Monday, 30 April 2007

Jenny's Australian Needleart Journey: Can't See The Forrest For The Trees

And for another take on this theme
Jenny's Australian Needleart Journey: Can't See The Forrest For The Trees


I also finished this piece today. (Isn't end of the month great?) I called it, somewhat unimaginatively, Bush Road, and it's the first of several postcard-sized pieces I want to make using the image of the old coach road at Mt York that I shared earlier.

I scanned the photo and played around with it in Corel PhotoPaint. I actually printed out three images based on this scene, so I haven't finished with it yet! This size allows me to try different approaches without investing too much time and thread (though it always takes me way longer to thread paint than I expect!).

It's stitched with free motion straight and zigzag stitching, with the colours built up from dark to light. Sometimes I use two different top threads to blend colours, but this piece is so small, I mostly used single threads and overlaid the various stitching to blend. I use the print colours as a value indication but often I use very different hues to the original images. The trick is not to lay down too much thread in an area you plan to blend, or the needle won't pierce the thickness.

I am so happy with how this one worked out! It really feels like the Australian bush to me.

Where You Live

I finished this challenge piece today, though it turned out to be more of a technical challenge than I expected! It's called It Takes a Village, a reference to the allegedly African proverb, "It takes a village to raise a child," on which Hillary Clinton has based the title of her book. This village in the middle of the city has helped me raise my two kids and provided a safe and loving environment for them to grow up in. (That's not the case for so many of the world's children.)

The background is a painted representation of this village-in-the-city, with a stitched overlay of the front of my house. I painted the surrounding bush with dimensional additive in the paint, but the additive may have been a little elderly. It certainly didn't behave the way it did last time. The result this time was rather spotty, like a bad case of acne! I also didn't have any soluble paper to use as the basis for the house image, so I printed onto ordinary paper, something I've done before many times. It worked fine to transfer the stitch, but that dimensional paint just grabbed hold of it and wouldn't let go! I thought I might have to toss the whole thing, but persistence with the tweezers and unpicking and redoing some of the stitching in the worst affected areas did the trick. It's not quite what I imagined but it's finished and I don't actually hate it.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Heartland Postcard

I've worked hard in the workroom these past few days but I can't share what I've done. Both pieces are for challenges, due tomorrow, so I'll show them to you then. But I thought I'd show you a postcard I made earlier, that included a mud map. It's from one of my favourite places in the world - the Barrier Ranges, near Broken Hill, where I grew up. The mud map shows the western escarpment, where the ranges drop down to the Mundi Mundi plain. When you stand on the edge of the escarpment, you feel utterly alone. The wind always blows, so conversation is difficult. This is an ancient land, and you are standing on its bare bones, worn down by years. The huge plain stretches out in front of you, the horizon drawn with a child's ruler. It's criss-crossed with dry creeks carved out by the force of the water coming off the ranges from the occasional violent downpours in this dry land. Look up and the mighty bowl of the sky, brazen blue, is a million miles above your head. Some wedgetail eagles circle lazily, riding the currents. On the far horizon, blue on blue, is a single pinnacle, and when you look at a map, you realise it's nearly 100 miles away. Between it and you, there are maybe twenty people.

Thursday, 26 April 2007

Paint Rags - Flowerpot

Remember this from a couple of days ago? When I was painting yesterday, I had just the right colours on my mixing sticks to add some more flowers to this piece. One of the colours I had mixed was just right to add shape to the flowerpot. It's really starting to come together now, isn't it? Pretty exciting for something that started life as a paint rag!

Wednesday, 25 April 2007

Where You Live

I also painted my mud map in today's painting session. The shape of the mud map was based on aerial photos from sites like FlashEarth and street directories, as I wanted to give an impression of my little suburb-within-a suburb, surrounded by the bush. I painted the ovals and some elements with flat paint, but I painted the bush and some of the urban areas with Setacolor expandable paint mixed into the paint. I plan to puff the paint once I have finished stitching, so hopefully it will look as three-dimensional and lush as it does in aerial photographs. I think I may need to paint it a little more yet, to create a denser cover in my village. I also haven't decided yet whether to stitch or paint the silver line of the motorway.

Valley Mist

I finally found a chunk of time to paint this afternoon. Painting is always a challenge for me because it needs significant uninterrupted time that coincides with my energy levels. The stars were finally in alignment today!

First task was painting the next stage of this misty valleys piece, which has been sitting, masked for painting, for over a week. It's still a bit hard to show where it's going, but I am very excited about progress so far.

