Past and Present – Finding Connections from Nature

One’s present often echoes one’s past.

Looking at samples of textile work completed over my lifetime, I find that subjects, colours and techniques recur and perhaps a paraphrase of Wordsworth’s “The child is father of the man” should be coined to describe how aspects of my teenage textile efforts have been echoed in much later work.

Assisi work for my teenage dressing table

While I have experimented with a wide range of techniques, I find that I return again and again to the mathematics of counted thread work, to the interplay of light provided by work with metallic threads and to methods that add texture to 2D pieces.


Much use of precise laid work in my traditional crewel work piece for a Certificate course at the Royal School of Needlework.

My interests lie mainly in the natural world especially birds, the sea and things seen in detail under the microscope; this is reflected in my textile work. The colour palette I use and the subjects of my work are often those of nature.

Using a variety of ways of working, I select techniques to reflect the subject matter I am working on as can be seen in the following images of my previous work.


This portrayal of birds by the sea, with greens and blues on canvas, is typical of my work. This used an image from a bird watching holiday, my most frequent choice of colours and a wide variety of canvas work stitches. The stitch choice, especially the fluffy wool of the chick in velvet stitch, adds texture. This dates from a time when gannet nests used mainly seaweed and far less colourful plastic than they sadly do now.

Irish strand

Drawings based on memories of seaside holidays in my native Ireland and aided by calendar pictures provided the basis for this piece.  A mixture of hand and machine embroidery, an impression of 3D is achieved both by couching textured threads and mounting the embroidery proud on a silk-covered backing.


On visits to the southern continent, I have taken thousands of photos of ice and attempted many sketches. No textile can fully reproduce the play of light on iceberg, glacier or icy sea, but I keep trying to share my love of these awe-inspiring ice scapes.

Birds’ feet:  Detail from one of a series of hangings exploring the patterns produced by birds’ feet and footprints, when I was challenged to produce larger-scale work than I usually make for an exhibition in a spacious gallery.

Secretary bird – heavily padded metalwork for the insignia of my profession of Chartered Secretary.

An ordination stole for a friend, wings of a dove

The dove of peace was the symbol of choice by the recipient who was moving from a military role to that of priest. The work used traditional goldwork techniques with a modern twist.

Continuing to use images of birds, my work gradually moved from static representations of form to more dynamic interpretations. A range of images of flocks of birds in flight sparked thoughts of frightened birds under threat. Images of swirling flocks escaping raptors led on to the many seen and unseen threats now reducing both the volumes and variety of wildlife.

Birds under threat –inspiring current work in progress

The blades of wind turbines, force fields from power lines, changing insect movements due to climate change, increased use of pesticides and other agricultural changes, the noise and light from human settlements are all impacting on our wildlife.


More birds threatened

Many of the impacts on birds and the whole of our planet result from human actions, so that the current age is now called the Anthropocene epoch. My current work is exploring the interactions of people and birds.

By Joan Bingley


Here we reach the fourth and final part of Maria Walker’s captivating series on mark-making.

“Mark making is the broad term used to include all marks that are made visible as a manifestation of applied or gestural energy”.

The Tate

Over the past three blogs we have explored marks made through writing, using tools found in your home and in the natural world. In this final blog we will expand the definition of mark-making to look at a variety of other art disciplines and techniques where mark-making definitely has a role to play.  The featured artists in this final blog are using marking-making in three-dimensional art, photography, ecoprinting, printmaking, stitch and as a way recording bodily movements.

There is nothing more gestural than using your body to make marks.
Joan Glasgow has used charcoal to record the movements of her body during a performed extract and interpretation of the Taiji Quan choreographed movements/steps or ‘short form’. She is documenting her movements as a way of  exploring her mindfulness, which form the basis of her new work for Phoenix’s  ‘SeenUnseen’e xhibition which will take place in October 2021.

Mary Crabb is an artist maker whose practice is essentially three-dimensional and is well known for her contemporary basketry. Mark-making isn’t a term that automatically springs to mind when thinking about her practice, but marks can also be three dimensional.

“I am experimenting with the marks made by a thread on a warp, by making a sample in hemp thread on a cotton warp. The basketmaker in me of course wanted to twine, reverse twine and then counter twine. Then I started wrapping warps. Such possibilities to transfer some tapestry weaving techniques to the surface of a twined basket! “

Alison Hird also makes three-dimensional art, and creates her woven sculptures using sticks and thread. She then uses her sculptures to experiment with light and photography to capture the marks (shadows) made by her sculptures and move her work into an extra dimension.

