Happy New Year! I don't know if you're anything like me, but I actually hate 'new year' - I find resolutions stressful and they make me focus on all of my 'failings' from the year before and is a guaranteed way to start beating myself up... So I've done no resolutions - but even so, I feel like I've started 2022 in totally the wrong way.
I have an exciting commission I started working on last week, and after about 10 hours of drawing I've realised the plan won't work and have had to abandon the drawing. This isn't particularly common for me, because I plan my drawings quite meticulously, but I was trying to fit in too many disparate elements into this one. So, I've had to desert it. Thought I'd put some images and the situation up on here, to show glorious failure - I need to see more people failing! It is so good for us all to admit when things don't work.
I just finished a fantastic book about Beatrix Potter, called 'Drawn to Nature'. I found Potter absolutely fascinating - her anatomical awareness, her writing, her scientific studies and the juxtaposition between her quite detached, almost brutal relationship to animals (she would kill ill animals and dissect them for anatomical study), with her care for pets and her stories and drawings. When I'm struggling for inspiration and finding it hard to focus or create, I find the best thing to do is to deep dive into other artists' practices and study their work for a while. I'm so excited to visit the V&A in February for the Beatrix Potter exhibition. We'll also go to The Hayward gallery to see the Louise Bourgeois textiles exhibition, so it should be a really inspiring day!
We went to see the Louis Wain film last week. Louis Wain is a really fascinating artist - I'd seen his work a few times across the years, but didn't get interested in his body of drawings until Nick Cave spoke about his personal collection of Wain work. He painted and drew cats, in a variety of anthropomorphised settings and clothing. Similarly to Potter, these images are often misinterpreted as twee, whereas their reality is actually quite different - there is a dark, frenzied undertone to his work, and a wicked, bizarre charm. Wain became very unwell in his later years and died in a mental health hospital - his later works are often considered to show his descent into schizophrenia, although psychologists disagree on this. It's a sweet film, but for me focusses too much on Wain's life, rather than his artwork, which I would have been more interested in.
Finally, if you're in Sheffield, I would suggest you head to the Cupola Under the Bed Sale. It's an annual event, where artists clear out their studios and offer the work at *bargain* prices. Nothing can be more than £350, but pieces start at £1, and I have picked up some absolute steals from there over the years. This year I have a lot of drawings, both framed and unframed, and 18 prints in the sale - they're as cheap as I could possibly make them, and I'd love for them to find new homes!
It's been a tough year, hasn't it? Personally, I've really struggled - both with difficult familial situations which have been hugely affected by covid, and professionally. All of the other work I do to support my studio practice have been affected by covid - I've had to come in and out of different jobs, and I find the chopping and changing really difficult to manage.
Artistically, I've definitely lost a lot of confidence. I'm uncertain of the validity of my work, the purpose it has in the world, and where I stand between artistic integrity and commercial engagement. It's really difficult for everyone to navigate these circumstances, and the backdrop of the pandemic and political situation makes it exceptionally hard. Like many people have wisely said, the biggest challenge to creativity is fear, and a background of fear and anxiety makes it close to impossible to stretch your creative wings!
So, overall, I'm feeling a bit down! But I've decided to take some time to look at the successes of the last year. I've made a few 'grids' of my images - the first is my favourite projects and makes from the year. It's part of the Instagram #artvsartist2021 image, so there's a photo of me in the middle! It's actually taken last year, at the Paloma Varga Weisz show at the Henry Moore institute, which is one of my absolute favourite shows I've *ever* seen!
The 2nd is purely drawing, the 3rd embroidery and the 4th crochet.
I'm not quite sure where my crochet sits within my practice. I'm not sure if it's 'art'; most of it is definitely craft, Some of it is part of my artistic process, but some of it is just for me and just for fun - perhaps more of a hobby, but using visual and making skills to inform the ideas. I'm considering next year splitting my practice more obviously, into an artistic side and a more craft focussed, and commercial side. I'm not quite sure how it will work yet, but I can see having a sales focussed craft fair side, and a more drawing focussed side, which I will use for exhibitions and prize entries.
A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to go down to London for the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing Prize - the show itself opens to the public next month, but all exhibitors can go for the prize giving (and have a sneak peak/PV). It was really exciting to see my work amongst so many amazing drawings - I love drawing; the historical significance, the practice itself and the underpinning it creates within other practices.
My piece was in the 'Working Drawing' prize section, where it sat amongst (in conversation with(?)) architectural and scientific studies, which I found so interesting. I don't consider there to be any difference between artists, drawing practitioners, mark makers or illustrators, I just love to see how drawings come to be and the story they are telling.
We (my Mum and I) were only in London overnight, so we didn't have much time, but we did manage to see the Paula Rego show at Tate Britain. I really enjoy Rego's work, but very specifically her nursery rhyme etchings, which have been some of my favourite illustrations since I was a child. I was given a Rego illustrated book of nursery rhymes for my christening and have cherished it my whole life - after seeing the show I bought a new hardback, fully coloured copy of the book, which will now live alongside my original tatty version.
