Project Three – Stage Three

I had already started experimenting with colour mixing and tints and tones as an extension of my colour wheel exercise, but hadn’t looked at shades. I wanted to see for myself how darkening a colour with black compared to mixing opposites, so I chose yellow as it is the primary with the lowest tonal value to begin with. I see what is meant by mixing opposites gives a richer result than the deadening effects of black. I also now see that olive green doesn’t actually have to have any blue in it at all and can be mixed as a shade of yellow.

I then tried using the translucent quality of watercolours to layer washes. The colour stripes are arranged according to their relative position on the colour wheel to the central colour.

I chose this fabric sample as it had a range of contrasting colours around the edge.  I knew I would find this task challenging, and was surprised that a colour can look like a close match when painted on the side of the paper, but immediately look wrong when painted directly next to the fabric. The weave of the fabric also made colour matching more difficult than using an image as it effects the way the colour appears depending on viewing angle. I think I did a reasonable job but do tend to the perfectionist. Browns are particularly difficult to mix and it took me a while to work out how to get the hue I was after.

When I looked through my collection of images, I was surprised that I tend to collect a lot of pattern and texture, but not a lot of colour. I also recognise at this point that most of my reference images are either in books or catalogues that I wouldn’t want to cut up, or kept digitally. This is usually OK, but I am aware that my printer isn’t very good at printing colours faithfully and this was obviously an issue for this project. Cue buying more postcards from now onwards! I therefore decided to buy a giftcard from one of the art ranges available, and chose this print by Edward Bawden as I liked the palette used and the layering of colours. I had originally intended to do this exercise in gouache, but it seemed more logical to use watercolour for this image. I began to regret this decision quite early on as I tend to struggle with watercolours. I was using the colour relatively dilute and find it difficult to make slight adjustments to colour. I also found that as the work dried, the component pigments were seperating out. At the time, I was really unhappy with this page, but looking back I don’t think it looks as bad as I had originally thought.

I decided to repeat the exercise in the gouache I am more comfortable with. This is one of my photos taken with a 35mm film camera of my favourite place, Hive Beach in Burton Bradstock near where I live. Colour is the thing that immediately springs to mind when I think of this beach as it has amazing honeycomb cliffs (hence the name). I am so pleased I did this again as I am much happier with the result. I am really pleased with the stylised appearance of the cliffs and the light and shade.

For exercise 4 I stuck to the suggested citrus as they were to hand, and we have the most preconceptions of what colour they should be. It was a  really interesting exercise and took a while to ‘deprogramme’ my brain to see what colours the eyes see. There was a lot of red and orange, presumably because orange is the afterimage colour of blue. I have a better understanding of impressionist painting and couldn’t help but think of Cezanne when painting citrus in this way. I was pleased with the red and blue marks to the upper left of the painting, as it conveys the fluorescent quality of the light as it appeared in life.  Although the main concern was with colour and not creating a faithful painting of what the fruit look like, it did make sense to record the colours in contour lines, and I was surprised how good the final result was.

After the struggle I had with waterclours, I was interested with how the tendency for pigments to seperate out when drying could be used. I painted a series of very dilute washes in small strips, and kept the paper moving to get even drying. As expected, the effect was more pronounced the further the pigments were from one another on the colour wheel. One colour tended to be absorbed and dye the paper (usually the reds), whilst the contrasting pigment would settle in the pits of the surface texture (usually the blue). The more water was added, the more seperation occurs.

Lyme Railings and Rooftops

I’ve decided that I haven’t spent nearly enough regular time on my sketchbook to date, and have resolved to add to it daily, even if it is only a 10 minute sketch. On a visit to Lyme Regis last weekend, I look lots of photos that I thought might inspire some sketch work. This page was a gouache painting of some tiling on the side of a building, overlayed with a black card scalpel cut-out in the shape of some railings visible from the same spot.

Since starting the colour project, I have decided to keep a colour theme sketchbook. I had a go at bookbinding and was really pleased with the result. I’ll never buy a plain notebook again!


Assignment Two!

Since posting off my first assignment, I have been continuing with my background reading, which has mainly involved working my way through ‘Art – The Definitive Guide’  compiled from the Bridgeman Library images and edited by Andrew Graham-Dixon, and reading a wide range of books on techniques in multimedia and textiles. As I struggled a bit with the machine embroidery exercises, I thought I would get in a bit more practise and try something a bit different. I borrowed Linda Miller‘s book ‘Creative Machine Embroidery’ from our library and had a go at one of the suggested projects to make a needle book.

The original plan was to stitch this entirely with metallic threads but they were so tricky to work with and get good coverage that I gave up. I learnt to work from the centre of the design to avoid the puckering which occurred in areas here and where the metallic threads shred in the needle, they can be worked from the reverse of the piece with the metallic in the bobbin. I think I would have had a smoother resulting piece by stitching more slowly and using longer stitches. I wonder if I would have had better coverage and a smoother appearance by using a wide zigzag setting and free machining with that. I’m not sure that this is my favourite approach to machine embroidery and don’t find the resulting piece as interesting as other stitch techniques, but I feel I learnt a lot from doing it and feel more comfortable with my machine.

