The Book I Forgot (2.10.1)

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The Book of Trees

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Aims and Inspiration: This is an extra project, which I forgot to add in to the last post. It’s an ongoing work in progress, designed partly to make myself work more quickly and intuitively, and partly because my other books were stitched together after I decorated the pages, and I wanted to work on a smallish sketchbook with blank pages. The theme is trees, and the idea is that when I am out walking, I can look for one thing that inspires me to create a page, whether it’s using a found object, trying to reproduce colours, shapes and textures, or simplifying a view. I’m trying to keep things very simple and pared down. There’s to be no research, no samples, no thinking about things, no buying anything new, and no getting sidetracked! At the outset I sorted out a box of basic tools and materials – paints, scissors, brushes, glue, recycling and decorated paper, threads and needles etc. And I’ve set myself a time limit of 20 minutes a page – if things don’t work out or don’t get finished it doesn’t matter. I guess you could say it’s an exercise in speedy spontaneity!

Overview: This is a very different way of working for me, and making a start on the first page was quite daunting – the time limit was scary, and I like to think things through beforehand, and to know if I am doing it correctly. But once I got going I was OK, and I’m really enjoying it now. Finding inspiration is easy. The challenge lies in trying to create something within the time limit, using stuff in my box of bits. It really does make me focus on the task in hand, and I think it’s making me more flexible and fluid in my approach, and less inclined to worry about whether things are ‘right’, and it’s a good loosening-up exercise when you’re feeling jaded. Ideally I should do this every day, but it’s not always possible, so I’m aiming for every other day, and I’ll do another post when I finish it.

Method: The cover is part of the vinyl wallpaper decorated with a home-made stamp showing tree branches in a letter ‘Y’ (click here for more details), painted with white gesso and pink acrylic, followed by metallic foil, more pink paint (painted on and rubbed off), and dressmaking pattern tissue glued with gloss medium. The pattern is upside down, so it looks like styised tree roots, rather than tree branches.

I’ve used a variety of papers for the pages keeping to brown and cream colours – old envelopes, paper napkins, wrapping paper, khadi paper, deli paper etc. Some edges are torn, some are cut, and they vary in size and shape, and some stick out beyond the covers.

It’s a folded book, just over 5 inches high and just over 6 inches wide, stitched together with pink pipe cleaners, which I will eventually decorate with beads.

DSCN8725Page 1: Bark rubbing with orange oil pastel and watery paint.

DSCN8727 (2)Page 2: Some of the marks showed through on the reverse, so I tried to enhance them with coloured pencils.

DSCN8728Page 3: Leaf rubbing with red wax crayon, and pressed leaf, glued to page and coated with acrylic wax.

DSCN8729Page 4: I ironed the page after doing the leaf rubbing because the paper got creased, and this image was the result!

DSCN8730Page 5: Tree scene collage with torn strips from three paper bags. I like this!

DSCN8731Page 6: Tree rings on logs, drawn with coloured pencils.

DSCN8732Page 7: Bark decorated with fancy thread and seed beads. It looks kind of totemic, and I rather like it, but I’ll stick or stitch it in at the end (it’s too thick and would make it difficult to work on other pages).

DSCN8734 (2)Page 8: This willow tree has been cut back (pollarded?) and is sprouting new growth from the cut branches. It’s a fantastic shape – I think it looks like a witch on a bad hair day! So I took a photo, used Gimp (free photo editing computer programme) to turn it into a black and white charcoal sketch, then reversed the image, joined the two together, and printed it out.

DSCN7445 (2)The photo of a ‘Bad Hair Day’ tree that inspired Page 8.

DSCN8735 (2)Page 9: Stitchery inspired by twisted tree trunk with a hole in it – couching and beads. Background was already done and was in the box of bits (scraps of fabric stuck to A4 size calico, roughly machine stitched over, and cut into pieces).

DSCN8739 (2)Page 10: This was inspired by a photo of a pinecone on a tree. When I downloaded it on the computer I could see there was a pattern on the sticky-out bits of the cone that I hadn’t spotted with the naked eye, and when I cropped and enlarged the photo I could see it even more clearly – it’s really beautiful, like flower petals or feathers. So I printed the pattern, with funky foam, and the edge of an old credit card. It should really be the other way up. I went slightly over my 20-minute limit, but it was surprisingly quick to do, and I rather like the result.

DSCN8237 (2)The photo of a pinecone that inspired Page 10.

 

DSCN8740Page 11: Inspired by lichens on tree branches, using rubber stamps and Xpandaprint painted with acrylics, and then overprinted. Didn’t turn out as I hoped.

DSCN8741Page 12: I wrapped a twig picked up on walk.

DSCN8742Page 13: More tree trunks – Painted Bondaweb and painted newspaper (in the box of bits). I tore it up and layered it a bit more, then added glitter.

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Module 2, Chapter 10, Activity 1 (Part 2)

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The Book of Texture 

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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.

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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!

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The back page, with its stuck-on ribbon.

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The Book of Rosalie Gascoigne

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The front cover of my Rosalie Gascoigne book.

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.

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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.

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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.

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 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… 

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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.

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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. 

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Module 2, Chapter 10, Activity 1 (Part 1)

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2.10.1: Make small trial sketchbooks to try out stab stitch and fold and stitch techniques.

I’ve split this post into two – the remainder will follow at a future date because the others are not finished – but I wanted to show some of them to prove I am working!

Overview

I loved doing these, especially when I was working with a theme – I may not be very adventurous, and I didn’t always stick to my plan (things evolve), but it made me think about what I was doing, and the various ideas I could explore and how I could bring different techniques together, without feeling constrained by doing an ‘activity’ in proper bound book with all those blank pages. I think this is more likely to influence the way I work in the future than anything I’ve done so far. It makes it all seem much freer and more individual. I can see how it works with a ‘mix and match’ approach for the various activities I’ve covered in modules 1 and 2 (plus anything else I want to try) and how it means you can take an idea for a project (even something you might not be very interested in) and run with it to get something that is your own interpretation through research, playing with colour, samples, notes, sketches, techniques, inspirational pictures/photos/information etc.

General Notes

  • I preferred the stab stitch method as I felt it gave a greater degree of flexibility with different sized papers, thickness etc, but but I have tried to produce books using the two different techniques, as well as in different shapes and sizes.
  • On some samples I stitched to the ends of the pages, but if you’re not careful the holes pull and near if they’re too near the edge, so it’s better with a gap.
  • When stab-stitching decorated pages you need to remember that may lose some of the design/lettering along that edge. And with something like my ‘H’ book a design may end up narrower on that side and look unbalanced.
  • Think about whether the holes are big enough for the threads.

The Book of Writing Tools

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The finished book.

