Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Inspiration: Ruth Higham - a tribute



Some people are just special – they have that aura and a powerful effect on those they meet.  My friend and fellow quilter, Ruth Higham, who died at the weekend, was one of those exceptional individuals. 
I met Ruth purely by accident 10 years ago.  I had just moved back up to Scotland and I didn’t know a single person here who was interested in textiles.  So when I saw there was to be a talk by two artists as part of the Quilt Art exhibition at the Collins Gallery and the opportunity to meet some of the makers, I jumped at the chance to go.  I was very nervous as everyone seemed to know each other, but I carried on and went and sat down in the lecture hall.  A lovely lady sat down next to me and started chatting – it was Ruth. 
I couldn’t have had a better introduction to Scottish textiles and quilting because Ruth was at the centre of it.  Along with Isabel Patterson and Patricia Macindoe, she had just run the first Loch Lomond Quilt Show.  As a result of this original meeting, I ended up exhibiting twice at the Loch Lomond Quilt Show, spent a year generally trying to help the show, taught C&G Patchwork and Quilting and above all, gained a wonderful friend.

Speak to virtually any quilter in Scotland and they will have some connection or story related to Ruth.  She was an inspiration to so many people.  Her own artwork was beautiful and meaningful and she had a lovely way with hand stitching.  She was always eager to try out new things and experimented with lots of techniques.  In particular, I am thinking of her work in breakdown printing.  Above all she was keen to share her knowledge and enthusiasm with others.  Originally at Cardonald College and then at the Loch Lomond Studio, she was a thought-provoking and very generous teacher.  Ruth asked me to teach City & Guilds Patchwork and Quilting with her three years ago and I learned so much from her vast knowledge of quilting.  She was interested in all areas: traditional, quilt history as well as art quilting and art cloth. 
When she had to stop teaching at the Studio, she encouraged me to set up on my own – something I would not have got round to doing without her hefty push and her belief in me.  She and Isabel were also incredibly generous in helping me stock my teaching studio with some of their spare supplies.  I can’t use the purple or emerald green dyes without thinking of Ruth as these are colours I associate strongly with her work and ones I wouldn’t have chosen myself.  Nonetheless, they are creeping into my palette and work.  The way I am teaching C&G is a direct result of her influence, for which I will always be grateful. 
She continued to be inspiring right to the end.  Even when the cancer was not going away, she was finding positive aspects of the experience and continued stitching and living as full a life as she could.  Truly a great role model.  In case this makes her sound too saintly, Ruth also had a wicked sense of humour and shared similar tastes to me in trash television.

I am incredibly sad that my dear friend died at the weekend.  She was far too young (especially in quilting terms!) and too full of life and exciting plans. She will be sorely missed not just by her family, who were centre of her busy life, but also by her huge circle of friends.   I feel incredibly privileged to have known Ruth and been inspired and encouraged by her.  I have been very lucky to have been able to count her as a friend and will continue to draw on all she taught me, particularly in her great kindness and generosity of spirit.  





Monday, 27 July 2015

Out & About: Chateau de Chaumont


One of the best things of holidays for me is discovering new places and the other week in the Loire Valley I discovered a real gem.

I’ve been to the Loire Valley many times over the years and have visited many of the chateaux – Chenonceaux is a real favourite.  For some reason, we had not visited Chaumont in the past – what a mistake!  When I saw in the leaflet that it had special gardens and contemporary art, it leapt to the top of the list for this trip.  And it was well worth it.  It was an amazing place.

Each year it has a garden festival, with lots of individual gardens on a theme, selected from many entries from all over the world.  The theme this year was ‘Gardens of Collectors: Extraordinary Gardens’.  They were fantastic, in terms of layout, plantings, gorgeous flowers and, in many of them, for their sheer ingenuity.  They truly were gardens as an art form.  As I am running a class based on nature from September (still a couple of places left), this was more inspiration than I could cope with.  I took lots of pictures of beautiful blooms, architectural leaves as well as general scenes.  Between the plants, art and of course the kids, I took over 400 photos in the one day.  I was especially impressed by the gardens which made me think.  

There was one set up as an art gallery, but instead of a canvas on the wall, there was a hole through which you could see the plants.  

There was another which looked rather unkempt and over grown but the actual garden was secret, only seen reflected in the mirrors on the back wall, so you could only get glimpses of it.  

