Writing a first blog is like drawing on a bright white piece of paper, it is both terrifying and exciting. Having always documented my own creative thoughts, processes and ideas into a paper sketchbook, this is a totally new and alien experience for me. At the ripe old age of 37, I begin this new journey with you.
I have always had a habit of over-complicating information; briefs, modules and research material, so on this occasion I have decided to go completely against grain and simply showcase what I have been up to during the summer. This will be in the form of images, websites, web links, blogs and photographs.
Firstly I decided to go back to basics and undertake a session of ‘touch drawings’. I have always been crippled by the idea that I cannot draw ‘properly’, this has caused great anxiety and depression. I do not want to be one of the growing ‘artists’ that cannot draw, but are full of ideas; I am greedy and want to be rich in every field.
Here a few examples of been given an item, by my helpful Dad, and not knowing what I was about to draw. This would help with my mark making/drawing, as I had no pre-conceived ideas of what should be.
These were my first 2 experimental ‘touch’ drawings. The task at hand was to take a few drawing implements such as a biro, pencil, charcoal stick, pastel; a range that would describe surfaces and textures without actually viewing them. My Dad, bless him, had gone into the garage to retrieve car parts (starter motor and water bottle) for me to draw. These are a direct sensory interpretation, using touch only, to create a multi faceted and descriptive drawing. I learnt a great deal about my drawing style/skill over these quick studies. I can draw, I just need to use more than my eyes when it comes to creating a new work of art. I need to study it, touch it, visualise it.
I was now given 2 new objects from which to ‘draw’ from touch. Image 1 (left) is that of a pine cone, using more angular and sharp drawing instruments i.e biro, compressed charcoal pencil and graphite pencil to interpret rougher, sharper and distinct edges; colour is immaterial but really gives a nice overall natural look. Image 2 (right) is that of a seashell, again using drawing implements to suggest sharp, smooth and rounded surfaces, namely charcoal, pastel and broad tip pen. I found it extremely important to use different drawing implements, it is both vital and necessary if I am to convey an accurate interpretation of what I feel.
I found the touch drawing exercises invaluable and now moved on to actual sample drawings, using a viewfinder to create unusual and descriptive areas of an overall shape. I was always told to concentrate on a section of the subject before tackling the whole, this would allow one to understand and analyse without getting bombarded with information overload.
Mark making to create tone, shade and pattern. Yes, these are slightly basic and unfinished sketches, but they gave me invaluable knowledge into how I can create a bigger and more comprehensive study for future endeavours.
I decided to incorporate what I had already learned in my previous studies and incorporate a little collage/paper cutting. I found the experience really freeing and expressive; allowing myself the spontaneity of making marks with both paper and drawing implements gave me a greater confidence in dealing with possible future creative problems.
I only used old scrap paper, oil pastels and charcoal to create the image above, I thoroughly enjoyed recycling materials, without having to use new; this mentality will help me financially in future and help with the conversation of trees.
Being exposed to the potential of collage has really ignited a desire to find out a lot more about it’s history and how I can incorporate it by new and exciting methods of practice. Who knew that it was actually Picasso and George Braques that coined the term COLLAGE (from the French coller ‘to glue’) at the beginning part of the 20th Century, it became a distinctive part of Modern Art. *RESEARCH VIA CONTEXTUAL STUDIES
What is drawing? Each artist is their own person, they have their own unique visual handwriting. Everyone can write, but can they write well? Is it fluent? Does it look beautiful? Can we improve our own ‘handwriting’? This is what I will dedicate my blog to. I want to learn. I want to grow. I want to improve.
I wanted to concentrate on specific details within a chosen observational drawing. This exercise would see me look at shadow and contrast. Image 1 (left) is that of a seed pod surface; I used an angle poised lamp to create a rich and sumptuous shadow. I used a grey and white pastel with a hard compressed charcoal pencil, which has turned out to be one of my favourite items to draw with. Image 2 is that of 2 egg shells, one next to another. I wanted to create the sense of shape and fragility, for the best part I think I have succeeded. I really enjoyed the subtle mark making uses of gently charcoal marks that are built up with varying pressures of hand/instrument.
