Portrait to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Death of War Poet Isaac Rosenberg

This weekend is the sees the 100th Anniversary of the death of war poet and artist, Isaac Rosenberg. Over the last few years, I have been working on a series of portraits of poets who died during the First World War: Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Edward Thomas and here are photographs, with a bit of background about my portrait of Isaac Rosenberg.

Isaac Rosenberg

Isaac Rosenberg hand stitched portrait.

Rosenberg came from a deprived, working class background. His parents were pacifists who had fled from Lithuania so that his father could avoid conscription to the Russian Army, first moving to Bristol then onto the East End of London. He was the eldest son of Orthodox Jews and “for his part Rosenberg claimed that Jewishness gave him and his fellow Jewish artists ‘that which nothing else could have given’”. (Jean Moorcroft Wilson, ‘The Making of a Great War Poet’, page 3.)

Isaac Rosenberg

‘Daughters of War’ detail.

Rosenberg was a painter and a poet, he attended the Slade School of Art and trained as an engraver. Due to his background, he was automatically enlisted to the 12th Battalion of the Suffolk Regiment (a Bantam regiment) as a Private rather than as an Officer, he therefore found that doing jobs such as a stretcher bearer gave him more of a gritty reality of war and this is reflected in his poetry.

Isaac Rosenberg - Daughters of War.

Daughters of War

Within this portrait, I have used hand stitched references to his poetry and his life. A number of his poems I found very pictorial and as I was reading his biography by Jean Moorcroft Wilson as preparation for the portrait, I was noting ideas for imagery. One such poem was Daughters of War, which drove my I need to find a way to illustrate these ‘spirits’ taking the souls of the dead and dying soldiers to be their partners. I stitched frenzied figures dancing, with a section of the poem hand stitched around them.
The figures of the Daughter of War, also symbolise the soldiers who also dance around a flame in ‘Louse Hunting’. This poem depicts some of the terrible issues the soldiers had to put up with day to day, besides fighting in a war.

Isaac Rosenberg

Detail from portrait of Isaac Rosenberg.

‘Break of Day in the Trenches’ and ‘In the Trenches’ were two poems which I have also used to aid the composition of this portrait. ‘In the Trenches’ talks of a poppy at the top of a parapet, not far from the barbed wire of no man’s land, and the terrible aftermath of a shell with the poppy strewn on the floor.

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Detail from portrait, poppy on the parapet of the trenches.

I have also included imagery of Whitechapel Library where, before the war, Rosenberg spent many evenings with his fellow artists and poets, in this portrait Whitechapel Library is positioned in the place of no man’s land, where he would die.

Isaac Rosenberg, framed portrait at the Sage Free Thinking Festival, March 2018.

Framed portrait of Isaac Rosenberg at this years Radio 3’s Free Thinking Festival, at the Sage Gateshead, March 2018.

Rosenberg died at dawn on the 1st April, 1918 during a German raiding party but his body was not recovered until the 16th April near Arras. His war poetry is now considered to be some of the finest from the First World War.

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Edward Thomas (1878-1917), hand stitched portrait.

I have been working on this portrait for far too long and I had dearly wished to have had it completed for the 100th Anniversary of his death, at the Battle of Arras, on the 9th April, 1917. My only excuse is that life got in the way, as it does…

The portrait is part of my series of portraits of First World War poets who died during the war: Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen, Isaac Rosenberg and finally Edward Thomas. I work by spending a lot of time reading and researching about the person first, as I like my portraits to have biographical elements in them, so that you ‘read’ the picture – not just ‘look’.

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The beginning of my Edward Thomas portrait and research material.

I write copious notes whilst researching, noting influences, interests, where the subject lived, loves, past times etc. I also spend a lot of time reading their poetry, to help me develop an idea of who the person really was and what I feel would be important in the portrait.

With Edward Thomas, it was his love of the countryside, how it influenced his writing, for a long time writing prose and being a major author of books about England. Later, through the encouragement of his great friend, the American Poet, Robert Frost, he turned to writing poetry.

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Stage 2 of Edward Thomas portrait, with the map of the Battle of Arras on the day that he died, stitched in the background.

This love of the English countryside and what it meant to Thomas, was one of the reasons he choose, finally, to sign up to fight in the First World War. He didn’t need to, he was older (39 when he died), but through his poems – three of which I have stitched sections into his portrait – go someway to explain why he decided to go (first and last verse below):

For these 

An acre of land between the shore and the hills,

Upon a ledge that shows my kingdoms three,

The lovely visible earth and sky and sea

Where what the curlew needs not, the farmer tills:

……

For these I ask not, but, neither too late

Nor yet too early, for what men call content,

And also that something may be sent

To be contented with, I ask of Fate.

 

This poem was written on the day he decided to sign up, much to his wife Helen’s great distress.

