Lost in Lace, Gas Hall Birmingham

I’ve been busy getting started on stitching this week, and went on a day trip to Birmingham to see this much hyped exhibition. I loved it and it got me thinking a lot about what constitutes ‘lace’. I thought the layout was brilliant with information about the pieces set back at a distance where you could appreciate the whole work, uncluttered by information panels. Each exhibit also had a small sample for touching and close inspection. This was really useful in the full understanding of each piece and added another dimension to the show. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has to hold themselves back from touching works on display.

The main thing I came away with was that the space is as important as the fabric in each work. The holes (ie space) arranged in a pattern are the very thing that makes lace what it is. This was best demonstrated in ‘The Latticed Eye of Memory’ by Liz Nilsson, where sheets of heavy fabric were printed and had holes punched in them. The sheets were then suspended an rows approximately a foot apart, meaning that as you move around the piece, you get a changing view through the layers. It spoke of the glimpses of a memory, distorted by intervening experiences. The space between the rows as well as within each sheet was important to give maximum variability in views through the piece.

Another piece that got me thinking was ‘Forty-Eight’ by Nils Voelker. A grid of Tyvek pillows are sequentially inflated and deflated in an ordered sequence. An airtight fabric is surely the very opposite of lace, but going back to my original definition of lace, it uses space to create pattern within a fabric, albeit three dimensional and enclosed space in this instance.

I came away with a lot of inspiration and techniques – use of folds to create structure (‘Juxtaposition’ by Reiko Sudo), making silicone casts of lace and stitching through selected details (‘No Reverse – Lace’ by Ai Matsumoto), and use of discharge printing and of Devoré paste to burn through layers of cotton, but leaving synthetic fibres unaffected (‘Line’ by Diana Harrison). The piece that I had the biggest emotional response to was ‘After The Dream’ by Chiharu Shiota.  Five long cotton dresses suspended in a space filled with a randomly strung web of black wool. The first thought I had was that the work evoked similar feelings to that of Audrey Niffenegger’s etchings. Dark hatched lines creating an oppressive bleakness, with the headless figures trapped and entwined within. It felt very literary and I felt I wanted to know the story of the figures suspended above, like spiritual beings. For me it was a beautifully simple, stark piece with enormous complexity concealed within.

Confidence Crisis and Resolutions

Having read though the notes for Project  2 and reviewed my work on Project 1, I have had a bit of a confidence crisis this past few days. I think that my work has all been quite self referential and focussed on the possible techniques in each medium rather than using them to create representations of texture. I am going to do more work on the last exercise as I have made representations of abstract textures that I have created, rather than relating back to life or photos.

I recognise that I am more comfortable representing textures in life by creating more texture on the page, rather than flat representations of texture through marks. This is not a problem, and quite useful in selecting fabrics, but not so helpful when it comes to stitch selection. In reviewing well-known artists I have also realised that I have a strong leaning towards abstract rather than figurative pieces which isn’t overly useful in this project.

My plan from here is therefore to:

  • contact my tutor to discuss my progress so far, and for a bit of reassurance hopefully!
  • do more research of other artists, specifically on how they use marks to represent texture rather than technique in itself .
  • do some more work on the last exercise and make drawings of my textural pieces worked from photos.
  • use my sketchbook to practice using ‘flat marks’ to represent textures.

I think that this will help in being able to formulate the sample required in Project 2.

Working from your sketchbooks

I’m not entirely sure that I’ve interpreted this exercise in the right way, but I’m happy with the resulting work of the task I think is intended! I have used  a range of techniques rather than rely solely on dry marks. I am particularly pleased with the reworking of my blue gouache drips, this time done in coloured pencil marks and indigo ink brushpen outlines. All four examples appear to lend themselves to reinterpretation as stitched pieces.

Making Marks Overview

Have you thought about drawing this way before?

 Although I have experimented with painting before, I have not had a lot of experience with dry media and drawing. The approach was new for me, and I found the early exercises very useful as a starting point for approaching my sketchbook and the later pieces.

 Were you able to be inventive about the range of marks you made?

 I think I was quite inventive in my approach and made use of things around me to make marks with. I spent a lot of time on each of the techniques, and enjoyed not only varying the implement for mark making, but also varying the grip and way in which it was used. I discovered more about myself and how I am more comfortable working. For example, I have altered my pencil grip for sketching and have really enjoyed mark making with cocktail sticks and combing.

 Did you explore a wide range of media?

 I think I used a reasonable range of media, although there was much more I could have potentially done, especially in terms of different papers. I tried to stick with what I already have at hand and explore the range of effects possible with each medium before moving onto the next. In the first exercises I naturally wanted to mix media to produce different effects, and tried to be quite disciplined in restricting myself. This forced me to try things that I wouldn’t have otherwise, and I feel I have learnt a lot as a result. I was completely new to gouache and found it to be a very versatile medium.

 Are you pleased with what you have done? Will it help you to approach drawing more confidently?

 In general, I have surprised myself with how well some of my work has turned out. Some pages such as my experiments with acetate and wrapping paper haven’t really worked, but I feel I learnt as much from these as the ones that went very well. I have noticed already a change in the way that I approach drawing, and when I am struggling to find how to start, I have found thinking about quality of marks very useful. I was particularly pleased with my mixed media pieces in ‘Developing textures’.

 Which exercise did you most enjoy? Why?

 I really enjoyed exercise 4 of making marks, particularly the exercises that involved working and reworking marks such as scratching and combing. I enjoy making marks that have a raised and textural quality in themselves. Printing is something that I am also naturally attracted to, and enjoy making the stamps and stencils as much as creating the final prints.

Which media did you most enjoy working with? Why?