For this one I used the papers where I tried out different writing tools (2.2.1), because it seemed a nice way to keep them together. They are all roughly eight inches square, so I wove paper strips from a magazine to make the covers, free-machine stitched them, sloshed white paint over, and used a variety of tools  to make the title on the front. The holes were made with a Japanese screw punch, and it was stab stitched together with six strands of stranded embroidery thread – there are a lot of pages, so it needs a thick thread to hold it firmly.  I embellished it by wrapping a wooden satay stick with threads (using a half-hitch over and over again, in the same direction, so the knots wind round and the stick), making beads for the ends, and loosely plaiting brightly coloured silk sari ‘ribbon’ with red and yellow embroidery thread to make cords for ties. The sari silk is beautifully frayed all along the length of its edges, which makes for an interesting textured surface, but I roughed it up a bit more with a toothbrush, and frayed the ends to make thin tassels. I also made cords to dangle from the stick, using the half-hitch and beads.

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The book cover before I took it apart!

However, once I came to fix them to the covers I realised the paper wasn’t strong enough, so I unpicked the stab stitched binding, and used Bondaweb to stick black felt to the inside of the front and back covers (sandwiching the ends of the cords between the layers, with double sided tape to make it more secure). Then I added painted Bondaweb, foils, tissue paper and embossing powder because the felt looked a little dull! The grid pattern  echoes the woven squares on the front and back. Finally I stab stitched the pages back together again, with the wrapped stick held against the spine. If I did it again I would add the felt to the cover at an early stage, then stitch through all the layers, which would look better and hod everything together more effectively, then print the title.

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Inside front (the back is very similar)

On the down side, the edges of my papers weren’t very straight, which can make stitching tricky, and because the pages were already decorated bits of my lettering disappeared into the holes and stitching – there’s obviously a very good reason why books have margins!

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You can see the stab stitching more clearly on the back cover.

On the plus side, I was surprised at how quickly the addition of decorative covers and a stitched spine turned a somewhat disparate collection of pages into a unified whole – it looks and feels like a proper book! And it was SUCH fun!

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One of the beads and part of a cord – I can’t get a decent close-up of the detail.

The Book of ‘Photo Letters’

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A grotty photo of the front of my ‘Photo Letters Book’ using rail tickets and printed letters inspired by photos.

Remember the photos I took of things in the environment that looked like letters for Module 2 Chapter 8? And how I said I wanted to try and draw some of them, and produce other letters in the same style? Well, this seemed the ideal opportunity.

I started off attempting to reproduce them with the same proportions, nice straight lines, and lots of detail. I even tried tracing shapes from small photos – and it all looked terrible. Then I remembered what a mess I got into trying to slavishly copy Jasper Johns’ work, so I took a deep breath and, using the photos as inspiration, drew freehand  letters on funky foam, cut them out, stuck them to foam board, and got along much better (except for the peculiar ‘O’, which was based on the centre of the pink flower, and hasn’t worked at all, but I’ve included it anyway).

photo letters book 1 (2)I printed my letters on to old train tickets painted white on one side and black on the other (because I couldn’t resist black gouache when I spotted it in a shop and, having bought it, had to use it immediately). I planned to use black, white, red and silver for printing, but added other colours. And I hopped about, making various letters in various styles. The covers are photos, with the words ‘photo letters’ scratched into the surface, and acrylic paint rubbed in, but it wasn’t very successful, so I printed over them with my letters, which didn’t improve things. They’re backed with black card from a packet of tea leaves.

photo letters book 2 (2)The book is stab stitched together with red wire, that I aged by added blobs of black gouache, which don’t really show in the photo. I tried adding beads, and wire coils that I made, but they didn’t look right, so I left the ends at the front, and wound them into kind of disjointed coils, which I like. Wire needs biggish holes, and small pliers to pull it taut after each stitch.

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I love this, and I’m  really pleased with it, even though it’s not perfect, and it hasn’t scanned in very well. I was aiming for an ‘urban grunge’ look, and overall I think I succeeded – I particularly like the effect of the black gouache as a background, and the letters I created exceeded my expectations (apart from the horrid ‘O’). The materials I chose suited the design, it’s much more textured than it looks in the pictures, and my colours aren’t too bad – the original palette was fine, and the small amount of green is OK, but the blue and yellow don’t add anything. I think the book needed more cohesion: it would have been better with one overall design style, or one letter printed in many different ways. And I should have punched holes in the tickets before printing the letters so it was easier to position them. I had a good idea, but if fell down a bit on the execution.

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The Book of Purple

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This is a stitch and fold sample. I used decorated A4 sheets from my stash (c reated way back in Module 1),  glued together with fungicide-free cellulose paste (1 tspn of powder to half a pint of cold water) so they were decorated on both sides, then I left them to dry, and flattened them overnight under a pile of heavy books. I folded them in half lengthways and as the pages were fairly thick and strong I didn’t make a separate cover. And, as the colours are quite strong, and the front is very busy, I decided the book didn’t need decoration, but I trimmed the front edges to give a layered effect – each page is roughly half a centimeter narrower than the one below it. I made a twisted cord with three strands of thick crochet thread, in purple, pink and gold, using an old hand drill with a cuphook in the end (this cost me 50p in a junk shop and it is BRILLIANT – it twists anything together, even wires). The cord is probably a bit too thick (I had to enlarge the holes, which made them messy, but I don’t think it matters). I left the threads hanging down the spine of the book, and used plain, simple lettering for the title, so it didn’t detract from the printed pattern on the cover.

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For some reason I have a lot of purple papers in the box, which is odd, because it’s not a colour I’m overly fond of. Anyway I took purple as my theme, and wrote about it in purple felt tips – nothing else would have done! The book was partly inspired by Sei Shonagon’s ‘Pillow Book’ – she was a lady-in-waiting at the Japanese imperial court at the turn of the  10th/11th century and she wrote the most wonderfully lively, gossipy account of her life, like a diary on a grand scale, with stories, poems, lists of things she did and didn’t like, historical information, comments about people, and details about clothes, customs, weather and so on. So the format of my book is a kind of Pillow Book, with lists and information, and the idea of the layered edges came from her too – she describes how Japanese ladies at that time wore layered clothes, and the hem of each layer was slightly shorter than the one beneath, so they all showed, but they had very strict rules about the colours used and the distances between the edges.

Scan

I wish I’d made this bigger – it’s crying out to be a ‘working sketchbook’ rather than a complete book. I could have used more details (I wanted to included the purple silken sails on Cleopatra’s barge, but didn’t have room), and some pictures, and a map to show where Tyre is, and some samples of different types of purple, and some dying experiments, and some poetry… I can see how even a very simple idea can be expanded into a sketchbook packed with ideas to use in future projects.

