The Book of Texture
- It was a nightmare stitching the pages together, because they are so thick and textured they won’t lie flat, and don’t line up evenly. And I’m not sure photographing them on a blue background was a good idea, but it’s very bright and cheerful!
Aims and Inspiration: This is a kind of sampler and, as I said in my previous post, was inspired by Lizzy’s feedback on my struggles with Jasper Johns – she suggested adding texture to the paint with things like sawdust, chalk and sand. So I had a play with all sorts of stuff around the house, shed and garden, like sand, sawdust, seeds, snippets of thread, bits of paper… And I decided that books don’t have to be square or rectangular, so I stuck to the Jasper Johns theme by making this one in the shape of a letter ‘H’, and using acrylics in bold, primary colours – but I’ve only used one colour for each page because my aim was to introduce texture, and I thought more than one colour might detract from that.
Method: It’s a stitch and fold book, about 6 inches high and 4.5 wide, using 2 strands of blue sewing thread, with textured paint on the right-hand page. The left-hand pages were painted to match the textured right-hand leaves, and I wrote brief notes with a silver pen to remind me what I used. I tried gently brushing over the textured paint with a pearlescent paint to highlight the raised areas, but it wasn’t very noticeable, so I used a silvery one instead.
The main pages were from the old Norman Rockwell book that I’ve used before, because the paper is fairly stiff and I thought it would support thick, textured paint. The cover is cut from an old cereal packet, painted white, with white tissue paper (from some packaging) stuck and wrinkled over it, then painted red. I printed the title with a small alphabet set found in a charity shop, but it wasn’t terribly successful, and I had a disaster with some blue paint and the red cover! I was going to paint over it and re-do the title but, as my Younger Daughter frequently reminds me, mistakes are what makes us human, so I’ve left it as it is.
Since the pages are thick and uneven, it’s a bumpy, lumpy book, which doesn’t lie flat whether closed or open, and making holes and stitching it was a nightmare, so I used ordinary sewing thread (doubled) because I didn’t want to add more bulk with a thicker thread (although it would probably give a better ‘hold’). For the same reason I kept ornamentation as simple and light-weight as possibly by sticking an oddment of narrow silver ribbon to the back of the book, then threading the ends through a decorative ceramic button (from my button jar), with plastic beads (left over from when the girls were small) and knots at the ends to stop it coming off. To close the book you pull the ribbon tight, with the button flat against the cover, and tie it in a bow, or wrap it around the book. To open the book you just loosen the button and ribbon.
Findings: This technique is very messy, so you need to cover your surface – I used a very cheap, very large plastic pet mat, which is quite thick, doesn’t slip about, and can be scrubbed clean. The activity is also very heavy on paint, so cheap acrylics are probably best. It needs thick paper or card to support the weight of the textured paint, and is best with paper which is not porous. I did try using a spatula to spread the textured paints, but found it easier with an old household paintbrush. Some things like the snippets of fabric and woollen yarn, and the dried lavender, soak up the paint and would benefit from some PVA glue! Large round seeds roll around and are difficult to stick, but look fabulous when they do – small round seeds or long ones were best. Sand was brilliant because, surprisingly, it glittered, and I’m amazed at how effective tissue paper can be.
A double page spread in The Book of texture.
Overview: I think this was a good effort! On the plus side I enjoyed playing around with it, and I’m glad I was brave and had a go, and would definitely try it again, varying the thickness of the paint – could you use emulsion I wonder – and with different types of paper, and different applicators, to see what happens, and whether you could build up layers with different textures. And I think the idea of producing a book which isn’t a traditional square or rectangle is great- I’d like to explore that further. Also, I’m pleased that everything except the paints was recycled, scrounged, or left over from other things. And I was well organised, which I always feel is an achievement – I wrote a plan of what I wanted to do, gathered all my materials at the outset, kept notes as I went along, and it all came out much as I hoped! On the down side, I think I might get better results by using collage techniques and glueing things to a surface, then painting them, and I wonder if stitch and stab might have been easier and neater, even though it would have made the letter look lopsided.
Key to textured paint pages (above), with apologies if I’ve muddled them up! Hopefully, you can click on them to make them bigger.
Row 1, Left to Right: Seeds; Sand; Crushed Eggshells. The button fastener has been loosened and is acting as a weight to keep this page open.
