Tuesday, 18 February 2014

What Do Artists Do All Day? - Little Cakes and Pastels

Well that's a very good question which I am frequently asked.  If you have been watching the fascinating occasional series What Do Artists Do All Day? on BBC Four you will probably have some idea by now.  Some of the artists featured in this brilliant (almost fly on the wall) series so far, where they are filmed during a typical day's work have been Cornelia ParkerPolly Morgan, Jack Vettriano and Norman Ackroyd.  I finally got round to watching the Norman Ackroyd episode last night after having recorded it months ago and on a typical day we see him enter his studio around 6.30 where he brews up a large pot of coffee. He lives 'over the shop' in his London studio so he only has to go downstairs where he works all morning on a landscape etching then breaks for lunch and has a mosey on over to Jose's, a sherry and tapas bar very conveniently situated opposite his Bermondsey studio where he is served a delicious looking plate of Iberico ham. He tells us he would normally also have a glass of wine but he doesn't want to risk being drunk in charge of his printing press in the afternoon. He returns to his studio for more etching, engraving and printing, more coffee and finally a very satisfactory first run print of Stac an Armin, in the St Kilda archipeligo in Scotland. 

Well that sounds like an excellent and very civilised way for an artist to spend a day.  So as an artist what do I do all day?  Well I certainly don't spend all day 'doing art' that's for sure.  I do live 'over the shop' so to speak as my studio/work room/sewing room is actually my spare bedroom but I find I am frequently making trips to the kitchen to carry out various mundane tasks such as doing battle with the never ending laundry mountain.  Laundry is my nemesis after all. 

Also, disappointingly there is no tapas bar opposite for me to go and have a quick fino and patatas bravas. However, there is an Ember Inn round the corner which I could always nip to I suppose for a ham sandwich but it doesn't really have the same appeal. Kind of lost in translation a bit. 

Anyway, today I have been experimenting with soft pastels. They come in stick form similar to chalk so can be very messy but give amazing results. The softer the pastel the more pigment they contain thus laying a better coverage of colour down on to the paper.  I have been using Daler Rowney  Ingres pastel paper which is a paper that comes in several colours and is specially for the use of pastels as it provides a 'tooth' for the pastel to grip onto, much better than ordinary paper. 

I work at the IKON gallery in Birmingham and coincidentally the current exhibition 3 Drawing Rooms by David Tremlett is a site specific installation where the artist along with many assistants and volunteers applied chalk pastel pigment directly to the walls of the gallery in geometric shapes using small pastel sticks similar to mine.  A real labour of  love, it took 15 days to install.  Click here to see a time lapse video of how the whole installation took place.


So on a break from my pastel drawing and on one of my frequent trips to the kitchen for a coffee refill and emptying/loading washing machine I got a bit sidetracked as I often do but it was Nigel Slater who caught my attention this morning.  He has been my constant companion in the kitchen for quite a few years now, long before his TV fame, back in the day when he was cookery editor for Marie-Claire magazine. I am currently reading his epic Kitchen Diaries II day by day so I will have the pleasure of his company for the coming year.  I just love the way he writes about food with such a passion and a feel for every ingredient. His cookery books have always been much more than just another recipe book by yet another TV chef. 

I don't normally make a habit of cooking his recipes on the actual day nor am I attempting to cook every single recipe in the book. It was just that I saw today it was Little Apricot and Oat Cakes which sounded quick, easy, delicious and for once I had got all the ingredients in the store cupboard. Except when I came to bake it I didn't have the dried apricots after all so I had to use dried mixed fruit instead.

So despite the lack of apricots in the Little Apricot & Oat Cakes they still tasted pretty good to me.  Ran out of muffin cases though and then had trouble getting them out of the supposedly non-stick muffin tin.  I need one of those silicone muffin tins that turn inside out and then the cakes just pop out as if by magic.  Oooohh I feel a trip to Lakeland coming on. 

