drawing evolution – perspective and mapping

Several weeks ago I started, with no other intention other than to pass the time, making drawings of the trees across the fields I could see as we waited our turn at the farm shop. This was simply about making time for me to clear my head of all the other stuff and pressures of this new routine we find ourselves in. Drawing is such a key part of what makes me tick, whether it’s for rest or work.

Week 2 came so I took my sketchbook and made new drawings that naturally evolved from the first week’s observations. In the second week I also took scissors to capture the shapes as paper cutouts in contrast to the lines I had focussed on in pencil. Each week I’ve made these drawings and over time I’ve noticed the growth of leaves, making it harder to focus on the tree structures, but I’ve also moved the drawing on as a familiarity of my subject is developing. I wrote a blog post on those first weeks here.

I’ve spent the last quarter century drawing landscapes with trees and remember a significant moment as a student of design, when I discovered the water colours by Crome and Cotman in the gallery in Leeds – particularly strange given they were from the Norwich School and I’d left Norwich to study in Yorkshire, but maybe that was the initial pull. I studied the way they divided the landscape with brushed areas of paint and they helped me to see that I too could explore ways to stylise the way I saw the landscape.

The drawings included in this post are all from week 5. I’ve added hints of fields containing the trees and those lines of containment are the edges holding the paths of trees. I’ve used the horizons from both a vertical and horizontal viewpoint and continued to stylise the tree forms throughout the five weeks. It’s getting harder as the trees flesh out their forms and we lost the details of the branches. I’m also suggesting depth of field with the scale of the trees near and far although I’m pulling the composition down to stretch out and extend the foreshortened landscape.

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Throughout my career I’ve toyed with ways to map the perspective of landscape and use diagrammatic language, perspective and distorted elevations to represent viewpoints of 3D in 2D. The intention of the arcs was to suggest the sweeping viewpoint but in fact I think it hints at hillsides, and that really isn’t the case here in Norfolk. An undulating landscape maybe, but certainly not rolling hills – still, we can’t get it all right!

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I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this drawing exercise so far and look forward to week 6 and what the drawings will discover next time. I’m also, rather naturally I suppose thinking about pattern evolution and how these may become design work. I have lots of ideas to mull over and be excited by … but there’s no rush.

Having posted some of the drawings on instagram over the weeks I’ve received lovely comments and messages from people enjoying the drawings and I’m so grateful for the votes of confidence in what I am doing, I really appreciate that. Many thanks, I hope you continue to enjoy the drawing! ….

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Modernist patterns in the making

Over the last few months, actually for most of this year, I’ve been working on a commission with the Barbican Centre London to create bespoke patterns for products in their newly developed retail space, ready to launch in the Autumn. It’s been a fabulous project as I’ve developed the designs with plenty of dialogue with Head of Retail, Adam Thow, to-ing & fro-ing by email. The brief has altered only slightly since the beginning and I feel really proud of what we’ve produced. There’s a more detailed interview about the project over on their blog.

The idea was to explore the Barbican Centre, famous for its architecture, but to also include its activities as a cultural centre of music and performance. I explored lots of ideas and pattern compositions but settled on the idea of a sheet of music, and ended bottom right with the bold double bar lines. Within the patterns I referred to musical notation, and made links between the architectural features and those of instruments, including a violin and oboe, to create a sense of narrative, playing with strong negative and positive shapes. Each of the motifs were hand cut in paper, scanned in, and combined using Adobe Photoshop.

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Last week we shared the first images of the design work so I thought I’d share here too. The images here show my developmental design work above, and the final limited edition screen print and pattern for products. Visit @barbicancentre on instagram for more final product shots.

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pattern prints

I’ve been working behind the scenes, offline at least, making new prints, mainly lino prints, and developing repeat patterns with them. I’ve not wanted to show the progress until I’ve worked out where I’m going with them, but finally I’ve decided to go public, in a small way, revealing one of the new prints, hinting at the direction my new patterns are going in…

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I’m exhibiting at TentLondon again in September so between now and then I’ll show more on instagram, Twitter, Facebook and here on my blog.

textile fragments

I have this textile ‘fragment’ that I think is beautiful in so many ways; the richness of colour, the manipulated folds of cloth as well as the resulting patterns of the geometric shapes of both the positive and negative folds of the fabric. There is aside to this, so much more connecting me to this old piece of cloth I acquired over twenty years ago, and when I see it, those thoughts come back to me in an instant. This is the power such materials and objects have over us.

