a fine line

Once again, and not a surprise, a trip back to my homeland of Norfolk this Christmas resulted in me taking many photos of the beautiful horizon lines, across fields, marshes, the broads and beach.  Stunning light resulted in ever-changing colours that really showed the landscape off at its best.

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seeing things

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea of looking and seeing, and particularly how we evidence what we have seen. I have boxes of photographic prints of things I’ve seen: cracks in pavements, postboxes around the country, vapour trails in the sky, flowers I’ve grown and plants I wish I’d grown – and much more. When the world turned digital I stopped filling real boxes and filled virtual boxes, and some I look back at, but rarely do I touch the surface of the sights I have collected.

The engagement in social media, and the sharing of pictures begs me to think again about why we take pictures, and why we share them. As I spend most of my time in some sort of real or virtual context of people in the creative industries my Twitter and Instagram feeds are heavily laden with considerately photographed shadows of railings, colour combinations of socks on patterned tiles, recently obtained vintage finds, and dare I say it, beautiful breakfasts! Not only are we collecting imagery, we are proving that we are seeing and experiencing interesting / beautiful / different things and places, judged by us and hopefully ‘liked’ by others. Yes it’s marketing; a branding tool to evidence our aesthetic judgements.

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Some questions then, are we seeing more? Do we notice more, and appreciate more?

It does seem as if there have always been people who see faces in clouds, and beauty in peeling paint, but I wonder if social media is driving us to become a load of aesthetes. In my world it may seem that way.

As a pattern maker I’m always on the lookout for eye-candy, and usually of the ‘just happened to be there’ kind of pattern, rather than a designed pattern – having said that, I’m equally likely to be stopped in my tracks by a well-designed wallpaper. There have been many books over the years, and more recently blogs that feature the beauty in the overlooked, or the ugly, or the mundane. The desire to collate / curate these sights are no more in evidence than in the world of Patternity a design-savyy duo with a manifesto about pattern! Their stunning website and book and interesting collaborations are clearly tapping in to this moment of ‘seeing’. Check them out if you are so far unaware.

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Pattern really is everywhere, formally and informally and that’s the pleasure. I remember the day I was taught the mysteries of repeat pattern making, and that evening in a pub in Great Yarmouth, Norfolk, I took great pride in identifying the repeat ’tiles’ in the carpet, wallpaper and curtains of the glorious / hideous 1990s pub decor.

I had the pleasure to spend time with the fabulous Sarah Campbell last month, and much of our conversation, as we were at New Designers, was about pattern making; why we do it, how we do it, and getting people to pay for us to do it. During the conversation Sarah spotted a lady beside us in a polka dot blouse, and we noted that pattern-makers never really switch off from pattern spotting (pun intended!), pattern making, and pattern appreciating. When we departed we both commented that we look forward to reading each others next blog post – well here you are, this one is for you Sarah – it was a pleasure to see pattern with you!

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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an alternative view

I’m not so keen on this time of year. Despite the crocuses being up it doesn’t feel anywhere near summer, and there is still a small chance that snow will fall before anything but parsnips can be harvested on our plot. Having been brought up in the Norfolk countryside I miss what the countryside offers. It is important to me that I notice the seasonal changes that shape our year, despite the suburban home I find myself in, here in Birmingham. I miss the big skies, the open fields, and the greens of each season, still in existence, I just can’t see them from here.

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Looking though photographs from last summer I found this shot. I took it from the car as we sat aboard the Windermere ferry, crossing back towards the motorway, heading south to the Midlands from our final holiday of the season. It really was a grasped shot of the closing summer, peering through the window, breathing in the view. A last look across to the beautiful hills of the Lake District, unaware of what sort of wet winter was in store for so many in the region. In getting the link to the ferry for this post I’ve just discovered there’s a ferry-cam. I’ll check back to it in daylight, and dream of the summer holiday.

Today it was sunny in Birmingham. I had a short run around the park nearby and pretended it was the countryside, imagining I really could feel the heat of the sun through my hat, gloves and coat. I think we have a while to wait. The ground underfoot reminded me all to well of school cross-country in winter!

I think I’m in need of another holiday to the country!

 

 

printed mapping

Printed interpretations of landscape have been a challenge in my practice from the beginning, and really formed the backbone of my practice during my degree course in Printed Textiles at Leeds College of Art and Design in the 1990s. I explored various ways to represent the world around me, and although it might seem odd for those aware of my drawing, as there is little similarity now, I was really inspired by the Norwich School and painters such as Cotman and Crome. I saw the way they formed shapes of colours as elements in the landscape and I set about creating contemporary versions of Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds in term-time, and rural Norfolk in the holidays.

Over the years my focus has shifted from rural to urban, resulting in more geometric, grid-like patterns, fighting the urge to be illustrative. As Print Technician at Central Saint Martins I used to create mono-prints including embossed features, representing the Farringdon skyline and dominant buildings. I also explored experimental processes, such as liquid emulsion and photograms of drawings on acetate in the photographic darkroom. I had a fantastic year on a part-time printmaking course at the London College of Printing (now Communication) at Elephant & Castle, and despite a broken elbow I produced many prints including lithographs, screen prints, collagraphs, etchings and lino prints. The expertise of the staff, and the discipline of the day a week of technical experimentation was a brilliant thing.

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The images above include some of the many ways I have printed the landscapes I’ve experienced, and show some of the ways that I play with line, shape, texture and colour. Those of you who have seen my drawing evolve will probably recognise a preferred line quality, or mark I favour, the economy of mark, and visual rhythms. I am also interested in perspective, elevations and mapping interpretations. I continue to explore landscape in my ongoing sketchbooks, as part of commissions, but also because I simply want to draw and capture the flat fields, the lines of fence posts, and sweeping hills interrupted by a barn.

