Northumberlandia, landscape, Northumberland,

New Artist Residency at Northumberlandia

I am delighted to have been asked to be Artist in Residence at Northumberlandia.

Northumberlandia

Northumberlandia: ‘The Lady of the North’, landscape sculpture.

Northumberlandia is a landscaped sculpture of a reclining lady, designed by artist Charles Jencks. She is 100 feet high and a quarter of a mile long. You can take walk around the paths that curve around her body up to her hips, breasts and face.

Northumberlandia, landscape, Northumberland,

A view from Northumberlandia’s ‘forehead’ looking down to her nose, breasts, hip and further into Northumberland.

This is a beautiful site to visit and take a gentle walk (though recently I visited during Storm Hector and it was a but tricky to walk up to the top!) Families, community groups, dog walkers and people looking for a soul rejuvenating spot to visit, visit daily.

Northumberlandia, spring flowers,

Spring flowers at Northumberlandia.

The residency is in conjunction with Northumberland Wildlife Trust who help manage the site. My proposal responds to the importance of sites such as this where people are using our local natural environment, for walks and a quiet spot to be just outside a busy city, encouraging them to reflect upon how this urban/rural, relaxing place to walk is helping us and how we can help it.

Northumberlandia open day gazebo

Northumberlandia festival day.

A couple of weeks ago, during a Northumberlandia festival day, I set up ‘shop’ to be able to meet and greet visitors to the site and talk to them about my residency. I am asking people to make a ‘Green Pledge’. This is something individuals, groups and families can pledge to do to help their local habitats, places they visit, the environment on a local and national scale.

Northumberlandia open day green pledge

A ‘Green Pledge’ made by one of the young visitors to Northumberlandia.

During the festival weekend, visitors were making a decorating their own ‘Green Pledge’. These were made using recycled textiles, permanent pens and stitching on ribbons etc. These ‘Green Pledges’ will be hung together throughout the trees in Northumberlandia in September, for visitors to come back and see.

Caretakers Green Pledge today

Caretaker’s of the World. UNITE!

Beside creating their own ‘Green Pledge’ on the day, I am also collecting pledges made by visitors to make into larger, more worked pieces which will hang individually amongst the trees. These pieces will be made using recycled textiles, hand and machine stitched, painting, printed, with found natural and manmade items on them to ‘illustrate’ the pledge.

Though, besides making two dimensional pieces, I have also decided that some pledges will require a more three dimensional, radical approach. An example of this includes the pledge to make ‘Eco Bricks’.

woodland, Northumberlandia,

Entrance woodland at Northumberlandia.

Last week I visited Beaconhill Primary School, which is the school nearest to Northumberlandia as the crow flies. I spent the day with Year 4 and 5, talking to them about the Northumberlandia site (which the majority had all visited) and my residency. I had asked to school to be involved, as they school prides itself on having a very environmental ethos and is very proactive locally. I talked with the children about what they are already doing at home to help the environment, what small changed they could make to help further and if they had ideas or great inventive ideas about what we could do in the future.

The children were all very concerned about how much people are happy to drop and leave rubbish when visiting the countryside, our local beaches and just generally where they live.

Beaconhill Yr4 pupil

Pupil making a ‘Green Pledge’.

It is heartening to hear how passionate young people are about doing things to help their local environment and things that will help the global climate issues. Over the weekend at Northumberlandia and my visit to the school, more that 120 ‘Green Pledge’ fabric panels have been made to be hung together amongst the trees.

Less plastic green pledge

‘I will use less plastic’ Green Pledge.

During the next couple of months, I will be making larger ‘Green Pledge’ panels, inspired by the visitors to Northumberlandia and in September everyone involved will be invited back to walk amongst the ‘Green Pledges’ hanging amongst the trees and try and track theirs down.

Northumberlandia green pledge stall

Families making their ‘Green Pledges’ to hang amongst the trees in Northumberlandia.

Please feel free to get in touch if you would wish to be part of this project by suggesting a ‘Green Pledge’ you would like to make in writing, or a physical piece that could be hung with the others amongst the tress.