Yesterday I got started on Project three and thoroughly enjoyed it! I barely stopped to eat and have been thinking about it all day.

The colour wheels were great fun to make and I hadn’t realise how tricky violet and other purples were to mix! Inks were particularly odd in that red and blue always resulted in brown, magenta being needed instead for violet. Having worked out wheels in gouache, ink and layers of soft pastels, I moved on to looking at blending opposites, and experimenting with tints and tones. I did this before realising it would form part of a later exercise (despite having read through the lot at the weekend). My scientific background seems quite obvious at this stage by my approach to my experimentation. I’m amazed at the difference between a colur being mixed with white versus a very pale grey. I would like to do more work on shades (mixing colours with black) as opposed to mixing opposites. I also wish to experiment with watercolours and use their transparency to build up layers of colour. I also want to work out the ‘recipes’ for achieving some of the ready colours I have bought from primary colours alone.

The exercises with coloured squares was really interesting, and I understand properly now how cool colours can recede and sink away, and warm colours jump forward. I helps explain how works such as some of Rothko’s red and black/blue works really draw you in. I have done some of this colour perception work in medicine when learning about the retina and colour blindness.

I have really enjoyed this and think I may well start a colour theme sketchbook. Indeed one of my jottings of themed sketchbook ideas on week one as a student reads ‘colour studies on various artists’. Let’s just say I am not short of ideas today!

Project 2 Overview

I have finished the textural sample and am quite pleased with it, although I had a few problems uniting the various elements. Blue and grey cottons were appliqued onto black cotton. I used various threads and yarns, including yarn made by twisting up cut strips of plastic vegetable net bags. I felt the blanket stitching on he tyre worked really well in conveying the frosted ice with its sharp delineation.

Do you feel happy with the work?

I am happy with the pieces that I produced, and quite enjoyed how they evolved as I was working on them. They all look roughly as I had intended from the start, but I was surprised how many choices there were to make along the way despite careful planning.

Do you prefer working with stitch to drawing? Can you begin to see the relationship between the two?

I can see the relationship between the two, and the initial mark making exercises in particular were invaluable in stitch selection for these projects. I tried to translate the same principles in the stitch samples as I had done in Project one, thinking of the words that I wished to illustrate as well as looking at the original images themselves.

Having worked through Stage 2, were you then able to choose stitches which expressed the marks & lines of your drawings?

I think I was successful in this, although I was not too adventurous in using lots of different stitches in each piece as I didn’t think it was appropriate for the images I was working from. I have done a lot of couching as I enjoy being able to use the properties of the couched thread to enhance the piece as well as the stitches you make with them. Working the sampler of my mark making exercises was very useful in this.

Do you feel that you chose the right source material to work from?

Looking back, it would have made more sense to use the image of the wheel arch for stage 2, and the bark as a textural sample. I don’t think this mattered too much in the end though as I paid attention to similar principles in both. My only concern is in the wheel arch sample, I had problems uniting the contrasting elements of the image to hold the sample together visually. I did use the same grey thread across the whole piece, although it was a good example of the same thread looking very different on different ground fabrics. I think the radiating curves across the image go some way to bringing the piece together.

Do you think that your sample works well irrespective of the drawing? Or do you think your sample is just a good interpretation of your drawing & nothing more?

I think the bark sample works well on its own, but I am not so sure about the wheel arch piece. Of course a piece can stand as an abstract work without it being obvious what the source image is, but it may be confusing to the viewer to understand why there is such a contrast between the tyre and the car without relating it back to the image.

Which of the activities did you prefer – working with stitch to create textures or working with yarns to make textures? Which worked best for you & why?

I enjoy both equally and felt that combining the two to achieve the desired effects worked very well. The properties of the yarn can be used to set the tone for the piece, and the stitches can further illustrate and enhance that feeling. It was fun finding novel materials to spin as yarn, and I will spend more time doing this in the future.

Make some comments on individual techniques & sample pieces. Did you experiment enough? Did you feel inhibited in any way?

I feel I spent adequate time exploring different combinations of threads and fabrics, and exploring how stitches can look vastly different depending on how they are worked. With any of these tasks the possibilities are endless and it’s difficult to know when you have done ‘enough’. I felt confident to move on to the sample stage once doing my initial experimentation. I could have done more work on exploring different ground fabrics, but wanted to concentrate on stitch techniques as the choices were a little overwhelming otherwise. On reflection I feel that the bark piece could have been improved by using a different ground piece. I limited my yarn and thread choices to things I had at home as I am lucky enough to have a large and varied stash and felt that by limiting myself to what I had in the house I would be more inventive than buying to suit the piece.

How do you prefer to work? From a drawing or by playing with materials & yarns to create effects? Which method produced the most interesting work?