A third was set up as a dyer’s garden, with information on plant dyes and hanks of wool hung out to dry.  It had a wall of glass jars which from the outside looked like dirty glass.  However inside the little shelter, these glasses glowed with the colours of the dyes, like shining jewels.

My enjoyment of the gardens was increased as I was reading the novel ‘The Garden of Evening Mists’ at the time, by Tan Twan Eng.  It explained some concepts of Japanese gardening, including that of ‘borrowing space’ from the surroundings to make the garden feel bigger.  Also the importance of everything being absolutely right: the right number of stones, in the right place at the right height - something that carries through in all parts of art.  It is a lovely, if somewhat melancholy book and well worth reading.
As well as this garden festival, there were many more gardens, but we ran out of time to see them all as I also wanted to see the art. 
Outdoors in the grounds of Chaumont, there were lots of installations of contemporary art.  Some are temporary for this season, other part of the collection which seems to be growing all the time.  It also appeared that every possible building on the estate was used as an art venue, including the chateau itself.  We were very excited to see some photographs by Naoya Hatakeyama, having been really taken by his pictures of underground tunnels in Tokyo which we saw years ago in London.  These ones were part of a photography exhibition on the beautiful but terrifying effects of man on the environment.  It’s amazing how lush industrial waste can look.

 
The primary artist for this year is Gabriel Orozco.  He was taken with the layers of peeling wallpaper in the private rooms of the last owners of the chateau.  These are now bare apart from some areas of wall where you can see the traces of the previous interior design.  Just like Orozco, I took lots of photos of the walls.  There was a definite feel of textile artist inspiration to them!  

Orozco however, enlarges details of the peeling walls onto canvas using a spray technique and oil paper.  It gives the canvases a ghost-like effect, with a sense of the pattern almost sliding off the canvas.  These were hung in these empty, run down rooms adding to the impression they made.

The other principle highlight for me (although I loved lots more) was seeing the gigantic El Anatsui installation in a stable.  It was enormous, going round three walls of this huge room.  The scale was amazing and you felt enveloped by it, with its subtle shades of can shimmering as you looked.  According to the catalogue, he needed 40 assistants to help make it and it took a dozen students to help install it.  It was truly monumental. 


So it was a truly inspiring day out for everyone, including a great discussion about whether some of the pieces were actually art or not.  We saw in the information that the gardens are open at night from 10 to midnight lit by lots of tiny lights and we would have loved to have returned, but the kids are just that little bit too young to enjoy the experience so late.  But we will definitely return another year and hopefully go for a night visit then.  If you are even vaguely in the area, I can’t recommend a day out there highly enough.  Do go if you get the chance.



Tuesday, 21 July 2015

Just to make you jealous: a wonderful summer holiday, including drawing


A bee enjoying the lovely flowers.  I like taking photos of them but can't name any plants
We’re just back from our annual summer holiday, which was wonderfully relaxing and full of sunshine and I’m now a bit daunted by all that is coming up over the next few months.  It’s all very exciting: I’m running a drop-in art activity based on Greek myths this weekend at Holmwood House, a National Trust for Scotland property in Glasgow; I have work in an exhibition in Stirling opening on 1st August; I’m going to the Festival of Quilts; I’ve got to get my artwork ready for the European Patchwork Meeting in September and of course, I have my classes to plan and run.  I could really use another few hours in the each day!
Adding the final details to a tree and sunset
Packing for our holiday I was getting convinced it was a bad move to take two weeks off as there is so much on, but I think that really means that the holiday was needed.  We spent a few days in Legoland for the kids (and R) and then we went camping in France.  We visited some amazing chateaux; I will write a separate post about Chaumont as it was such an inspiring place to visit for all the contemporary art on display – I really can’t recommend it highly enough.  
The food was pretty fabulous too
We also went swimming in the sea and played on the beach.  As we live in cold, wet and damp Scotland, part of the attraction of heading south is enjoying some nicer weather for a while and this year we were not let down – two weeks of hot and sunny weather.  Just perfect!
Kids hard at work drawing using my Inktense pencils
I took some paper and my Inktense pencils so I could do some sketching whilst I was away and one of the highlights for me was all three children decided to draw too and we spent some lovely hours in the evening drawing together.  It all sounds idyllic and of course, it wasn’t all the time, but having all the kids enjoying drawing (especially as one has virtually no interest in art whatsoever) is a memory I will treasure.  I didn’t even ask them to draw, they asked me if they could!
I think this started out as a volcano, but was changed along the way
As one of the new courses I am running is 'being inspired by nature', I also had a great time taking loads of inspiring photos, mainly close ups of flowers.  Looking at them now on the computer screen some of the colours look quite unbelievable and this is before I have played with them in image manipulation software.