One of the aspects I struggled with in my previous shape and tone drawings was knowing which mark I could use to define a more circular and rounded visual. I decided that I wanted to concentrate on an observation that would incorporate a study without going into too much detail, this being a study using negative space and mark making. Spaces between random cylinders such as deodorant spray bottles, toilet rolls and plastic piping were filled with whatever marks I wanted. I used different pressures of marks, sizes and shapes. I learnt the importance of mark making and how it can make a drawing pop or seem flat. I feel a little more confident in exploring a more observational and fine art approach to the subject I wish to draw. Experimental mark making and sketches will form a major part of my body of work from now on.
Moving on, I decided to take an art class with none other than Chris Holloway, the resident teach of Fine Art/Drawing @ Cardiff met. Chris gave us the task to draw a bottle and an apple side by side, this seemed simple enough but brought all of my insecurities of not being able to draw, up to the surface all over again. I think having so many other people working side by side next to me was a deterrent and made concentration difficult.
I found that my drawing style had gone little backwards, having a more childlike quality which was something I felt uncomfortable about. I did not give up and continue to document what it is I saw in front of me. I tried to capture the essence of a teacup with as many quick studies as I could within a 10 minute period.
The results were mixed, to say the least. Another still life was assembled in front of the group and we were instructed to document what was in front of us. Again, the results were mixed. The moral of the tale, to take from this exercise, would be to practice and sign up to more observational workshops. Practice makes perfect.
Chris could see that the group overall was struggling. He decided to make us work in a negative fashion, rather to darken the white paper with charcoal and to work backwards. This method made me add the hi-lights via a rubber, something I had never really done before. The overall method of working was extremely liberating; final results were a little mixed but I can honestly say I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
I found this exercise rather cathartic. Most people I know would say I usually do everything arse backwards, hahaha.I now need to look at form and spacial awareness.
And now for something completely different……..ECO PRINTING/BOTANICAL PRINTING
Over the Summer I managed to come across a wonderful local artist called Catherine Lewis; I had made a mental note of her a few months previous when I had seen her on Countryfile. She utilises natural medium to create inks, dyes and prints. Her website is as follows:
When I visited her website I was extremely excited to see she was running an ECO/BOTANICAL Printing session, which I immediately signed up to. On Saturday 1st July I began my first step towards a growing passion of natural dyeing and using the flora of the world around me to create the most fantastic print designs.
To prepare me for the workshop ahead, I was given a bundle of different fabrics to view and touch. The purpose of the exercise was to take mental/physical notes of how each fabric could be represented visually and how it would ultimately take the dye. I was asked to cut off 4 strips of each individual fabric and gather each, using a fabric clip, to create a bundle of all the different fabrics. The 4 bundles were then submerged in the dye baths, 2 being placed in the Walnut and 2 in the Turmeric and Agrimony flower. One of the two bundles had been previously prepared using an Iron Mordant*. Cath had prepared 2 natural dye baths; one being Walnut and the other turmeric and dandelion flower. At the same time, Cath introduced the group to Shibori (I will discuss this in more detail as I get further within my blog). I took the remaining fabric leftovers and began to clamp, pleat and concertina. These leftovers were also submerged alongside the sample strips and left to absorb the dye within each bath.
*Mordant = A metal ion which attaches to the fibre, usually by being boiled together for a length of time. A dye which has no natural attraction to the fibre can then attach to the metal ion. Most, but not all natural dyes are mordant dyes, which require the metal ion to be in the fibre in order for them to have any attraction to the fibre. Mordants include ALUM, CHROMIUM, COPPER, IRON, OXALIC ACID and TIN.
* Modifier = Can be used to alter and fix colours after the initial dyeing process. Can be subtle or a new colour. Acidic modifiers – Citric Acid, Lemon juice, Vinegar. Can make colours brighter and more yellow in tone. Alkaline Modifiers – Washing soda, household ammonia. Turns colours pinker in tone. Copper Modifiers – Copper Sulphate. Makes colours browner/greyer in tone. Iron Modifiers – Ferrous Sulphate. Tends to make colours darken. Yellows to Olive greens
The dye baths were heated to a specific temperature to allow for the natural medium to break down and release it’s sumptuous treasure. The bundles were submerged and left to absorb the dye. Cath suggested leaving them in the dye solution for a couple of hours. As I waited for the fabric samples, Cath prepared fabrics to begin an experimental session of Eco/Botanical printing. I was given numerous long strips of fabric to prepare as I wanted, many were prepared in an Iron rust bath, alum bath and others were prepared within a vinegar bath.