Row 2, Left to Right: Sawdust/Wood Shavings; Fabric Snippets; Chopped Wool Thread.
Row 3, Left to Right: Dried Crushed Leaves; Paper Snippets; Dried Lavender. I have no idea why the blue paper snippets picture only shows part of the letter!
The back page, with its stuck-on ribbon.
The Book of Rosalie Gascoigne
Aims and Inspiration: I always intended to make a cover and embellish the book I made about Australian artist Rosalie Gascoigne in Module 2, Chapter 4, but I put it on hold while I concentrated on the activities I was meant to be doing. Now seems the right time to do it. I wanted to use recycled and left-over materials (where possible), which was very much part of her ethos; to echo the hot colours of the Outback which dominate her work, and to try and reflect the regularity of the ‘grid’ shapes which she used so frequently.
Method: I created woven covers for the stab stitch book, threading strips of shiny magazine pages through orange plastic mesh – I found long strips of this, in bright colours, in Brixton Market (I gather they’re sold as back scrubbers). But the holes turned out to be much smaller than I expected (I think I was deceived by the overall size of the ‘fabric’). Anyway, the holes in the mesh were only half a centimetre wide – a hair’s breadth fatter and the paper caught and tore and wouldn’t go through. It took me hours and hours and hours measuring and cutting and weaving dozens and dozens of strips of paper, but it was worth the effort. I did some one way and some the other to make a pattern. I’d planned on weaving one length, and cutting it in two, but it came up too big for one cover and too small for two for two (partly because I miscalculated my measurements, and partly because the mesh is springy, and stretched when I measured and cut, then went small again). So I used a big piece for the front, and the small ‘left-over’ strip on the back, and am pretending I designed it that way.
The back – with a loose thread I forgot to trim!
I glued the covers to khadi paper painted on both sides with acrylic paints in sunset colours. But the covers didn’t stick very well (I think that’s because of the plastic mesh), so I decided to straight stitch over them. However, when I tried a bit it looked terrible, and it needed a stronger backing. So I did some samples and settled on acrylic felt which was a gorgeous dull orange, with the pre-set zig-zag, but kept altering the stitch width and length to mix it up a bit. The threads were part-used reels from other things – two different variegated threads in sunset colours for the main part, and three different shades of red for the edges! I was a bit worried about the stitching, because I loved the net and paper weaving so much, but I love it even more with the stitching – I think it looks fabulously colourful, and it catches the light in different ways when you move it, and is very textured -very tactile.
To close it, I made a flap from painted Vilene, and stitched it to the back cover, so it folds over to the front, with a buttonhole slipping over one of my hand-made beads which is stitched on to make a toggle (the outer layer is cellophane, and it looks like glass and I know self-praise is no recommendation, but think it’s fabulous). It doesn’t hold as well as I’d hoped, so I’ve used a wooden satay stick to slot through the bead – I wrapped a stick, the discovered the hold in the bead was too small for it to go through, so I pinted one, then rubbed it over with bronze gilding wax.
Originally I planned to make a kind of embossed plaque for the title, with metal from tube of ointment, but it looked too heavy, and dominated the stitched, woven strips, so I cut it into little uneven squares, used an old Biro to emboss a letter into each one to spell out ‘Rosalie Gascoigne’, and made holes with an awl. Then I held them in the gas flame to get a burnished effect, which makes the golden coloured surface look more like copper or bronze. (See health and safety notes below).
I was going to stick these square beads on to the front, but when I laid them out to see what it would look like they faded into insignificance against the woven cover – they were totally lost. Instead, I stitched them on to two lengths of chain cut from some junk jewellery (I held the chains in the gas flame as well, to lessen the bright ‘gold’ effect, and brushed with a toothbrush when they were cold, because there was a lot of residue on them). The chains are stitched to the front cover at each end, but swing loose in the middle. The discoloration and the way they hang are not very even, but nor as anything else about this book! I think the chains and metal beads work quite well. They feel part of the book now – they don’t dominate, but they’re not overwhelmed by the weaving. The beads are stitched on very loosely, with orange thread to match the cover – if you stitch them too too tightly they don’t hang properly. And waxing the thread helps.
A close-up showing the surface, the fastening bead and a square beads hanging on a chain.