You'll remember I painted masking medium over the light bits that I wanted to stay light? I also drew in some guidelines with white chalk pencil, because sometimes when you're painting, it's hard to work out where you meant to paint! I found the chalk pencil seemed to be acting as a resist too, so that might be interesting when it all comes out. Perhaps I'll have unexpected white lines!

Basically, this time I painted between the lines, varying the amount of paint and water so that the coverage is uneven. I had the nasty experience of getting a piece too wet and causing the Setacolor resist to get sloppy, so I am careful not to let things get too wet now.

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

Paint Rags - Flowerpot

I've had two very productive days, but sadly, none of it was making art! I'm very hopeful of getting into the workroom for some productive time tomorrow. It's Anzac Day, a public holiday here in Australia, when we honour those who have fallen in war. The returned soldiers will march in the city, and afterwards probably get drunk and play two-up. It's the only day in the year when this gambling game is permitted.

Since I have no progress to show on current works, I thought I'd share one of my paint rags. A couple of years ago, I realised that the rags I use to clean up after painting were often as interesting as the fabric I was painting. So I started using better quality fabric, first homespun and now quilter's muslin, for the cleanup and to use up leftover paint. I now have a collection of very interesting painted fabrics to use as a basis for stitch.

This one will probably be worked on first. The splodges of colour reminded me of flowers, so the last time I painted, I used up leftover paint to add shadows on what will be a pot, and to add a random brickwork pattern behind the shapes. I have no plans to work on this any time soon, though!

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Rites of Passage

Yes, it's another piece I'm working on! This one has a longer lead-time, so it's been percolating along in the background. One of my "land" groups, ATASDA, has a stand at the Quilt and Craft Fairs and this year, we have been asked to make 6in-square artworks on the theme of Rites of Passage. Big theme, little space! The pieces will be displayed on the stand and then perhaps travel as one of our travelling suitcase exhibitions out in the country.

I decided that, rather than focus on more generic rites of passage, I'd focus on specific things that changed my life or sent me off on a different path. I think there might be several works in this theme. One very significant experience was living in Western Samoa for two years in the early eighties. It was my first time outside Australia, first time on a plane, first time experiencing other cultures. As well as the local Samoans, we met and made friends with people from all over the world. For a young woman from an isolated country town, it was an incredibly broadening experience!

From our three volumes of photographs, I chose three that seemed especially typical of what we saw and did. Two turned out to be unsuitable, leaving just one image to play with. (I am always better when not provided with too much choice!) Today I began playing around with the image, to see where it takes me.

Where You Live

What's this? It's a mud map! Mud maps are traditionally what you draw in the dirt with a stick, when you're explaining to someone how to get somewhere. I'm not sure if this is a uniquely Australian phenomenon! By extension, they are also all those maps scrawled on the back of an envelope, a visual representation of "turn left at the blue house, go past the wiggly bend..." kind of instructions.

I love mud maps and I've used them before in artwork. They are a way of owning the scenery, the way to significant places, the way home. I made this mud map today, based on aerial photos and more traditional maps, as part of Where You Live. It shows the promontory of the area where I live, thrusting out into the surrounding bush.

Usually, I overlay mud maps over other images, but this time, the mud map is going to be the starting place. I've drawn it onto fabric with masking medium, using a fine pen, and when I get a moment, I'll start to paint.

Saturday, 21 April 2007

Busy afternoon

Progress has been made on several fronts today, so I'm a happy camper!

I printed out the images for Like Honey from the Rock onto fabric and I printed out images for Forest onto fabric. For once, everything went smoothly, the printer didn't balk at printing on the thicker fabric-freezer paper combination and the prints are just as I expected. I also finished a drawing of Miner's Cottages in Broken Hill. It's not a good scan but I'll share it anyway. It deliberately has no background, as I plan to use it for a textile piece in the future.

I've had a little rethink of Where I Live, so I think I'll take another path with that one. Similar but different!

Friday, 20 April 2007


This piece is another monthly challenge, this time from Design Bytes Down Under, a netgroup for textile artists who use their computers in their artwork. This is their first challenge, so I really want to finish something by the April 30 deadline, even if no-one else does.

I chose a photograph we took near the old coach road at Mt York back in the eighties.
I like it because it has a sense of the Australian forest, plus the interest of a pathway, in this case what remains of the old coach road. I've scanned it into the computer and played around with it in Corel PhotoPaint. I ended up with some really interesting images as a basis for stitch. Now to choose one and print it out!

Thursday, 19 April 2007

I do finish stuff, honest!

Just in case you think I never actually finish anything, here's a photo of a piece I made last year for a textile book round robin. The theme was "Above, the Vaulted Sky" from the poem by John Clare.