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Edward Thomas portrait, detail of ‘tea’ painting into the areas of ‘fields’.

As you can see from the photos above, my portrait of Thomas, has the battle plans stitched representing the Battle of Arras on the 9th April, 1917. The different vertical lines, show the different stages: red dotted line is the front line, then there is (difficult to see in the photos) the blue, green, brown and black lines. There are also the infrastructure elements of the area, including the roads, railway lines and settlements.

I thought, once laid out and stitched onto the portraits background, the lines from the map resembled the layout of English patchwork fields as seen from the sky, which is how I developed the imagery. Linking back to Thomas’s love of the countryside.

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Edward Thomas, portrait detail of the compass.

As part of the map design, I decided to use a large compass, symbolising Thomas’s own inner moral compass but also reflecting upon his writing before the war Also linked to the compass imagery: he helped train fellow soldiers to read maps, he ‘read’ the aerial photographs and his last post was on the Observation Post, where he died.

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Working on the portrait at the BBC 3 Free Thinking Festival this year.

Besides sewing partial sections of Thomas’s three poems: For These, The Sun Used to Shine and There Was A Time; I have also stitched a small section of Shakespeare’s Sonnet No 73, as Thomas was re-reading his poetry and had a small book of them, which his wife had given him, in his pocket when he died.

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Edward Thomas portrait, detail of the poem ‘The Sun Used to Shine’ – a poem about his walks with Robert Frost.

I have also included abstract representations of some of the flowers he loved and wrote about, including tansy and old man’s beard. These his wife took to his grave to plant, with cuttings from their garden.

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Edward Thomas, portrait detail showing embroidered abstractions of the tansy flower.

This portrait holds many elements and reflections upon Thomas’s complex character. Hopefully it will intrigue and inspire the viewer to read and find out more about one of our much loved writers of the 20th Century.

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Finished portrait of Edward Thomas, stretched, pinned and ready for the framers.

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 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

 

About ‘obsesivcreativ’

Rupert Brooke poet

Hand and machine embroidered portrait of war poet Rupert Brooke

Louise is a Newcastle based textile and three dimensional artist making unique pieces, working with traditional north east techniques such as hooky and proggy matting, as well as spinning, quilting, patchwork, embroidery, felting, batik as well as upholstery and lino print.

William Morris

Hand and machine embroidered portrait of war poet Rupert Brooke

Louise is particularly influenced by nature and environmental issues. Inspiration and influences include the Arts and Crafts movement, costume of all eras (but particularly military, late C20 and theatrical), contemporary quilting and fibre arts in the US, subversive crafting and textiles.

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Hand and machine embroidered portrait of war poet Rupert Brooke

A constant maker, Louise sources materials from across the country. She is keen to react against mass production and uniformity.

Recently, Louise was very pleased to be involved in the exhibition of Grayson Perry’s ‘A Vanity of Small Differences’ at Sunderland Museum and Winter Gardens. Louise worked with local community groups to create three large textile wall hangings in response to his work, these hung alongside the exhibition.

'The First Aspirational Tea Party' made with young mums for Grayson Perry's  'The Vanity of Small Differences' exhibition in Sunderland.

‘The First Aspirational Tea Party’ made with young mums for Grayson Perry’s ‘The Vanity of Small Differences’ exhibition in Sunderland.

Louise believes that passing on skills is very important and welcomes commissions involving school and community work, teaching textile crafts in formal and informal settings.

'All We Are Saying' blanket for Peace.

‘All We Are Saying’ blanket for Peace.

This year, with her family, Louise is heading to Sweden for a two week artists residency at the Bergby Konstcenter. The underlying theme for her residency is about the environment and she 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. Watch how the project develops here and on instagram.

National Poetry Day

Listening to the radio this morning, it’s wonderful to be hearing about poetry through the ages in Britain. Unfortunately, whilst rushing around, I know I’ll miss some of the celebrations for National Poetry Day but Radio 3 and Radio 4 will be reading poetry until 10pm tonight. Just wonderful!

Founded in 1994 by William Sieghart, National Poetry Day is to encourage reading, performing, promoting poetry in schools and to the wider community.

I have now started researching my fourth First World War poet portrait, which will be of Edward Thomas, then followed by W. N. Hodgson. But to celebrate National Poetry Day, my contribution is my portraits of Rupert Brooke, Wilfred Owen and Isaac Rosenberg, if you ‘click’ on their names you will find links to their poetry to read.

Giclee prints of the Rupert Brooke and Wilfred Owen portraits can be found in my Etsy shop (see link on top of the page).

Isaac Rosenberg hand stitched portrait.

Isaac Rosenberg hand stitched portrait.

Wilfred Owen, hand stitched portrait.

Wilfred Owen, hand stitched portrait.

Embroidered portrait of Rupert Brooke.

Embroidered portrait of Rupert Brooke.

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’.