The course material states that this exercise is about personal experience and using it as a basis for art work and ideas and this is something I find particularly interesting due to my final essay of my art history course questioning how much of the baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi’s work is autobiographical. I have also come across the work of Picasso and the painting Guernica which is mentioned in the course material along with many others so fully understand the social influences of every day life that surround an artist and how they affect the work produced or are reflected directly in the art.
As the first part of this exercise the course material asks you to take a journey of some nature without fully planning it and acting on intuition to guide you but taking a camera, sketchbook and bag to record the experience in different ways including collecting items that may have personal meaning or recording a conversation or taking a rubbing. I decided on using my walk to a local shop as my journey but letting myself wander a little off my normal route and seeing what appealed to my senses and what I took notice of.
In order for my timeline to be seen properly I have printed out my photographs in sets of 20 images per A4 piece of paper with the images going left to right line by line.
It is interesting to see in the first set of photographs initially a lack of colour and almost a grey overtone which is very description considering the mist and fog this morning and also the fact that where I live is a large estate and at this time of year there is often a lack of colour and as a consequence the bright yellow car or sign and the red of the safety fences immediately drew my attention. I had initially noticed the different tones of brown from burnt sienna through to a deep dark burnt umber and finally through to almost a dark grey but with deep brown shades that were overlaid with white-grey frost on the rooftops that was further enhanced by the mist that was still lingering. The second set starts to introduce more green and ochre yellows along with the pink winter blossoms – I was becoming focussed on capturing colour on a dull February morning – looking for signs that spring is on its way. I became aware that what was also appealing to me was images that portrayed linear perspective or clear patterns and textures in walls or fences and the dominance of being drawn primarily to man-made hard edges but with the forms of trees and bushes encroaching and wanting to be heard or seen and also I noticed the moss or lichen on the ground or on walls and bollards which was soft and damp but determined to grow.
My third set of photographs the images become softer as I walked towards a local small nature reserve but I was still taking notice of definitive patterns or textures but also aware the sounds had changed from that of the dull drone of traffic to direct engine noise as I cross the busy road and finally to clear birdsong which I had heard throughout the journey but now sang loudly and clearly. As I stood overlooking a small brook it was a delight to hear and watch a man and his excited dog as they approached the nature reserve and were ready to play – as I watched them I noticed the moss or the reflections of the trees in the water. It is worth noting I had deliberately left my hearing aids out and am aware that I may have noticed many more sounds but sometimes I find the world too loud and too confusing when the volume is turned up – what is normal to most people with ‘normal’ hearing is very high volume to me and I find this ‘normal’ level can be quite disorientating. The colours of my images also start to become much more green based with flashes of vibrant colour from a red door or bright berries or just the flowers and drinks bottles in the shop.
Finally my last 6 images are again back to grey and brown tones which included the two cats I met as I headed for home – one friendly and happy for a stroke on her head and the other aloof but staring intently.
I realised at the end of drawing the map and placing my images and sketches and also found objects upon it I had not included the latter – those sketches or objects that I had picked up including a small white feather and piece of fern and moss which appealed due to their texture. I subsequently arranged the objects in the same format as the photographs and find they give a very different impression of the journey – to me this is more personal and more emotive. The sketches record personal responses in a way that photographs can’t even if they are just very rough and linear and done using a simple pen or felt tip. In addition the objects bring life to the sketches and describe my personal response – I picked up that single white feather as I always look out for one when out walking, a small sprig of the winter flowering blossom and the bright leaves of the ivy but also a simple sycamore seed just beginning to sprout and finally an old decaying leaf found between two fence panels.
As I reflect I realise I had taken photographs and sketches of a mixture of subjects as I looked at hard or soft images, bright or soft colours and man-made or natural objects – different things caught my eye at different moments and what was a normal walk to my local shop became one of discovery and ideas. I felt that the whole journey was autobiographical because this is a part of my routine and is a normal everyday occurrence but one that now I look at with a different view point. I felt the journey was one of calm emotions and very relaxing as I took in my world around me – the walk was no longer hurried trying to pick up something I needed and turned into a journey that I could take my time about and look around.
