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.

 

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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 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

 

Residency Day 3 at Bergby Konstcenter

An early start down the studio this morning – in by 8 am. The ‘Sea Juggernaut’ piece I am working on is very labour intensive, very much  ‘slow art’. But I do enjoy spending hours beading and embroidering.

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Beaded sea creature.

Later in the morning we went visiting some of the local coastline, islands and artists.

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Albert Engström’s Art Studio

Possibly my favourite place so far is Albert Engström’s artists studio on the edge of the sea at Grisslehamn, which is only about a 5 minute drive from Bergby Konstcenter. It is now  a museum but you can see how the artist  (who I believe died in 1940) felt so inspired to work there. With a beautiful forest walk with glimpses of the sea through the trees, past the unusual optical telegraph communication hub – used in Sweden in the 18th and 19th centuries – then onto the sea. There is a beautiful little cove, with islands, sand and rocks to perch on.

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Geoff and Violet sketching by the sea.

We moved on and drove around the islands up to Singö, travelling over pretty bridges, stopping at Singö church.

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Singö church.

On our return to Bergby, we popped in to see a local artist whose gallery was open this week. Her gallery is called ‘Fru Strids’ ( I need to check the translation!) and her name is Kicki Jonsson. There was work by a sculptor called Annika Alm in bronze and carved stone. Violet was very taken with her work. Hopefully, Kicki is going to pop by when my exhibition will be on next week at Bergby, as she is a fellow textile artist working on intricate embroidery.

 

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Entrance to Fru Struts gallery. 

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!

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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…

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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