This last exercise in this first part of the course considers location as its theme but with the idea of using techniques I am familiar with to reflect the place I chose.
I considered using various locations as a theme but due to doing this exercise in late February most were ruled out as I would not be able to spend the time I would have liked sketching and photographing the chosen area. I also considered working from photographs purely as the locations or to work further from sketches/photographs I have done of Dovedale which I had used for my final project of A Creative Approach.
However as I worked through all my ideas considering the pros and cons I stood near the kitchen window and looked out on our back garden which my fiance had actually suggested as my theme but I had dismissed as I thought it was unsuitable and realised it would make the perfect subject. The course material talks of a location that inspires me and that I could collect things that may help communicate to a spectator what the area means to me but it also talks of a possibility of a location having negative connotations too as an idea to work from.
My garden is one that has both very joyous memories associated with it followed by a very dark period and then finally a time of renewal and regeneration as my fiance and I finally started to work on it last year. I live in a council property and for over 8 years had done nothing with the garden except for in the autumn of 2015 finally cutting back all the hedges and the elderflower trees ready to start a cheap but effective transformation in the spring of 2016. The transformation and regeneration had been started with the simple gift of a shed from my next door neighbour John and that shed provided the inspiration for the whole garden with the resulting effect that it took on the appearance last summer of a small slightly scruffy cottage garden complete with old work boots overflowing with nasturtium flowers! The flowers in those boots did incredibly well thanks to the fact they were a Mothers Day present from my son who works on a pig farm so came complete with their own healthy supply of manure – and yes I was delighted with my present!! This photograph was taken in July 2016.
I decided that the shed should be the focus of my new works due to this simple gift of an old decrepit wooden structure has provided such inspiration both for our garden and for so many sketches and paintings since – I did all my OCA course work and our business work on the bench just in front of the shed last year and will be doing so again this year from the moment the weather allows. This second photograph was taken last week and the subsequent sketches done partly ‘on location’ with further sketches done in side as I simplified shapes or worked out what my main priorities for the designs would be. The course material suggests using 3 different techniques that I have some experience of and to be be prepared to take risks or try new ways of working with these techniques with the resulting works to be anything from A5 to A2 in size.
My first choice was to work with lino prints as I have enjoyed trying this technique during ACA but rather frustratingly I had run out of lino. Rather than go and out and buy new lino I decided to adapt my ideas and for all 3 works only use what I had in my house and adapt as I needed to. Consequentially polystyrene and some old packaging were used to produce very simple printing stamps – the ‘ink’ I used was Inktense sticks and then admittedly kept fingers crossed! I had decided to work with acrylic paints on acrylic paper with the background of the fence panels painted first before adding the printed stamps. Where I felt it was required I used the Inktense sticks to add additional colour before finally using a sponge dipped in acrylic paint to give an impression of grass and foliage.
The sample is considerably darker than I had originally intended and initially I was not happy with it – I wanted to re-work it until my fiance said he really liked it and to come back to it with fresh eyes after a break. I now feel that the techniques used were appropriate and did produce a valid result – interesting this image feels like the ghost of the garden that it was before the regeneration. The pots are barely visible and the image looks overgrown and neglected with almost the shed being the ghost of the future bringing with it the ideas and inspiration – I am aware that sounds cheesy but this is how I perceive this piece now. My garden at the bottom was overgrown and it was neglected in part due to finances and in part because I had not expected to want to transform it – the negative connotations and memories were all encompassing … it is these connotations which perhaps are most prevalent here in the dark tones and colours.
The second sample I decided to use water-soluble stabiliser to stitch together scraps of thread and yarn – I had used it before in ACA but without success so felt this was an opportunity to try again. I felt this stabiliser would create texture and colour and I could use it for the shed and also the pots – the colours of my yarns were the colours in my garden. After stitching together a reasonably sized section of stabiliser and threads I realised I really loved the look of it without rinsing off the vilene – it gave the appearance of almost polythene encompassing plants and fibres. I decided to cut the section in half and only wash half – the section I did not wash I cut into shapes to re-create the shed and some pots before stitching on the background fabric which was an old pair of jeans which I had worn during the work on the garden. I also found some old bits of cheap carpet which I used for the fences and with scraps of hessian being used for the window and door of the shed. Free machine stitching was used to stitch all the pieces to the background – the only thing I am not happy about is I am having tension issues with my machine and hence there were several ‘birds nests’ on the back and clear signs of those problems which I really need to try and work to resolve. Once the second section had dried I was able to cut ‘pot’ shapes into this before again stitching on to the background – what I really liked on these shapes was the rough edges which naturally appeared with the yarns coming loose where I had not stitched the stabiliser sufficiently. I also used any scraps to add additional foliage at the top of the fence before finally free machine stitching some dried lavender grass and seed pods to the right hand side – these dried grasses I had picked in the garden and felt they would be an appropriate addition.