 

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Charles Darwin portrait, finished.

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The Man from The Mount (Charles Darwin)

My textile portrait of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), is part of my series of ‘Cultural Hero’ portraits, including William Morris and W. G. Grace.

I chose Charles Darwin to be part of my series for many reasons including: he was a very cool naturalist, he had a great beard, he was born in Shrewsbury (where I am from) and he had a very interesting life! Simply, he has always been a hero of mine.

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Charles Darwin portrait, first phase.

When I am working on a portrait, I never have a finished overall plan of how it is going to look. It evolves, over time as I am working on it. I tend to do quite a lot of background reading and like to find out more about the person, where they lived, so that I can drop in links to their background in the portrait. So when I first start, I machine sew the initial portrait onto white cotton, then paint it with tea!

Phase 2 Charlie

Charles Darwin, with hand stitched background.

The background was drawn on and hand sewn, it includes images of the Tatochila Theodice Gymnodice butterfly which he found 1834; Scymnobius Galapagoenis found in the Galapagos in 1831; the Vermillion Flycatcher, also found in the Galapagos and sundew heads, which are found near where he was born at The Mount, in Shrewsbury.

Phase 3 Charlie

Working on a tapestry frame, hand sewing and painting the details.

Once the lines are stitched, I start to paint in with acrylic whilst working on a tapestry frame. This keeps the textile portrait taught, as I am not working on a canvas and the fabric would very easily start to shrink and stretch in all the wrong places.

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Vermillion Flycatcher, Charles Darwin portrait detail.

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Tatochila Theodice Gymnodice. Found by Charles Darwin in Chile in 1834.

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Detail showing the Scymnobius Galapagoenis (the Ladybug Beetle) and Sundew heads, embroidered onto Charles Darwin’s cloak.

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Detail from Charles Darwin portrait.

Since finishing my portrait of Charles Darwin, I have started again working on my portrait of the War Poet, Edward Thomas, which I hope to get finished by the middle of March, ready for the anniversary of his death during the First World War, on April 9th, 1917.

 

New interactive pieces for The Sill, Northumberland.

The Sill, is a new landscape discovery centre in beautiful Northumberland, very close to many of the famous Roman sites along Hadrian’s Wall. The Sill helps visitors to look deeper into the landscape, culture, history and heritage of Northumberland.

View from The Sill roof

View from The Sill roof

Last year, whilst The Sill was still being built, I was asked by the Education Team to work with them on creating some interactive bags for schools and community groups to use whilst visiting their building and galleries.

Inside The Sill

Inside The Sill’s gallery, which explains many of the uses of the landscape, materials and habitats found in the area.

A large part of last year I spent working on the Shipley Art Galleries Centenary Quilt but as soon as that was finished, we started planning in more detail what interactive materials The Sill would benefit from first and how they would like them to look. So the first two interactive bags I worked on was the Moorland Curlew Bag and the Geology bag.

Curlew 1

Curlew Children’s mask

The Moorland Curlew bag was great fun to make. The bag itself is large enough to carry all the interactive pieces in plus room for teachers notes. I always find children love as much opportunity to dress up – so any chance to make wings and masks is great!

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Curlew wings, child size.

The Curlew bag also had a crochet nest, with eggs plus worms for the Curlew to eat!

Curlew eggs

Curlew nest and eggs.

Habitat bags always need a predator and what better than a fox – great fun for interactive role play!

Fox mask

Fox mask.

The Moorland Curlew bag itself had two sides, as the curlews nest in the moorland building their nests on the floor and they also spend their time at the seaside amongst the mudflats – which you may have seen, with their long, curled, distinctive beaks.

Using bags in the Sill

Moorland Curlew (mudflat side) and Geology bag being used at The Sill.

The geology bag looked at how the stone and the Whin Sill had been created over thousands of years. The bag itself illustrates very simply how the stratigraphic layers in the area have built up to create the landscape and stone in the area.