Another very exciting thing to have happened in the last few weeks, is that Tom Gunn Nash's album 'Closer' came out. Tom is a wonderfully talented musician. and this album has already been picked up by Bandcamp's 'New and Note-able' releases. I was thrilled to be asked to do the artwork for the album, the cover being a drawing of Tom's face and the inside artwork being an eyeball and 3 hands doing a palm reading. Download it by copying the link below!
Last weekend I got to run the first workshop since the very start of the pandemic. It was a drawing workshop called 'So You Think You Can't Draw', where I encourage lots of techniques to improve looking and reduce assumptions, such as non-dominant hand drawing, continuous line drawing, blind drawing etc. It was really wonderful and very nerve wracking to be back running a class. The focus of the class is process rather than outcome, but here are a couple of the fantastic experiments!
Unfortunately, there was a small flood at my studio, and I did lose a few bits (thankfully not too much) so have had to spend quite a bit of time sorting and managing. However, now that things have been sorted, I've been able to do quite a few drawings.
I've started to experiment with tracing paper; I'm not totally sure where these ideas are going - it's very much still at a playing and exploring stage at the minute. For the last piece, I also added sewing thread and masking tape, which is a bit of a new 'messier' approach for me. Whilst I don't think these pieces have totally succeeded, I am interested in them as experiments and think I'll continue with these types of play for a while.
I'm really thrilled that the above piece, "The Nest" has been accepted to the Trinity Buoy Wharf Drawing prize. I'm going to frame it really nicely today and send it off. This is the biggest show I've been accepted to and it's been on my 'bucket'/'manifestation' type lists for a few years. This is the first time I've felt confident enough to apply, and to be accepted first time is such a wonderful boost.
Thought I'd share a few photos of my studio space. I'm very nosy - and think most creative people are - I absolutely love looking into other people's spaces, so wanted to offer mine up in the hope other's would share theirs with me. The studio I rent is in the S1 complex in Sheffield - it's open plan, split into 3 main 'rooms', and I'm in the backroom, which has a lovely community feel and a gorgeous skylight. It is the coldest room though, so the winters are challenging...
I find having a studio really important to my practice - I'm not very structured about being there for a certain amount of time everyday religiously, but it definitely gives a sense of discipline and boundary to a working day. Generally I'm more relaxed about doing textiles and research at home and use the studio as a drawing space, but I move all the textiles in there as soon as they're finished. For me, it's important that both sides of my practice remain in conversation, even when they're effectively in 'storage'.
Have a nosy at a few more photos - including my horrendous under desk 'storage' piles...
And here's how I protect drawings that aren't framed yet... A highly sophisticated system.
Things are finally opening back up in England and we've all had a few weeks to get used to being back out and about/going to work on public transport/meeting up with people again etc. At The Hepworth Wakefield, we currently have the largest ever Hepworth retrospective, which spreads across all 10 galleries. Alongside this, the curators have placed 3 female artists whose art speaks to Hepworth's, or whose practice has been inspired by her career (Bridget Riley, Tacita Dean and Veronica Ryan).
Ryan's work is a collection of cast objects and crochet - on the face of it, it's a quiet and polite offering, but having spent a lot of time with the installation over the past few weeks, I've really enjoyed investing in the work. It's multi layered and evokes personal memory for the artist, whilst also speaking to the woman as maker, craft and labour, alongside natural order and growth. The wall work of black cast magnolias, tied with very subtle coloured thread has an almost animalistic quality, and the white magnolias hidden in the clay vessel on the opposite wall, suggests (to me) a veiled sexual reference.
One project that I completed last year, and am very pleased with, is my set of tarot cards. The project began after my exhibition in 2019, “The Hearltess Hurt Less” – for the advertising imagery I played with layering the drawings of the dead animals with some of the pattern work that I had scattered throughout the exhibit. The response to these digital collages was very positive and made me think about new ways to play with my drawings.
I’ve always been intrigued my tarot cards, and the culture that surrounds them. From sincere belief, to props in super cheesey Midsomer Murder type shows with a story line about the occult, to a fashion statement, it seemed to me that there was a lot of room to explore and play within a single deck of cards. The dead animals that I had been studying (and that had made up the bulk of my exhibition) seemed like a really unique but fitting set of images for a set of cards; they are a slightly unusual subject matter but tied in very well to the imagery of the tarot, and I felt I could create a fresh new take on these ancient cards.
When creating my set, I began with The Major Arcana – those are the cards that most people think of when tarot is mentioned (The Sun, The Star, Death, The Fool etc) – there are 22 Major Arcana cards in a deck – so I needed 22 different drawings of dead animals. I decided to keep continuity through the 5 suits (Major Arcana, Swords, Pentacles, Wands and Cups) by having the same repeat background pattern for each suit.