The existing stitching which holds the book together should probably have been unpicked, but the pages are quite fragile, so I simply I added another layer of stitching, to add the covers, using doubled red cotton thread to match the edging.
I thought about adding beads and cords, or wrapped sticks, to the spine, but the front is quite busy with the weaving, the square beads on the chains, and the fastening bead and flap so I left it plain. And I did wonder if the flap is too much of a contrast against everything else and whether I should tone it down, perhaps with metallic foil overlaid with tissue from a dress pattern. But in the end I left it.
Findings/Notes: Think about the properties of the materials being used, and whether things are fit for purpose (eg the bead where the hole was too small, or the mesh which is difficult to glue and does not hold its shape). Take more care when measuring. Thread ends – I left a lot hanging when I made the inside pages, and did the same with the covers, but they got tangled and caught in the stitching, so I cut them off, and worried in case everything unravels, but it all seems to be holding together OK.
Overview: On the whole I’m pleased with this. It fulfills the brief, and it maintains the integrity of what I was trying to do, and is a tribute to Rosalie Gascoigne, done in my own way, without slavishly copying her. It’s not quite what I originally envisaged, but I did have a plan, and when I hit problems I found simple solutions which fitted in with my vision. I could have done things differently, or found better ways of working, but, just for once I’m not going to criticise anything – it is as it is, and I like it!
Health and Safety Warning: If you try to heat metal from a tube of ointment or tomato paste in a flame you should:
* Work in a well-ventilated room and wear a mask – they give off evil smelling fumes.
* Keep a bowl of cold water handy, just in case!
* Hold them just above the lowest gas flame for only a few seconds, because they catch fire very easily (I’m not sure if it’s the metal or the paint which burns, but it’s very alarming).
* Hold them by the corner with something long and metallic (NOT plastic) – I used a long pair of old decorating scissors.
* As soon as the colour starts changing, put them on a heat proof surface to cool.
* When cutting the metal tube and chain you ought to wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from any flying bits of metal, but I can’t see anything without my glasses, so I wear an old pair, because I don’t want to risk damaging the ones I wear all the time.
The Book of Feathers
NB: This one is a bit of a disaster. The photos are not very good, because I forgot to scan the pages in before I stitched them together, and they wouldn’t lie flat for photographs. And I haven’t photographed everything. I let myself get way too distracted with this, and got very disenchanted with it, and I’ve lost some of the bits did…
Front cover on The Book of Feathers.
Aims and Inspiration: To recap from my last post, this started life as a quick, simple collection of A4 papers from my stash where I experimented with monoprinting feathers, some collected on walks near home, others left over from from some stuff I did for my Elder Daughter’s hen party a couple of years back. But the project grew and grew – and I ended up with all kinds of odds and ends, notes, information, samples, pictures, poems and, of course, feathers! I haven’t photographed everything.
Method: The easiest way to do this is by explaining what I did, and how it could be improved.
Front Cover is from a cereal packet, covered with acrylic paint, tissue paper, and more acrylics, then decorated with feathers machine stitched into layers of newspaper and cut to shape – I tried stitching them to the cereal packet card, but the sewing machine had a hissy fit, and the feathers looked like leaves, so I cut into them a bit more and glued them on. They still look a bit clunky, and I might go back and paint them, but they’re not too bad. I used some of my home-made blocks to print the letters of the word ‘feathers’ in the gaps between the feathers. It’s stitched together with a piece of silk sari ribbon.
Inside Front Cover was painted in acrylics, and the stripey sort of effect looked a bit like feathers, so I had a go at drawing simple fathers with oil pastel, water colour, charcoal and a fineliner pen, basing the drawings partly on the shapes in the paint, and partly on some found feathers. It was a bit scary, because I’m not good at drawing and painting, and I wanted to do them in pencil first (so I could correct them and then go over them) but I made myself be bold and just go for it! The watercolour needed a finer brush and was a mess, and the fineliner looked all wrong, so I brushed water over them, which improved them a bit. But I like the oil pastel feather, even though it’s so simple, and I rubbed bits of the charcoal drawing to smudge it, and it’s not that bad… well, I like it! In fact, I enjoyed drawing with charcoal so much I started trying to do some little sketches with it. I find it less intimidating than pens and pencils.