Geology bag strat layers

Geology bag cover, textile illustration of the stratigraphic layers in Northumberland.

To help illustrate to children visiting with schools and community groups, small textile panels were made to show how the local stone is used in Hadrian’s Wall, making roads, sandstone walls and limestone kilns.

This bag was also quilted so that rocks and stones, plus other materials could safely be placed inside.

Interactive 'stone' pieces

Four textile panels illustrating the use of stone in the area: top left – road building, top right – sandstone walls, bottom left – limestone kilns and how limestone enriches the ground and bottom right – Hadrian’s Wall.

These bags have now been delivered and I am now working on a ‘Dark Skies and Mythology’ bag plus a large, layered map which will be used up on the grassed roof, to assist discussions about how the landscape has changed over the last two thousand years.

Artist Residency Day 13 at Bergby Konstcenter, Sweden.

In the last few days whilst my ‘Häxors Trosor’ exhibition has been open, many of my Swedish visitors have also been keen to make their ‘Green Pledge’. During this time I have also been busy making more from the list of pledges I brought from Newcastle.

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Visitors to Bergby Konstcenter making green pledges.

I have been using local resources to make some of the pledges, including milk cartons, plastic bread and chocolate wrappers. Helen and John the artists who run Bergby Konstercenter have also made a pledge to be hung with the others.

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‘I am making a compost in my garden’.

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‘Here I write my solemn pledge to grow and eat organic veg.’

Visitors to the exhibition seemed to really enjoy looking at the craftsmanship in the environmental textile pennants, from the heavy embroidery to intensively worked beading and the sentiment in the poetry. It was extremely heartening to hear the very sincere feedback.

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A local bee keeper and her daughter looking at the ‘ Life giving bee’ embroidery.

Talking to the visitors, asking them to also make a ‘green pledge’ has made me really think about taking this project so much further. The exhibition of the work produced during the residency is going to Gateshead Old Town Hall in September and October but I feel I would like to continue encouraging people to make pledges, so that the number of pledges made grows past the 50 we have so far.

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‘I will eat less dairy and milk.’

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‘I will recycle more’.

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‘I will try to raise awareness with my friends about the issues of sea creatures’, by Rosie age 13.

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Visitors to the exhibition.

If you would like to be a part of this project, please get in touch. You can just write a green pledge which I will make for you or you can make your own to form part of the growing numbers of green pledges made so far.

Residency Day 12 – Digital Detox

Coming out to Bergby Konstcenter in Sweden for a two week artist residency, has been an amazing experience and opportunity for me. I have absolutely loved the arts centre, the enthusiasm of Helen and John who run it and it’s beautiful locality.

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Painting together.

But, it has also provided a creative and interesting experience for my three daughters, aged 13, 11 and 8 – through a ‘digital detox’. This has encouraged intensive bursts of drawing, painting, sewing, reading and 3D art using the natural environment.

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Tablet free zone !

The girls embraced the idea of a Digital Detox, occasionally there was a bit of a wobble,  but overall they enjoyed it. My middle daughter has also read six books in the two weeks – reading some twice!

The girls have been taking their sketchbooks with them on their days out, too.

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My youngest daughter sketching with her Dad.

The ‘Young Artist’s’ exhibition wall includes the work by the young children who live here, who also really enjoyed drawing and painting.

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Young artist’s exhibition.

Sharing, learning new artistic skills and learning new words in English and Swedish has been a great bonus – especially when learnt with friends!

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I can’t say that when my girls are back in the UK they won’t be straight onto their electronic devices, but the two weeks without them has taught the girls that they can not only enjoy themselves without these devices, but  they  have learnt again to entertain themselves, regained their love of reading, and that boredom is a great way to ignite a creative imagination. They have also all said how lovely it is to play freely outside, to be able to run around with no socks on, feel grass rather than concrete and just play.

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Residency Day 9 -new ‘Green Pledges’.

Before I came out to Bergby Konstcenter in Sweden, I had asked people who had visited my studio in Newcastle if they would like to make a ‘Green Pledge’ and I would make them to hang with the others in the exhibition in Sweden.

