It’s Spring. The garden is waking up and the deciduous trees are putting on lovely new growth. If it’s not too windy, early spring is one of my favourite times of the year. This year, with the drought that has gripped this area for 2 years now, it’s a brief respite before the summer heat.
In the studio, I am trying to finish a piece for out T.arts Exhibition, “About Place”, which opens on the 1stof November 2018. It’s a bit of a move away from my work to date, and requires a lot of doing.
There is hours of hand stitching in it, so I have to make mini goals of stitching every day to try and get it across the line.
While stitching I think about the other projects that have deadlines as well, but much further out, and find this contemplative time some how makes decisions during process easier. It’s almost like sleeping on a decision. The mind is an amazing landscape.
As we track closer to Christmas, the events start piling up on each other, and it can be difficult to try and spread myself across these things. The fear of missing out, characterized by social media addiction is a real thing in other aspects of life. It takes a bit of discipline to say “No, I simply cant make that opening/workshop/artist talk/meeting/gathering/hanging day/group show.”
I encourage you all to consider factoring moments of unstructured play in the studio, as time well spent, as the frenzied period of getting things done before Christmas starts to manifest itself.
As I stitch, I see the value of no distractions, of reviewing the year, of thinking of further possibilities to express the themes that I am exploring. All of a sudden, I’m not missing out.
It’s a bit clichéd to say “Where has the year gone?”,but it’s a bit surreal to see that we are in the second week of April.
The week before last, just before the deceptively early Easter, I attended a 3 day workshop with Cas Holmes. Cas, from the UK, travels to Australia regularly to run workshops.
It’s really interesting being a student, who is also a teacher, having run countless workshops over the decades.
This one was multimedia, stitch, collage, hand stitch, dye and mark making, where work was ripped into, layered and pieced back together as the composition emerged. Surrounded by a room full of quilters, it was interesting to see precision sew-ers embrace the challenges.
For me, it was 3 days of what if’s, those moments when while arranging and rearranging, my mind was sifting through my studio at home for cloth, paper, prints, and found objects to incorporate in the process.
There are really two main ways of delivering a workshop. There is the “recipe” and the “what if”. Each way has its true believers, and some people do better at one than they would do at another.
One example would be school children. When I teach felting to school children, they need to have the steps spelt out, and I give latitude in the choice of colour and pre-felts to embellish their work. When mentoring High School Students, particularly year 11 and 12, it’s more about process, leading to what if’s.
However for me, in the now, it’s about embracing the gift of tuition and diffusing elements of it through my practice.
I came home with my mind full of further investigations and samples to consider and themes to explore. With T.arts on the move and my Solo Exhibition opening this week, I will have to let some mindful stitching, with a notebook close by, be the progression for the moment, while I carve out some time to develop ideas.
Depending on the outcome of Applications, May/June looks good.
I prefer this line up of ideas and investigations to the void of the Artistic Block. Maybe I will address this in the next post.
Enjoy the last bit of Summer folks, and pray for rain. It’s hard to get excited by Autumn colour, when the trees are covered in dust.
Hill End seems like ages ago, but the thoughts and work that have emerged from this month away, are in full swing. As I weave to start my response, I am starting to look at some more dyeing for other projects.
The following I wrote nearly a month ago, but it’s worth sharing about some of the process of creating dye stuffs that reflect the environment.
“Spring is in full swing and it’s heating up. As I run out or wool to dye, I am switching to gathering pigment bearers for later use, and contact printing for later work.
Probably the most surprising dyestuff has been mistletoe. In my previous experience with this parasitic plant, I haven’t had much colour, except as a resist to iron in contact printing.
However, where it shines, is as a dye for yarn, and surprisingly cellulose fabric, such as cotton.
The secret with mistletoe is not the fleshy fresh leaves on the plant itself, but the desiccated remains at the base of the tree that hosts it.
Collecting this dye stuff is slow going. As it dries, it becomes as brittle as fine toffee and it dries where it drapes, in curves and curls. So it has to be lifted out of the litter and threaded through the grass. Otherwise it shatters into crumbs.
Curiously, the more colourful leaves yield less depth of colour, than the completely dried dark brown leaves that give an ochre that reflects the landscape with spooky accuracy.