A range of leaves and flowers including Hydrangea, Acer and Eucalyptus were on offer for arrangement, however I saw fit, over the prepared long strip fabric carrier cloth*.
*Carrier Cloth = Way of transferring a dye, mordant or other additive to the cloth you are wanting to dye or print.
When the plant/floral material was placed on the strip fabric, the carrier cloth was then placed over the top. The fabric was then wrapped tightly using either chopsticks or an iron/copper pipe (depending on if you wanted a darker or lighter print); the bundle was then bound with wool/sting and placed within an steaming Fish Kettle for a minimum of 45 minutes. The Fish Kettle was heated by a 2 Plate electric hob, something that could be purchased inexpensively.
Whilst waiting for the eco/botanical bundles to do their magic, Cath informed us that the sample strips and shibori leftovers were due to be taken out, discussed and unmasked. Unfortunately my camera decided to die during the money shot reveal. I was extremely pissed off to say the least, but on a positive note I was able to dry the strips/shibori leftovers whilst at home home.
I think the most exciting aspect of this process had to be the uncertainty of the end product. I had never practiced anything quite like this before, but really felt a certain kind of natural affinity/attraction to these new processes.
The image above demonstrates the fabric samples using the Walnut and Turmeric and Agrimony flower dye baths. I wonder if you can see which fabrics were exposed to a mordant and which were not? This is not immediately easy to see; the fabric used can really affect the level of colour saturation as much as the mordant. There are predominantly 2 types of natural fibre:
- CELLULOSE – Plant fibres. Includes Cotton, Linen, Hemp, Bamboo, Paper and Viscose.
- PROTEIN – Animal fibres. Includes Silk, Wool and Leather.
Plant fibres such as linen, hemp and cotton tend to be lighter and duller and more often require mordanting. The natural lustre of silk fibre compliments any natural dye beautifully and takes the colour most readily of all fibres. Wool absorbs the dye to slightly paler shades initially but with time and care, beautiful strong colours can be achieved.
From top left clockwise:
Image 1 – Shibori. Marbles and elastic bands. Marbles were used to bunch the fabric. Elastic bands were used to restrict and keep fabric in place by tightening and tightening around marble. Submerged within Turmeric and Agrimony Flower dye bath for 2 hours.
Image 2. Shibori. Circular Wooden blocks and Wool twine. Fabric was folded over and over and clamped between circular wood blocks. Block and fabric was kept in place with wrapping wooden twine around bundle. Submerged within Walnut dye bath for 2 hours.
Image 3. Shibori. Folded fabric and large wooden spectrum. Fabric folded like a concertina and clamped using a wooden spectrum. Submerged within Walnut dye bath for 2 hours.
Image 4. Shibori. Folded 180 Degrees. Clamped with chopsticks and twine. Fabric folded into a fan pattern and clamped using wooden chopsticks. Submerged within Walnut dye bath for 2 hours.
The simple immersion of Shibori gave me an immense feeling of freedom and self expression. I knew that I would want to find out a lot more about Shobori, it’s history and how it could aid my practice. I decided to buy a couple of books on the subject: 1. STITCHED SHIBORI – Jane Callender and 2. SHIBORI DESIGNS & TECHNIQUES – Mandy Southan. These books will be a guiding light to fulfil a personal ambition to become proficient and creative within this incredible ancient Japanese traditional process.
The time had come to remove the cloth from the Fish Kettle. I was advised to let the bundles cool to avoid any injury, the bundles were extremely hot. Waiting for the cooling process would also allow all prints to settle and to obtain best results.
The fabrics used for the eco/botanical print bundles ranged from cotton to silk. Some of the fabrics used carrier cloths and others did not. The fabrics that had been immersed/exposed to mordants (top photos) resulted in backgrounds of darker hues and earthy tones, whilst the fabrics that had been exposed/immersed with modifiers gave birth to more vibrant and crisp result. The photos do not give the best impression of the wonderful textural and natural forms that have been captured by cloth. The nature of textiles seems to be how we touch and feel each material; I find it vital to immerse myself in a multi-sensory experience when dealing with my creative practices.
