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5.7 Forgetting what I’ve learned in Sewing School

Drawing 3

Decisions made prior to starting

  • to use cleaning cloths left over from printing: they are neither white nor coloured but stained tending towards a prevalent colour
  • to use machine stitch rather than glue
  • to stitch the pieces onto paper rather than fabric

As stated in the brief I wanted to begin without a clear concept and see where the process leads. I started in one corner sewing on a piece at random using white thread, adding an other and an other. I noticed how the pieces overlap like horizons in a mountain landscape. However, I didn’t want to commit yet and toyed with an other piece of fabric cutting into it and tearing it. The torn strips tangled like branches. I liked that.

The landscape was now inescapable and I surrendered. What more can I add? How can I chisel it out more? It needed more depth and shape. I decided to add light and cut a sun from the gold plastic I had found. For this I used yellow thread and zig zag stitch. I let the stitching go beyond the circle of material. I wanted to repeat the material somewhere else in the picture so I made some reflections in the foreground, like reflections on water. I then sewed on the tree using yellow thread where the light would fall and dark grey in the shadow.

Some of the “branches” had twisted and I noticed how they move under the presser foot changing direction. I let them and followed with the stitching. This produced much more interesting textures and shapes. It is clearly visible in the image when I discovered this. I also started to stitch over an area several times which produced a pattern not unlike bark. For the trunk I folded the piece over itself to get away from its rectangular shape.

I then painted the sky bits with blue ink and tried to make some of the mountain sides yellow . They were too dark and the fabric sucked up most of the colour except on the stitches.

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I like the sketchy quality of this. I like some of the details, the zig zag stitching on the top of the bottom most piece or the three rows of stitching in one of the mountains. These were not thought-through impromptu decisions. I also like the sun being a bit out of the picture and its glittery material in contrast to the stained fabric.

However, I think the picture does not have enough contrast between fore- and background to be readily understood. I decided to make an other one.

Decisions:

  • Choose the fabric deliberately: pinkish for the sky, dark for the mountains, lighter and more coloured for the foreground and very much lighter and with clear colours for the tree.
  • Twisting the fabric in the tree from the beginning
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Fabrics for the background laid out

This already has some depth I think. I sewed this on and added yellow to the lighted mountain sides. I tried acrylics which did not work very well and added oil pastel to that. I think this is the weakest part of the picture.

I then added the sun, the yellow zig zag and the tree.

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I tried not to overthink and control too much but I think this picture still lost some of the immediacy of the first. It has more contrast and works better due to that. The tree is better in this I think.

There also are some creases I don’t like in the mountains due to botched work.

Reflections

By the time I let the fabric twist and stitched in a less orderly manner I felt that I had touched on what I had been searching for. Thrilling! When stitching on the first pieces I worked fast and not very carefully. I wanted to “jot down” the fabrics, like I might do with a pen in a sketch. But it felt more like botching. Is it? Or is this the voice of my teacher from sewing class? In the tree my stitching back and forth – also done quickly and with a wide margin for crooked stitching – felt more right. Here I wanted to give an impression of gnarled bark which gives it a purpose. On the other hand I like the jotted down zig zag stitch, the tripple seam in one of the mountains and the piece of sky that is stitched in to cover a hole when the rest of the sky is in one piece or the stains on the fabric. All of these do not have any purpose or reason. But the pictures would be much poorer without them.

I think it is this last characteristic that I was after all the time, the arbitrary details that give life to a drawing. Something I admire in many sketchbooks and drawings. I ask myself how did the artist think of that? Maybe they didn’t.

This is something I want to develop and use in my future work.

 

 

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5.7 Discarded Ideas

Playing around with fabrics and materials I followed some promising ideas. I’m not convinced by the outcomes, for different reasons.

Colours

The first I made parallel to the wave drawing (Drawing 1 described earlier).

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Scraps of fabric on pondlining (laid out only), stitched together with hemp string

I quite like this one – the colours are agreeable and contrast nicely with the roughness of the black rubber and the hemp. I always fall for the charm of colour sequences.

However, I think it does not really answer to the brief which asks for multiple layers and drawing media. I had difficulties adding any more to it, as with the wave drawing. It feels complete apart from a backing. I also feel that, as much as I like the effect of the rough stitching, I am not sure of its purpose here. It feels a bit contrived. The wave drawing is neater so I chose to develop that into an assignment piece.