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The Book of Texture

DSCN6314This is a work in progress, which is a bit further on than the photo, but I’ve included it to show what I’m doing. It was inspired by Lizzy’s feedback on my struggles with Jasper Johns, when she suggested adding texture to the paint wit things like sawdust, chalk and sand. So I had a play with all sorts of stuff – sand, sawdust, seeds, snippets of thread, bits of paper… And I decided that books don’t have to be square or rectangular, so I’ve stuck to the Jasper Johns theme and am making this one in the shape of a letter ‘H’. It will be a stitch and fold book, and include notes on the left-hand pages (so I know what I’ve done). I’m going to gently brush over the textured paint with pearlescant mica paint to highlight the surface.

The Book of Feathers 

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Feather pages waiting to be stab stitched into a book.

This started as a simple collection of pages from the stash where I experimented with monoprinting feathers – some bought, some collected on walks. But it grew… I tried some rubbings, and trying to make impressions by pressing feathers in textured paint, moulding paste and light-weight Fimo (can’t remember what it’s called). I wanted to try and get a fossil effect… Then I found sun photograph paper in a shop in Brixton, so I made sunprints of feathers, which I love, love, love, and it is ever so easy.

 

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Sun prints! Aren’t they fantastic!

And I even plucked up the courage to try some drawing – I started by copying drawings of feathers in books, and progressed to drawing a real feather! I’ve made stitched pockets to hold feathers, notes, rubbings etc. And I’m trying to make stitched feathers out of paper for the cover, but they look more like leaves!

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Stitched feather sample looks more like a leaf!

The Book of Rosalie Gascoigne

I always intended to make a cover and embellish the book I made in Module 2, Chapter 4, but I put it on hold while I concentrated on the activities I was meant to be doing. So I am weaving a cover, threading strips of magazine pages through a biggish-holed plastic mesh – I found long strips of this, in bright colours, in Brixton Market (I get lots of stuff there, because my younger daughter lives in Brixton). But you’ll have to wait for the big reveal until it’s finished.

 

2.10. Extra: Acrylics

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I got sidetracked again, playing with acrylic paints, so I thought I’d do a brief post showing some of my efforts. There a lot more pages in my sketchbook where I’ve been creating colours, but I’ve only included a few here.

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If you pull stuff like this out of your bag while looking at acrylic paints you get some very strange looks from shop assistants and other customers!

Whilst creating stitched books for 2.10.1 and 2.10.2 I took some time out to play around with acrylics, because I am determined to get to grips with them. It’s silly to be scared, and I have a very definite idea of what I want for 2.10.1 (my home-made sketchbook celebrating letters). I need to paint my papers in muted, greyish, sea greeny colours. So, thinking I would get too stressed trying to mix my own, I set out to buy some, armed with with a tangled mess of sari ribbon, embroidery ribbon, embroidery threads coloured wire and beads (because they’d all got bits of the right colour, as well as some nice blue and violet). Unable to find an exact match, I got the nearest (pale olive), plus some black, and thought I’d be brave and have a go trying to make a slightly duller shade. And it was so simple! Just like mixing water colours! Easy peasy! Then I wondered what would happen if I added Paynes grey… or blue… or green… or white… or any other colours… So I went right back to basics and looked at the Distant Stitch workbook for module 1, and my old sketchbooks.

Then I chucked out all the ancient, thick, sticky, muddy-looking tubes of acrylics and treated myself to a selection of new ones (not very expensive, but a step up from the very cheapest). And they are so nice! Lovely and creamy to use, not sticky, and they mix! I’ve made lots of gorgeous new colours! Proper colours – not mud and khaki which is what I always produced with the old paints.

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I’ve been fairly well organised, and drawn little squares in a sketchbook, and kept a record of my colours, adding paints dot by dot to alter the colours. The results are not always predictable, and some colours (burnt umber and phthalmo green) are so strong they seem to squash out any other colour. Adding yellow to the green created a fantastic  range of bright, yellowy greens (obvious really) which wasn’t what I’m after. But adding  different blues and greys makes terrific sea type colours, and pale violet is good as well, but permanent rose is only nice if you add a very little bit – too much and you get a sort of pale reddish browny grey, which I like, but it’s not what I want.

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Anyway, I felt so much more confident I thought I’d have a go at washes, which is more difficult than it sounds. I didn’t mix paints – I just added water to blue and green and left the paper dry, though next time I’ll try it wet to see what happens. I’m not absolutely sure what brush I need – I used a round one. And I don’t think I’ve quite got the hang of how much water to keep adding to fade out the colour, but it’s a start, so I shall just keep practising.

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Module 2, Chapter 9: Letters and Pattern (Klimt)

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I used the small, small, square sketchbook for this chapter. I’ve always rather liked the ornate patterns and lavish use of gold in Klimt’s paintings, but I didn’t know much about him. I was going to do a potted biography, but there is a lot of information available, and I didn’t want to spend ages and ages on research, like I did with Jasper Johns, so I’m trying to stick to the task in hand.

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Below is Klimt’s ‘Portait of Adele Bloch-Bauer 1’ (1907), n the front cover of another charity shop buy about Klimt. This is A4 size, and shows details of the motifs really clearly – I found it very useful.

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Below: My notes on Klimt’s motifs.

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A drawing in the style of Klimt. I wasn’t happy with the bottom right-hand corner, so I stuck paper over and redid it, but I’m still not happy with it. However, I love the rest of it, and really enjoyed this exercise. It reminded me of the Zentangles in Chapter 2.

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Below: Experiments before painting – because I’m not very good at painting, and I was disappointed with my painted zentangle, and disheartened with my Jasper Johns.

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More experiments…

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And, finally, a painting! It’s not perfect (and the bit with the pinky red background halfway down on the right is not right), but I am so pleased with this – absolutely delighted. It’s way better than any of my other painting efforts, and I feel a real sense of achievement and satisfaction. It’s recognisably based on Klimt, and there’s lots of colour and gold although, sadly, the gold looks kind of brown here. I loved doing this, and enjoyed working with the Koh-i-noor water-based dyes and the gold paint (gold water colour, with a bronze felt tip for the darker details).  The experiments with paints etc were a bit time consuming, but well worth the effort.

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2.9.2: Below is my illuminated letter ‘C’ decorated in the style of Klimt. I was going to try painting my pencil drawing, but I did it on the back of the other painting, and some of that design shows though in places, and I got worried that if I paint this it may spoil the other painting. so I’m going over the lines with a 0.05 black marker, then I’m going to photocopy it onto a page torn from the sketchbook (because it’s better quality than printer paper, then I’ll try painting it.