Cath was kind enough to recommend a couple of artists that have been pioneers within the field of Eco/Botanical Printing; India Flint has written an amazing collection of books on the subject and comes highly recommended. The 2 books I chose to purchase from Amazon are ECO COLOUR: Botanical Dyes for Beautiful Textiles and SECOND SKIN. This is an artist I will be researching heavily and in depth. I love the idea of being self sufficient, creating art from nature and making a living without destroying the environment. I am extremely excited to begin research into Sustainable Practices when I begin my professional career @ Cardiff Met in September.
Whilst briefly being exposed to a taster session in Shibori, Cath mentioned that she was running a Shibori/Indigo workshop, this would in turn delve a little further into the experimentation and process involved in making a batch of Indigo and taking further the practice of fabric manipulation. Hopefully the resulting dyed cloth would drive me on to become a more advanced practitioner.
I was first given instructions to prepare my first batch of indigo, I was wonderfully excited and eager to begin.
The Indigo dye that I was using was synthetic, Cath told me that I could utilise a natural Indigo dye but it was vastly more expensive and a little more time consuming to prepare and use. For the purposes of this 1-day introduction into experimental Shibori/Indigo dyeing, synthetic indigo was absolutely perfect. Going forward, I would like to experience the natural dyeing process of Indigo, but that will be another time and day.
Ta-da, my first homemade and prepared batch of Indigo. I was totally amazed to find that Indigo in it’s freshly prepared form is actually a bright, rich and extremely deep hue of green. Wow!! Cath explained to me how Indigo itself will only turn blue due to the oxidation process of being exposed to the air. The fabric would be taken from the dye bath looking a mixture of deep greens, the blue will begin to appear once exposed to the air around it. At first I could expect the fabric to show a mixture of blues and greens, which create intense and wildly imaginative patterns. The oxidisation process will begin the metamorphosis from greens into indigo blues, the process is quite magical.
First things first, I was given different fabric types and told to cut them into sample strips for submersion into the indigo dye vat. These strips were immersed in a bath of water to prepare for the Indigo.
One sample strip was going to be submerged for 30minutes and taken out to dry. The second sample strip was going to experience an identical 30minute bath, but would be taken out to dry and then re-submerged for a further 30 minutes. Cath would tell us why when the time came to dry the 2nd batch again. I was really looking forward to finding out why.
The remaining fabric was manipulated by pleating, binding, twisting, blocking, using marbles and elastic and clamping. The tools at my disposal were fantastic and so simple to use; definitely on my to-do list to procure/make.
The fabric manipulation was documented by photograph. In the session, there was no right or wrong way to experiment. Mistakes are invaluable, they are vital to learn.
When all the fabric samples/bundles had been created, they were all deluged within a water bath. This bath would allow preparation for the Indigo dye and give a crisper and more even finish (hopefully) to the samples when removed from the dye bath.
To make room within the Indigo dye vat, the sample strips were taken out and hung up to dry. One set had been taken out previously after 30 minutes and the other had been dried and re-submerged for the required 30 minutes. Cath now informed us why she had demonstrated this process; Indigo colour can be made far more effective by immersing the fabric on separate occasions. For example, take 2 samples of the fabric and immerse one for a whole hour and the other for 2 lots of 30 minutes, this would demonstrate efficiency of multiple ‘dips’. The colour saturation would be more sumptuous and desirable.
Can you see the amazing hues of green? These areas of the fabric were the last to be exposed to air; oxidisation. The colour will eventually all turn to blue.
Cath and I had our lunch and waited for Indigo Shibori samples to do their magic. The time then came to remove the fabric samples from the dye vat. I really didn’t know what to expect, but nonetheless was excited.
I was transfixed and in awe of what I saw. Different fabrics created the most wonderfully different culminations. Yes, some of the results were not as sharp and desirable as I had wanted, but mistakes create knowledge. I have always found the colour blue to be such an enigmatic and powerful colour. I know I have mentioned my intention to research the subject of Shibori and it’s origins, but I really want to traverse through an experimental journey of the use of blue within art and history. Watch this space.