 I love inks. Although I shy away from media that leaves a definite mark that is tricky to rework, when it does work I love the clean crisp finishes. It dries to a fairly uniform almost plastic sheen, adding to the crispness of the marks. It is also well suited to drawing with novel implements, stencilling and printing, all of which I really enjoyed.

 What other forms of mark making could you try?

 I could do more work on experimenting with varied paper and collage, and I would at some point like to experiment with texture by applying sand, etc. I could also experiment with salt on watercolour, and scattering powdered pigments on a wet base. Finger painting. Wax resist work. Novel pigments and natural dyes. Lino cutting and printing, woodblock printing. Perforating to create texture. The list is endless!

 How will these exercises enrich your textiles work in the future?

 As I have been working at each stage, I have been trying to imagine how effects could be translated into stitch. The work on pencil marks will be very useful in stitch selection and how to use them to greatest effect. The later textural studies could inform choice in layering of fabrics. I have been encouraged to think more widely in terms of materials.

Using marks to develop surface textures

As a starting point for this project I have been researching a number of European artists as outlined in the coursebook. I was aware of some of Klee’s watercolours in the past, but I borrowed a book of his work and have been surprised by the huge variation of marks in his work. In the page here I worked from two very different paintings, although they both maintain his cubist forms. I explored the layering and rough blending of colour with oil pastels using ‘Lanscape Near E (Bavaria)’ as a reference. I then explored making marks with watercolour and demarcating them with ink marks, such as in ‘Untitled 1914/18’.  Although Klee used a pen and ink, I applied the ink with a cocktail stick as I felt it enabled me to better emulate his marks.

I then worked on multimedia textural representations of some photos I have taken at our allotment and on a day trip to the beach. I was particularly happy with the rhubarb leaves on a degraded plastic lining material, although if I did it again I would apply the collaged tissue slightly differently to leave the string more exposed at the top.

Working from life, I drew a wilting leaf from our tree fern, some scrunched up kitchen foil and a picnic hamper. The earlier mark making exercises were really helpful, and tried to choose a range of textures in the objects to try as many approaches as possible in capturing them.

This was in my sketchbook from last week, but I felt it fitted in well here  as I tried to capture the soft folds of leather and the hard metallic buckle with soft pastels and graphite.

Making Marks – Exercises 3 and 4

I’ve had a little look through some other students blogs, and am now worrying that I’ve got a bit carried away and produced a huge amount of work for each exercise. I feel I’m getting a lot out of it and following a timetable to meet the deadline agreed with my tutor, but am hoping that I have left enough time for the second project. Here is a sample of some of my favourite pages, mostly A3 size. The first couple are gouache drips and spatters on wet or dry paper. The linear drips were alternately wet with a water spray and dried with a hairdryer with gouache or masking fluid applied in between.


I have experimented with different papers, and particularly enjoyed the texture created with teabags.

With a lot of the mark making I have tended to get so involved with the process and textures, that I have not worked in a particularly expressive way (at least not consciously). With scraping of layered oil pastel, I had no trouble in this respect and loved the resulting samples.

I have tried a few relief methods such as wax resist with gouache (below), rubbing out pencil,  creating positive and negative images with chalk and oil pastels, and a wash off technique painting black waterproof ink over a white gouache design and running the dry work under water to lift out the design. This wax resist painting was inspired by an amazing sunset I watched on my way home from work.

Impasto and combing was a very effective way of creating texture. The green strip was repeatedly reworked whilst drying to get a rough surface finish.

I made some stamps with corrugated cardboard and string, glued with modpodge, and used with acrylic inks.

This was sponged, stippled and spattered with ink over a card stencil. As the stencil becomes more wet, it did tend to warp. This meant that early prints were cleaner. On the right of the page I used a stencil and it’s negative. At the bottom of the page I was playing with ink and a comb. I liked it so much I have done another couple of samples using this method. The stencil shape was improvised as I cut, and I was surprised how designed it appeared in retrospect!

Pencil/Graphite Practice Sketches

I thought I’d post a few sketches that I have been quite please with. The first two were from photos I had taken at the V&A last month, and the last one was a study of my stethoscope. I tried to capture the soft rubber tubing and the hard, shiny metal, and felt I succeeded.

Faience Workshop, Dorset County Museum 7th January

As part of the visiting Pharaoh exhibition from the British Museum, our local museum hosted a faience workshop this weekend, run by a local ceramicist with an experimental archeologist and an art tutor. Faience is a type of ceramic that was made by the Ancient Egyptians, and is halfway between silica sand and glass. A mixture of silica, metal oxide for colour, potash to lower the flux temperature, and stabilising agents are mixed with water to a fairly dry clay and fired to 1000 degrees celsius after moulding. The silica partially melts to create an opaque, self glazing material. The metal oxides form salt crystals on the surface of the clay as it dries, and creates the colour when fired. Here we have mainly used copper oxide to make turquoise and cobalt oxide to make a deeper blue. Magnesium oxide paint was applied prior to firing to create dark grey marks.  During the firing, shell is used as the beads do not stick to it.

The clay is incredibly temperamental, and having used it I have a new respect for the Egyptians who created such ornate designs. If the clay is worked at all heavily, it crumbles and cracks, but can be restored to a malleable smooth clay by gentle patting. It is so soft, that if the reed I used to mould my beads around was lifted, you could see the bead start to sag. It was difficult to make impressions in the clay as too much pressure caused cracking, and too little meant the marks were undefined. The clay would then stick to the mould, making it hard to release.

Despite these problems, I managed to finish the day with seven reasonable beads. The leaf bead had partially exploded in the kiln, which happens if the clay has not quite dried out enough before firing, but it was salvagable. I superglued seed beads in complementary colours to the broken surface, and I think the finished piece is much more interesting as a result.