1.4; Joining: Overlapping. Mixed Media

Doubts and Frustration

After developing the overlapped organza sample and painting it (see previous post) I really began to question my ability to ‘do‘ mixed media. I think I have a ‘mixed media’ approach to my work as a whole or a collection. I am comfortable switching materials and techniques from one sample to the next but I still struggle to combine materials within a single piece of work. I still prefer each sample to comprise of a single material or technique. Is this Mixed Media? -I guess it very much depends on your personal definition and what the term means to you.

Rightly or wrongly, I associate Mixed Media with found objects, with compilations of different textures and with pieces heavily embellished with the remains of other materials. In my mind Mixed Media work should be much more complex than what I produce. I feel like my work is falling short of the requirements, that it just isn’t enough.

Interestingly, having been attracted to the quote by Denyse Schmidt in the foreword of Heather Jones book:

“I know how deceptively difficult it is to produce work that is restrained. When I began making quilts, the medium had an ingrained habit of ‘more is more’. It can be easy to impress with virtuoso sewing skills, use of abundant and vibrant colour and complicated visual tricks. Plenty of prints and patchwork can distract our attention, but it is much more skilful -and brave- to find the purest expression of form, to let the poetry of composition and colour have its say, not to overcomplicate or muddle the message with needless flourishes.”

I was further encouraged by the recent discussion on Textileatist.org by Joe Pitcher about his mum, Textile Artist, Sue Stone. The article, entitled: Are you a textile technique addict?. In it, he discusses the ease with which we can become ‘overwhelmed’ by the endless possibilities on offer to us and the need for limitations. This is something I have experienced throughout my OCA study, I’m sure many other students have too:

“Perhaps you can relate? Maybe you have a hundred ideas buzzing around your head but lack focus. You try to bring those ideas to life using every technique in the book. After all, there are hundreds of possible pathways as a textile artist; the options can be overwhelming and it can be confusing knowing what to focus on.” ¹

This seems to be somewhat universal in the world of the amateur textile artist, when I last looked 172 people had saved the article and 74 felt moved enough to comment.

In many ways the OCA has given me an opportunity to try a great many techniques and materials I could never have justified had I been working on my own. (I have a habit of buying books and art resources, justifying their cost with the reward of degree status at the end) Don’t get me wrong, I’m so happy to have had this ‘permission’ to expand my repertoire but lately have felt quite frustrated. Reading this article helped me identify part of the cause of this dissatisfaction. Pitcher goes on to say:

“Time to stop ‘dabbling’ and go deep:

Perhaps the way to truly find your voice, build a sophisticated visual vocabulary and develop true versatility as an artist is to focus on a handful of techniques and push their boundaries through constant experimentation.” ²

I think this is the point I have reached. I feel I have already gained so much from the constant cycle of experimentation that now I want to consolidate. I have a much better idea of who I am and what I want to create. I want to stop diversifying and ‘go deep’.

Yet I am conflicted, I also recognise how much my studies (and the associated sampling) are helping my work and how much I am likely to grow through the continuation of the course. Perhaps what I’m feeling is Frustration?

To return to the point of Mixed Media (sorry I seemed to lose the thread there but in my head it is all related!) I am finding it difficult. I love the work I am producing, I am happy with it’s simplicity but I am full of doubt that the individual samples are experimental enough. For some reason, because of the title ‘Mixed Media’ I feel like I need to make them more complicated. Why do I associate this phrase with complexity? Can Mixed Media be simple?

I decided I had to try and translate the minimal aesthetic of the organza sample and paintings into something I could classify as ‘Mixed Media’

 

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I like the combination of sponge and sheer organza. This sample displays more character than the original because of the inclusion of a surprising texture beneath. The stripes of organza play with a previous theme of concealment and revelation whilst also forming a linear pattern.

Having done some direct observational drawings of the sample, I began thinking about using Mixed Media to record the samples. Perhaps this would be a way forward?

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I started looking again at Sonia Delaunay’s paintings, particularly her later work, in which I can see and feel her ‘presence’ more clearly. (more of this here) I returned to the very flat painting I made:

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and reinterpreted it as a Mixed Media collage/painting, which I used as the cover for my Joining sketchbook:

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Being very mindful of what I reflected on in this post, I combined gouache, tissue paper and wax crayon. I think this new interpretation is more successful that the original because it contains much more character. It is more textural and although the photograph doesn’t really show it, it almost glows with the intensity of the colours.

¹ JONES H, Quilt Local. Finding Inspiration in the Everyday. (2015) STEWART TABORI & CHANG

² ³ PITCHER J, http://www.textileartist.org/textile-technique-addict/

 

 

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1.4; Joining: Overlapping Edges, Pattern and Ptolemy Mann

I finished my last post explaining that I had rediscovered my passion for pattern. After playing with the ideas of translating drawings into patterns on layers of stitched felt I started reading Jane Callender’s book: 2000 Pattern Combinations¹. This book might not be a lot of peoples cup of tea but I adore it! It is a very in depth, step-by-step guide to the development of repeating pattern. One evening I happened to notice that as I read it my pulse rate dropped to 56 bpm, which is significantly lower than my resting heartrate even when I’m asleep. (Thank you Fitbit!) This illustrated to me just how effective surface pattern can be, even without fancy textures and techniques (a slightly worrying discovery considering I’m studying a mixed-media course).

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I chose one of the pleating tasks in Part One (1.4) and my tutor Cari, advised that I look at the work of Ptolemy Mann in relation to this. Although she directed me toward to the ‘architectural and spatial works’ I also found inspiration in her colour work and fabric designs.