If I start to think about re-arranging the images and my collection of objects I can see that I can quite easily divide the photographs into man-made, natural, hard or soft – they can be organised into collections and groupings.
This first grouping concentrates on vanishing points and perspective and I am very much aware these photographs were very deliberately taken – I was looking for the shapes as the road curves or the path becomes triangular as my eyes take in the perspective or the simple wide angles taken at cross roads.
The second set concentrates on man-made objects and this is a group that also includes images that cross boundaries between groups as some could be also classified under colour – the bollards with moss at the base or the fence with the bright green variation of moss that harmonises but clashes too with the yellow ochre fence.
The third set I have started to think about natural images – trees, moss, shrubs but looking at my selection these are the images that could also be classified as ‘green’ as it is the predominant colour. Again there are photographs that could be part of another collection – for example purely trees or fences and walls. It is this group I would add my found objects of ivy leaves, the sycamore seed and also a small bit of moss and feather – the ivy leaf could also be added to the group with below due to the patterns on the leaves or added to the group which describes colour.
I also looked at a grouping of patterns or textures – maybe this is my quilting background coming through as I was aware that I could see quilt blocks or applique ideas. I really loved looking for patterns on walls or iron railings and trellis fencing – often in summer you do not notice due to flowers and shrubs obscuring the boundary.
Colour was a grouping that I was very much aware of as I took the photographs. Due to the greyness of the day with the lingering mist and threat of rain my eye was drawn to anything bright whether it was yellow, pink or red and the actual object was not a consideration as it was purely colour I wanted.
I had taken a few photographs of signs on my journey – I now am wishing I had taken a few more in truth because of the proliferation of words and logos that abound in our modern society and surround us as they try and seep into our subconscious.
Shrubs or growth was an obvious choice for a group – again I purposefully looked out for anything that naturally grew particularly plants such as moss and lichen or a particularly pretty helebore. It was lovely to see the bright red berries of winter shrubs or the first winter flowering pink blossom of a bush I have passed many times. I have also included trees in this group and the ‘eye’ of one trunk that seems to be watching the world.
As a total opposite grouping – grey/concrete picks up on the dull light of the morning despite the sun trying to come through but failing. Sometimes I find the concrete and grey tones of the area almost overwhelming and depressing – all these images needed was the rain that is now coming down outside as I write. However the textures of the different types of concrete or tarmac still inspires along with the variety of shapes in which both come – even the tarmac road has shapes although these are primarily due to potholes!!
I had to consider a small grouping of spring as the first bulbs and flowers of the year grow and come into bloom – the signs of the year to come with the hope of sun, warmth and the happiness of being able to spend more time outside.
Again another contrast and this time of decay – leaves on the ground from last autumn, an old jeep style car on a driveway which has clearly not been driven for many years and the house itself which has seen better days in terms of maintenance or the decaying heads of flowers on shrubs from last summer which are waiting to be pruned before they flower again this year or simply deciduous trees …. the shrubs are not really decaying but merely dormant and waiting for winter to pass and spring to come once more.
Finally of all my groupings the one I had some personal fun with tickling some ears and rubbing a head or two … the eyes have it!! I have named this group because I had to include the tree with the ‘eye’ on its trunk and also the pigeons who were grouped in a high tree watching as people passed below and not forgetting the intense stare of one cat and the happy look of the other who had just come to greet me in order to get some attention and the aforesaid head rub and ear tickle.
As I now consider these groups I can see how re-arranging the objects changes the narrative completely – I could create a story just around the grey dull images or around the brighter flowers or just mix them up totally and come up with a completely different narrative or journey than the one I did.
