I shouldn’t be writing this blog. I haven’t got time right now. At the end of this week I’m off to Farfield Mill in Cumbria to be ‘composer and weaver in residence’ for a fortnight. There is just so much to do before I go. That said, it would be a shame if I didn’t write up Part 2 of my last Bradford HNC weekend, because then it leaves me clear to record my forthcoming residency daily once I get to Farfield Mill.
I left the story of this action-packed week as I finished the required number of Double Weave swatches for my fourth project. I’d completed compiling my sketchbook and had a little time to spare for some helpful criticism and a trip to the Platform Gallery. What I hadn’t discussed or shown was the mood and market research boards, so here they are.
The descriptive title I chose for my double weave project was Between the Sea and the Sky. This is a line from one of my favourite books, The Waves by Virginia Woolf. This book, along with her To the Lighthouse, has become a touchstone in my creative life. I remember the very moment I first opened The Waves – in a bookshop. I can still picture myself as a fourteen-year-old standing for a whole afternoon, reading and reading. It was as though I had been waiting for such a book to define my life, to fashion my dreams, to explain something of the mystery of growing up and how to live with love and friendship, mainly the latter. But I digress – the mood board is created with a folder of photographs from Wales and the Processing software developed for my first mood board. The images ‘play’ on the computer screen, overlap, be opaque, transparent, and disappear along random pathways. I watch these comings and going for a bit and then ‘capture’ the screen image and print. The market research board could not be other than a page from the Melin Tregwynt catalogue. If you remember those throws I studied in the Tonnau Gallery in Pwllheli . . . well, it seemed entirely appropriate to look further at their extensive range of handwoven products. The bags and the skirts seemed best for my developing designs.
The HNC weekend began with a day devoted to Professional Studies and an extensive discussion of the second year of the course. I had expected this to be a little hard going, but as it turned out it was a most valuable and illuminating day. Professional Studies encompasses a range of subjects and issues, which, at the outset, appear challenging to say the least. Because of its HNC status the course must meet certain vocational requirements laid down by the textile industry lead body. These requirements include gaining knowledge and understanding of environmental impact, sustainability, and ethics, along with legislation such as copyright and health and safety. Our response to this formidable range of subjects is to assemble over the next few months a resource file of information. To start the ball (and the discussion) rolling the class watched a recent BBC Panorama ‘special’ on the Irish company Primark. I realised viewing this just how little I was aware of the enormous impact of the low cost / high volume mode of trading we’ve become seduced by in the High Street. Food for much thought here – when a single cotton tee shirt requires 10,000 litres of water in its production.
What impressed me about the Professional Studies component is that it asks the student to respond from a position of how he or she imagines their professional future. I was pleased and relieved to note that ‘fine artist’ was a legitimate category. This is definitely where I feel my own work is going – but more on that anon.
Next, our tutor discussed the requirements, options and expectations of the final year. Showing us examples of 2nd year work from the Summer Show was a good way into this, and some useful discussions and questions ensued. Changes to the course outline now make it possible for a preparatory or linking project to be in place prior to the final 6 month project. For me, this will be a great help because I am intending to devote my energies to studying tapestry weaving (but probably not as we know it, Jim) during my final year. This plan has been kindly agreed with my tutor (who gave all the appropriate warnings of course). At the moment I’m really aware that two years study – at this intensity – is all I’m going to be able to commit myself to (unless life takes a very different turn of events). So if I’m going to explore tapestry weaving, it has to be next year. The demands of my other creative career just won’t allow me the time – the cultural goings-on (read opportunities for artists) in 2012 are, for me, important and necessary. I already have quite a full portfolio of commissions brewing, including ‘the big one’ – the Arts Council’s Artists Take the Lead (a possible £1/4 million to spend on a regional extravaganza). You can read about my proposal here.
My tapestry interest is being fuelled by two of the most exciting tapestry artists around: Sue Lawty (who I have already written about at length) and the amazing Jilly Edwards (whose monographs and catalogues I’ve been studying these past weeks). Here’s an image of the loom I’ve recently acquired which I hope to have in place in mid August.
Saturday on the HNC weekend is Group Critique Day. Once again we have set up our boards and swatches in the Drawing Studio, and this time we are all well practised and pretty confident with our ten-minute presentations. As you know I like to make a summary of each student’s presentation, but I’ve been asked ‘not’ to take photos of work and present them on this blog. What I have been doing is allowing myself 50 words of description and a colour drawing. A scan of my notebook pages will go on my web gallery for anyone interested – if you can decipher my handwriting!
Much inspiring and seemingly confident work was presented, despite the almost unanimous difficulty with double weave expressed by the class. To look at some of the outcomes this was hard to believe, as behind much of the beautifully executed work there were stories told of warps abandoned and techniques simply not understood. There were some very, very adventurous projects. My prize for such adventure has to go to Gail, whose work with woven double weave jewellery using wire was astonishing, though she had clearly been through hell and back to realise just a little of her original intentions. Amanda’s ‘Eyes’ knit project interpreted the layers project title through photos of the textures of eyes from the layers of generations in her extended family: it was beautifully and imaginatively presented. Jane’s range of samples and swatches demonstrated an extraordinary industry and experiment – her sketchbook (a proper diary with fascinating evaluations) and technical notes were outstanding. I learnt a great deal from an hour’s close study of her work. Jane has, I discovered recently, a blog. What she describes as an online sketchbook. Worth a look! The sketchbook prize for me has to be shared by Mark (full of the most striking A3 size paintings in inks), Marina (a minimalist approach in neutral colours, beautifully executed), and Anneli who used an A4 size landscape sketchbook (the only student to do so) to great effect with the most effective painted illustrations.