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Below: The painting. Again, I used Koh-i-noor water-based dyes, metallic felt-tips and gold water colour, but I’m not sure that my colours or patterns worked quite as well as the first Klimt-style painting. Somehow the design seemed to lose its flow and freshness when it was photocopied, and I ended up with lots of lines – there was the original pencil drawing, overlaid with black marker and then a photocopy. Another time, I’d do another drawing. But despite my criticism I’m pleased with the result.

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2.9. Extra Activity: Use a design from 2.4 which shows symmetry or a repeat pattern and give it the Klimt treatment, using cut out motifs, metallic paints and foils. I opted use a symmetrical pattern from Module 2, Chapter 4, where a letter S formed a knot pattern. The original (pictured below) didn’t go quite as planned, so I re-drew it.

Activity 6

I painted it with watercolours, then used paper and foils to decorate it. Here it is partly completed:

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And here it is more or less finished. I enjoyed myself immensely, but I think I rather lost sight of what I was doing – it’s more kaleidoscope than Klimt! The aim was to have a design that was symmetrical in all directions: top to bottom, left to right, and diagonally. But I didn’t line up my letters properly, and the paper is slightly higher than wide, which affected the design a little. I enjoyed working on this, but I couldn’t make my mind up what should go where – I ended up with dozens of little cut-out shapes, which I kept moving around, changing, abandoning, replacing. The black dots and wiggly lines are actually gold foil, though you wouldn’t know it from this picture. The blue is metallic, with a foiling design, and there is a lot of gold, on the cut out papers, but it is not showing up well.My printer/scanner is rubbish. I feel as if I could have been a bit more creative here – this hasn’t turned as planned, so I hope it is OK.

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Personal Evaluation

I stuck to the activities and didn’t let myself get sidetracked on this chapter, so I think I was fairly focused, and reasonably well organised. I schemed in time to experiment with painting, because it is an area I am not confident about, and I think this paid off when it came to doing the two paintings, because I had a clear idea of what materials I wanted to use, and how they would handle.

The symmetrical design using cut out shapes and foils was an interesting experience, but a bit more haphazard, I think I could have been more adventurous on that and made better use of the materials I had.

Overall I enjoyed working on this chapter, and was pleased with the results, and feel as if I’ve made some kind of progress with painting!

Health and Safety

  • Water: Water for pints and dyes in old jam jar is fairly stable, but is kept away from electrical plugs, sockets, wires. equipment in case of spillage, and emptied when work complete.
  • Scissors: For cut-out shapes, put away after use.

Bibliography

Module 2, Chapter 8: Using Your Camera

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Activity 2.8.1: Make an alphabet in photographs. Use your camera to take photographs in your local environment to represent each letter of the alphabet.

Introduction

I wanted my alphabet to be of things in the environment that look like letters, rather than examples of actual letters, or letters I created using sticks, stones, writing in sand etc – but it was fun to explore those areas as well, and I have a few snapshots ready for another collection. I used man-made and natural shapes, because I thought it might be difficult to stick to one or the other, but I’d quite like to separate them out and fill the gaps in each category.

Mostly I’ve cropped the pictures, to make the letters more obvious, but others were more apparent uncropped. You may need a bit of imagination with some of them, and you’ll have to ignore a lot of the backgrounds. I’ve used edges, and solid shapes, and empty spaces within things, and a couple were flipped or rotated because I could see the shape I wanted, even though it was upside down or back to front, so I’ve included a key.

 

KEY

A Shadow made by trees on the ground. Not sure how clear this will be.

B Patched surface on footpath.

C White fungus around base of tree.

D Window (rotated).

E Cracks in a wall.

F Telegraph pole.

G Part of floor tile pattern at Worcester Cathedral.

H Strata in rock on a Devon beach.

I Smeaton’s Tower on Plymouth Hoe.

J Part of an exercise machine in Castle Grounds, Tamworth.

K Pine needles on pavement.

L Edge of a bench.

M Arches at the Old Grammar School, Plympton

N Bicycle rack.

O Flower centre.

P Street light (in Great Yarmouth, I think)

Q Another bicycle rack (sorry).

R Willow leaves on the pavement making a perfect letter R.

S The ‘Barbican Prawn’ sculpture at Sutton Harbour, Plymouth, which isn’t a prawn at all (it has a cormorant’s feet, a plesiosaurus’ tail, the fin of a John Dory, a lobster’s claws and the head of an angler fish), but it makes a jolly nice letter S.

T I couldn’t resist this shot of a broom resting against woodwork on a boat, in Weymouth. It looks rather surreal I think.

U Carving on a stone (a font or something perhaps) in the garden at Hereford Cathedral.

V Road marking.

W Marks in the sand at Ulverston, Cumbria. They are quite natural – the sand there is too soft and sinky to venture very far, so I shot this from a safe distance and cropped it in and enlarged it.

X Strange marks in the sky – cloud or vapour trails. Not sure how clear this will be.

Y Tree in the Castle Grounds.

Z Tree trunk (again).

Extra Activity 

I’ve added in a few of my other photos, because I like them so much – here are some As, and a lot of Os, and a couple of Cs.

 

Personal Evaluation

I enjoyed this activity tremendously, and I’m fairly pleased with the results although, as always, I’d done some things differently – I could have been more imaginative, and selected different photos for my alphabet, and got better angles for pictures, and improved my cropping. I carried it out over a period of time, while I was working on other chapters, so it kind of did itself really – I usually have a camera in my bag, and I always snap away while I’m out and about, because I like taking photos, and I like to keep a record of where I’ve been, and the changing wildlife in my local area. Some letters, like O and I, were there in abundance, but others were much more tricky. It was like a treasure hunt, and even my husband got caught up in the project – he was quite triumphant when he spotted the more unusual ones, including a Q! Some things could have provided more than one letter, but I’ve tried to get some variety.

I’ve ended up with a lot of spare photos – deciding which ones to use was the trickiest part of this task, and in some cases I have letters I liked better, but I decided to use what seemed to be more unusual things, like the shadow A, or the X in the sky.

This activity really made me take time to look around at the man-made and natural environment and, surprisingly, it made me consider the shape and design of letters far more than any of the chapters in this module. There are fabulous features out there which could be used for some unusual or highly decorative letters, and I would love to try and use some of the letters I found in some other way, or even to create a complete alphabet from one of them.

Health and Safety

  • Don’t trespass on other people’s property.
  • Don’t put yourself at risk trying to get a perfect shot (eg not walking on those shifting, soft, muddy sands at Ulverston).
  • Don’t get the camera wet.
  • Keep camera on a strap, to prevent dropping it.

