expressive markmaking

I’m struggling a bit with the exercises in expressive markmaking for Open College of the Arts Textile 1. I can spend hours making marks – some that I like, some that I don’t, in different media and with different techniques, but I don’t naturally see any of them as expressive of sadness or happiness, even when I am trying to convey these specific emotions. I am making judgments about them, but not related to mood. I see them as interesting, boring, ugly, beautiful, etc, and I don’t have too much trouble with strongly visual words like sharp, smooth, delicate, but I get more doubtful when it comes to words like fast and slow, hard and soft. That is – I can relate those words to the gestures I’m making when I make the mark, but when I look at the mark, it doesn’t seem to reflect the speed of the gesture. Or a softly placed mark doesn’t say ‘soft’ to me.

Not sure where I’m going with this, just getting the thoughts out.

While I was musing and wondering about it yesterday I googled for expressive markmaking, and rediscovered TRACEY, an online journal devoted to contemporary drawing research. Specifically the issue on Syntax of Mark and Gesture. Masses of material here – I’ve bookmarked this to read over the next week or so. Following their links I also looked at Access Art and their online workshop ‘Draw!‘. After that I thought I am just being too precious ahout this and I sat and brainstormed in my journal some other evocative words and visual ideas around what sadness and happiness mean to me.

happy and sad words

During the week I’ll spend some time finishing the exercise by making marks around these thoughts. But today I’m going to go on to the next stage, using marks to create surface textures.

These are some of my favourite efforts from yesterday. I notice they are all paint, except the first which is a candle resist with an Inktense pencil wash. The results I get drawing with pastels, crayons, etc don’t grab me much – maybe an indication that I need to spend a little more time getting to know these media. They work well for me in rubbings, stencils and so on, but not when it’s just me and my bare hands!




exhibition report: Jo Budd – Beyond Surface

Yesterday I went to Farfield Mill to see the Jo Budd exhibition that’s showing there as part of the Women’s International Arts Festival. It was well displayed in a light airy room, walking in was like walking into a song of colour, a first impression of acid greens, rust, greys and shining yellows, sky shade blues, ochres and earth tones. Very visually stimulating. The work is an exploration of the colours and layers of landscape, seen through painted surfaces and layers and depths of translucent colour.

From the artist’s statement:

“A new studio in a new location, looking over river marshes, and a new dyeing technique using rust and water, have given me a fresh set of colours and marks to play with.”

“Focusing on surface but refocusing on the layers, in land, water and sky – these are the qualities which fascinate me.”

The work shown dates from 1998 – 2007, some glazed pieces and some hangings. Jo Budd collages and quilts dyed and painted fabrics, on a large scale. Lines of stitches create shadows and depths. Fabrics are sheers, cottons, silks, juxtaposed and layered to create wonderful plays of colour, light and atmosphere.

Corrugated Iron (1998) is a large piece maybe 8 foot by 6 foot. It’s pieced and layered appliqué, with the painted marks very evident, both paint and stitch expressing the lines of corrugation. There’s an image of this striking piece with an essay and some other examples of her work, on Celia Eddy’s QuiltStory web site.

Rust Series (2007). This is another large piece about 6ft square, one of a series of pieces using rust-dyeing. The effects create a dramatic texture. Lines of long yet fine stitching that define some areas. The colours are cool browns and greens, blues and greys, exploring shape and movement. Colours change subtly where the fabrics overlap.

Fields of Green (1999) – I think this was the piece I was most drawn to. Strong horizontal bands of greens, stitched and dyed, lustre of silk and flatness of cotton. A smaller piece,about 3ft by 4ft, but it drew the eye from the moment I entered the room with the intensity of the colours and the stitched textures.

All the work gives me a strong sense of celebration of the incredible beauty of landscape, and the expanses of land and sky that characterise a flat country. Driving home, I was seeing the colours of my own Cumbrian landscape, different though it is, in a new way. I found the exhibition very inspiring. I love the effects of paint and dye on fabric and the depths that build up. I love the intense and subtle colours Jo Budd creates. I especially like the intrinsic connection between the rusty marks and the subject material of her work.

I hope I’ll get to see this work again at the Festival of Quilts.

Physicality and getting started

Yesterday I gatecrashed a meeting at UWIC of the DEPtH – Designing for Physicality project in which Alan is involved. One of the speakers was Cathy Treadaway, who told us about the research she’s doing into the way digital design processes affect artistic practice. I don’t know if I can sum this up accurately, but technologies that are revolutionising the speed and the potential of surface design can also subtly disengage the artist from the process and the resulting art may not be the creative expression that was desired. Cathy is passionate about the potential of the technology and the importance of developing digital tools that enhance and extend the creative process without losing the immediacy and physicality of hand tools and techniques. She’s also researching the collaborative potential of digital technology and has been working with three artists, Alison Bell, Susan Brandeis, and another whose name I didn’t catch, exploring the nature of the collaborations, the bonds that are formed, the sharing of memory. Cathy was in the exhibition Digital Perceptions, which was at the Collins Gallery and is apparently touring in the Scottish Borders soon – and some small images of her work are on the UWIC web site.

I find the whole area fascinating and am sure it will provide insights about the nature of making by hand as well as the cyborg territory of digital creativity. I’m not drawn to designing on the computer at all myself, maybe because my waking life seems currently to be spent in front of the screen and I’m desperate to use actual brushes and pencils and needles and fibres. Maybe later…

Meanwhile, I got over the first hurdle of Textiles 1 – writing my introduction for my tutor. This was probably the hardest part of the whole course for me! It’ll go in the post tomorrow. I got her welcome letter today – she is Elizabeth Smith and used to teach at Manchester Met.

On the Patchwork & Quilting front, I spent yesterday afternoon in the campervan, in the sunny carpark at UWIC, doing design work for the hanging. I’ll put it all together tomorrow and send it to Linda.