Here are some new pledges which have been made:

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‘I will encourage bees into my backyard’.

These new pledges have been made using resources I had at hand in Sweden including plastic bread bags (the tassels above) to milk cartons ( the patchwork below).

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I will stop eating beef.

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I will grow my own fruit and vegetables.

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I will turn off the lights.

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This one contains a quote from Mahatma Gandhi: ‘Earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need, but not every man’s greed.’

All of the ‘ Green Pledges’ are now up in the exhibition, already more new pledges are being made. I hope to go and hang them all up in the woods this weekend! Then I shall send photos to all the people who have been involved in the project so far…

Residency days 7 & 8, at Bergby Konstcenter.

Sunday and Monday have been very intensive sewing days, like all my pieces for my residency, the ‘Sea Juggernaut’ has been very heavily worked.

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Reverse side of ‘Sea Juggernaut’ – a sperm whale.

This piece represents the issues facing creatures living in our seas: pollution (chemical and waste), sound pollution, over fishing, climate change etc. Over the years many whales have died on beaches across the world due to these environmental issues and this year, 18 sperm whales washed up on beaches in Germany. When they were autopsied, they were found to have in their stomachs: 43 foot of shrimp nets, plastic parts from car engines, even buckets inside them, as well as many other unusual objects. They were young whales who had died from heart failure.

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‘ Sea Juggernaut’, beaded, machine and hand embroidered textile hanging at Bergby Konstcenter, Sweden.

The textile piece I have been making whilst at Bergby Konstcenter is heavily beaded and embroidered. It also has lots of ‘found’ objects seen into it, to highlight the disposal of waste from our over consumption. In the textile piece I have sewn in items such as plastic nets used for packaging fruit, items found on the floor such as a tiny ships wheels and anchor buttons!

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Mini ship’s wheel found on the floor outside a local ‘Loppis’.

Within the piece I have embroidered and beaded creatures of the deep, plus also loosely beaded the sea, these are both to represent real and synthetic things found in the sea (like microbeads used in cosmetics).

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Detail showing beaded and embroidered sea creatures as well as stiched poetry.

Each sea creature is unique and took many hours of sewing. One, I have also linked to flowers found in Carl Linnaeus’s garden, as I was keen to make links to this great Swedish scientist who was the first to use the Latin classification system for plants and animals. Within each of these pieces, the animals latin name is also stiched into the picture.

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Detail of beaded sea creature.

Each of the pieces made as part of the ‘Häxors Trosor’ (witches knickers) residency, work on many levels and as part of this piece ( and the others) a poem is stitched through:

Sea Juggernaut 

 

Dive down deep, deep down

Where the nocturnal day or night light

Eclipses the sea juggernaut.

Though, the salty sea stars

Still shine spiral bright.

 

Dive down deep, deep down

In search of balloon bursting, rich tasting

Stringy limbed squid

Sea Juggernaut penetrates past

To wrestling octopus hid .

 

Dive down deep, deep down

To find a pea souper, stomach filler

Of man’s eternal waste,

An all you can eat sea buffet,

Of gut corroding, life stealing bait.

 

July 2016

 

Life giving bee

The series of artworks I am preparing and making as part of my artists residency at Bergby Konstcenter  in Sweden are part of an interest and a need to make art which makes you question our right to be caretakers of our planet.

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‘Bee’ mini lino print.

I have been looking at the effects mankind has had on many it’s surroundings and the bee is a prime example of the onslaught it faces from habitat destruction, air pollution, climate change and pesticides.

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12 inch square, hand embroidered bee, sewn onto recycled fabric.

The worrying element, besides losing beautiful insects, is that bees are decreasing in numbers rapidly, yet they pollinate 70 of the 100 crop species which feed 90% of the World. If we are talking money, that is 30 billion dollars a year!

Bee 4

The bee’s wings are made using recycled net from one of my daughters dresses, this is then appliqued on with hand embroidery.