Module 2, Chapter 7: Jasper Johns

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Introduction

I went back to the smaller, square sketchbook for this chapter, and I’ve scanned the pages in, and I think they are fairly self-explanatory. I spent too long researching Jasper Johns… I got a bit obsessed with his work…

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Here’s a picture of him (I like to know what artists look like):

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I looked at his work really carefully to try and work out how he did it. And, since this involves acrylics, and I always mess up with them, and I’ve never tried using really thick, textured paint, I had a practice:

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Still looking at his work… Anything to put off the moment when I have to start painting…

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OK. Here we go. My version of Jasper Johns. I decided to do my initials, and I only did two letters. Pages in my sketchbook are roughly eight inches square, and I’ve covered a page, which is probably all that can be said for this C.

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It’s fair to say I struggled with this, but the H is a bit better I think:

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Comments on my efforts:

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And another little play to see if I could introduce more texture (I couldn’t):

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But despite my failure (there’s no way I can replicate his style) I remain fascinated by his work, especially the way he reworked his themes using different mediums and techniques.

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Personal Evaluation

I started off not liking Jasper Johns, but the more I found out about him the more interested I got, in his work, and what he said about it. I’m not sure I would want one of his pictures hanging on my wall, but he kind of got inside my head. I especially liked the way he took a subject (like the numbers) and re-worked it, using different mediums and techniques. And I loved his maps, and the flags, and some of later work, with collage and found objects, and the beer can sculpture. However, I think I spent too long on the research (which I enjoyed, but one thing led to another, because I kept looking up references to things and people, like abstract expressionism, Dadaists, Neo-Dadaists, Modernism, Marcel Duchamp etc).

And I had great difficulty trying to paint letters in the same style, which was the main point of this activity. I always struggle with acrylic paints, and I couldn’t get the texture or the balance of colour right. I used the paint straight from the tube, with a stiffidh brush, and an old credit card, and a children’s model-making tool, The paint on and around the letters is just too random, and I don’t think the results are very successful – I would go so far as to say I hate this piece of work, and I wouldn’t want to do it again.

But I would like to know how I could improve it! I suspect a more positive attitude might help when it comes to working with acrylic paints – I cannot get to grips with them at all, and I always make a mess, and somehow I expect to fail, and then I do. I love texture, and I’m much braver with colour than I used to be, but this process was way outside my comfort zone, and seemed alien to anything I enjoy or understand – I much prefer a slightly more structured approach to pattern and colour, and I’d rather work with paper, fabric, threads, printing etc. I guess different techniques suit different people.

What I’d really like to do is to try out some of those other techniques – layering letters on top of each other perhaps, or some monoprints.

Health & Safety

  • Electrical Equipment: I used the hair dryer to try and dry the paint more quickly, because it took ages. I switched it off, unplugged it, and kept it safely out of the way while it wasn’t in use, so I couldn’t trip over the wire, knock the hair dryer off the work surface, or spill water over it.

Bibliography

Module 2, Chapter 6: Printing

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I’ve used the big A3 sketchbook and loose sheets of paper for this. I like printing, but I’m beginning to feel as if I will never finish this module, so I’ve kept things simple. The pages shouldn’t need much explanation, because I’ve tried to keep notes in the sketchbook as I went along.

Again, I’ve had problems scanning work in, because my printer/scanner is only A4, so I’m posting half-pages here and hope that is OK. Some pages are quite self explanatory, others have notes with them.

Printing 1Printing 2

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Below is the scan of this page (in two halves) but it hasn’t come out any better than the little photo I stuck on the page.

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I worked directly into the sketchbook to try and create some patterns with printed letters, but wasn’t very happy with the results.

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More printed letters…

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And a few more… Before I gave up…

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Below: Letters printed on to a stitched paper weaving from Chapter 5. I could have over-printed the letters in a different colour, but I kept it simple. The surface was painted white acrylic.

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Below, letters printed on to a paper and paper string weaving done a little plastic frame for Chapter 5. I painted the surface with white acrylic, which was soaked up fairly quickly. A second coat, or gesso, might have given better cover, but I quite like being able to see the surface.  The ‘a’ was stuck on to its mount the wrong way round; ‘b’ and ‘d’ get very confusing when you are viewing them back to front, and the ‘C’ was stuck on correctly but I held it upside down.  Writing the letters on the other side of the foam board would help prevent mistakes. Despite the errors, I was quite pleased with this, as I had no idea whether I could paint and print onto to an even woven surface, and I think the result is quite effective.

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Below: Used train tickets zig-zagged together with free machine stitch, painted roughly with white acrylic, printed with black acrylic and overprinted with red, using children’s sponge alphabet shapes. I might print over them again with white, but I quite like this. It’s my attempt at urban grunge!

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Below: Another page of scraps stitched together on newspaper, painted with acrylic and printed. The letters are a bit small for the space, but I quite like them, and I like the way you can see the printed lettering on the paper.

Below: Stars cut and stitched from old star map pages. then printed and overprinted. I didn’t paint the surface, and I think it was one of those ideas which didn’t quite work out. Painting first might have helped, or using brighter, more contrasting colours for the lettering. It is supposed to say ‘S is for Starlight’ but it’s not that obvious.

Below: Paint and print over my snowflakes from Chapter 5.

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Below: This was my effort at weaving paper with wavy strips, but just about everything went wrong with it. I tried using embossing powders and a heat tool to make raised edges, to accentuate the waviness, but it wasn’t very successful, so I used a black felt tip on some bits, and left others. And I couldn’t get it to hold together or lie flat – I tried machine stitching, and glue, and nothing worked. In the end I cut through the bumpiest bits at right angles to the strips, so I could glue them flat, and it still didn’t look right. I was going to bin it it, but I thought it looks such a mess adding printed letters can’t make it any worse, so I used the ‘As’ I already had, and made some more (funky foam and foam board) and printed them all over with black acrylic paint. And it still looked awful! So I sloshed coloured inks over the surface, and it suddenly sprang in to life!

Printing 18aPrinting 19

Health and Safety

Cutting: I used scissors to cut letter shapes out of Funky Foam, and a craft knife for the foam board backing. To prevent damage or injury I cut against a thick plastic ruler (metal would be better), and away from myself, on a self-healing cutting mat. And I put the cover over the craft knife while it wasn’t in use.

Personal Evaluation

I enjoyed making the print blocks (though I did stick one or two letters the wrong way), and usually I like pattern making, but for some reason my efforts at pattern making on plain sketchbook pages were totally rubbish, and I’m not sure why. Just a bad day perhaps. I think I left too much space around the letters on the blocks – I should have trimmed the foam board closer to the the letter. And perhaps using the corners to make pencil marks as guide lines on the page might have helped with the placement of letters.