 

See-through

Among my fabrics I found a very worn out and torn piece of jersey. I stretched that over a hole in pondlining and fastened it in metal eyelets. I wanted to put something in strong contrast behind this, something shiny and clear. I chose a piece of gold plastic I had found at work and and glued that on with cyan acrylic paint.

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Jersey, rubber pondlining, plastic wrapping, acrylic paint and white ink on cardboard

Again I had left out the drawing media. I added some kind of creatures around the hole but I am not really satisfied with them. Again it feels rather contrived and overstated. I think the idea of the see-through jersey is good but I do not really have any reason to use it here. I think it works as an idea, but not as a piece. I think I could develop this into something, but it is not where I want to go now.

 

Checker board

Early on in my experimenting with fabrics I had woven together whitish and blackish pieces of cleaning rags from printing. I had abandoned it because it felt too stiff. Over the week I moved it a couple of times and put other drawings on top of it. This rearranged some of the ribbons so that the checker board was starting to fall apart. This I liked better and I tried to do something with it.

The idea was to continue the ribbons in paint in rough brush strokes. They should “open up” the checker board net and reveal colour beneath. The blue silk should become something organic and growing. I have also sown in a blue string that mimics the weaving but contrary to the others, going over the top ribbon rather than below it. This too I wanted to become loose.

What it turned out to be is not at all what I had in mind. The ribbons are too neatly painted and I don’t like the background.

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Cotton rags, silk and nylon on painted cardboard

Looking at it now I think there is something compelling about it but the execution feels inadequate. Doing it again might allow me to make it rougher and more like what I see in my mind. But this is not really where I want to go either.

 

Reflections

I have struggled with this exercise. I felt I had a very vague and elusive image of what my collage should be like. My work so far seems to have been a search for this image. It turned out to be quite strong for all its vagueness. I followed ideas and made things only to then find that this is not it.

At times it was frustrating to always feel that idea just beyond my grasp. I think the gecko was an attempt to ignore it altogether. I like that collage, the idea and the outcome, but I can’t help feeling I chickened out of a challenge. And the challenge felt important. I think it is about finding a way of expression that I have been looking for for a long time. It is about balance between spontaneous rather raw expression and deliberate, planned execution. Also about the courage to not control everything, to not make something neat, to allow things to happen without analysing them too much.

After the attempts above I started to feel that my materials are too complex – the colours, the range of texture, the extravagant materials like rubber and metal. They stand in the way and mislead me. Gluing fabric did not suit me either and the acrylic paint added a quality to the images I did not want. I decided to go back to a simple material and to sew it on to avoid having to use glue or paint. This time I think I found the trail of that elusive image.

 

 

A Trip to the Archipelago

With the printing and textile units my sketching has diminished. I have been concentrating on discovering new media and being experimental. This coincided with the start of the gardening season (less time and energy) and with the renovation of our railway line and transfer of traffic to buses which disrupted my sketching on the train.

This needs fixing.

Here a new start from a trip to the archipelago.

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The ferry, B2 pencil on A4 cartridge paper
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Jellyfish study, B2 pencil and acrylic marker on A4 cartridge paper

I enjoyed these very much. They are quite simple to draw but move all the time, changing shape and angle. They forced me to look closely and then draw what I had seen. A very good exercise for speed drawing.

While I sat with these I spotted this little girl in her tutu bathing suit and too large pink wellies eating ice cream. I couldn’t resist.

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I have lost a lot during my sketching break. High time to take it up again.

5.7 Textile – Mixed Media Collage

Drawing 2

When starting to work with textile collage I had jotted down some ideas in my sketchbook. After the very free creating of the first collage I felt I needed a new angle so I took up one of the ideas from the sketchbook:

To let a drawing cover different backgrounds and change character/medium with each background. I wanted to see whether it would still be recognisable as a whole.

I started with a drawing on paper which I cut up to get the pattern for the bits of fabric. I ironed the fabrics and put a backing on the most complex one to allow for the fine detail and to keep it from fraying.

I used patterned fabrics in greens for the background and decided the gecko should be black or dark except for one strip where I wanted the colours to be reversed. I chose a strip with a very simple and small part of the gecko on it for this as it should not disrupt the overall impression of a dark gecko. Also it should be somewhere in the middle so it would not “fall out” of its context too much.