Back home, with the piles of washing and Scottish rain pouring outside, our holiday already seems light years away (we got back less than 24 hours ago!), but it is nice to be back in the studio, with music blaring and two helpers helping me prepare the things for Holmwood.  If you are in the Glasgow area, why not come and visit Holmwood on Saturday?  There are other activities as well as art and there is also a craft fair.  Hope to see you there.






Monday, 6 July 2015

Inspiration: Tynemouth Priory

Tynemouth Priory on a gorgeous summer's day
Last week the kids and I headed down to Whitley Bay for a couple of days to visit family.  Keeping up the great family tradition imbued in me by my parents, we had to do something too.  So this time we visited Tynemouth Priory.  Although I have been visiting the area for over 40 years (gosh, I’m getting old), I don’t ever remember going there.  It is well worth a visit as there are layers of history: churches built, expanded, turned into a castle, a lighthouse, used as gunning positions, and a coastguard station, before becoming a visitor attraction.
I just loved this rusting detail on the chapel door
We explored the ruins and as we didn’t have much time, I just took photos rather than drawing, but I’d love to return and do some proper drawings one day. 


The sunlight through the stained glass made a lovely pattern on the floor

The circular stained glass was gorgeous, even if my phone camera didn't capture it very well
A worn down gravestone, after years of weathering from the salt air and wind


Monday, 29 June 2015

9 Top Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Museum Visit

How to make the most of a museum research visit as a quilt artist
Floating heads by Sophie Cave
Following on from the first weekend of the C&G Certificate in Patchwork and Quilting 10 days ago, last weekend was the first weekend of the Diploma (more advanced) class.  It was lovely to see some familiar faces who had undertaken their Certificate with me at the Loch Lomond Studio and to meet the new students.  Our two topics for the weekend were research and playing with mixed media.  Permission to play is very important!
Urn from the Early People's Gallery
As part of the research, we made a visit to the Kelvingrove Museum and Art Gallery in Glasgow.  If you haven’t been, it is well worth a visit.  The breadth of the collection is huge and there is always something I haven’t noticed before that takes my interest.  Which is why we were there.  As part of the Diploma, each student has chosen their own subject matter for research and I was hopeful that the Museum would have something to interest everyone.  I decided I didn’t want to put them off research by taking them to a specialist museum, although I think you can (virtually) always find something of interest no matter how unpromising the museum’s collection sounds.
Part of a very old boat
Although the members of this group, like me, were generally museum junkies, many newbie artists/quilters don’t visit museums regularly and some don’t know how to approach a visit to get the most out of it.  So here is some advice on things to do to get the maximum inspiration from a visit (and yes, quilters should visit museums and art galleries as well as quilt shows – perhaps more so)
From the Early People's Gallery.  I forgot to note down what this was as I was mostly interested in the detail than the whole object
1.   Look for an object or painting that relates to the subject that interests you.  Sketch it in two different ways (ie a line drawing, shading it, drawing with dots rather than lines).  Also you don’t need to draw the whole object – just the bits that matter to you – you’re doing research not trying to recreate someone else’s work.
Have I mentioned I like the Floating Heads by Sophie Cave?!
2.   Try out different media.  Draw an object/painting more than once using different implements such as pencil, pen, felt tip, Inktense, charcoal etc.  Get really adventurous and use several media on one drawing!  Before doing this, do check that the museum allows you to do this – some will only let you use pencils (so don’t forget the pencil sharpener and the eraser).
More Floating Heads
3.   Draw before photographing.  Yes, it can be intimidating, especially if you don’t think your drawing is any good, but remember most of the passers-by can’t draw any better than you, no matter how bad and it is a great way to start a conversation.  You will be asked lots of questions.  Why draw first?  So you commit the artwork to your memory, rather than to your camera’s memory.
4.   Find a work by an artist you haven’t heard of.  Think why you like it and find out more about her/him either at the museum or when you get home to see if you like their other pieces.
The Surprise Find - this is a Lowry and there isn't a matchstick cat or dog in sight
5.   Find an artist who creates work on the subject which interests you and look at how they have approached it – what do you like / don’t like.
Pattern on a Viking stone
6.   Look for five patterns you like.  This could be on the floor, the ceiling or on an ancient pot.  Obviously the number 5 is arbitrary, but having a goal is always useful.
View of the floor down one of the long first floor galleries
7.   Find a work you really dislike and work out what about it has triggered such a negative reaction.
I loved this work by John McLean, but many of my students were less keen on its 'naive' style
8.   Look in the bookshop – you may discover books that you didn’t know about or old exhibition catalogues of interest.
9.   Enjoy the cafe!  You will need a rest – your brain will become saturated, which is another reason to start with drawing first before this happens and before your feet get sore.
A detail of the building