What I really loved about this chapter was printing on decorated papers, especially the recycled stitched papers from Chapter 5. I was wary about it, as I thought I might ruin my work, but I had planned on doing this activity, and have photos of what I did originally. I gave up trying to print patterns, and stuck to printing letters or words. I think I’ve  transformed my recycled papers and made them much more interesting, and I’m really pleased with the results. Hopefully, I can carry on with my plan and use some of these to make stitched books for Chapter 10

 

 

2.5: Recycled Papers, The Bigger Picture

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Note: There is more work to add in to this post.

Aim: To produce work on a bigger scale.

Intro: When I started this chapter I wanted to work on a larger scale, but it didn’t happen, so before reaching the end I’ve made an effort to do a few pieces that are A3 size (or even slightly larger), just to prove to myself that I can do it. As I’m still finding the big sketchbook awkward to work with I used pages from the Norman Rockwell book, wallpaper, newspaper, an OS map and an old star map calendar as backgrounds, and tried to create designs by enlarging on some of my small samples, and adding hand and machine stitching. Finally I sloshed paint or gesso over the surfaces so, hopefully, they will be suitable for adding printed letters in Chapter 6.

Additionally, for two of the pages I used some of the ‘waste’ paper where I’d tried stitches and tensions etc at the very beginning, and messed up. I stitched them to big sheets of paper, and added more stitching and papers and embellishments. And I’ve also created a piece for 2.5.2 tearing or cutting headlines and large letters from magazines, newspapers and other used papers, then pasting them on to a sheet of newspaper, leaving gaps to allow the smaller print to show through.

Record Making: I’ve tried to be better organised, because most of this chapter is a bit of a muddle, and I took photos and made notes as I went along, so I’ve got a record of my working methods, with the various stages and some close-ups. And I’ve numbered the pictures and notes. I’ve worked on the computer for these, with print-outs of the text and photographs stored in an envelope.

Observations: I found it needed a bit of thought on how I was going to fill all that space Just launching into a design and hoping it would be OK was no good – I really did need some kind of plan so I knew what I was using, where the pieces of paper would go, and whether it would all fit together and look OK. But it was nowhere near as scary as I feared. In fact, once I got going with the bigger pieces I really enjoyed myself, especially with repeat patterns where, much as I hate to admit it, it was nice to have more space!

Covering the work with paint/gesso took a bit of courage – I liked my creations the way they were, and I thought I might wreck them, but once I made a start it was OK. Some pieces look better painted than others, and I’ve still got my photos of the original work to look at. Having done the painting I’m quite happy to print over the surfaces for Chapter 6, though I’m not sure how well some of the surfaces will accept ptint – and I’m planning to paint the backs (the messy stitching looks quite interesting), or perhaps bond painted dressmaking tissue paper on, so I can print both sides – then I can chop the papers up to make small stitched books for Chapter 10.

Overall I was surprised at how much I enjoyed working on a bigger scale, and how easy it turned out to be, and I quite like the results, so I’m really glad I forced myself to do this!

1. Odds, Ends and Experiments

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Pic 1.1, Odds, Ends and Experiments (clockwise from top left), using page from old Norman Rockwell book as base (it is slightly bigger than A3). The free style stitching is done on the Pfaff machine and isn’t very neat, and these were all experiments and scraps.

  • Textured wallpaper scrap, stitched to bakground, plus Xpandaprint, which I spread too thick and tried to print into after heating (I’d never used it before  – next time I’ll scrape it on, scrape it off, put the excess back in the jar, then heat it). Anyway, I pressed a round rubber stamp into the warm, expanded Xpandaprint, then used the residue on the stamp to print four more circles. Not sure that adding texture to textured paper is ideal, but I’d like to experiment more with raising surfaces. Then more free machine stitching over paper and Xpandaprint to bond it to background with white and silver thread.
  • Torn silver paper from Christmas chocolates free machine zig zagged to textured wallpaper, working directly on to background paper. I quite like this, but if I’d glued the silver paper and pressed it all over, it might have shown the texture beneath, which would have been much nicer. You can see where I changed to a bigger needle on the right hand side, but I didn’t like the effect.
  • Handstitching on magazine papers with embroidery thread – this was the first thing I did for this chapter and it wasn’t very successful, but I kept it to remind myself of what not to do, so I’ve free machined it to the background.
  • Bondaweb and silver transfer foil (the gold is reflection from the light) on textured wallpaper. If I did this again I would paint the surface and the Bondaweb, and add tissue or something as well, but I like the way the foil sticks to the raised bits of the wallpaper.
  • Rubber stamp design on a paper bag, torn into circle, with torn edges, stitched to textured wallpaper, trying to get 3D effect. Not successful. Needs to be bigger and bolder – would stiffer paper be  better?
  • Torn magazine strips. No idea what glue I used. Free machine stitched to backing.Not very exciting, but does the job.
  • Centre – practising couching, using thick knitting wool and free machine zig zig to make a grid. Love this. It was fun, and I like the effect.. Must try it again with different threads in machine, to attach different cords/threads to different surfaces. I could have used this to link the different sections on this page together to try and get a more unified look.The stitching is a bit messy – I’m still having problems with tension and moving the paper at the right speed.
  • Pix 1.2 to 1.8 are close-ups of the individual sections.
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Pic 1.2

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Pic 1.3

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Pic 1.4

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Pic 1.5

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Pic 1.6

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Pic 1.7

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Pic 1.8

Pic 1.9, Painted with white emulsion:

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Pic 1.9, Painted with emulsion.

  • I have to admit my heart sank after I painted this with white emulsion, but I left it while I went to my mother, and when I came back two days later it looked OK. The paint dried more transparent than I expected, and the textured areas, especially the stitching, are great – better than before I think, because the paint-coated threads look thicker, and they contrast nicely with the smoother parts, and there are some areas of print which look good against the white. It looks better in reality than it does in the photo.
  • It doesn’t show well in the photo, but the textured wallpaper still looks good, quite a bit of the silver foil shines through, and the 4  Xpandaprint circular prints actually look better than they did before – more defined I think, so that’s a bonus.
  • A coating of paint seemed to improve the circle with the torn edges – it stiffened the paper a little. But if I were to pursue this idea it needs a lot more thought.
  • I was disappointed that the silver paper took the paint – I thought it would act as a resist and stay silver, but bits, especially along the torn edges, show quite well, as does the stitching between them, and I love the areas where I changed to a bigger needle – it looks much better than it did to start with, and the holes look like part of the design. Wish I’d left it in for everything!
  • The torn magazine strips didn’t take the paint particularly well. I’ve noticed before that coloured print on shiny magazine paper sometimes acts as a resist, and there was quite a bit of glue on parts of it, which may also have repelled the paint.
  • The couched wool threads have changed texture completely and are now much stiffer and kind of hairy. I think I liked them better as they were.
  • The silver threads have disappeared, and I liked them. Ah well, these things happen.
  • Would it have been better with patchier or thinner paint? Should I add some colour?
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Pic 1.10: Part of the other side. Messy, but too nice to ignore. The threads seem thicker, and the holes, which are smooth edged on the right side, have a small ridge around them where the needle punches through.

