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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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’.

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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.

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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.

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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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Final Day of Artist Residency at Bergby Konstcenter

The past two weeks, working as Artist in Residence at Bergby Konstcenter, has been very inspiring, productive, thought provoking and down right good fun! As you will have seen through the last 13 posts, the arts centre itself is a beautiful and inspirational place, based in an idyllic part of rural Sweden but also in easy access of Stockholm, Uppsala and other fantastic places to visit.

Visitors to the exhibition were welcomed with cake!

Visitors to the exhibition were welcomed with cake, as part of an afternoon tea party!

The last day of the exhibition was busy with visitors, many taking part and making ‘Green Pledges’ for me to sew into mini pennants when I return to England – written in Swedish and English.

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Afternoon tea party to celebrate the final day of the residency, organised by Helen and John.

As part of the residency, it had always been planned to parade the larger pennants up into the Bergby woods and hang them with the ‘Green Pennants’ as the closing part of the exhibition. This seemed only fitting, as it is an environmentally charged work about the planet and our job as ‘caretaker’s’ of it.

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Getting ready to parade the pennants to the woods…

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On parade.

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Deeper into the woods…

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‘Sea Juggernaut’ pennant.

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Hanging up the ‘Life giving bee’ pennant in the trees.

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‘Life giving bee’, ‘Haxors Trosor’ and ‘Sea Juggernaut’ pennant hanging in the trees at Bergby woods.

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Me, about to start hanging up the ‘Green Pledges’.

Once the larger pennants had been hung, we then hung the ‘Green Pledges’ which had been made so far as part of this environmental art project. Most of these pieces had been pledges by people from Newcastle, but there were also a few new ones from Sweden.

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‘Green Pledges’ hanging in the Bergby woods.

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More detailed view of some of the ‘Green Pledges’.

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‘Green Pledges’ blowing in the wind.

Besides fueling and developing new ideas, working as Artist in Residence at Bergby Konstcenter, talking to Helen and John,  and to the visitors to the exhibition, it has made me realise that I don’t want to finish this project but to continue with the ideas and ethos which has evolved from my time in Sweden. I have always fully intended to finish the now 50 plus ‘Green Pledges’ and to exhibit them in other places but I also wish to encourage more people to be part of this project and to either in writing make a pledge and/or make it into a textile piece which can be hung side by side with the others. Within each of these pledges, people – young and old – have raised important environmental issues and thought about how they can help address them in a small way.

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‘Green Pledges’ flying from a Suffolk bridge following my return to England.

I would like to thank Helen, John and their lovely family, who made us all for so welcome and comfortable in their arts centre and home, and for giving me this fantastic opportunity to be part of their work.

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 11 -exhibition openning day!

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Bergby Konstcenter.

After lots of work, the ‘Häxors Trosor’ exhibition is ready to open. With over 36 ‘ Green Pledges’ made so far by over 20 people, three large textile pieces,  4 environmental sculptures and 4 painted artworks, plus the ‘Young Artist’s’ gallery with over 40 pieces on display. All responding to the challenges which face the environment today.

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Häxors Trosor embroidery.

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‘Life giving bee’, embroidery.

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Green Pledges.

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Green Pledges.

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Green Pledges.

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Green Pledges.

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Green Pledges.

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Green Pledges.

 

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Optical Telegragh – Imaginary Messages.

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‘ Sea Juggernaut’, embroidery.

I shall blog the ‘Young Artist’s’ gallery separately as it is part of the two week ‘Digital Detox’ the children have been having!

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Watercolour and pen pictures of local birds.

 

So far, the exhibition has been very well attended but I must get around to taking photos!!

Residency Day 10

Tomorrow my exhibition is opening at Bergby Konstcenter and there was a few fun things I still wanted to make! Firstly, John had found an old shop sign at the local Loppis and we had chatted about using it to put out on the main road to show visitors we were open.

I spent a good part of the day collecting materials to decorate it, as I wanted it to reflect what the exhibition was about  and Helen found me some wool to create a ‘loom’.

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Finished woven sign for the exhibition.

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I also made a couple of mini hangings for the gallery using similar materials.

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I have also been working on some pen and watercolour pictures of some of the birds I have seen locally. In the spirit of recycling, I have used an old Swedish copy of ‘The Fellowship of the Ring’ I bought from the Loppis, torn the pages and rewoven them to draw on.

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Black bird

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Buzzard.

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Heron.

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Swallow.