This sample I am really happy with from the start – the water-soluable stabiliser has enabled me to cut shapes and applique them using my sewing machine with the resulting effect of a more realistic and heavily textured piece of work. I feel the techniques used worked really well although the back shows just how difficult the pieces were to stitch to the background – I am reasonably experienced in free machine stitching and am used to doodling in neater circles or swirls but it was just impossible to do so for this piece. I really like the jeans as the background as I feel the dark colour works well as a contrast against the lighter applique and textures. The shapes cut were not necessarily intended to be raw-edge applique but that was the result and this gives a slightly overgrown feel to his image of the garden – the pot shapes are not fully distinguishable although when you look closely they are there and it feels that this piece shows the work in progress as we started to form and develop the garden and also echoes the recycled nature of much of what we have used in the garden which started with the shed and tubs.
The final piece I have named “It’s a bit bright Doris” due to the poignant story that is at the real heart of my choosing my garden for this exercise. If art is meant to be able to show emotions or have a soul then this final piece of work was worked with some very special memories and also with tears in my eyes. When I first met my neighbours I immediately gained the nickname of Doris by John and I never knew why – apparently I just looked like a Doris and he never ever called me Jane. We were given the shed because John and his wife were re-doing their own garden in the summer of 2015 and one memorable day John attached a pulley to a tree in our garden and using lengths of wood slowly and single-handedly moved the complete shed into our own garden with me keeping watch on the corner of his brand-new patio – the shed simply could not touch or damage that patio until pain of what his wife would say or do and I confess I had to yell loudly just once but the shed-move went otherwise smoothly. John’s garden was finished that summer and we duly painted his old shed blue …. ‘it’s a bit bright Doris’ was the reaction and these are as close to his words as I can remember because he had looked out of his back bedroom window and seen the blue which contrasted with the red tarpaulin he had used to waterproof the roof!! Very sadly next week is a year since John died unexpectedly after a short illness – the start of which was ironically caused by a fall on an old step in his garden and he never got to see our garden transformation with the bright flowers and spray painted tubs or those boots filled with nasturtiums and hence I decided to use ribbons, strips of fabric and make this piece as bright as was possible!!
I love ribbon embroidery and have also worked with embroidery on hessian in ACA and felt that the combination of simple French knots, stab stitches, a little ribbon weaving, straight stitches plus the yarn to create the lines of the fences would all work really well. I also used some irridescent paper for the shed windows and on the shed door – I just simply liked it and wanted to include it. I also found some braid and other bits of ribbon used for wrapping presents and plenty of torn strips of voile, netting and satin with the general feeling if it was bright then it was being used!! Half way through I showed my fiance and we both laughed as he said John would have jokingly hated it – I can hear his chuckle even now. I have shown Gail, his widow, this piece and happily she has loved it … it turns out I am Doris because when we first knew each other he couldn’t remember my name and even when Gail corrected him he still said I looked like a Doris so the name stuck!
In the course material the requirement is to communicate to the spectator what the location chosen means to me and this final piece I think does this well through the use of colour, fabrics and general fun feel – if there was one thing we remember was the chuckling from over the fence particularly if one of us had a mishap (normally my fiance when he fell over one of our cats!!).
The 3 pieces work through the transformation of an area which I am inspired by and was in turn inspired by the simple gift of a shed – from the ghost of the past with its dark memories and connotations, to the scruffiness but colour that is starting to show at the the beginning of the transformation to the completed bright and happy garden that it became last year. It was not my intention to work through a timeline of the garden but it has naturally happened through my choice of techniques and has ended up being very cathartic in many ways although even as I write now the tears in my eyes are still there as I envisage John standing on something to lean over the fence as I showed him the first bits of my coursework from ACA – both John and his widow Gail have been incredibly encouraging and delighted when I told them I was doing this degree. I also just remember that chuckle and the world ‘language’ being said as I cussed when something had not gone right or I did not understand those early instructions!!!
Overall this exercise has been one of emotion, trial and error, and also inspiration from the most unexpected of sources! As I reflect on the exercise it has been amazing to do and has really made me think about what ‘place’ means or how a location can inspire work in different ways – I am trying to work outside of my normal safe zones which include watercolour and trying to be more creative in my favoured techniques.