I wanted the parts of the gecko to be as different from each other as possible, all dark but

  • a stitched one
  • a painted one
  • a drawn one
  • one from glued on fabric
  • one from inserted fabric

When I worked on these I realised that they ended up on different levels: in or on the level of the background fabrics. And it struck me that I would need one below the fabric level, too, on the level of the cardboard backing.

This made me decide to stick the pieces on with black acrylic paint.

From an earlier trial of an other idea I had small circular bits of pond lining. I used one of these for the eye.

I machine sewed the tail bit. As I had no black underthread ready I used a yellow one, thinking it would only be visible as small dots. It was much more prominent than I had expected so I sewed in roughly parallel lines instead of free machine stitching as planned. The stitching forms a pattern not unlike scales.

That concluded the fabric part of the drawing:

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Fabrics laid out. The painted part is here substituted by a piece of painted paper.

I glued everything on cardboard with acrylic paint and painted the one tailbit. Then I used oil pastels to draw, taking care to break one or two of the dividing lines by drawing across them. I wanted to tie the pieces together and increase the impression of a whole.

I also added shiny specs. They should add interest, tie together the body of the gecko and mirror the stars in one of the backgrounds.

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Textile collage. Different fabrics and materials, acrylic paint, oil pastels, and ink pen on cardboard
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The drawing on different levels

 

Reflections

I think this works quite well. I like how the gecko covers different levels and still holds together. I also like the different materials and how they play together.

It was easier to incorporate drawing materials in this. I feel they have a purpose here. The idea of the “cut up” drawing also makes the collage a natural choice. I seem to like the medium/technique to follow the idea rather than the other way round. Although, of course, this was the other way round.

I found this process easier than the one before. I had a definite starting point in the concept of the “cut up” drawing but no specific idea as to its execution. That allowed me to start working which then triggered new ideas and revealed aspects I had not seen at the beginning. Strangely I felt more free in this than with the totally open approach. I very much enjoyed discovering possibilities and solving “problems”.

With this I think I have made headway in mixing media. As it is a figurative drawing, however, the process was very controlled. I think for my third drawing I should try to reduce control/planning and be bolder.

5.7 Textiles – Collage with Fabrics

Drawing 1

The brief for this exercise is very open: create three low-relief collages built up from pieces of fabric and other materials and add marks with drawing medias. It should be very experimental and spontaneous:

  • engage in a process of experimentation
  • overlap, build layers, add folds and layers
  • let ideas come while working instead of working to a plan, stay open to change direction

Working into the Blue

With all my fabrics and other materials on my studio floor I felt overwhelmed – there were decisions to make about colour, shape, size. It was very dfficult to work without an initial theme or aim.

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So eventually I made some decisions:

  • fabrics without pattern
  • blue colours

I began to cut rounded shapes and put them together. I was not happy with the shapes, too cloudlike. Longish shapes would be better and I wanted them more ordered colourwise.

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This I was happy with, I especially like the piece of edge with the fringe. This needed a nicer background and more layers. By this time I was thinking “water” so I chose a piece of silver silk for the background, reminiscent of glittering waves.

For the next layer I chose warm colours in longish shapes going perpendicular to the waves. With the colours ordered like this I wanted the shapes to be very uneven and random. So I cut my pieces from the narrow bits of fabric left from earlier cut outs.

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I like the creases in the fabric making the shapes change direction in interesting ways. I am also happy with the distribution of colour and size.

I glued this to the cardboard backing with water diluted glue. It made rather a mess and stuck more to my fingers than to the backing or the fabric. It also left marks in the fabric when dry which rather spoils the image. So I decided to make an other one with the pieces sown on. This solved the problems with the glue, but created new ones: What colour should the thread be? Where do I put the stitches? Do I use running stitch or zig-zag the edges? I chose a light grey thread for the blues connecting it to the silver backing and same colour stitch for the red and yellow bits.

Looking at the two side by side I feel the stitched one has more depth and a stronger impact than the glued one. Although the shapes of the original red and yellow pieces in the glued one are better. The stitched one seems calmer and lets the colours do their magic where as the glued one is more distracted by loose threads and parts sticking up. It looks a bit unfinished I feel. I expect the edges of the pieces in the stitched image to fray more.