In the mixed media and paper based exercises, I definitely preferred playing with the media and creating different effects rather than using images. With materials and yarns, I preferred working from an image, whether it be a photograph or abstract piece based on work done on paper. With paint and drawing it is easier to be spontaneous and move quickly through ideas. Hand embroidery is a slower process, and for me a time to refine ideas with choices along the way rather than starting out with no ideas. Machine embroidery is more like drawing, and I was happy experimenting with this, although I am not a natural, and consider myself to be at a very basic level in this medium.

Are there other techniques you would like to try? Are there any samples you would like to do in a different way?

I would like to spend more time spinning and making yarns from found materials to incorporate into work, and I have many photos that could be developed into really interesting textile samples. I have been reading about altering fabrics and experimenting with using painted bonding web and foils.

Is there anything you would like to change in your work?

I am happy overall with the work for this stage, but as I have said, I think I would spend more time on selection of fabric rather than change any of the stitching.

Project Two – Progress So Far

I have done the things I set out in my last post and feel a lot happier with the work I have to send off for Project One. I have done some more drawing, and been spending quite a lot of time on researching classic artists and have done some painting to explore marks a little further. Finally I was ready to move on to the stitches…

I have decided not to explore dyeing fabrics and threads at this stage as there will be plenty of time for this and I want to concentrate on the main task of stitching. There was already potentially a huge amount that I could produce, so had to think carefully on how I would meet my deadline. I started by practising the suggested stitches on poplin cotton using various thickness embroidery threads. I really enjoyed working the filling stitches and have a new love for cretan stitch as it is really versatile in the effects that can be created by varying the thickness thread and the spacing between the stitches. The blanket stitch is also really useful as it can be used to draw a line and shading at the same time. I tried working french knots progressively more loosely with interesting effect. I moved on to stitching on a loosely woven hessian and a tulle curtain fabric. On  the tulle, I explored how the sheer quality could be used to create an extra layer of interest. I improvised a sort of reverse couching, where the yarn was couched on the reverse of the fabric leaving minimal stitches on the right side. I then worked chain stitch over the small securing stitches to mask them.

This piece was worked on a heavy cotton and explored various was of shading with running stitch in various threads, and by varying the thickness of the thread in chain stitch. I then worked a variety of threads in different directions to see how their appearance changes against other threads.

I spent a day practising free machine embroidery. I have bought  a darning foot and a second bobbin case, so that I know I have one with correct tension for regular stitching. I have a 40 year old Frister & Rossman Cub 4 which has proved to be really good for this as it is completely manual and I feel I have control of all the variables. Despite my love for my machine, this was a very frustrating day! I was OK on straight lines, but found that the bobbin thread would break as soon as I tried to sew a curve. The material also tends to pucker on circles, even in a frame, but this can be remedied to a certain extent by working the puckered area until it flattens out again. As you can see, I cracked it in the end, and just have to stitch much more slowly on the curves. I had a go at whip stitch, cable stitch and feather stitch with interesting results. The cabling wasn’t overly successful as the bobbin yarn would coil up and lock the machine. I much preferred laying the yarn on the fabric and free machining over the top.

I moved on at this stage to explore shading and texure by stitching some of my early mark making exercises. I then used other stitches I have learned to see how I could adapt them for shading. I love this resulting sampler and am pleased it has a loose free appearance rather than being regimented and stiff. The scribbles bottom left were worked particularly freely and remind me of a David Shrigley cartoon.

For my stage 2 sample, I chose a sketch I had done from a beautiful tree at the end of our road. I chose it for it’s linear qualities as per the brief, and it also had a lot of textural interest and evoked a lot of feelings and properties that I felt I could try to convey in stitch. The colour inspirations came from the tree as it is now, and colours that appear throughout the seasons. The main things I wanted to portray were – slow growth, majesty, ancient, seasonality, rough, peeling layers. I chose a natural colour base fabric as I felt I already had a lot going on with the threads and was aiming for dense stitching that would give good coverage of the fabric.

The finished sample was a mix of machined whip stitch, free machining as shading, couching, and french knots. I am pleased with it but think it may have been improved by using a darker base  fabric. I was a little surprised by the resulting piece as it seemed a bit flatter than I expected in places given the variety of threads and different stitches. I left the couched ends free as it suited the frayed qualities of the bark.

I have spent sme time twitsting different threads and yarns. My favourite with my next sample in mind is made by twisting up strips of plastic netting from fruit packaging. Having seen it at the Power of Making exhibition, I wanted to try making yarn from recycled audio tape but had cleared out my tape collection and have no luck finding unwanted tapes elsewhere!

For my second sample I am working from a photo I took in Ottawa last winter of a corroded wheelarch. I took just half of the area that I had originally focussed on  as I felt the wheel took the focus away from the more texturally interesting area of corrosion. Looking again it may have been better to use this picture for the first sample and the bark for the texture study, but I don’t think it really makes that much difference as I have paid attention to stitch selection, texture and colour in both. This is currently still a work in progress, so pictures next post.