The course material asks ‘is the order in which you collected things an important part of the collection?’ the answer is not necessarily the order in which they were collected but more for me the collecting of certain objects that may fit into certain groups or in one singular group – as an example I am aware I took many images relating to perspective or colour and it is this intention that these objects or images are part of a particular grouping if I am considering ideas. However I am also aware that if an object catches my eye but it does not fit in with a particular group or collection then I will still record it in some way – I may hear a piece of music or spot a pattern or colour but it is still note-worthy for referencing.
Today I was very much aware of the sounds of the journey and also the atmosphere – it felt very grey and busy along with a feeling almost oppression due to the built-up urban area despite my journey being relaxed and calm at the time. I was much more in tune with the emotions I felt than I would be normally and for this purpose alone I will now keep a small notebook in my pocket even if I am not able to take my camera out or my sketchbook.
The penultimate instruction in the course material was to draw a map of my journey and place the objects and photographs and sketches on it before photographing again the result – first thought were I had taken far too many photographs!!
I drew a very simple and basic map and placed all my research around it and this is now where I fully understand my journey!
Two types of information as opposed to one has given me a much wider view or impression of my journey – it creates an atmosphere and sense of the place or the subject in a way a singular element cannot. By using 3 different types of information another element is added again – a combination of photography, sketches or notes recording details or noting sounds or emotions and also found objects all work together and give a greater impression again that just two – you gain a sense of place or time it took to do this journey.
To reflect on this piece of work is thought provoking – the photograph is more detailed and more revealing than I expected in that the journey seemed to surprise me with images and objects I walk pass regularly but never really seem to notice. There is a far wide range of colours than you notice on first glance and some that stand out against the sea of grey and green – the odd ‘pop’ of ochre yellow or alizarin crimson if I am to write in terms of watercolour paints. The journey seemed simple and straightforward but the piece of work is complex and detailed – there are sketches revealing notes and sounds or emotions with a comment on the words of a man walking his dog and the chirping of birds overhead or the hum of the traffic both distant and close. As I worked through the exercise I was aware of the groupings or collections of images but when they are on the ‘map’ they seem jumbled and chaotic with no sense of belonging but at the time each fitting in perfectly alongside their neighbour and I now understand how much information can be derived if it is collected in a variety of ways rather than just one. Finally I understand that if you take one element away you seem to loose the overall impression or the atmosphere or emotion – all the researched elements work together to produce the whole.
The final part of this exercise has to been to create a new mixed media work entitled ‘My Journey’ – the idea was to communicate the important elements and experience of the walk.
I found this work really frustrating as I wanted to communicate the greyness with the green that was over-ridden by the chaotic jumble of images with the splashes of colour and texture – although I enjoyed the walk and found it calm I now also reflect on the constant hum of the traffic which almost overrode the birdsong completely but in turn the traffic was irrelevant due to that feeling of chaos.
I initially drew a rough sketch on my course material trying to work out what I felt were the elements I wanted to include as can be seen and then drew a ‘more refined’ version but neither still felt it was saying what I wanted to …. stepping away from my ideas usually works if I come back to my sketches with a fresh eye but in this instance something was still not working so I decided to take the basic idea and work directly with my fabrics, paints, papers and threads.
The final unfinished sample does communicate the chaos to an extent – I used a page of a map, to indicate the paths and roads of my walk, instead of doing an under-painting with appliqued elements which had been my original [not noted] thoughts. I also added buttons in the shapes of a cat, dog and kennel to indicate the 4-legged friends and our home and with a combination of tapestry and embroidery threads plus wool for the splashes of colour from the plants or trees and 2 small areas of reverse applique (cut-out oblongs with painted card behind) for the 2 small brooks. Throughout much of the walk there were areas of grass or lichen spreading onto the paths or road plus also an ochre coloured fence with almost lime-green moss spreading over it and for these areas I decided to use acrylic paint sponge and dabbed on with a brush. Finally I stitched 3 small photographs which showed 3 small areas that really stood out – the Tesco’s shop, the small yellow car and also the yellow tractor/digger … the photographs were important in themselves as my camera was very much part of my journey.