The stitched image has a reverse side which I also like very much:

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Reverse side from above

I like the subtle quality of the lines and how they interact with each other. I like that the vertical lines differ in colour from the horizontal ones and that the vertical ones have several colours and the horizontal ones almost merge with the background.

The stitching creates “bubbles” in the fabric making it very nice to hold and touch. In this size the piece becomes rather solid with the stitching and layers of fabric.

Reflections

I had very much looked forward to this exercise. I felt scraps of ideas moving under the surface – interesting fabrics and materials sprang to mind and things I wanted to do, but never quite tangible. When I had taken out my stash of fabrics I did not know what to do. I felt overwhelmed with the choices of colour, shape and texture and the freedom to do anything. I needed a starting point, an entrance to all the ideas I know were there. It was very difficult to stay in this blocked state. Something did evolve eventually and I was very surprised when it was there in front of me.

I also felt that I constricted myself initially – preconceptions about how fabric is to be used, what materials can be combined. Once I understood this limitation I put on myself I tried to deliberately take an extra look on ideas and pieces I had discarded. Still I think my pieces show that I shy away from mixing fabric with drawing media and from layering. Here I refrained from drawing into it at all although it is part of the brief to do so. Also the layering is very timid. As these images feel very much complete without more layers and drawing I decided to concentrate more on that aspect in my next attempt.

An other thing I struggled with was working with blocks of colour instead of lines. Although I had done this to some extent in the printing exercises and in some of the drawings, there always were lines at the beginning. Here I put down shapes of colour which I found was something very new.

Drawing a Drawing

Portraits de Cézanne, Musée d’Orsay, June 13 – Sept 24 2017

The exhibition spans portraits from the whole of Cézanne’s career. It shows how his style and method have evolved over time and gives an insight in how he worked by showing several versions of the same portrait side by side. The exhibition also includes a few sketchbook pages and drawings which I found very interesting.

Following my tutor’s advice to study artists’ techniques I decided to draw one of the drawings rather than try to take in the whole of the exhibition.

What I learned:

  • I need to be much much bolder with my darks. Although I saw the tones before me my own ones are very narrow. I deepened the shadows several times but as is obvious now I should have pushed them further still (although I did use a pencil not charcoal and the sketch has since been smudged considerably).
  • Different tones and different kinds of marks (smudges, hatching, strong single marks…) work out the shape of the coat in a lively manner. Here, too, I need to broaden my repertoire considerably. I see a similarity in the marks of this drawing and the colour fields with which Cézanne builds up his paintings.
  • Some shadows/hatching in the background close to the figure place it in a space without defining that space.

Reflections

The lighting in the room was not very good for what I was doing – it was hard to see my own marks and in the beginning I was distracted by the other visitors. Nonetheless I liked this exercise. It brought me much closer to this drawing than just looking would have done. It showed me the difference between knowing to do something (e.g. making dark darks) and actually do it. It allows me to get a direct feedback on what I do and to experience the effect of a mark I would probably not have made on my own.

To get more out of this I would have needed to stay longer and do it again, maybe concentrating on only a part of the drawing. I will have to do this at home where I can visit exhibitions more often and at my leisure.

The difficult thing will be to find drawings…

Hatching

These are sketches I did after having visited the Zorn exhibition trying to use long and prominent lines to achieve volume.

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Ink pen on cartridge paper

For the first sketch I chose an easy subject and tried to be bold with the lines. Without having studied Zorn’s etchings I would never have chosen to draw hatching lines parallel to the legs. But I think they work well. The hatching conveys the colour of the trousers in contrast to that of the sock. It also shows the fall of the fabric. Indeed, I think the directional lines work best where they follow the direction of the fabric, changing direction where the fabric does. However, sometimes this does not apply as Zorn’s etching of King Oskar shows.

Attempting this drawing has led to a lot of questions: How do creases work? The ones below the knee look real, but inverted to what they actually were. Why? Some of the creases look glued on – how can I bind together the cross hatching in the creases with the long lines so it looks more convincing? And again: When does hatching across different picture planes work and when not? What does it do?

I need to do many more of this kind. Simple shapes will be best to begin with.

I have made two attempts at hands and a face but I think the subjects are too complicated to get to grips with a new technique like this. Too much to control for me at this stage.

The knuckles of the hand work quite well as do the lighted parts of the hand as a whole.  The shadow side is confused. I was searching for the shadows and shapes at the same time as I was unsure what hatching direction/quality to use. This also goes for the face. Too many variables I was not sure of.