I studied at art school, and although the main campus was in Norwich, I was at an outpost in Great Yarmouth. I loved being by the sea, and it was my first time away from home so it was a huge learning curve and time of growing up. I was learning textile and drawing skills and I have fond memories of it all. One day we had a visitor, a lady who had traveled the world collecting textiles, and she brought some of these to show us at the college. I had been interested in the Ghanaian flags of the Asafo, as well as Indian applique so I was fascinated to hear her talk and see the textiles from far-off lands.

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Sadly excitement became upset as the textile pieces were laid out in front of us. I wonder now if I was the only one thinking what I was. When I saw the exquisite fabrics cut in to pieces and crudely stapled to paper with pencil written details of where they had come from I felt so concerned for the apparent brutal way they were being separated from the original whole, their link to their heritage and provenance. It occurred to me then that other nations were losing the heritage that they owned, as the fabrics became souvenirs for others. Had someone chosen to sell them; were they ‘acquired’?

That day holds further sad memories in actual fact. My dear Grandma had died that weekend, and I really wasn’t coping too well away from home, but I got through the day and decided to buy a piece of cloth from the lady as a way of treating my sorry self. I felt torn by the decision to buy it. Would my purchase make sure it was kept safe, or encourage more sourcing of cloth from across the globe? My piece states ‘fragment’ in its description and yet is has clearly been cut from a larger cloth. ‘Fragment’ suggests to me a museum piece, a fragment of history, a clue of a larger object salvaged from ruin rather than proactively separated from its other parts to form the sum – a folded patchwork Kathiawari horse strap from India.

The colours have altered over the years since its time of making no doubt, and the fabric has become worn too. I removed the rusty staples in an act of care and conservation. I also taught myself how to create the folds and layers of fabrics to understand, through making, the construction process. The piece inspired a fabric manipulation project during my time in Great Yarmouth – mostly lost to history and probably for the best! My fabric samples are nothing in comparison to my ‘original’ fragment. The pieces I made lack the authenticity, the ageing, the integrity of originality, but they too serve to remind me of the value of heritage, of belonging and remembering.

With so much talk in the media at the moment of cultural looting across the world both past and present, I am again reminded of this piece of cloth, its heritage and place in the world. The fabric also distinctively reminds me of the loss of my grandma at that time, and yet isn’t it strange that a piece of Kathiawari cloth – not any piece, ONLY this piece, can act as a token of a memory of my Grandma who as far as I know, had no connections with India?!

passing on pattern passion

In my role of academic as well as a designer I am regularly required to enthuse about print and pattern, and to be honest that’s fine, as I love designing and teaching pattern for print. This last week has seen me out and about to pass on my passion for pattern, firstly to Wolverhampton Embroiderers’ Guild where I was invited to talk about my practice. It’s always interesting having to consider what bit of the last twenty years to focus on, requiring reflection and evaluation, and how to tell the most relevant story without missing the bits that might be the most informative to others even if they didn’t seem so to me when living them. The audience were really generous with praise, and were really interested in my creative process, so sharing my sketchbooks, and anecdotes felt very easy to such an interested group of makers.

Tuesday saw me overseeing a morning of filming at Birmingham City University (BCU) with Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen and TV crew, working with our third years and our fabulous Print Technician. It was a morning of celebrating the Arts and Crafts legacy, William Morris in particular, and the importance of understanding the value of drawing to the process of pattern making. It was a pleasure promoting our talented third years, in the closing stages of their time with us.

This leads me to yesterday when I and a colleague took a coach of second year Textile Design degree students to Manchester, specifically the Whitworth Art Gallery to see several exhibitions. On walking in to the first gallery and the exhibition ‘Revolutionary Textiles 1910-1939′ I noticed a number of pieces that I had featured in my Historical Textiles lectures when I had taught this group of students as first years, including Barron & Larcher, Josef Hillebrand and Omega Workshops. It was fabulous to see the students’ excitement on recognising patterns and names of designers that had, until then remained theoretical, and not ‘actually real’. Their knowledge meant something tangible, and I think was empowering to them. It was an honour to share that excitement of learning, and understanding.