I’ve been collecting it all over Hill End (and I have plenty at home). On Bald Hill, on the road to Merlins Lookout, on the road to the Cornish Roasting Pits, and behind Murrays Cottage. Turns out the mother lode of Mistletoe is in Tambaroora, but so is the mother lode of meat ants. This brings me back to Spring- the ants, snakes, and flies are starting to wake up and the wind is starting to interfere with my gas ring cooking.
The time has nearly come to gather up all this beautiful colour I have found, and the start of the next stage of this creative journey.”
At this point I would like to acknowledge the work done by India Flint, and her research which has helped me to find and use these plants with thoughtfulness.
This work is also as a result as a residency at Hill End which is administered by the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery, and NSW Parks and Wildlife.
Two weeks into my residency at Murrays Cottage, Hill End and it snowed this morning. I kid you not. After two warm days with no fire, I gave myself permission to light a fire at breakfast time and have a studio day. My first. There are some sneaky little drafts around this little home, but the fire soon banished them.
I briefly ran out of yarn to dye this week, which changed my focus back to the landscape around me, rather than what was under my feet and hanging from trees.
I spent the morning in Golden Gully last week, strolling, drawing, and picking up leaves. I was struck by not only the back breaking industry of the largely Chinese gold diggers, but also the complete indifference of nature as it carved through the abandoned diggings and reshaped the landscape to a new normal.
I felt duty bound to draw the arch and decided that I would be back to look for landlines.
A couple of days ago, I clambered around the precipitously steep diggings of Hawkins Hill. The pockmarks of mine shafts and the undulations of mullock heaps are everywhere along this ridgeline. Now these are the only reminders with trees and shrubs taking advantage of the disturbance, finding a way to survive.
One evening I was browsing through one of the books on the shelf in the cottage, and came across this quote:
“I want to evoke the sensation of that anti-human environment that is partly indifferent nature and partly the creation of indifferent, raw, unthinking people.”
Donald Friend- Diary 4-2-50
There you go. Great minds think alike ;)
A few days into my residency at Hill End and I can feel changes in myself. Spring here is a sense of urgency and metamorphosis. The blossom on the aged fruit trees is alive with bees, spine bills and honeyeaters.
A spotted pardalote and his mate a blue wren batter themselves on the kitchen window, convinced that they are defending their territory. A magpie that I’m paying protection money to (tit bits) is already feeding fledglings.
Daffodils, jonquils and snowdrops are blooming in Murrays garden heralding the season.
A brisk and gusty cold change swept through on Sunday, swirling around the valley and blowing me off my feet on Bald Hill. Only a few spots of rain.
Each day, I have started by lying in bed, woken by the birds (lately a very monotonous whoop whoop of a pigeon), and think about the day ahead.
But I only think about the first few steps, and then let the day unfold, as I follow thoughts and “what ifs” around.
I haven’t done this before, allowing a fissure to open with no real beginning and no real end and giving myself permission to just go with it.
I feel a responsibility to my original proposal, but also to where that has leading me to. It’s hard to describe how uncluttered my mind feels (no signal, internet or TV helps!) as I write, draw, experiment, ponder, what if, hang out bits of cloth to dry, walk, photograph, think, stitch and weave.
I am trying to take each day, one at a time, as I allow this largely alone time to strip back distraction and let creativity run its course.
I’m not sure my practice will be the same after this month in Murray’s Cottage, which is exciting to contemplate, because at this point the journey is not clear.
Every so often, I think it’s useful to talk about lessons as well as success.
I found a quote along the lines of: “Don’t cling to a mistake, just because you spent a lot of time making it” (Unknown).
I wrote these pearls on my board and read them occasionally as I walked past.
A week or so ago, I had the opportunity to realize the wisdom of these words. I had been weaving the third Tapestry in my Blue Mountains series, of the iconic Three Sisters, at Echo point.
As I worked on it, I was aware of issues, and had corrected some, but hoped that sometimes like a painting, the sky would snap it all together (it’s very satisfying when it does). As I approached the sky, I realized that the composition wasn’t going to work.
I paused, and considered my options: applique, remedial removal of sections (very time hungry), or simply letting go. Over that weekend, I was showing a workshop student, and realized I couldn’t exhibit the piece, and that it had to go in the “lesson” basket.