Inside Pages are mostly monoprints using acrylics, inks and dyes on a home-made gelatin plate (I love using these – they’re easy to make, and although they have a limited life they develop really interesting marks on the surface as they start to break up). A few were done on a Gelli plate which I rarely use because I’m scared of wrecking it! You get the best effects by pressing feathers into the painted plate, then removing them to show the details of the barbs and everything, then rolling off a print.
Pockets Some pages are sewn together, with an opening at the top, to make a kind of pouch for my notes, and on other pages I stitched some smaller pockets to hold feathers and other bits and pieces. I’ve used hand stitching, piercing holes in the papers first, to make it easier, and used blanket stitch and running stitch. I forgot about feather stitch though!!!
Rubbings were disappointing – I experiments with wax crayons and oil pastels on various papers but didn’t get enough detail, and the feathers moved. Would masking tape over the bottom of the shaft hold them and make it easier? Feathers with wide gaps between the barbs, like peacocks, gave slightly better results.
Impressions by pushing feathers into texture gel, moulding paste, acrylic medium and light-weight Fimo because I wanted to try and get a fossil effect. Fimo needs to be much thinner – going to try this ago, but roll the Fimo through a pasta machine or dye cutter. Mediums need a bit more experimentation – catching them when they’re not too wet and not too dry is tricky. And I think they need to be thinner rather than thicker. Sadly I forgot to label my samples and have no idea which was which.
Cyantotypes, or sunprints, were the hugest fun, and very, very simple. They’re really quick to do, and work even on a dull day, and are absolutely magical! I used paper I spotted in a shop by Brixton Market whilst cat sitting for my Younger Daughter – who could resist a packet of paper labelled Sunography – not me, that’s for sure!
Drawings I even plucked up the courage to try some drawing (you know how scared I am about this) – I started by copying pictures and drawings of feathers in books, and progressed to drawing a real feather.
Computer Art I also played around with the computer and part of the image of the peacock feathers on the Oxfam card (which is itself a representation of parts of feathers). I changed colours and shapes, and cropped in on part of the design (to include bits of the barbs, eye and background), then turned it around and made all sorts of repeat patterns with it. And I found an option to turn a photo into a charcoal sketch, reducing it to black and white lines, which is jolly useful if you’re no good at drawing, and makes you look at the picture in a completely different way.
Feathers I’ve stored some of my feathers in the ‘pockets’ on my pages, and stitched others onto some decorated paper.
Paper Scraps Somehow I amassed lots of bits of paper, including a record of what I’ve done, how it could be improved, and ideas for future experiments. But I also scribbled notes about feathers because I got interested in their structure, and why birds need them, and what humans have used them for over the centuries.
Overview: The results on this book were a bit of a mixed bag, with some good points and some bad!
On the Downside it was not well organised. It’s a mish-mash, and is too diverse, and I got a bit bogged down – I dodged around here, there and everywhere, doing things as they caught my fancy, which doesn’t make for a cohesive project. If I’d thought about it properly beforehand, and constructed a work plan, and sorted out my materials, I would have made things much simpler, and narrowed it down and looked at one aspect of feathers, maybe quill pens and writing, which would have fitted in nicely with the theme of this module. My note taking left a lot to be desired – which is a shame, because it can be really difficult remembering exactly how something was done! Less collecting of ideas and more of my own work would have been good, and why didn’t I vary the size and type of paper used, and try cut-outs, flaps or pop-ups? I must admit that although I enjoyed working on this I got fed up and lost my impetus, because there was just too much stuff, and nothing seemed to hold together, and I didn’t know which direction to take it, or how to end it, which is what I desperately wanted to do.
On the plus side, despite all that, I think I’ve fulfilled the brief by producing a sample stitched book and, on the whole, I’m quite pleased with it. I tried out various techniques, and even plucked up courage to draw some feathers, and I feel it’s is well on the way to becoming a ‘proper’ sketchbook – packed with ideas and inspiration that I can return to and use and develop in the future. I would love to try some kind of stitched textile (just a small one) and some printing based on the designs I made by taking part of the peacock feathers on the Oxfam card (which is itself based on parts of the feathers). And I’m sure I could create something using the criss-cross patterns and dangling barbs in those fabulous microscope views of feathers, which don’t look like feathers at all. And I adored the cyanotypes – I’d love to explore them further, with material rather than paper.