We also need to also consider the knock on effect if we began to lose the plants which bees pollinate. The chain reaction will be felt by the animals which eat those plants and onto the animals/people who eat those animals…

Bee

Detail of the bee with embroidered poetry and flowers. The background has been painted with inks to create a ‘hive’.

In my work, I use traditional textile crafts, to create beautiful pieces which address issues close to my heart. This piece has been made using recycled/upcycled fabrics from children’s dresses and upholstery fabric, painted with inks and very slowly hand embroidered.

As a parent, I feel very strongly about helping the world to be a better place for my children to grow up in.

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Detail of the hand embroidered strawberry fruit and flowers.

My family are coming with me to Sweden and as part of my artists residency, my children and husband are also using it as an opportunity to be creative. They have been testing out their art equipment, planning what size paper to work on and looking forward to just being able to draw. My 8 year old has been researching environmental art and the work of Andy Goldsworthy .

At schools, there is less time factored into the curriculum to allow for artistic creativity, yet it acknowledged that is encourages us to ‘think outside the box’, look for new ways of addressing problems and it is very good for our mental health. Plus, we are not all going to be engineers. I am hoping it will allow us all a freedom to be creative which is rarely given.

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Finished ‘Life giving bee’ pennant.

One last fact to give you, which I found on the Greenpeace USA site, is that a single bee colony can pollinate up to 300 million flowers each day – remember, that’s the flowers of vegetables, nuts and fruit besides the flowers in our gardens and hedgerows!

Life giving bee

 

Pollen detector, avid collector,

Constant in your drive

Frequent flyer, hard wired

To a life giving hive.

Black bold, fierce gold,

From flower to flower descend

Pollen taker, food maker

May this never end.

 

Louise Underwood July 2016

 

Call out for ‘Green Pledges’

Over the next four months, I am working on a environmental art project to be finished and exhibited at Bergby Konstcenter in Sweden. As part of my artist residency, I am asking people to make ‘Green Pledges’ which can be made into a small pennants to be sewn together and hung in the trees at the center. Some of the examples below have been made by members of the 86th Newcastle Guides, who are working on a craft badge, they have designed their mini pennants using fabric pens on cotton, which they will then further embellish with embroidery, recycled fabrics, ribbons and buttons.

 

86th Guides Veg

Made by a member of 86th Newcastle Guides ‘Grow Your Own Veg’

If you would like to get involved, you can either get in touch with me, telling me of your ‘Pledge’ to live a greener life OR you could even make your own ‘Green Pledge’ mini pennant (I haven’t set a size for the finished piece, but the largest we have made so far are 20x30cm).

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‘Recycle’ pennant made by a member of the 86th Newcastle Guides.

The pennants can be made using any textile technique and can be as simple or as sophisticated as you wish or have time for.

Look after your planet.

‘Take care of our Planet’ by a member of 86th Newcastle Guides.

If you just wish to make a pledge, get in touch and I can develop you plan of action into a ‘Green Pledge’ pennant to be hung in Sweden as part of the exhibition.

'Green Pledge' mini pennant

‘Green Pledge’ mini pennant.

This weekend, you can also pop into my studio for Late ShowsStudio 11 at the Biscuit Factory, Newcastle, between 6-11pm on Friday and Saturday night (13th & 14th May, 2016), where you can see some of the pieces I am currently working on.

Häxors Trosor (Witches Knickers!)

Over the next few months I am preparing for a very exiting project I am working on in anticipation of a two week Artist’s Residency in Sweden, this August. The residency is at the Bergby Konstcenter, an art run institution in rural Sweden, which welcomes artists from all over the world.

In preparation for the residency, I am continuing with the values and themes that run through a lot of my personal work which reflects upon the environment, destruction and our responsibilities as ‘Caretakers of the World’. I am also aware that travelling to Sweden from the UK, will mean that I need to restrict the type of materials and equipment I will be able to physically take to work with. So, using traditional mat-making which I have often used on this type of work, is out! Two such pieces are illustrated below:

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‘Caretakers of the World, UNITE!’