Am I happy with this piece? no not at all in terms of aesthetics although it shows my journey and the elements that stood out for me. However I am happy that the piece translates the chaos or greyness of our small urban area in mid-winter and I have attempted to communicate the dull almost oppressive feeling of the built-up area which is broken up with the patches of colour from someone’s door or car or winter flowers or berries etc. Although the walk was calm and I did enjoy it my firm recollection is of that overriding grey feeling – it was a misty February day and very cold! I felt my choice of background tweed communicates the surface of the roads and paths and also any walls or trellis fences which are also indicated in some embroidery threads.
How could I change this piece? in retrospect I question whether a circular style format with all the prime elements jumbled together on the same grey tweed with some areas painted or dabbed with green acrylic paint – thinking flashes of colour in embroidery threads and tapestry wool.
I feel this whole exercise has been almost a journey in itself – I have learnt that even in an area in which I am very familiar I can still gain ideas or inspiration and that by using different methods of recording information I can build a much fuller and more informative set of images or sketches. The combination of different ways of recording the information does add considerably more meaning and context although I am now considering adding in a dictaphone to record sounds I hear too to create a further impression on which to reflect and use creatively. I have learnt I can use the different types of elements individually or collectively – separating the sketches from the photographs creates two very different contexts potentially but adding in actual collected objects brings a reality and a physicality to the information.
I am aware I usually just have my camera with me on field trips as my favoured method of recording and this is due to my family being very keen amateur (and professional) photographers but I am now increasingly interested on using my sketchbook directly as I can note specific details or colours and have also added a small zip-lock file to my bag for interesting objects I may want to pick up.
I realised I was really not happy with the piece I had produced and started working on the circular style I have mentioned above but could not recall where I had seen this style before until very late in the evening – last year I had met Takumasa Ono, a Japanese artist, at Kedleston Hall and some of his watercolours were produced from photographs taken using a fish-eye lens.
This fish-eye approach had clearly stuck in my mind and enabled me to produce a simple watercolour on mixed media paper in a circular format. I found a little more of my tweed fabric which I used for the border as it conveys the grey concrete of the buildings and also the tarmac of the paths, roads or bollards and also the general overall grey feeling of the day. The central fabric is a scrap of fabric which had been dyed somewhat unsuccessfully – this was representative of the brook/stream but also the grey metal grids. I chose a reverse applique style setting for the piece as I felt it gave the mixed discipline work depth and different layers and added splashes of colour in the form of two different green wool/yarns and strips of torn fabric and ribbon to represent the moss, grass and winter flowers and berries. Finally I used a sharpie pen to draw in the paw prints of the cats and dogs I met along my journey.
For me this piece now is evocative of the emotions of the day which were calm and peaceful but also a feeling of being enclosed by the buildings and the weather of the day. I wanted to express the splashes of colour rather than the exact objects due to the fact it is the colours that stay in my mind although some objects do stand out – the red door or the yellow van. The overall feeling and emotion is one of a winters day in an urban setting and also represents my walk – yes the walk was along straight roads and the map of the journey shows a T-shape but I always feel it is almost circular because I start and finish at the same place and often take a different route to the shop which takes me around in a circle.
I am considerably happier with this new piece although I am not entirely sure if it is experimental enough in terms of mixed media – this is where I lack the experience of the Mixed Media Textiles course and also my wanting to express realistic detailing rather than instinctive expressionism. I am aware during the A Creative Approach it was stated by a tutor that abstraction seemed to come naturally to me but in terms of this piece I felt it was an alien technique almost – nothing came naturally or felt expressive enough. If I was to add anything extra to this piece it would be a fine voile overlay to give the impression of the mist that lingered late into the morning with a few stitches in places where a bright flower or the branches of a tree broke through.
West Dean College. 2017. Takumasa Ono [online]. [Date Accessed: 12 February 2017]. Available from: https://www.westdean.org.uk/study/tutors/takumasa-ono#block-about