A studio afternoon: a workshop day

Last week I succumbed to taking an afternoon off to work in my own studio as well as spending a day in the textile workshop at Bradford. I reckoned if I didn’t dedicate some quality time  to developing my skills in drawing and painting I’d make no progress in this area, so I had to set aside an afternoon. Most of the weavers I admire seem to come from a Fine Art background, or at the very least have had some prior experience of basic skills through attending an art foundation course. Sadly, my drawing and painting have been holiday pastimes. The more I consider what this whole craft is about the more I sense the necessity of finding ways to abstract the experienced or imagined object. I reckon this can only be done through mark making on paper, and experimenting with the fluid analogue medium of paint. Photographs take you some way, but unless you are going to use an SLR camera with ‘real’ film and do the developing yourself, nothing quite compares to the intensity, patience and careful concentration required by drawing from life.

A 3-part Sketch

A 3-part Sketch

A whole afternoon sounds very extravagant: it was probably a couple of hours at most. But I had planned carefully in advance what I wanted to do. I had some recent photographs of the ferns in my next-door neighbour’s garden, now gradually turning from green to golden brown. I knew I wanted to try out this technique of making an image and then extracting a portion of that image to make a new image the same physical size as the original, but magnified. It’s the double set-square trick that allows you to make  ‘windows’ of different sizes. It’s a great exercise, and one that I could sense produces potentially valuable results in the cause of abstraction.

The other task I set myself was to practise working with gouche, a medium I was unfamiliar with prior to this course. I painted a sequence of colour slabs, oblongs and squares, trying to produce a surface devoid of brushstrokes. That exercise in itself was invaluable: I realised quickly one needs a gentle touch with the brush. When my coloured slabs had dried I cut them up into discrete pieces and started to play around making arrangements, simulating some of the gouache and water-colour sketches for woven pieces beloved of the Bauhaus weavers.

Painted Blocks

Painted Blocks

When I had an interesting pattern I took a photo of it (my camera on a tripod and using the 2 second timer), employing flash to hide any joins and shadows. This was a great exercise to try, and I plan to go further with it next week by mixing and painting just the colours I’m using for my organic project.

When I arrived at the college workshop on Thursday morning I found Sandra, a 2nd year HNC student, had taken a leaf out of my book to come into college to practise feeling comfortable about putting a warp on a loom. Fortunately for me, Andrea also appeared and was able not only to advise me that I needed to extend my current swatch, but was also able to quickly and effectively show me how those Bauhaus weavers wove those weft-based blocks of different colours across their carpets and textile surfaces. I had intended to experiment (because I couldn’t find a reference to this technique in any of books on weaving I have at home), but it saved a lot of time and effort to be shown very clearly how it was done!

The business of extending my current swatch took some serious time, thought, experiment and execution. In fact so much time, that I made no further progress on preparing another warp as I have done each week for the last month. But I have something that now fits the requirements for one of these eight swatches due in mid December, and I’ve managed to do all the writing up, noting all the technical steps involved in creating this piece of work. What you can see in the sequence of photo illustrations below is the bare-bones of the technique as shown by Andrea, and how I managed to integrate this technique into my extension of last week’s swatch. What I’ve attempted to do in the second stage of this swatch is to take the greens I’ve selected for decorating the yellow and orange surface as the main surface colour of the top half of the swatch. The problem with doing blocks with these three greens was the disparity in the yarn thickness: the darkest almost turquoise green was much thinner than the other two. This made it necessary to weave a double pick to every single.

Graham gave me some interesting advice about working with yarns of different qualities and textures, kindly demonstrating some possible techniques. He took away one of my more extreme yarns to see if it had any Lycra in it. I gather the test for this is to place the yarn near a steam iron. If it’s Lycra the yarn should then crumble up dramatically. This can produce wonderful textures when the yarn is woven into a warp. I finished my workshop day by spending time in the computer suite getting the feel of working on my sketched and painted images in photoshop. I needed to remind myself how to print and transfer all my collected images from my internet server onto the dedicated space I have on the college server.

A Contemporary Egyptian Tapestry

A Contemporary Egyptian Tapestry

At the end of last week I decided I should share my review of  Sue Lawty’s talk with the HNC class, with the intention of promoting a discussion on and around tapestry weaving and the business of abstraction. So I e-mailed the group and the staff with my blog address. A few people have acknowledged the mail, but I think the notion of any kind of discussion is probably a bridge too far! Anneli kindly sent me some images of wool and cotton tapestries from a gallery in Egypt currently exhibiting at Gallery 47 in London. I admit these are colourful images, and probably highly accomplished, but a world away from the sparse, restrained Coptic images Sue Lawty showed us last Monday from the V & A collection.


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