My presentation – well, I brought along my little weaving frame and extolled the virtues of its use. I also confessed to beginning to finally understanding the Design Development component of the project and was able to show how the second of my two warps had evolved from pastel sketches and experiments with yarns. My tutor said some pleasing things about my efforts and, as always, provided some valuable criticisms and possible ways forward.
On Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning we repaired to the workshop for session s on studying examples of woven pieces that illustrated how yarns (such as felting wool ) can manipulate the outcome of a woven piece. Andrea has assembled on one of the vast cutting out tables in the workshop a cornucopia of examples we could handle and study. I’m at last becoming convinced that this area of woven fabric design needs my personal attention. My former teacher Laura Rosenzweig used to tell me of long experiments with washing, drying and finishing to achieve some of the effects and qualities she sought – so I’m aware of the spectacular results possible. But this weekend was designed to make us more adventurous still.
One way of freeing the class up from the embarrassment of riches such experimentation affords was to ask each student to bring in a ‘lucky bag’ of recyclable items and do a ‘swop’. I got several balls of different thickness of string, a dodgy pink yarn I wouldn’t have given house room to, some dressing gown cord and a tub of beads . . . hmmm. Here’s my offering for what it is worth.
The vacation project we were sent away with has the theme of Recycle and Reuse. I haven’t begun to think how I might interpret this, but the coming fortnight might provide the stimulus to get something going.
Now to my vacation – and I use that word loosely because work is going to dominate a good part of it this year. I’m spending a week doing a residency in Cumbria and then off to North Wales for some time with my family – minus my boys for whom a lonely cottage on a Welsh mountain no longer attracts – and the weather and the surf has been terrible for the last two years. There is the small matter of my composition Facts of Life according to Gatto Marte that needs to be finished by early September, so I’ll have to work every morning I’m there.
I’m not going to take up blog space now about my residency at Farfield Mill, but invite you to look at some of the information and presentations that are already online. I’ve written quite a bit about Farfield Mill throughout my 40 or so blogs this year, so no further descriptions are necessary. What I would like to share is a link to the major project of my residency as composer and weaver. This is called Fifteen Images (Le Jardin Pluvieux). It is a collaboration between myself, textile artist Alice Fox, technologist Phil Legard and jazz pianist Matt Robinson. For me this is very significant piece of work that feels like the beginning of a new thread in my creative journey, and one that is all about the interaction of textiles, music and technology. Of course I’d love you to come to Farfield Mill to hear and see this adventure, but for most of you that’s impossible – so the web will have to do. We aren’t able to manage a live webcast, but a few days after the event a full web presentation of the music and animated textile images will be available at this link. Be there in spirit for us!
I spoke to Anna of the Farfield Mill Weaving Group earlier this week and discovered I can use either a 4-shaft countermarche Glimakra loom that has a 10 dent reed, 6 treadles and a weaving width of up to 36″or an 8-shaft jack loom (mighty wolf) which has a 12 dent reed, 10 treadles and also has a weaving width of up to 36″. I’m planning to weave every afternoon and join the weaver’s group on the Wednesdays of my residency.
What I’m proposing to weave is ‘my’ response to the beautiful garden of Brigflatts Quaker Meeting House, which is the subject of my Fifteen Images. All I can tell you about my initial ideas is that I intend to use the same colour palette I defined in my composition. I had originally intended to weave all the images myself, but in discovering Alice Fox’s beautiful work I realised that I had the opportunity of collaborating with someone who has not only a real affinity with the garden and its location, but also a special gift with print and embroidery and was prepared to enter into some experimental work with textiles and digital animation.
But I don’t want to be left out! So I’m going to weave a garden piece myself and invite you, my online readers, to get involved too. Do you think you might like to join me over the web in ‘weaving the Brigflatts garden’?
Nigel’s ‘Weaving the Garden’ Project @ Farfield Mill and on the Web
Here’s what you do:
- Go the web presentation and on the Downloads page listen to the MP3 of the music of 15 images – think of it as background music, music to weave by. It’s very gentle, and some of the pieces are actually ‘made’ from converting common weaving patterns into pitches;
- Each ‘image’ presents one, two or three colours in combination;
- Check out the colour palette illustrated on this blog – and use these colours as a starting point;
- Download the PDF of the musical score to check out the colours associated with each image;
- Chose just one image (with its colour combination);
- Join me over the next fortnight to weave, knit, embroider a piece that we can bring together as a garden of textiles developed and exhibited online – and in digital print version at Farfield Mill on my final weekend 15-16 August;
- For a collection of photographs of the garden explore these pages on-line;
- If you feel you can take part, write to me here or leave a comment on this blog. I’ll post your details (blog / website) on my virtual notice board at Farfield Mill so visitors to the Centre can discover more about the online community that has been so supportive of my journey into woven textile design.