I think that just about sums up how I tackle museum visits... in theory at least!  This time, I spent most of the day in the cafe, making sure that the students could find me if necessary.  When I did finally go for a wander around, I realised I was rather hungry and couldn’t concentrate on drawing, so just photographed instead, thus breaking my own golden rule.  However, I do have some plans to use the photos in the future.  Watch this space!






















Monday, 22 June 2015

Starting the C&G Certificate Course

The City & Guilds courses have finally started.  Over the past four days, there have been six very enthusiastic and occasionally bewildered students in my studio starting on their C&G Patchwork and Quilting Certificate.
Chrystine's cake, which was followed by an equally delicious one made by Isobel.  What great students!
The first day started well when Chrystine arrived with freshly baked cake.  Always a good start!  Everyone seemed remarkably relaxed and keen, even when faced with poster paints and hand printing to practice colour mixing.  I would like to report that our activities then became more grown-up, but really, the beauty of this course is having permission to play and experiment and try new things.  Perhaps at a more adult level too, it gives you the structure to make you do things you should do, but never quite get round to, such as trying out different stitches on your sewing machine.  Even reading your sewing machine manual to see how it should work.  I know I am very guilty of this myself – you get a new toy/sewing machine/ camera so you dive straight in, not wanting to waste time.  However I know that both my sewing machine and camera have so much more potential that I still haven’t bothered to find out about.  Even with our new car which has wonderful new gadgets integrated into it, I still haven’t read how to use them beyond the music system.  Perhaps understanding the parallel parking function would have been more useful?
Concentration whilst trying free machine quilting
Anyway, back to the C&G.  The students are lovely and I was really impressed with their attitude and their first results, especially since some of them have little patchwork experience.  After playing with poster paint and colour wheels, we did some basic quilting and piecing and tried out different ways of adding colour to fabric.
Some of the colour onto fabric samples
Our next meeting isn’t until September and I can’t wait to see what they come up with from their homework challenges.

Trying out different ways of adding colour
My next challenge is the C&G Diploma class which starts this Thursday.  I’ve got lots of interesting activities planned out and I’m really excited to get all the students together and to see how their research into their different topics is developing.
Some of my notes, which were embellished by oldest son

In the meantime, less than 24 hours since the students finished, I’ve already managed to turn my studio back into a Gillian bombsite, with tables and fabric all over the place.  Better start tidying again! 

The now not-so-tidy studio - back to normal!








Monday, 15 June 2015

Gelli-plate printing during Open Studios

Printing materials - strawberry and bubblewrap
Open Studios finished last night and today my studio is getting back to normal.  During the week I had some tables set up so visitors could try mono-printing using gelli-plates.  Rachel enjoyed it so much she came twice and got greatly in the spirit of it trying to mark make with strawberries.  It did work, but they tasted so nice, I ate them rather than print with them!
Mark making with the strawberry on the gelli-plate
When I cleared up yesterday evening, there was a lovely pile of prints that I had made as demonstration pieces.  Although they are only on cheap copier paper, I really like some of them and they will make great backgrounds for some artwork or perhaps to be turned into artists books.  I do like the prints on better quality paper, but it is good to see that you can achieve satisfactory results with the basics. 
Rachel with the strawberry print
All three of my children eventually had a go and it was great to see the effects the boys achieved by just drawing very quickly into the paint on the gelli-plate before printing.  Watching the immediacy of the kids printing is very inspiring – sometimes I spend too much time thinking, whereas they just go for it, without caring too much.
Some of my gelli-prints mixed in with the children's

So now, I’m trying to get back to normal and am working on a new big piece which I started last week.  I also have the first C&GCertificate class starting on Thursday, which is very exciting.  I have virtually everything ready for it, just got to get the house tidied now before the students arrive.  I’m sure most times the C&G comes up I’m going to regret running it in my home studio as I need to tidy the house, but secretly that was one of my goals with running it from home to try and force me to be tidier!  I just hope it rubs off on the rest of the family...

Working on the new piece



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