Having worked on the Tibor Reich show at BCU it was great to be reunited with the collection, also on show at the Whitworth, and to see the different emphasis this exhibition made to an amazing and extensive archive owned by the family. The students really responded to the way Tibor worked to create pattern, and explored pattern through drawing with layers of colour and line. I couldn’t help but point out Tibor’s excellent use of a sketchbook to explore ideas.

Image below: top row from Revolutionary Textiles, bottom row Tibor Reich

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The room that wowed me most was the wallpaper gallery upstairs, and again, this exhibition was exciting and inspiring to the students, leading to some really interesting conversations. There is of course no comparison between seeing metres of wallpaper stretching skywards, to a small screen of Google images. We talked about print production, the scale of motifs useful to a domestic space rather than in relation to a sketchbook page, and why thinking big should be embraced. We admired the Lucienne Day patterns that are so familiar to us, alongside new discoveries, and that is why a curated exhibition, unlike an online search can be so beneficial; the selection provides context. I encouraged the students to question how they would make the marks, the shapes and patterns without computers, and why the variation of hand-made can offer something that digital software excludes. I include an example below to illustrate my point – beauty in the irregular.

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We did have time to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the cafe but also took in a quick trip to see the newly opened Fashion & Freedom exhibition at Manchester City Art Gallery, one I really do recommend too.

So, more pattern inspiration for me, and hopefully some more people inspired by pattern too…

print progress

Recently I have been really busy with a variety of academic duties in Birmingham and further afield, taking me away from studio time, my freelance design practice, and of course blog writing. Also, in my teaching of Textile Design at Birmingham City University I have been leading a module of professional practice, assisting the students in learning about the life of a freelance designer. It’s definitely a double-edged sword, as the discussions between students and staff illustrated: It’s great to be your own boss, but you take all the blame when things don’t work out! You can get up when you want, but nobody pays you for just waking up!

The rhythm of freelance work is varied. Somehow it’s often the way of things that several deadlines coincide, and when you have a schedule to stick to, an urgent press request comes in. On the day you have time to make calls, those people are out of the office, and obviously you don’t get paid when you take a holiday. Yes there can be tough times, but I really like the variety of the weeks’ activities that freelancing gives me, certainly set in tandem with the academic life of very different demands. Each practice informs the other. Obviously there are freelance tasks I prefer and other ones I procrastinate over, lists are created, social media is checked and Radio 4 is listened too!

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With so much to-ing and fro-ing on trains this last month or two and with several commercial projects on slow-cook I decided to give myself time to make, test and resolve some ideas that I have been exploring, with paper and print. The activity of printmaking is a fabulous discipline to work with. I love the excitement of planning a new print, and composing the plate, often taking me back to sketchbooks and previous ideas. The physical process of cutting the block can also be absorbing, and therapeutic and I have to decide the paper stock, the ink colour, and edition size too. It is important to maintain an experimental, inquiring practice and my prints and drawings are the evidence of ideas that have sustained my creative practice for the last twenty years. Between the commercial constraints of projects shaped by clients, costs and repeat patterns, printmaking can seem so free from limitations. This is why I make sure I keep printing – the creative sort, not just the invoices!

both prints featured here are available to buy, at £46 each unframed.

Knit 1, edition of 15, lino print, 9.5 x 9.5 cm print size

Meadow Grass, edition of 12, lino print, 9.5 x 9.5 cm print size

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Visual proverbs – in Ghana and Cheltenham!

As a young student in the 1990s I became aware of the amazing Asafo flags of the Fante, from Ghana. I’d seen an article in a magazine in the college library about an exhibition on at the time, and unable to afford the trip to London I telephoned Peter Adler, curator of the exhibition, as his number was listed in the article, to share my enthusiasm. I’m not sure what I thought I’d achieve but we did have a conversation and I was inspired to find out more about the colourful appliqued flags.

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What struck me about the flags was the bold shapes of animals and people that were communicating warnings to other units of warriors of the Fante people. Proverbs such as ‘The crab is feared for its claws’, or ‘Fish grow fat for the benefit of the crocodile’ attempt to ridicule the rival warrior groups and set a tone of fear, as if toying with opponents. With influence from the European flags they had seen as adventurers explored West African coastlines and from international trading ships the flags also featured elements of geometric borders and the Union Jack. I like the stylised imagery, but particularly the visual communication of a story in one textile image. I remember I wrote an essay on the subject for a Contextual Studies assignment and I went to great lengths to dye fabric and create my own textile illustrations and book cover – I still have it somewhere.