So, I started again. I wove beside it and used its failures to inform its second iteration. Compositionally, the Three Sisters are tricky, as most vantage points actually look down at the formation, rather than across.
As I pried my fingers off the first attempt, I started to solve the issues in the second.
It was a setback, time wise; but an important lesson to learn, particularly in the sequential medium of Tapestry. Mistakes made at the beginning of a weaving are not going to be sorted out by the end, and it can’t be painted over.
Part of my artistic practice these days is the application process.
It can be as simple as an artist statement or as difficult as what, why and who.
What’s more, these three W’s are always a moving feast, as my focus changes or as my media shifts with the themes that underpin my art.
I find these words really hard to write. My introductory statement on this website, was plucked from a page of writings that I scribbled whenever the words materialized in my mind. I worked through a NAVA online course to compel me to keep writing. I also discovered my self discipline with online courses is something I need to work on! The course, and various tips and hints web pages call for clarity, simplicity and the absence of artspeak.
That’s a bit of a relief, actually: artspeak is tempting to hide behind, but makes my eyes glaze over.
I would like to add a few more tips from someone who has managed to cross the line a few times.
Don’t throw these wirings out- phrases and paragraphs can be used to reshape and rephrase future applications.
It’s worth doing and then the application is successful; the happy dance is fun. :)
A few lessons have been learnt in the past couple of weeks.
A friend of mine and I were discussing exhibiting a body of work regularly as a vehicle of evolution in her art practice. Like many things she's says, it struck a chord with me. Every body of work is practice for the next. It's a realisation of ideas, visualisation of thoughts and an exploration of process. It feeds and nurtures themes that resonate.
Another facet of visual art is working to a brief or a commission. It's not a large part of my practice, at this point. However, this year I decided to give the Blaney Textures of One exhibition a go.
My concept was grand, my ideas expansive; my first print disappointing.
Damm, the description "busy", is probably polite.
So, I went away and watered the garden, while I tried to figure out if I would pull out, or pull something else together.
I decided on the latter.
Rummaging through my stash, I found another piece of cloth and did something we all need to do sometimes: Simplify.
The result is better, not best. We'll see. At least I didn't pull out and its been great practice for the next piece, just around the corner...
Image,"Meadow" Lino cut on Contact Printed silk, 2017 50 x 50 cm framed.
A Diary of sorts.
This year I have decided to do a woven diary. I've seen a few on the inter web that are temperature rugs (great idea), or reflections of the year. For me, I decided to address this warp weekly to keep it relaxed and focus on the doing.
So much about art work, is the doing. The getting out into the studio and being present. Some artists and creatives struggle with this, whether it's a mental block, sheer busyness or both.
Last year, I resolved, as a starting point, to aim for at least four half days in the studio a week. Once I made this decision, I scheduled them into my diary. I found that this revealed more time and it fed more ideas into my work. It's the doing that nurtures the ideas. Sometimes I just tidy, do prep work, sift through resources, think, do left handed drawings, prepare submissions, organise references, print off photos that catch my eye. Other times I am in the zone and the day flies, I'm working and recording ideas as they race through my head. I really enjoy those days.
It's so hot now that my studio time is in the morning and then I bring work into the main house to continue on with. This is work that is largely resolved, that doesn't need the energy of the studio to nurture- I just need to DO. :)
Christmas is done and dusted, the rush up to it leaves a vacuum behind it that always appears languid to me. A Pause before we rush into the New year.
The weather reinforces this perception as summer kicks in and the seasonal drought that goes with it changes the routine of my days.
What do you do in your breaks?
Are their Summer Schools that tempt, projects half finished, kids to amuse so art takes a back seat? Or is it, like me, an opportunity to play without an agenda, at least in part.
This week, I dragged some inks out of the cupboard, rummaged around in my plan draws and found the yupo paper that had been patiently waiting for this moment.
I learnt a few quick lessons. Ink can go everywhere: quickly. Ink bottles with droppers in the lids can leak if the dropper is perished; particularly when shaking. After cleaning up and carefully pouring out some inks into a little pallet, I discovered that they dry pretty quickly as well. My studio has no air conditioning.
After puddling around on a couple of sheets using both alcohol and water to diffuse the ink on the paper, I thought I would give a few compositions a shot.
