Voyage around a loungeroom

In 1790 Xavier de Maistre took a journey around his bedroom, during which he locked his door, put on some pyjamas and examined his room in detail. Last week, without the pyjamas, I traveled to a house in a nearby suburb where, along with 11 other people, I undertook a big journey into a range of ideas about making art. We made our journey through reading and discussion and we even made some art!

One of the most interesting aspects of the week was the shared library. Everyone attending was asked to bring several books that were favourites. We ended up with two bookcases just about full. Those who couldn’t bring books from their own library borrowed books from the local public and university libraries. This allowed us to be inspired by a range of artists and writers who we may not have encountered before. Ruth Hadlow, the workshop convenor also suggested ways in which we could use these books for inspiration, and to help develop new ideas to use in our work.

One artist whose book of sketches is one I’ll be tracking down to add to my library is Kevin Connor. Connor sayswhen you are up against a brick wall or in doubt, draw!”  – he also suggests that the best place to draw from is with your back to a wall, preferably in a friendly coffee shop or bar, so no one can look over your shoulder! Inspired by the intense lines in Connor’s drawings I took up my own pen to make this quick sketch of my coffee mug.

mug, ink with two feathers held together, 28 January 2015

mug, ink with two feathers held together, 28 January 2015

I used a small piece of Japanese writing paper, which I’d already used to blot some other pieces of work. To make the marks I held the shafts of two feathers together and worked directly from my bottle of ink.

A few days later I decided to draw a piece of clothing, one of the items we’d been asked to bring to the workshop. To get a piece of paper large enough to work on I roughly glued two long narrow sheets together. Without giving it too much thought I grabbed a sheet of newspaper I’d been using to catch spills and tore it roughly into the shape of my garment. I slapped the newspaper onto the backing paper with a mix of PVA glue thinned with water. I didn’t know whether this would work or not, but I knew I had nothing to lose. Once again I took my feathers and started drawing. It was interesting to see the difference between the areas of paper that had glue on it and that without glue. I also used the soft end of one feather to make larger marks.

Different textures on paper with and without PVA. The ink blooms on the untreated paper

Different textures on paper with and without PVA. The ink blooms on contact with the untreated paper.

The completed work was really lively and suggests some interesting strategies for making future work.

The finished drawing, ink on newsprint and Japanese paper.

The finished drawing, ink on newsprint and Japanese paper.

It is difficult to describe just exactly what I did during the past week. It was mentally exhausting, but I produced useful ideas for new work and had a ball making new drawings. What could be better than that!


Irregular Exercises

Earlier this year I took a class with Ruth Hadlow, an artist now working across many media, but someone whose practice is based in textiles. One of the themes we discussed in that class was strengthening our ‘artistic muscles’ by regular practice. It was acknowledged that textile practice can be extremely time consuming, often due to the labour intensive nature of the work. In exploring some other options Ruth showed us some examples of artists who have worked in what can be described as ‘diaristic’ terms. Some of the points I got from this discussion are as follows:

  • Rather than overburdening one or two pieces of art with all your ideas make lots of work.
  • An adjunct to creative practices that are detailed and time consuming – make a work in a day – a ‘light weight’ practice.
  • A diaristic practice doesn’t have to be your main work but it keeps the creative line going through the rest of what you do.

I decided that one practice that I could instigate was blind stitching – or what I’ve called ‘a stitch in the dark’. In my previous post I explained the origin of this concept. Here is how I do it:

Take a piece of cloth. Thread a needle and sew without looking at the cloth. You can stitch in the dark, close your eyes, look away. Do not look at the work until the thread has run out.

I’ve been using cuffs, collars and pockets from clothing I’ve dismantled for other work and random embroidery or other threads. While I have lots of these pieces around I’ve realised that I’m not always in a position to have my stitching to hand. For those situations I’ve developed an alternative:

Take a piece of paper and pen, pencil whatever. Make marks on the paper. You can make your marks in the dark, close your eyes, look away. Do not look at the work until you have ‘finished’. Or perhaps I should say once you look at the work do not start working on it again.

From time to time on this blog you will see examples from this series. Here’s one I did earlier.