I’ve shared images of the flags with many groups of students over the years, but as I write a research paper on the subject of visual communication in pattern I am once again reminded of these beauties, and back I go, to the wonderful book: Asafo! African Flags of the Fante, written by Peter Adler and Nicholas Barnard in 1992, published by Thames and Hudson. I recommend this really informative book.

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When walking from Cheltenham railway station to the town the other week along the off-road path I came across some graffiti in an underpass that reminded me of the flags, and particularly in the way the animals were used to goad. The images felt as if they were provoking and taunting rival groups by showing off their prowess in the way the artwork of the Asafo flags did. I could imagine the jibes represented in the images of the cats, and in the way the badger is attempting to deflect the attention away from his kind, to the lizards, maybe another urban tribe. I’ll share the images here.

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Asafo flags, scans of the pages from the book by Peter Adler & Nicholas Barnard, referenced in the text

Cheltenham graffiti, photograph by Kate Farley

Launching the pattern collection: ‘construct’

I’ve always started designing by picking up some sort of drawing tool, and exploring ideas that will have been developing in my head for some time. Concepts of pattern and purpose as well as communicating an idea using pattern is what really inspires me, this is no different for ‘construct’. A stunning image of lace in a book I was looking at while researching for one of my textile lectures on historical design caught my eye and an idea joined with other ideas of print looking like weave, as many people commented that my Plot to Plate VVV design did (left hand side of first image), when I was at Tent London in 2014. The seeds were sown.

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I’ve never hidden my loathing for faux surface / material effect pattern such as printed wood effect flooring. Why do we have to lie, why can’t there be another stunning and suitable design alternative?! With this is mind I’ve played with the idea of taking textiles as a starting point for this collection with the intention of subversively adding textile-derived pattern to other surfaces but in an evocative statement rather than a digital print of textiles. This is not a collection that copies textiles, rather that textiles suggests a way to draw; provides a set of rules to begin playing with. The title ‘construct’ is a reference to constructed textiles such as weave, knit and lace but also refers to the putting together of a new way of thinking about pattern for surface, building a collection that has been designed to cross material specifications and provide bespoke solutions.

Having been working on my Plot to Plate collection and related prints for the last five years it was a big challenge to start from scratch and move away from the safety of a kitchen garden, but I was also excited about the challenge. I’d been working on some other pattern commissions and revisited drawing processes that had got me thinking. I didn’t rush to get somewhere; I designated studio days to play with thread, ink and paper. I created a sketchbook of so many ideas and directions but eventually I began to formalise ideas and work out which direction felt right for the collection. Some of the other directions have already been moved on to commercial projects, and the others I’ll revisit over the years as and when.

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I usually sample patterns in black and white so I’m not swayed by colour rather than the success of the pattern. Having said that I was really adamant that blue was going to feature. Right from the beginning I was thinking of the strong Mediterranean blue of Greek churches, and the Blue Nude series by Matisse. Strong colour has been making a presence in interiors for a while, influenced by key exhibitions and trends. I knew I wanted to stay well away from Memphis colour palette and the reworking of 1980s colours. Sonia Delaunay has also inspired many designers and retailers thanks to the striking show at Tate Modern. I’m aware of trends, I have to be as an academic who teaches textile design, but I’ve never been inspired to follow them. I have my own creative path I’m on and I also would like my patterns to exist well beyond a season or two. Having said that one has to be aware of what drives buyers in retail to spend their money and for some it is likely to be informed by trends.

As those of you who have read more than this post might know, I like cutlery, and I can’t help laugh that the drawing tool that I’ve come to love is a sort of handmade fork! I’ve made many for this collection and they are so simple and inexpensive but all made by me to create exactly the right sized marks and the right sort of line. I’ve definitely got better at them. Weeks of testing many design structures and resulting rhythms left me with pages of patterns and the need to edit. Further weeks and I decided to test some screen printing on to fabric. Although I knew this collection was going to explore alternative surfaces I wanted it to work on fabric too. The weave of some of the fabrics was too dominant, and the scale of some of the patterns was less successful. Really valuable sampling!