I put the backgrounds down in photoshop and then used my drawings to overlay on top; each drawing had to be re-rendered digitally so that it would lay down properly and then I played around for a while with layout and text until I was happy with the basic design of each of the cards.
All together it took about a year to draw all the different animals and then create every different card. I used the same drawing for each number across the suits but had a different one for each of the regal cards, so altogether I created 46 separate drawings and 5 individual backgrounds for the full set of 74 cards.
Once all of the cards had been digitally created, I started experimenting with the best ways to make them as physical sets. I printed off the designs onto card in various different sizes, which I compared against sets of cards I owned until I found the right size that was large enough to pick up on all of the detail in each design, but that would also be usable and ergonomic. It was also important to me that there was a background pattern, so I saved another pattern piece to print on the back of every card. For the project to work successfully, I felt that a very professional looking finish would be needed, so I purchased a laminator and experimented with both gloss and matte laminating pockets. I was pleased with both results, so both finishes are available to buy from my shop. Once all the cards were laminated, I had to trim them down to size. This is probably the hardest part of the process, as it needs to be very precise and I do it all by hand – whilst I aim to get every card as close to perfect as possible, they are handmade sets and so there may be a small size difference from pack to pack.
The last step of making the cards is to trim the corners to round them off and make sure there are no sharp edges. From there, I carefully package up the cards in brown paper and string, for a classic look, slip in a little business card and they’re ready to go!
The Tarot sets are on sale here – for £35. I also have some individual prints from the Major Arcana available, and if there is a card that is particularly important to you, please message me and I can make up a custom print. I hope you’re enjoyed reading about the process of making the tarot cards – it’s a project I’m very happy with and want to continue making up these fun sets. Please message me if you have any questions.
Crochet Fruit de Mer Platter
Lobster, Prawns, Langoustine, Mussels and a Welk... plus some lemon and leaves.
A few different sized lobsters... think Goldilocks and the 3 Lobsters... I'm definitely keeping the big teal one, not quite sure what I'll do with the other 2...
And a crochet jumper for me! It's the Kay Crochet 'Bobbilicious' pattern from Etsy - it is a tad bit too small and snug, but I'm hoping it will stretch a bit. I think I might remake it in a medium (and a different colour) in the autumn.
It's been a bit crochet heavy here, but I have managed one drawing since my last post - this beautiful blackbird, who sadly died after flying into my Dad's study window.
And I finished off this French knot stitching, which will form part of a series of 10 hoops...
This week I've got a couple of commissions to get finished, and then hopefully I'll settle back down to a bit more drawing. I've been finding it really hard to focus on drawing and find the right imagery and subject matter at the minute... Hopefully inspiration will hit again before too long.
Quite a few new bits and pieces to post on here, that I've worked on over the last couple of weeks. I played with some old ideas of the 'Mutated Map' patterns that I created a few years ago, adding in a bit of colour and a grid - the design requires a grid, which previously I've always removed after creating the finished image, but with this piece I played with the idea of a different grid round the edges of the main pattern. I was hoping that the colours I chose would create a sense of anatomical growths (think spots, coldsores, cysts etc) but I think it has ended up looking more floral and decorative than that. If I play with the colour again, it will have more dark shades in an attempt to address this...
On the 1st of March I drew a dead hare that someone had found, photographed and kindly let me use. I wanted to created a silly little parenthesis of the month, so finished March which another dead hare drawing. My friend Tom found quite a few dead hares whilst cycling in Norfolk, so I had a bit of a backlog, which is now fully cleared. The use of dead animals in my work is meant to be a bit thought provoking and perhaps slightly somber, but it also isn't meant to take itself too seriously - I think there's room for a certain amount of dark humour, like using 2 dead March hares to bracket the month.
As well as drawing, I've still been loving doing a lot of crochet - I have a fun seafood project I'm creating at the minute, and I've also made a silly moose for my dad's birthday, and then crocheted my gorgeous dog, Lila. I'm really proud of it - she's a 14 year old labradoodle and they look a bit like animated scribbles, so it can be really hard to capture her in photos of drawing, but I think this fun crochet dog is a pretty good representation. She'll live on the end of my bed for years to come!
The final thing I've finished in the last couple of weeks, is a dress. For my birthday my mum bought me a Merchant and Mills pattern and some beautiful orange fabric and together we made up the 'Ellis' dress over the Easter weekend. My mum is very good at following dress making patterns and made a few of my clothes when I was younger. I've followed 2 very, very basic patterns before but this one was quite a leap up. I absolutely could not have done it without a lot of help from my mum, who read the pattern, explained things to me and then pointed out my huge, huge amounts of mistakes... I don't think dressmaking will be my new major passion, but once I've gotten over the trauma of setting sleeves, I'll try and make the pattern again, with a slightly looser bodice and hopefully quite a bit less unpicking... Until then, I'll enjoy wearing this one to the pub, to celebrate the easing of lockdown!
Semi regular updates of what I'm doing & making.