After a few sidetracks, I finally made Palolo Sunrise, based on photographs my husband took at Salamumu in Western Samoa in November 1983, the day of the palolo rising. Once a year, as the sun rises, the coral worms rise from the reef to mate and the locals are ready, with their mosquito net scoops, to catch them to eat as a delicacy. The sky was a luminous gold and apricot; the land a study in greys and greens, and the reef black with tiny figures. My inspiration came from the photos David took that day. Palolo? Tastes like watery caviar to me, but I can see it's probably an acquired taste!

I printed the photo and used it as a guide to add the basic shapes and proportions. I painted the background with Setacolor paints, attached it to Timtex and backing, and free-motion stitched the details of the land, the people and the water. The whole process took about a month. (You've heard about watching paint dry?)

Where You live

Today I had a little time to work on a play piece. I belong to a net list called Like Minded Threads*, which runs monthly challenges. The textile theme this month is
"Where I live". I've worked with this theme before, and I know that, when you live in the suburbs of Australia's largest city, it's hard to make it sound interesting or express what it is that makes your place special!

There are quite a few things I love about where I live. One is Sydney's mild climate, which most of the year is just perfect for all the things I love to do. But, of course, that applies to most of the Sydney basin. Where I live is close enough to the city for easy access, but far enough away that the blocks are still mostly 1/4 acre (0.1 hectare) with gardens and lots of trees. But most of all, where I live is surrounded on three sides by national park and on the fourth by a deep set and part-tunnel motorway. There's just one access road in. So we have this village community, about 5000 people at the last census, isolated in the middle of the city. There's one school, a set of shops (including Italian and Indian restaurants and two coffee shops), a church, playing fields, tennis courts, several playgrounds, a little retirement village, a bowling club where you can get a quiet drink in the evening and, until recently, a cottage hospital just over the drawbridge. (OK, I'm joking about the drawbridge!) Just about everything you'd need in life, assuming someone will deliver the art supplies. Hmm, perhaps we need a fabric shop?

You'd have to admit that's a lot to fit into a little textile work that I need to make in just under two weeks! But I have a cunning plan....
* Like Minded Threads has changed its name to Like Minded Artist

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Like Honey from the Rock

Did I mention I work on several different things at once? This is another piece I'm working on at present. It's a collage of rock and mineral photographs I took at Broken Hill, the mining town where I grew up, when I was there in 2005. I was also inspired by seeing several of Antonia Valentine's pieces, including her work in Refabricating Difference, to resume playing with printed images. Thanks Toni!

Dimensions 16in x 22in

I envisage a collage of rock photos, with the mineral overlaid, as if they are oozing from the rock. The yellow colour is the unifying element, while the positioning of the overlays follows the shapes of the rocks. The individual elements of the background will be printed onto prepared muslin and pieced together. I have the images ready to print and the fabric sheets prepared for printing - just need to wait until this reaches the top of the list again. Then I can start to stitch!

Monday, 16 April 2007

Valley Mist

As I mentioned, I work very slowly. One reason for that is that I work on several different pieces at once. Some go nowhere, get flung aside, resurrected later... If you're looking for a linear process, this is not the place to be! Another reason is that I often paint fabric before I stitch it. Inevitably, time passes in waiting for paint or masking medium to dry.

One project I am working on fairly consistently at present is inspired by a photo of mist rising from a series of valleys. It's a painted piece, which will have stitch added later on. So far it looks like this:

I applied Setacolor masking medium with a cheap sponge onto off-white quilter's muslin. When that was dry, I wet the whole surface and painted a wash of runny Setacolour transparent paints over everything.

Now I've masked the light areas again, this time using a folded piece of cardboard as the applicator, to give fairly solid coverage. When I get a chunk of time, I'll paint in some medium values. The masked areas should stay light, but painting fabric is never entirely predictable!

It's a beginning

So many people have asked me why I don't have a blog. I always replied that I spent enough time on the computer, managing and participating in netgroups and working with images, that I really didn't need something else to take away precious time with textiles.

But today some friends said, "You must show us a photo of this art piece when you finish making it," and my first thought was, "Oh no, another place where I need to remember to share a finished piece!" Suddenly, a blog seems like a sensible use of my time.

I work incredibly slowly, compared to other textile artists and quilters I know. Yet I am interested in process, in sharing a dialogue with other artists and quilters about the why and how of what we do. I can't imagine this blog being an amazing source of inspiration, since my work is so piecemeal, but at least I can demonstrate that process as it happens, and share the results with anyone who wants to see them.