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I’d contacted and discussed collaborations with choice companies relating to my ambitions for the collection and it was very exciting to sample on a range of substrates. I really wanted to embrace the ‘bespoke’ capacity that several manufacturers in Britain offer as a way to provide interior designers and architects for example, a choice for their clients. Choosing from off-the-shelf surfaces is not always exciting – there are exceptions! I wanted this to be a collection of pattern in anticipation of the product. Ten years ago I was a winner in the Formica ‘design a laminate’ competition and it felt good to be in discussions with a company with such a strong heritage for pattern. Surface View also demonstrate a contemporary approach to wallcoverings and surface pattern, enabling me to discuss my intentions for the collection and the concept of bespoke production and it being met by expertise and clarity. Having carried out several public art commissions over the years I’ve become used to discussing colour systems and file types, tweaking of production elements to manage the different industry requirements. It’s good to have that experience behind me.

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So here I am as Tent London is underway and I am extremely proud of the patterns that have made it to the final collection. There are repeat designs, small and larger scaled rhythms and placement patterns featured across the collection including a particular Tent London tote bag competition…. There are hand printed cushions ready for shop shelves or customers’ sofas and contemporary bespoke pattern for those wanting a graphic pattern rather than printed granite in their lives. The patterns can be licensed and collaborations can be discussed. Alongside all of this in order to fully convey the concept of the collection I’ve learned the skill of latch-hook rug making and committed many hours to mastering the skill of constructing pattern in yarn – not natural for me as a printer! I’ve sampled laser cutting and etching to varying degrees of success, I’ve made a dress for the show featuring ‘flow’ AND I’ve screen printed two limited editions of prints for launch day.

I’m interested to find out how it is received after so many solo months of nurturing, worrying and wondering. It’s time to let the pattern do the communicating…. do let me know what you think!

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pride in the pattern of Pride cutlery

Two years ago I produced a bespoke pattern design for David Mellor Design celebrating the ‘Chelsea‘ salad servers that Creative Director Corin Mellor, (David’s son) had designed. The pattern was screen printed on to tea towels, being a highly appropriate product for the cutlery, and they continue to sell very well through the David Mellor shops and their online store. I took inspiration from the Hathersage factory and the production methods used for the making of the cutlery pieces. I like the fact that Corin sees and appreciates the relevance of the design to his company. Although I can create pattern for pattern’s sake, I am really interested in pattern that belongs to particular brands, to communicate a belonging, of distinctiveness.

This summer I was delighted to be contacted again by Corin as the buying team were keen to add a new pattern. Starting any new commission is exciting as the conversations about the intentions of the artwork, the concepts that need building on, the production methods, colour and material choices, expectations and of course… deadlines!

With all of that taken care of I received a beautiful box of cutlery to draw from. Corin had decided he wanted to celebrate his father’s first cutlery, Pride, designed in 1953. It is so elegant, beautiful to hold, and a joy to draw from let alone to eat from! I worked the same way I had done before, developing sketches and informal compositions, working up motifs and rhythms in a sketchbook first before generating final drawings and paper cut outs to scan to digital artwork.

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I work across a number of software packages depending on what is required, and always bearing in mind the final artwork requirements for production. It matters right from the beginning whether the production method is traditional printing or digital as I will design accordingly, limiting numbers of colours in the design if required, and using colour in the most appropriate way. This summer with several design projects on the go I’ve worked with Pantone references, RAL, NCS, pigment ink swatches and CMYK values. For this project we used British Standard colour relating it to other products that are stocked by David Mellor Design but I had to convert it to modern day language!

Having completed a few different designs I sent them through to Corin and his buying team and was of course really pleased when they got back to me with the same choice as me. I’ve learned never to send anything I’m not quite happy with or proud of, as that will be the one the buyer picks! Sampling and production were the next steps as well as designing the new swing tag to suit both the “Chelsea’ and the Pride tea towels. I screen print these in my studio on to beautiful G.F. Smith paper.

I’ve worked with the same fabulous British company to screen print textile products several times before and it’s always a delight to take a further project to production with them. They understand that it’s not that I’m fussy, but rather ‘particular’ about details, and we work together well. Signing off proofs, forwarding woven designer logo tags to be sewn in and waiting for the order delivery sees the weeks go past, and very soon there will be two patterns of cutlery.