2. Branching Out:

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Pic 2.1: Branching Out.

Pic 2.1, Branching Out: This is a repeat pattern using the shape I made earlier on in Chapter 5 by cropping, enlarging and cut out from a photograph of trees.

  • Shapes  cut from  page of text from the Norman Rockwell book.
  • Pieces stitched on to  sample of thick, shiny, vinyl wallpaper, with a design of bricks.
  • Used some of the pre-set embroidery patterns on the Singer machine (I have two machines, both cheap). Tension continues to be a problem. There’s one place where the machine jammed up and the thread broke. so I left it with holes and glued it down.
  • I had problems stitching this initially, so I slackened the top tension, used a size 90 needle, and put horticultural fleece as a backing to stabilise things.
  • I like the contrast of the light shapes against the darker red/brown background, and between the more organic shapes and embroidery and the geometric background.
  • The stitching on the back should show up nicely if it’s painted or covered in tissue. So I’ll have two surfaces to print on, and can cut it up to make little stitched books.
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Pic 2.2: I had problems with tension. On this bit the machine jammed and the thread broke, so I carried on ‘stitching’ holes, because I liked them, and I’ve stuck it down with glue.

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Pic 2.3: I liked the satin stitch ‘leaves’ but they didn’t like me! Was fine on the straight, but couldn’t get it to change direction, so I abandoned it.

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Pic 2.4: The reverse. In theory this should look fine painted, or covered in tissue, or foiled.

Pic 2.5, Branching Out: Painting the surface.

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Pic 2.5: Left column painted with white gesso; middle, painted with pink and white acrylic paint; right, old brown dressmaking pattern bonded to work with gloss acrylic medium – the bottom shape had pink acrylic paint applied to the surface of the work before the tissue was applied, and I applied pink transfer foil to the shape above that before the tissue.

Pic 2.5, Branching Out, Painting the Surface:

  • I tried different paint techniques because I wanted to see how the wallpaper reacted. I was pleased it took the paint so well.
  • Gesso gives a good cover, but not as dense as emulsion (emulsion covers threads better).
  • Pink and white acrylic paints both dried quite transparent, so you can see the original pattern quite clearly.
  • Brown tissue dressmaking pattern bonded to surface with acrylic medium (from an idea in Fabulous Surfaces, by Lynda Monk). This is gorgeous, and I love it. I brushed the surface with gel, laid the tissue over the top, and rubbed it all over, really hard, and the tissue went transparent!!!!! I didn’t get this effect with a glue stick, or PVA, or Bondaweb. Tried it first with matt medium, which didn’t look anything special, then with gloss, which she says is better, and she’s right. So I applied pink acrylic paint to one little section, and the remnants of some pink transfer foil  to another bit (rubbing it with a metal spoon). And when it was all dry and I’d peeled off the backing sheet from the foil, I stuck tissue over the top with gloss gel medium. The photo doesn’t do justice to this, because the tissue lets lets the background shapes and colours show, and the pink acrylic and foil really glow, and the surface looks polished rather than glossy.
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Pic 2.6: Close-up showing dressmaking pattern bonded over paint and foil.

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Pic 2.7: Close-up showing pink and white acrylic.

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Pic 2.8: Close-up of gesso.

Pic 3, Wavy Weaving

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Pic 3.1, I drew wavy lines on two sheets of paper, then cut them out and wove them together. Originally I was going to use the other side of the piece as the right side, but I like the effect of my drawn lines, which are still visible, and the way the picture has been broken up. I’m pleased with this, although the outer edges went a bit haywire, and I’ve used blobs of glue to hold them together.

 

2.5, Additional Activity: Tom Phillips, A Humument

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Artist Tom Phillips

This is an additional activity about artist Tom Phillips and A Humument, his 50-year altered book  venture, which is an epic undertaking, and well worth looking at while working on 2.5 and doing things with recycled papers.

Way back in November 1966 Phillips was rooting around in a second-hand shop at Peckham Rye (where, as I’m sure everyone knows,  William Blake saw an Angel in a tree). Phillips was looking for a book – he told a friend  he would buy the first threepenny volume he found, and use it for a long-term art project, and that’s exactly what he did. But  at that stage he can have had no inkling of just how long the project would last, or how much it would influence his other work.

The book Phillips bought was A Human Document, penned by long forgotten author WH Mallock, and published in 1892 for the princely sum of three and six. Mallock appears to have been a somewhat curmudgeonly and humourless man, whose view on Life, the Universe and Everything was vastly different to Tom’s outlook.

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The fifth edition of the book – the one I have.

But despite that, his book provided limitless inspiration for the next 50 years.”Once I got my prize home I found that page after randomly opened page revealed that I had stumbled upon a treasure,” says Phillips on his website. “The book’s rechristening resulted from another chance discovery. By folding one page in half and turning it back to reveal half of the following page, the running title at the top abridged itself to A HUMUMENT, an earthy word with echoes of humanity and monument as well as a sense of something hewn; or exhumed to end up in the muniment rooms of the archived world. I like even the effortful sound of it, pronounced as I prefer, HEW-MEW-MENT.”

Tom Phillips began ‘reworking’ the book, starting with page 33. Initially he kept things simple, leaving some words unaltered, obliterating others with ink, and allowing the remainder to be visible beneath his hatched lines.But gradually his work became more complex. He even created a ‘hero’ who interacts with the characters in the novel. “Since the W in WH Mallock stands for William, its commonplace short form, Bill, would provide a good matey name for his humdrum alter ego,” Phillips explains. “When I chanced on ‘bill’ it appeared next to the word ‘together’ and thus the downmarket and blokeish name Bill Toge was born. It became a rule that Toge should appear wherever the words ‘together’ or ‘altogether’ occurred.”

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The first page – P33 – as it was originally created.

The resulting ‘treated’ book was published in 1973 by Tetrad Press, but it was a small print run,  and the artist continued to work on his pages, making changes, covering things up, revealing new words and thoughts, and generally revising and developing his ideas. He worked on his original copy of A Human Document without destroying  its pages,  but for later revisions he acquired other copies of Mallock’s book, and used just one side of a page, mounted on acid-free paper. He kept notes detailing alterations, along with dates, preliminary drawings and the gathering of sources, and employed a variety of artistic techniques, such as painting, collage and cut-outs. A few pages remained as he originally created them, but most were altered.