This needs more study!

Maybe I should make drawings of Zorn’s drawings first before attempting my own subjects.

5.6 Stitched Drawings

  • Create two stitched drawings
  • Use previous exercises as inspiration
  • Figurative or abstract
  • Highly experimental

The brief also includes a list of ideas:

  • Stitches create a repeated pattern
  • Continuous line wandering and curving, crossing itself
  • Built up marks overlapping and creating tonal contrast
  • Highly organised, creating grid like effects and geometric form

I had planned to make a kind of abstract landscape inspired by a sketch I had made early in the course.

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Charcoal on drawing paper

However, I got distracted and what I did in the end are two very different drawings.

Tree

The first one is a development of my test pieces for the texture exercise. I wanted the squiggly line to form a stylised tree with large leaves. This is my search for it:

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Initial sketches

I then painted the fabric with silk paints and stitched the line with two strands of embroidery thread. Stem and leaves were made as in the test piece.

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Silk paint, black and red embroidery thread on cotton and sun blind fabric

For the flower/fruit I chose red as a contrast. It is blocked in without allowing any white to shine through and built up from three different reds to give it volume.

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Detail from above. Red embroidery thread

I stitched the whole onto a piece of sun blind as a support and frame.

I am not satisfied with the leftmost leaf. I made the creasing too strong so it spreads to the surrounding fabric. The other two are better.

I like this very much although it seems different from what I do otherwise. The semi-abstract drawing appeals to me as do the colours and the single red dot. Maybe I have managed to work in key aspects of what “treeness” is to me – the root and in it the riches of the soil (although it seems to float in the air), green and specks of light around the leaves, all bound together in one movement, culminating in the fruit. But these thoughts came afterwards, I did not set out to depict anything like that. The roots of this picture are in the technique. This makes me wonder where the “meaning” in a piece of art comes from.

Landscape

A very spontaneuous image. As I was looking for fabric for my second drawing I came across this and the ink stains intrigued me. It was crinkled and some of the creases coincided with a stain giving me the idea to use creases as lines.

The photo does not do it justice, the shadows of unwanted creases become much too overpowering as the colouring is very subtle and delicate.

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Cotton and nylon thread on ink stained cotton fabric and sun blind

I chose a white thread so as not to deflect focus from the creases which I wanted to form the main lines. The stitching continues further than the creases to let the lines fade out in a way similar to the stains.

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Detail from above

For the lines in the water I used dark grey nylon thread hoping it would reflect the light and glint like water. It has not yet done so but I still think it might given the right light source. I tried to make the water lines horizontal which turned out to be very difficult as the fabric is old, worn thin and losing its shape.

I like the way the ink has followed the weaving of the fabric in the edges of some of the stains. The lines remind me of a skyline of fir trees. I left these lines unworked so they contrast to the creases and waterlines.

I also left the stains above the uppermost waterline unworked to make them retreat and add some depth.

The fabric had become crinkled by the time I was done so I ironed it where possible. I could not do that over the nylon thread so the creases there stand out. They disturb the effect I had in mind with the water lines.

I am not sure if this works as a picture. Maybe the drawing is too subtle in colouring for a viewer to recognise what I saw. Maybe the idea with the creases would work better on a larger scale and with stronger colours? But I like the subtlety, the mere suggestion of a landscape. The colours and composition play first fiddle here, I feel, making the figurative aspect take a step back.

Reflections

I am surprised at where this has taken me. During the initial exercises I have found new ways of using thread and fabric and they have led me down a different path than anticipated. I like that. Doing has had a different effect on me than thinking about doing. This is something to remember.

I have also seen that translating a paper-and-pen drawing to textiles does not necessarily mean to imitate it. Reworking an idea in a different medium can lead to something new and different. This might not be a new insight but with textiles being very different from pencil or ink it leads further away from the original idea.

In the brief it says the final drawings should be highly experimental. I am not sure if my ideas are experimental in a larger context, but they are for me. Experimental in the sense that I have been experimenting and following ideas I did not know the outcome of. The landscape especially although the stitching in that is conventional running stitch.

I am glad I chose this unit. It has further opened up my idea of what drawing can be. Ideas have been forming while I worked involving all kinds of materials and techniques. I will have to find a way to remember them and to revert to them in coming work.