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I’m a cutlery fan any day of the week, and this really has been a fabulous commission to work on. To create a pattern for a client where the design relates to the product it is destined for, and its job is to visually communicate the heritage, culture and ethos of the company is a very fine challenge to take on. Proud of Pride!

Keep an eye out for ‘Pride’ in the David Mellor shops next month…

teaching for them and for us

I’ve combined my academic career with my art and design practice since the late 1990s and I’ve felt that each informs the other. Some weeks I’ve wished there were more hours for one than the other, but the two occupations are, for me, valuable and complementary to each other.

My art and design practice is one of learning, journeying and discovering new ways to look, to draw, to interpret the world about me in a visual, drawn or printed language. I feel as if I’m on a really long adventure that won’t stop until I get put in a box. Each commission, or self-established project offers a small experience that builds the bigger lesson that takes me further along that creative path to who knows where. Facilitating the discovery of this excitement in creative exploration is what drives me to teach students in Higher Education.

I have recently visited the excellent Peter Green exhibition: Sixty years of printmaking, at Mascalls Gallery, Kent (the exhibition has just finished I’m afraid), which got me thinking…  It was made clear in the design and content of the show (St. Judes and Emma Mason Gallery with Mascalls Gallery) that Peter combined his printmaking career with an academic one, and a high achieving one at that.

Printmaking is such a physical experience, and although simple in principle, the intricacies of a process and resulting prints can be hard earned. The exhibition of Peter Green’s work really demonstrated the pleasure of investigation, of material, colour and surface quality, not as passing ideas, but as a sustained dialogue between practitioner and process, and between ink and paper. The exhibition showed the drawings, the printing plates, the tools, the sampling and final resolutions. Peter’s vast experience and significant creative journey was evident; and through the exhibition I felt as if he is teaching us to learn from him, not for the technique, but for the commitment and value of doing and pursuing something. I believe that this is fundamental in teaching, whether in formal education or not.

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It was interesting to read in the catalogue that accompanies the exhibition that he said, “knowledge is about common ownership […] we should learn from each other.” This is how I feel about my relationship with education. We should not be masters to preach the skills and experience, but instead we could share in the experience of learning together. That’s not to deny that someone needs the skills and experience in the first place, but the attitude of someone like Peter who clearly enjoys the creative journey will inspire those a step or two behind him. I think it’s important that those who teach are also those who do.

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I strongly believe that there are no short cuts, or right answers along the path of art and design. There is no ‘one’ way of doing things. Sadly, so many students come through school thinking they are looking for the tick in the box, the correct result. We try at degree level study to nurture in them the understanding that you learn far more by investigating, questioning and journeying, rather than heading straight for one destination. This is again echoed in Peter’s investigative approach to printmaking – the finding out along the way is as important as the final state.

I read in the catalogue that Peter had moved away from wood engraving as a process as it required a more calculated journey and pre-determined images. I think I work like this too, looking to uncover the solution rather than to execute the obvious, not with wood but as a designer. This makes me think of new or less experienced teachers over-planning and worrying about the outcome of a session; what the students will achieve at the end, as a tangible result. Those with more experience and confidence in their teaching and the learning experience can take risks with that journey of learning and therefore participate rather than dictate. This sounds comparative to Peter’s more recent prints that evolve over time without the planning, but with an open-ended investigation. The exhibition celebrates sixty years of Peter printmaking [today in collaboration with wife Linda], so with such a busy and extensive journey the prints are an exciting archive of process and investigation, with common themes, colour relationships and familiar motifs in evidence during this time, as well as textile designs more recently in collaboration with St. Judes.

No doubt those of us who live with creative practices do so for many reasons, and those of us who teach will each tell of reasons why we do too. The combination of a creative practice and a teaching role is, in my mind, a really good combination, a two-sided relationship, where hopefully the give and the take work themselves out for the benefit of all! Thanks to Peter for reminding me of that good partnership as we embark on another academic year…

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Thanks to Simon Lewin of St. Judes for permission and access to the images of Peter Green’s prints:

top: Welsh Landscape No.1 1960

middle: Red Night 1963

bottom: Evening Estuary 2013

Useful links:

http://www.mascallsgallery.org

http://www.stjudesprints.co.uk

http://www.emmamason.co.uk