Friday, 14 February 2014

Women in Stitches

I always say that there is nothing more annoying than visiting a blog where the blogger has not blogged for ages and I felt embarassed to discover today that I haven't posted a blog for over 2 months.  Shame on me. So I am now going to put that right.

Last week I had the pleasure of giving a talk to the Worcester Branch of the Embroiderers' Guild. The subject of my talk was Women in Stitches, a talk focusing on the quilt I made for my degree show in the final year of my Fine Art degree at Solihull College.

My quilt entitled The Hours is made up of lots of embroidered vintage tray-cloths.  The idea to do the quilt started when I bought a tray-cloth from a charity shop for 50p.  I liked the idea that I had rescued it and started imagining who the lady was that had stitched it and felt sad that all her hardwork had been abandoned.  It became a kind of crusade and I rescued more and more tray-cloths from Ebay and charity shops. Decades ago women must have spent hours embroidering these intricate pieces, only for them to be forgotten about years later.  That's when I decided I would join them all together to make one huge heirloom quilt.  I would call it The Hours which would be testament to the countless hours women had spent stitching them and a celebration of the skills and crafts traditionally associated with women.  Below is the centre panel of the quilt and the inscription reads:

'I dedicate this quilt to all those women who devoted hour after hour to the art of embroidery and stitch'.

Each of the tray-cloths (or panels) that make up the quilt is dedicated to a woman who for them, stitching was important either as a pastime, a necessity or their livelihood.  My intention was that for each of the panels I would combine my own contemporary stitching and ideas with the existing embroidery; to marry the old with the new.  Some of my ladies were real women I had known like my mum Frances who knitted for England, sewed all my summer 'frocks' (what an old-fashioned word for dress but she always referred to dresses as frocks) and took in mending to earn a few bob.  Others are based on women I discovered during my research into the history of embroidery and stitch like 'Florrie' who had knitted ever since she could remember and would make her grandaughter wind her hanks of wool into balls.  This is her panel where I have recreated a traditional Emu wool pattern using an old felted jumper of mine.  

Doris was my mum's best friend and next door neighbour and very much a dressmaker.  In fact they both were. They could both run up a 'frock' in an evening although my mum was the more proficient of the two especially when it came to cutting out.  Doris would get a bit flustered with laying on the pattern pieces so more often than not my mum would end up having to go round next door to help her cut it out. My dad would get a bit annoyed over this as she usually then ended up spending the whole evening round there as of course they would end up having a good old natter accompanied by endless cups of tea, and maybe a whisky or two as a treat for a job well done and to bolster her against the cold night air and in preparation for the arduous journey back to her own house next door, just a few short paces away.   

Iris was an embroiderer who was taught to cross-stitch samplers at school with letters of the alphabet and numbers along with the name of the school and the name of her needlework teacher Mrs Ollerenshaw.  Unfortunately it took her nearly all of the school year to sew it though as she kept mispelling her teacher's name and had to keep unpicking it all.  It's a wonder she ever touched a needle again after that.

Gracie was also a dressmaker who I found in a book called Women and Craft and I loosely based her on many women of her generation who during the 1950s and 60s made all their own clothes and those of their families.

Margaret was taught to knit and sew by her mother and was typical of girls growing up in the 1950s and 60s who would enjoy making all their own clothes in a bid to try and copy the fashions they saw in the trendy boutiques which had just started appearing on every high street.

I have included above just a few of the panels that make up The Hours quilt but you can see more on The Hours page on my blog. 

Anyway here are just a few pics taken on the afternoon before, during and after my talk.

I spent a really lovely afternoon with the Worcester Embroiderers Guild and was made to feel really welcome.  Thanks especially to Chairman, Sylvia Thistle for putting me at my ease. 
Their meetings are held on the first Tuesday afternoon of each month at Perdiswell Young People's Leisure Club, Worcester WR3 7SN @ 2.00 pm.   I will certainly be back to visit you all again. Good job my visit was last week as I see Worcester is now a town of two halves almost cut off and submerged by the awful floods. Hope you are all OK and surviving.