match.

"clay head sculptures"

Fantastical clay heads

Next came a simple wire “stick man” and the process of creating a stuffed body and suitable feet and hands. Pierre (an alien amphibian) evolved from the bean head, a happy accident as originally the beans were applied to the clay as ears but came out more like eyes! Webbed feet and hands ensued.

"mixed media sculpture"

“Pierre” mixed media sculpture

The other sculpture I nearly completed was also an alien (I do seem to have a Sci Fi obsession at the moment but then you know my thoughts regarding the origins of fairy stories so I guess it was inevitable on this course). This chap took a bit of effort building up his muscular legs using wrapped strips of newspaper but I kinda like him. Excuse the base. I forgot to take something suitable with me and had to use one of my bead containers. On the plus side I now have two holes in the top of a bead container, which renders it pretty useless for its purpose so I now have an excuse to consume another box of Hotel Chocolat champagne truffles. He needs a bit of finishing and a suitable stand so don’t look too carefully. He also needs a name as I haven’t come up with anything suitable just yet (suggestions welcomed!).

"mixed media sculpture"

Beaded Alien Man who needs a name sculpture

This is such a fun process I am already thinking about what to do next (and yes you guessed it, probably incorporating knitted fabric!). So, I am off now for a Sunday evening laze in the bath to dream up more alien characters. Until next time…..

“Upside Down and Back to Front” with Matthew Harris

Isn’t it wonderful when you look forward to something for ages and it turns out even better than expected?  That just about sums up the past few days spent at West Dean College with ten lovely stitchers and the super talented and charming Matthew Harris as tutor. Matthew has been a sell out at West Dean for every course he has done there so far, and with good reason.

In the brief we were advised to bring some images to work from, preferably abstract, but as you have probably gathered by now I don’t really do abstract being more inclined to figurative so I arrived armed with five monoprints from a recent life session.  I was hoping that with Matthew’s expert guidance I would learn a way of working which would enable me to move away from the literal and create an in between step when translating my drawings into textile work.  That was exactly what happened!  I think it is a sign of a good tutor when every person in the room takes on board a new working process but comes up with their own unique visual language and identity, and using Matthew’s tutorial style of teaching that is certainly what happened for us.

I came away with a number of images which I see as resolved pieces in themselves but which I am also itching to translate into textiles.  After a brief dabble with embroidery this morning, I am now thinking woven tapestry.  Hoping to keep the enthusiasm for this on the back burner over the next few weeks while I get on with a couple of commissions. These are probably my favourite images from the weekend (at the moment anyway, but this could change once I have put them away for a few weeks).  Watch this space for further development…..

"ink and graphite drawing on Khadi Paper"

Ink and graphite on Kahdi Paper, drawing by Nicky Barfoot 2014

"ink and graphite drawing on Khadi paper"

Ink and graphite on Khadi Paper, drawing by Nicky Barfoot 2014

Doggy Doodles 1: Gaspode and Fifi

Last weekend marked my 10th and final short course in the Foundation Diploma in Art and Design at West Dean College.  My original reason for embarking on the FDAD journey was to further my skills in the Fine Art disciplines, primarily drawing and printmaking, with the aim of using these to inform my textile work.  For the final three courses however I decided that I would give in to my true nature, choosing them from the mouthwatering textile section of the short course brochure with the final one being a hand embroidery course with RSN tutor Shelley Cox.

The structure of the course was tutorial based.  Everyone was encouraged to bring their own project with the aim of using Shelley’s vast expertise to further our progress and stitching skills. I had decided that this weekend would be the ultimate in indulgence.  Not only would I use a felt pen doodle of dogs as my inspiration, momentarily leaving aside the serious “artiness” of Life Drawing, I was also going to throw myself into colour.  The result of these three wonderfully meditative days is “Gaspode and Fifi” the first of a series of embroidered Doggy Doodles.  I smiled all the way through stitching these guys and I loved the way that they induced a similar reaction from everyone who walked past during their construction.

"hand embroidered doggy doodle"

Gaspode and Fifi, hand embroidered doodle on calico

I kept as true to the original drawing as I could finding that embroidery stitches translated very well into doodle patterns.  I love the way this turned out and can’t wait to get on with Doggy Doodle 2: Boris, which is currently on the hoop impatiently waiting his turn on my to do list.


Sheds, beads, cartoons and a bit of bashing it down

I had a tutorial at West Dean College the other weekend with talented print maker Jane Stobart (one of our two wonderfully knowledgeable and generous tutors, the other being Frances Hatch whose job it was to steer me in a sensible direction at the beginning of the FDAD).  The end of my Foundation Diploma in Art and Design is fast approaching, and during this final tutorial we discussed how my work has been evolving and sensible ways to move it on.  It was agreed that following on from my knitted “paintings”, and with my obvious yarn obsession, tapestry weaving might be a medium that I should explore.

I had taken an introduction course in Tapestry Weaving a number of years back and remembered it as being rather complicated.  However, I was keen to give it another go (not least as West Dean is widely seen as a worldwide centre of excellence, think Tracey Emin, Stirling Tapestries etc, so it would have been rude not to) and after chopping the dusty remnants of my previous attempts off my frame and locating my bobbin, I headed off down the M27 in anticipation of another wonderful weekend of total immersion in the creative arts (and real puddings!).

"tapestry weaving sample"

Weaving diagonals and a circle

We were lucky to have Philip Sanderson, Creative Director of the tapestry studio, as our tutor for the weekend who’s combination of relaxed teaching and obvious enthusiasm and knowledge of the subject suited my learning style perfectly and by the end of the first full day of working out whether my shed was open or closed (!) I had dabbled with diagonals and created an almost circle (with far less pain than last time around!)

"tapestry weaving sample"

Tapestry Weaving sample, half passes

On the second day I tried out a simple cartoon.  You might be forgiven if you are trying to find Bugs Bunny in the above sample, but a cartoon in tapestry weaving nomenclature is a drawn or traced map of a design which you hang behind the warps as a guide.  I then re-tried the circle just to prove that my first attempts were not a fluke, adding in a blending effect called half passes (nothing to do with horses Mum!).

Tapestry weaving has so much in common with hand knitting i.e. a mediative, slow, binary method of textile construction, that I wasn’t surprised that I am now well and truly addicted.  However, Philip did make a point of telling us that no stitches are involved (not sure if you can use the term row or not).  I can’t wait to get the current WIP finished so I can warp up and full speed ahead (Captain) with all the ideas that I now have buzzing around my head.  Look I already have the yarn ready and waiting…….


Doggy Textile Taxidermy

Just back from the most fantastic workshop at West Dean.  Dogs and textiles, what more could I want?  OK so the dogs were photos brought along as reference material rather than the real thing but four days spent in the company of seven crazy dog ladies and the lovely and talented Donya Coward as our incredibly hard working tutor, was my idea of Arty Heaven.

The brief was to make a terrier head and as luck would have it I share a house (and often a bed!) with a smooth haired JRT so I had the perfect model on which to base it.  This was not a quick process and some of us were working up to 12 hours a day to get the job done.  However, after months of excited anticipation that I may have found the ideal way in to 3D work to suit both my skills and interests I was not disappointed.

"textile taxidermy first stages"

Day 1: A Gremlin

"Jack Russell Terrier textile taxidermy head"

Day 4: A JRT

She came out a little butcher than I had originally anticipated due to my use of bulky fabrics (recycled felted knitwear) but I am still really pleased with the end result.

"textile taxidermy JRT and her inspiration"

Nelly and her Alter Ego

I can barely wait for my bloodied fingers to heal before I start my next one!