The artwork above, was made for an exhibition to celebrate the return of the Lindisfarne Gospels to the North East. It represents an illustrated carpet page, created by the monks. Using this imagery, I ‘hooked’ a world map within the cross with flora and fauna, representing the natural world we need to take care of.

R.I.P Mother Earth & Lindisfarne mat

‘R.I.P Mother Earth’, seen also with ‘Caretakers of the World, UNITE!’, in an exhibition at The Holy Biscuit, Newcastle.

‘R.I.P Mother Earth’ is a textile work coffin, the ends and lid of which are ‘hooked’ using a traditional mat-making technique using recycled fabrics. This piece reflects the way we are treating the world and what will become of our planet if we don’t start to radically change our ways.

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‘Moral Compass’ which was exhibited at Gateshead Civic Centre as part of the ‘All We Are Saying’ exhibition and at The Holy Biscuit, as part of their ‘Your Deeds Don’t Define You’ exhibition.

A more recent piece, which is a link between ‘R.I.P’, ‘Caretakers’ and ‘Häxors Trosor’, is ‘Moral Compass’, a piece I wrote about in January. It reflects upon my desire as a parent to ensure that this is a world my children will want to live in and be happy – a world of peace, respect and love.

I have come up with the working title of ‘Häxors Trosor’ for the residency. This is Swedish for ‘Witches Knickers’! This is a humorous term for the shreds of plastic bags stuck in trees and bushes which are such a common sight in our landscapes.  These are symbol of the sad condition of our planet, much of which is a result of a throw-away culture, with rubbish found dumped in beautiful landscapes, plastic floating in the seas and chemicals seeping into the planet’s ecosystems.

Inspiration struck me whilst walking my dog; I saw a crow acting in an extremely defensive manner over what turned out to be a piece of plastic bag which it wanted to use to ‘feather’ it’s nest.  I found this very upsetting.  It not only represents  overconsumption and irresponsible littering (which according to Defra costs £10 million a year to clear up in Britain).  As well as the aesthetic degradation of natural landscapes, these plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to biodegrade and they are dangerous to fauna in many ways.

This has informed the work I will undertake during my residency: a series of pieces which reflect upon the different ways nature is fighting and loosing the war against overconsumption, greed and waste. As I am travelling to Sweden and working in a lovely rural studio and gallery space, I hope to use recycled fabrics and try to be restrained with the resources I take and use to create artworks which show the devastating issues at hand but in a beautiful, reflective manner of textile arts.

Crow 1

Machine stitched crow

So, a couple of weeks ago, I started working on the ‘Crow’, the inspiration for the start of this project. By playing with and developing the piece, it has given me time to think about  how the project will develop and the work I wish to create in Sweden. I started by simply machine stitching him, in a pose ready for the time I put the häxors trosor in his beak.

Crow 2

Crazy patchwork framing for the crow, using scraps of fabric and clothes my children have grown out of.

As I continue to work on the crow, I can see new elements I want to add to him and his surroundings, layering up and using found pieces of fabric, like embroidery anglaise from a pretty dress my daughter once wore and using crazy patchwork – which is always good fun!

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Further layering using tweed, old shirts and stitched embellishments.

Crows are traditionally seen as harbingers of bad news, which these environmental issues certainly are. Eventually, I aim to turn this piece into an heraldic pennant (which got me thinking about a penance). It also could be tied in with the double meaning of the word ‘standard’: heraldic standards and our possibly unobtainable ‘standards’ needed to improve environmental issues.

This is just the start, I am hoping that over the next few months and during the time I spend in Bergby, Sweden I can create a series of thought provoking and visually exciting pieces.

My young family are also very excited about our time in Sweden and are treating it as a family artists’ residency with a chance to leave tablets, phones and TV for a fortnight and focus on more creative pursuits.  My three girls and husband thrive in a creative atmosphere and they will be keen to create work for visitors to see in the residency space and talk about their work, too. For them it is to be a digital detox and full of creative intoxication!