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I confess to not actually knowing what IKat was until I researched Ptolemy Mann’s weaving process. I was fascinated by the characteristic blurry effect created by the difficult of lining up the pre-dyed threads. In a way this is similar to how I exploited the weave of the fabrics as they met at the overlapping joins photographed here:

The design below was inspired by Alacha, a geometric fabric design that the description claims has an ‘architectural edge’. If you view Mann’s consultancy work, particularly for the Healthcare Projects you can see how the different aspects of her art/design career overlap via the use of blocks of colour.

I considered how Mann’s Ikat threads overlap as they intersect their neighbouring colour block and decided to represent this through the overlapping of sheer organza. I like the way different colour is formed by the layering, pleating and joining. I thought about ways to embellish this and make it more ‘mixed media’ but decided to keep things simple.

As my design developed I spent a lot of time thinking about Colour Theory. I returned to texts by Josef Albers and David Hornung brought for ATV Pt 3: Colour Studies. This helped with the organisation of the blocks, the proportions and the relationships between the colours.

I was also inspired by Heather Jones, author of Quilt Local². Like me, Jones has a background in the Fine Arts and we a share fascination with colour theory. Her process and approach to Textiles makes a lot of sense to me.

This quote by Denise Schmit, talking about Jones² summarises my aesthetic perfectly. I copied it into my sketchbook to remind myself:

“I know how deceptively difficult it is to produce work that is restrained. When I began making quilts, the medium had an ingrained habit of ‘more is more’. It can be easy to impress with virtuoso sewing skills, use of abundant and vibrant colour and complicated visual tricks. Plenty of prints and patchwork can distract our attention, but it is much more skilful -and brave- to find the purest expression of form, to let the poetry of composition and colour have its say, not to overcomplicate or muddle the message with needless flourishes.”

Although technically I had some difficulties, the sample is quite firmly made. I am absolutely thrilled with it. Last year I received feedback for a project in ATV where I had used my characteristic earthy palette where Neil said:

“.. A few pages on from that there is some more strong colour work using stitch and referencing painters. At some point in the future it would be good to see you explore this use of brights and focus on how gentle harmony can still be created with intense colour.”

I feel that I have achieved this here, the blocks represent the whole spectrum and through pleating I have altered the saturation allowing the colours to sit together without jarring.

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Recording the sample gave me an opportunity to once again explore the opacity of watercolour. I enjoyed mixing and matching the colours and the composition is very much representative of my interest in Agnes Martin.

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I want to spend more time developing this idea, perhaps as a series on a larger scale. I had been thinking about using this newly created fabric in quilt design, then I discovered Sanne Schuurman’s Light Filters, which added yet another perspective and another possibility.

I also like the idea of producing paintings of the finished works. I was recently reading about Cayce Zavaglia, who has spent many years creating hyper realistic embroidered portraits. She recently fell in love with the reverse of her work and has made some really large scale paintings of them called ‘Versos’. The impact that these have had in the exhibitions of her work is similar to Karen Margolis including Sonograph alongside Containments. It adds so much more depth and shows the scope of Textiles as being more than just the ‘craft of knitting and crochet’. Maybe thats a post for another day!

Thinking about painting the final piece of work, I do need to be careful that the concept of ‘finished’ doesn’t interfere with what I consider to be a resolved piece. At times I manage to capture an energetic, almost aggressive painterly style but when I try to produce something ‘best’ I most certainly lose a certain some thing. For example compare:

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The five minute sketch has the edge on the 3 hour painting. What happened?

¹CALLENDER J, 2000 Pattern Combinations. A step-by-step guide to creating pattern (2011) BATSFORD

²JONES H, Quilt Local. Finding Inspiration in the Everyday. (2015) STEWART TABORI & CHANG

1.4; Joining: Overlapping Edges

Possibly because I have been heavily reliant on using stitch as a joining method, overlapping seemed to hold more scope than ever. I am aware that I struggle with layering and to combine different materials in my work, so I made my first task into an investigation into joining two different materials.

I found that I actually quite like the samples that I made where rough, unfinished edges were joined together. I have always had a bit of an adversion to raw edge appliqué but forcing the seams upright so that the frayed edges overlap almost like grasses appealed to me. They add a sense of movement and break up an otherwise flat surface.

I like that the edges reveal something about the construction of the fabric. I noticed that there seems to be a relationship between construction and deconstruction, which I know from my research is something that also fascinates Karen Margolis. For example her paperworks are created by removing disc shapes of paper with a soldering iron (deconstruction), the papers are then stacked in layers (construction). The wire sculptures are constructed by joining elements (construction) yet the weight of these intended column shapes, fights with gravity and partial collapse occurs (deconstruction).

I included drawings alongside the samples I stuck in my sketchbook. As I reflected on this exercise, I began to consider my use of the sketchbook once more. I have moved this reflection to a separate post.

In Exercise 1.2, I was very attracted to the way stitches sit in felt. I next looked at the way felt responds to an overlapped join. I like the way the stitching draws the layers together tightly creating channels. Enclosed areas puff up like in quilting; stitching next to an edge forces it to stand upright. These discoveries could be used to add more relief to a surface which will effect the way light and shadow performs, creating a more tonal piece.

I tried using this overlapping to recreate part of one of my earlier drawings:

 

The sample isn’t totally successful and the photograph actually makes it look worse, the colours are much more vibrant in real life. I still don’t think I combine materials well, the leather I selected to represent the hoops are a good size but perhaps should have been thicker? The textures of the felt and leather are very similar and don’t make much of a statement. I wondered about knocking the felt background back by adding a layer of random seed stitching perhaps in either a chocolate brown or a cream thread? This would disguise the insipid nature of the base colour. It would also add more texture.

What I do find works is the rhythm of the shapes. I was reminded of my enthusiasm for surface pattern and decided that is what I would I would like to develop. This will be discussed further in my next post.

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