The first edition available for sale to the general public was finally  issued by Thames & Hudson in 1980. Five more updated, reworked editions followed, and the final page of the final edition (which came out last year) incorporates a photograph of the grave of William Hurrell Mallock, who died in Wincanton in 1923. “I failed to find the grave in 1990 but it was eventually discovered and photographed by Patrick Wildgust,” says Phillips. “Partly hidden by bushes it had itself become treated by wear and gathering moss. On the last days work on A Humument in 2016 I was thus able to incorporate that photograph into p367 and finish my strange labour.

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The updated version of P33 as it appears in my edition of the book – this image is taken from Tom Phillips’ website and shows part of the original design, viewed through a burnt hole in an extracted page. The quote about failing better is from playwright Samuel Beckett, written a long time after Mallock’s book first appeared.

Throughout his endeavours Phillips searched  first for suitable text, and that influenced his imagery. “I plundered, mined and undermined its text to make it yield the ghosts of other possible stories, scenes, poems, erotic incidents and surrealist catastrophes which seemed to lurk within its wall of words,” he explains in his original introduction. “As I worked on it, I replaced the text I’d stripped away with visual images of all kinds. I began to tell and depict, among other memories, dreams and reflections, the sad story of Bill Toge, one of love’s casualties.”

Phillips never worked on pages for A Humument in numerical order. He describes his creation as ‘a dispersed narrative with more than one possible order’, saying it is more like a pack of cards than a continuous tale. And there is never one narrator, or even a reliable narrator. He took parts of words to make other words, and revelled in the opportunity to create a nonsense vocabulary. However, he did set some rules, the most important of which was that Mallock’s words could not moved to suit his purpose – they had to remain in their printed positions on the pages.”Where they are joined to make some poetic sense or continuity of meaning, they are linked via the often meandering rivers in the typography,” he adds.

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This is  a screenprint of P168, known as Railings, taken from Tom Phillipos’ website, where some images from the book can be purchased.

At the outset he intended to keep outside material at bay. But gradually fragments from  A  Humument made their way into almost everything he did, so it became a two-way process, and he included motifs and collaged imagery from his other work.  It seems to have been a kind of symbiotic relationship, where the various works he was engaged with fed off and enriched each other, and the forgotten Victorian classic informed much of Phillips’ other work, including a decorated skull, fictitious globes, and an opera, Irma, telling the story of Mallock’s heroine.

The Humument is a strange book, obviously an artwork, but also part poem, and part story, drawing on philosophy, myths, history, art, architecture, literature, religion, popular culture, modern times, and all sorts of other things. Phillips is very erudite, and widely read, with a tremendous breadth of knowledge, and wide-ranging interests and skills.  He is a kind of Renaissance Man for our age – one of these people who does lots of things, and does them all extremely well. He’s a renowned musician, composer and writer, as well as a highly acclaimed artist working in many different mediums – painting portraits (Samuel Beckett and Iris Murdoch are among his subjects) and abstracts, and creating sculpture, mosaics, tapestries, and wire frame objects. His work can be found in every day places like the streets of Peckham, and in grand buildings like Westminster Cathedral and Westminster Abbey.

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Page 4, or ‘nine eleven’, is Phillips’ take on the attack on New York’s twin towers – not so much a tribute as a reflection. It incorporates a postcard of King Kong with the World Trade Centre and a version of Goya’s Saturn Devouring His Children. Other influences include  a section of the Inferno where Dante compares the giant Anteus with the tall, narrow towers of Florence. And, according to Phillips, the accompanying Roman numerals ‘make a twinning palindome’.

Born in 1937, in Clapham, Phillips showed an outstanding ability for art and music at a very young age. After studying at Oxford he attended Camberwell School of Art, where he was taught by Frank Auerbach . He himself taught for a time (apparently he was a big influence on musician Brian Eno who was one of his students), and as demand for his artwork increased, awards and accolades stacked up.

In 1983 he was awarded the Frances Williams Memorial Prize for his illustration and new translation of Dante’s Inferno. Additionally, he and Peter Greenaway won the Italia Prize  for their TV version of the Inferno. In 1984 Phillips was elected to the Royal Academy in 1984, chairing its Library and its Exhibition Committee from 1995 to 2007. He was a trustee for the National Portrait Gallery and the British Museum, and was awarded a Commander of the British Empire for services to the Arts in 2002.

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Page 363  is one of my favourite images from the book .

If you want to know more about Tom Phillips and A Humument, his website at http://www.tomphillips.co.uk/ is brilliant. I came across him about 18 months ago when a friend of a friend wrote a review on a book blog, and I was so intrigued I bought the book (the 5th edition). I picked up a second-hand copy fairly cheaply, but prices seem to have risen since then. I don’t like all the pages, but it is always interesting. You don’t have to view it as a conventional book (indeed, I’m not at all sure that you could – or should). I’m knocked out by the scale of the concept, and I loved reading the artist’s account of how he approached this project, and how he actually worked on it. Some parts are funny, others are sad, and bits are rather rude. There’s no plot as such, but there is a sort of story about Bill Toge, alongside the parts of Mallock’s novel that remain visible. And it’s packed with thoughts about life, art, the universe – you can have fun spotting the quotes that Phillips has strung together, making Mallock’s words pre-echo Beckett, Virgil, EM Forster and a host of others. And there are references to his own life, and to world events. Some pages are heavily worked with bright, bold colours or collaged materials, whereas others are paler and less ornamented, and the words of the original show through more clearly. And the style varies – you find a page with a beautifully detailed portrait, and next to that might be a cartoony sort of picture, or something that looks as if it belongs in a comic, or vibrant geometric shapes, or delicate pastel swirls, or lines and circles. In theory it’s the sort of thing I hate, but in actuality I loved it – it’s like being sucked into an alternative  world. It’s beguiling says Adam Smyth in a London Review of Books article. And he’s right. That’s exactly what it is. Beguiling. No need for all those other words I’ve written at all!

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Page 353 – first of all I though these were fluffy clouds, but when you look at the words they are obviously roses.

PS: Please don’t ask why I like Tom Phillips, but not Will Ashford, because I don’t know!

PPS: I really like a lot of his other work, and much of it also incorporates text – words and letters are obviously very important to him. Some of it can be seen on the website of the Flowers Gallery which handles his work.  And there is more at the ever excellent Tate website although, sadly, very little is on public display in the galleries, and you have to make an appointment to view.

Sources

Tom Phillips: http://www.tomphillips.co.uk/

Flowers Gallery: https://www.flowersgallery.com/artists/view/tom-phillips

Tate: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/phillips-benches-t01327