So I went back to my almost default theme, sky through trees, and a vase of Lilly’s that I have in the kitchen.
What made this interesting is that I tried each picture both with my left hand and my right hand. I am strongly right handed.
The left handed paintings are a lot looser and less ordered, which is a lesson in itself. I was amused with myself when I actually caught myself grabbing the paintbrush out of my left hand in order to finish the painting at one point.
It’s an opportunity to free up mark making when we use our less dominant hand.
I’m hoping to get back to my painting soon when the weather cools down a bit. In the mean time when its cool I weave. Photos soon.
Enjoy your break everyone, try and find a moment to play.
Above is the left handed picture and below is the right handed version.
So many of my collections are organic, and one of them is shells.
I dont collect shells anymore, but I do have a collection of them.
These beautiful homes are so evocative of place and need. The collection I have is an amalgam of shells I have picked up and aquired and shells my father-in-law aquired. He sailed ships through the Pcific Island during the 1950's for years and they were the de rigour of souvenirs back then.
I usually display shells in bowls, cloches, or as an accent. I love the patterns rendered on them. Cone shells, the really toxic ones have wonderful abstract patterns on them. Cowrie shells are equally beautiful and look great en masse.
My beach combing efforts these days are much more humble than the flamboyance of the tropical ones. I love the broken ones, the tumbled glass, tumbled stones, bits of coral. They all inspire.
There is a beach on the Burrup Peninsula (Pilbara), called Hearsons Cove, that doesn't have sand, but tumbled and broken shells and coral. There are sheltered picnic tables there (its a popular and hot spot), and I love seeing piles of this marine detritus that people have sorted and grouped. We cant help ourselves, as we try to make order from chaos.
The shell has so many possible metaphors, or can just be an object to enjoy.
The picture above is the studio in the making in 2008: the little white spots are snow!
We've all done it- pushed paper, paints, fibre, yarn, fabric, whatever aside to plonk a bowl of cereal in front of a child while co-ordinating the morning rush out the door to catch the bus.
I have a photo somewhere of my eldest son doing his homework next to a still life arrangement while I painted. The kids had a steady diet of whisps of fibre in their food for years.
Truth is, a studio is just as much a state of mind as a space.
I've had kitchen tables, spare rooms, verandahs, a cottage (for a bit). They all worked if I could focus, and for that I had to pick my times.
The Bowerbird Studio came into being when we moved to O'Connell in 2008. A friend who is a builder and my lovely husband, transformed a 3 sided dirt floored shed into a cosy spacious studio and its a gift that just keeps giving.
We had a slab laid, and Muz and Pete ripped out the rickety internal walls and a mezzanine full of empty boxes and rat poo. They insulated, then lined and the plasterers finished it off. Then we painted using up the left over paint from repainting the house. Pete then nearly gassed himself painting the floor, and viola! My studio.
The Bowerbird Studio has evolved as my curiosity has evolved. Bookcases, plan drawers and tables have moved in. Junk that was dumped in the studio because it was convenient was moved out.
My collections have evolved as well, reflecting my interests. They get edited regularly either composted, or given away, to be renewed by new finds.
It's a fantastic space, and is open by appointment, as I love to share. Dont expect it to be tidy though;)
I am re-imagining my blog, and enjoying a new format, and a simple look, to record thoughts and imaginings and share the space that is my studio.
Art has been a thread in my life from childhood.
In-between a career in the Merchant Navy, then raising kids and living in regional New South Wales (with my seafaring husband sometimes home), art found a way.
Now the boys have grown and we have resettled in O'Connell, a village near Bathurst. We have a picturesque farm that feeds Petes need to be outdoors, and my art. We've been here since 2008.
Pete gave me a gift that is difficult to quantify- a studio.
My space to work, to think, to plan, to play. A Diploma of Art gave me focus and intent, but the studio gave my ideas a place to be.
I want to share this with you, share my practice, my collections, and the things that move me to making.
My work hangs at the T.arts Gallery in Bathurst (Bathurst Chase opposite Coles), and The Avenue Cafe in O'Connell, along with numerous exhibitions here and interstate.
I hope you enjoy my studio, and its eclectic collections. I hope that it inspires you to collect, arrange, muse, and practice your art; wherever that might be.