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

 

Day 1 of my Haxors Trosor Artist’s Residency at Bergby Konstcenter, Sweden.

After leaving Suffolk at 1 am, yesterday morning, we were all happy and excited to arrive at Bergby Konstcenter, where we shall be spending two weeks creating, making, demonstrating and displaying artwork produced during that time.

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Bergby Konstcenter

As part of the residency, there is lovely on-site accomodation provides by Helen and John who run the arts centre and gallery.

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After arriving yesterday, I set up the studio and gallery space, hanging up the ‘Green Pledges’ and the pennants made in preparation, plus emptying the two suitcases of art and textiles equipment I had brought.

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Environmental art pennants.

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‘ Green Pledges’

Already, my three girls are also getting into the digital detox, creative spirit and have started using the art materials that have brought. This is a piece below by Kitty, age 11 who has used pastels to draw this lovely picture.

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Pastel picture made by Kitty, age 11.

 

 

 

 

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

 

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.

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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!

 

 

 

William Morris stitched portrait.

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William Morris, ‘The Maker’, finished.

Since Easter, I have been working on a couple more portraits. My portrait of Isaac Rosenberg, the First World War poet has been started but put on hold until hopefully this weekend and whit week, when I might be able to get my teeth back into it. But, my portrait of William Morris has been a wonderful roller coaster ride and now it is finished. I do find I get obsessed by projects and therefore find it difficult to do other things which I am meant to be doing like feeding the children, working on ‘work’ projects, remembering to pick the children up from school…And this has been no exception!

William Morris, the beginning.

William Morris, the beginning.

I decided to make a portrait of William Morris for many reasons. The first being that I had so much fun with my ‘Green Man’ and his beard, I wanted to create another piece in which I worked in a similar manner. Secondly, because his body of work – poetry, writing, design, arts and crafts, hand-working, philosophy – inspire me constantly.

Acanthus leaves drawn onto the background of the finished sewn portrait.

Acanthus leaves drawn onto the background of the finished sewn portrait.

Unlike my war poet portraits, I wanted to ensure this portrait was full of colour, almost psychedelic but I like to keep the face of the portrait down to very simple expressive lines, which allows the viewer to create their own feelings about the character of the ‘sitter’.

Hand stitched acanthus leaves, painted with acrylic.

Hand stitched acanthus leaves, painted with acrylic.

I had a lovely time drawing out the acanthus leaves which were then hand stitched and finally painted with acrylic. The hand stitched is slow and methodical, but very meditative in nature.

Finished acanthus.

Finished acanthus.

Originally, I had intended to further embellish the acanthus leaves but I was so pleased with how they looked when I finished painting them, that I decided it would be rather ‘over egging the pudding’ if I did.

Waistcoat and shirt detail.

Waistcoat and shirt detail.

It was difficult to decide upon colours for his waistcoat and shirt, as obviously photographs of Morris were in black and white and in paintings he tended to be seen wearing dark, dull colours. So, I did some research on Victorian costume of the 1860s to try and get the right tones and colours.

'News from Nowhere' quote.

‘News from Nowhere’ quote.

Hand stitched around Morris’s collar is a quote from his ‘News from Nowhere’, a book which encapsulates his idea of utopian socialism.

Portrait stretched on a frame for painting and stitching.

Portrait stretched on a frame for painting and stitching.

Before choosing the colour of Morris coat, I painted his beard and hair in fabulous tones of orange and brown, only then could I decide upon his coat’s colour.

Hand stitched tweed.

Hand stitched tweed.

When I had finished painting his coat, I decided to hand over stitch a check, using colours I had already stitched into the acanthus leaves. You can see I also hand stitched oak leaves into his shirt – this is an ‘homage’ to his love of using the oak leaf also in his design and the William Morris designs often used in Liberty print shirts.

Detail of Morris's hair and beard.

Detail of Morris’s hair and beard.

The stitching on the shirt was the last piece of sewing to complete the portrait. The last two weeks, I have been busy getting the picture framed – I have chosen to use the same style frame I used for the ‘Green man’ – and to get my first set of Giclee prints done, which I am very excited about.

Giclee prints of my portraits.

Giclee prints of my portraits.

This weekend it’s The Late Shows in Newcastle and once again my studio is open, which encouraged me to promptly organise some prints of my work, as visitors had asked if I had any of my ‘War Poets’. I was absolutely delighted with the results and now just need to pick up the picture mounts and they will also be ready to then go onto my Etsy site, too.

'The Maker'.

‘The Maker’.