Creating Patterns with Indigo. The afternoon workshop carried on from the experimental nature of the morning workshop; new tools and a new process.
A wide drainage pipe had been cut to around 10″ in height, it looked like it had been used many times before. I was asked to cut a length of Parachute Silk, about 2feet in length and about 1 foot in width, this was then stretched over the drainage pipe and clipped onto the top with an elastic band. A length of wooden twine was then used to bind/wrap around the top of the pipe and silk.
Initially, I was asked to keep the wooden twine tight and to keep an equidistant length between each binding. After around 5 ‘orbits’ around the pipe I was informed to push the twine up to create gathering of the fabric.
I continued the process of binding and pushing up to gather until there was no more silk fabric available and the pipe was completely covered.
Now the fun part!! The pipe/silk gathered fabric was placed gently within the Indigo vat. It was immersed and submerged for 45 minutes.
The wait made me anxious for some reason, again I did not know what to expect. Cath told me that I could have prepared the silk fabric with other dyes/mordants/modifiers before the immersion within the Indigo vat. On this occasion she wanted to demonstrate the simplicity of the process and create a wonderful contrast of colour between the blue and white.
All ready. 45 minutes of yummy cooking, lol. Now, time to unwrap all of the wooden twine; therapeutic. Would the Indigo look as dark as it does on the pipe?
Wow!!!! I was so proud of this peace. Immediately, I was transported back to holidays of my childhood; swimming pools in the south of France and memories by the Sea. This sample evokes a feeling of serenity, peace, tranquility and sense of empowerment. It amazes me how subjective and emotive Art can be.
Not to waste any of the precious studio time, I asked Cath if we could incorporate the Eco/Botanical printing with the Indigo process knowledge we had absorbed throughout the day. Needless to say, she was thrilled to find out that my enthusiasm was still running wild, even after 7 hours. The Fish Kettle was quickly heated up and now began the preparing of the cloth. No mordant or modifier was used, time was precious and we had only a little left. The cloth I used was around 3 feet long and 1 foot wide.
I utilised the spare beech and willow tree leaves and arranged them with hydrangea flowers and blackberry leaves over the cloth. The cloth was covered with a carrier cloth to keep all medium safe and secure, this was then wrapped around 2 x 1″ copper pipe and steamed for 45minutes. I used 2 copper pipes, not one, due to the desire to include as much surface coverage of the Indigo as possible. If I had used only 1 pipe and wrapped the cloth all the way around, I would have only covered a small and single-sided part of the cloth.
The bundle was now added to the Indigo dye vat for 15minutes. I was expectantly nervous to find if the experiment was a success or an utter mess. Turns out, I was positively surprised how it turned out. The inclusion of Indigo and Eco/Botanical printing is something that I really am excited to continue; in fact I have spoken to Cath to arrange some 121 sessions to further my inquisitive nature within the field of print and dye.
(Left) Shows how bundle looked as it was opened 5 minutes after cooling off. (Right) Unravelling from centre to both ends. The initial placing of the natural mediums had been intentionally symmetrical. I thought the end result was fantastic, I was extremely happy.
‘Finished’ pieces hanging on a drying rack. (Left) Cotton cloth. (Right) Parachute Silk.
I cannot express my gratitude enough to Cath Lewis, she has opened my eyes to a whole new world I really didn’t know existed. I now have my mind wide open, the desire to evaluate every leaf, flower and seed pod I have the fortune to come across; shape, pattern, colour, surface texture and printing potential.
Cath has also been generous enough to give me the names of 2 of her peers, which coincidentally are all based within 30 minutes of the city centre of Cardiff. Fantastic!!!! The artists in question are:
Michelle Griffiths – SHIBORI NETWORK REPRESENTATIVE for UK/IRELAND. Studio 9, Model House Craft & Design Centre,
The Bull Ring,
Mobile: 07974 417403
Model House Office Tel: 01446 237758 www.shibori.co.uk
Claire Cawte – FELT/NATURAL PRINT TEXTILE/FINE ARTIST http://www.clairecawtetextiles.co.uk Mobile: 07748842117
I have already been in touch with both Michelle and Claire. We are currently arranging a mentor programme, workshops and 121 tutorials which should all begin within the next few months.