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I’ve also created many editions of bookworks over the years, and although I’ve written about them here before, I thought I’d include the ones predominantly featuring printed journeys. I love the way the sequence of pages, and folds of paper creates narratives through a landscape. Again there is maybe a familiarity of line quality, and drawn shape, as drawings, prints and books are often developed together, as part of the same creative process. Working summers in France, familiar territory in London and train journeys are regular inspiration for the books shown here. It is a challenge to design the book to work with a particular sized printing plate or sheet size of paper, considering grain direction and readability, but I enjoy the problem solving. Drawing and image has to work with structural content.

Often what is occupying my time in terms of design collections actually grow from ideas explored in those pages many years before. I like to see my relationship with landscape as the constant in the variety of what I do. Having spent some days in the country during the recent holiday I have refuelled that desire to draw horizons again.In hearing of the death of Ellsworth Kelly I am reminded of how instrumental he was at showing me how to see pattern in the environment we live in. I owe the excitement of the journey to many artists who themselves have worked hard to capture the places they know… Patrick Heron, Ben Nicholson, Eduardo Chillida, Eric Ravilious, to name a few.

Since creating these works on paper I show here (some over fifteen years old) I’ve launched ‘Plot to Plate’ and ‘Construct’, but they wouldn’t be here without the many sheets of paper before them. Who knows what else is in store in the next few years…

miles on wheels

I was brought up in a very keen cycling family, as a useful form of transport from a-b as well as for touring holidays and adventures. Growing up in Norfolk meant ignorant bliss when it came to real hills, and yet we did know that it can feel as if you have a headwind on four sides of a flat field!

With the Design Museum’s bicycle focused ‘Cycle Revolution‘ exhibition now on, the theme of their Twitter #FontSunday recently was bicycle brands. This got me thinking. I own many bikes, and each one for different reasons and I have many happy memories of times on two wheels. I took a few photos and started to remember…

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My early school photos show evidence of me learning to ride. Scars, bumps and bruises across my face, the result of falling in to the ditch of the edge of the disused airbase runway in rural Norfolk. I’ve fallen off with full panniers on, in fords deep enough with water to soften the landing, and I’ve broken my elbow as a result of hitting a pothole that was so small it could hardly be photographed for evidence! I’ve cycled Boxing day charity CTC runs, made others fall in love with touring on wheels, and ran round the park being brave enough to let my own children pedal away from me.

I inherited the silver ‘Falcon’ after my dad died, and once I’d grown old enough to fit an adult frame. With huge sentimental value, I love the bike I’ve covered miles and miles on. Youth hosteling with friends in Norfolk, and further afield: Scotland, Wales, France and Denmark. Loaded high and wide, on the open road, enjoying the same freedoms my father had experienced on the same steel frame.

My ‘Rudge Whitworth’, a heavy gent’s black butchers bike with rod brakes and wicker basket was purchased for a tenner from a fellow student at the art school in Great Yarmouth. I loved riding along, with my art box in the basket, seated so high up that I could peer over fences and be nosy. It takes hard work to pick up real speed, and yet once going, it’s impressive. The stopping is more interesting / less easy!

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My life changed colour with the purchase of my ‘Turkish Green’ Brompton, from BikeFix in London. I ordered it before I’d seen the true colour but as the staff pointed at many products in the shop, saying, nearly this, bluer that that, brighter than those, I chose my new bike. On the day it arrived I excitedly arrived at the shop to discover the true colour, and to receive ‘training’ of how to fold and unfold the bike before I was allowed out on the streets. When I lived in London I headed off with the bike, all over the place, leading bookbinding workshops, before packing it all up, and heading off to the train home again, some miles cycled, others on tracks. Now this bike is my regular commuter bike to the train and I’ve covered so many miles in over ten years. I transport my children on it when they are too tired to walk, I load up the rack with runner beans in trays ready for the allotment, and I carry the harvest back from the plot, strapped up in front and behind. I fold it without a second thought now.

There are other bikes too. The borrowed, hand-built racing bike I cycled Lands End to John O’Groats on back in 1994, all 1144 miles of it. Then the Dawes Galaxy with ‘modern’ gears, that made me embrace cleats on the pedals instead of the rat traps. The red Falcon that I had before I was tall enough for my Dad’s old bike, I still have that one too.

Each bike I own was made with a different rationale to the next one, in different times, in different workshops and factories, with different ambitions. Each one I own has been part of a different story too.

 

 

A change of background colour

It’s the holiday season and we’ve been taking part. A camping trip to the Lake District offered a dramatic difference to the usual scenery we live within here in the Midlands, and it was refreshing change for being so. Everywhere seemed so green, really really green, not just the local park green but intense, vivid greens that lush meadows could offer. Naturally with that comes rain, but even then the colours were vibrant. Lichen was glowing, moss saturated, even the sheep were blue! Some colours took me back to studio projects, Pantone references, British Standard colours and colour choices, others offered a welcome diversion.The strange thing is, that when I compiled the image to include with this post the images looked really grey, but it really wasn’t like that through my eyes!

This change of scene is just what the mind needed after an intense workload juggling several design projects and at the end of a hectic academic year. I like what the seasons do to us, make us adapt and notice the time passing. This time of year feels like a celebration, as harvests ripen in the sun (ummm..) and we prepare for a new season of productive design work, education and research.

I shall remember the vivid greens, the birds circling overhead in the sky of blue; the vast views that some people get to enjoy day in day out. I shall remember the feeling of change, and rest, and stopping just for a short while, as a warm memory in the depths of winter when working in the studio. I am bound by the academic year, as well as the seasons on the allotment, the trade show calendar, and birthdays, as so many people are. It’s good to recognise the rhythms and differences brought on by change. Hooray for holidays!

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