“Here are some of my experiments with sunlight coming through a window into a dark room and casting long shadows of a threaded structure. I have then used functions on my camera phone to sharpen and enhance the image and even make some of it melt away so it appears more like pencil or pastel marks.”

Printmaking and ecoprinting are also forms of mark-making although the marks are transferred onto the surface using secondary processes.

Rosaline Darby incises marks into her lino-block and adds shapes and texture to her collograph plates with the intention of transferring her design onto paper and fabric using a printing press. Here she experiments with the range of possible marks using various lino-carving tools. Marks have been made in mount board and in PVA glue to produce this collograph plate and the additional stitch marks have been added to the resulting print.

Jude Kingshott is well known for her ecoprinting and she is the first to admit that she’s addicted to it. Jude transfers beautiful prints from leaves onto paper and cloth using the ecoprinting process, alchemy and a bit of magic. Here are prints from some of her favourite leaves: Tree of Heaven, Liquid Amber and Smoke Bush.

Joan Glasgow combines sketches and computer imaging from photographs, which have been printed on organza and overlaid with a block print to create a layered and complex set of marks in the following two images.

As ‘textile- inspired’ artists one of the main ways we make marks is by using stitch into cloth or paper and of course stitches can be made by hand or the sewing machine, with thread or without.  The following artists demonstrate how they use stitch to create marks on fabric.

Joan Bingley uses handstitching to create bold marks on embroidery canvas.

For Maggie Barber mark-making is fundamental to her work as a textile artist and she has always been intrigued by fine detail which invites the viewer to look closely at the marks she makes. Maggie is influenced by calligraphy, text, alphabets, modern and ancient scripts, and she searches for words and phrases that she can repeat over and over, writing in all directions, sometimes layering the text using different tools giving depth to the work.
“Drawing (or in my case, doodling); experimenting with dyes; printing, discharging colour, layering imagery or making marks with stitch all add to the complexity of my mark making.”

Linda Walsh has been experimenting with making controlled marks using an unthreaded sewing machine.

Maria Walker has used free machine embroidery onto a wadding fabric to try to reproduce some of the marks she created in her drawing of an old map using gesso and pen and ink. The decision to use a ‘difficult’ base fabric to sew on was deliberate in order to try to produce ‘messy’ and irregular stitching to reflect her original drawing which was done using gesso, ink and a feather quill.

We hope you have enjoyed this look at the joys of mark-making and that we might have inspired you to have a go yourself, because the motto of mark-making is “anything goes”.


Maria Walker  continues her epic mark making series, capitalising on the natural world’s ability to continually inspire us.

Natural Talent
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

Pablo Picasso

Our previous blog demonstrated the variety of marks that can be made from humble household tools and kitchen appliances. In this blog we now look at how the natural world provides a multitude of inspiration and tools for the artist.  Using natural materials to reconnect with this playfulness, our featured artists showcase the potential of natural materials in their work.

Alison Hird has been making leaf rubbings to connect with her childhood but has given it an artistic twist by using translucent fabric and plastic netting.

Jo Coombes and Linda Walsh have embraced the spirit of experimentation with open arms and have set themselves the added challenge of drawing an object using the object itself.

Jo has done some sketches of a teasel using a teasel and also a feather with a feather.

Linda Walsh has drawn a buddleia using only a buddleia

Robertta McPherson has also discovered the joys of experimenting with nature’s bounty found on her regular walks in the woods and along the coast.  She found that using natural materials has allowed her to create a variety of interesting marks, although some have turned out to be more successful than others.

“Pieces of twig, pine needles and seaweed became my pencils, although they proved more difficult to control.”

Kate Davis has always had a love of the natural world and this comes through in her artwork. In this piece of work she has made marks on water colour paper using plant life, sticks, brushes, a piece of perspex and a pipette.  She says that the sculptural positioning of the paper was a happy accident that happened when she was trying to dry the paper.

Rosaline Darby has used mark-making techniques to create her current work, which is about the unreliability and fluidity of memory: how memories are often composed of a series of vivid glimpses of the past, which are shuffled and re-ordered with each revisiting and overlaid with new images, piecing and patching to make something unique for each person.

“I have been using the device of a regularly repeated and familiar walk to illustrate this in various ways. This mark-making reflects the experience of that walk in autumn, with the first layer of watercolour applied with a brush representing the atmosphere and colours; light shining through leaves and movement along the paths. This is overlaid with drawings, executed with a long stick dipped in walnut ink to reduce the control over the marks made, representing details that catch the eye, burning themselves onto the retina and creating memories of the place and time”.

…… to be continued ……


Maria Walker guides us through part two of this inspirational mark making series:

 The Great Indoors

“It is all a game of construction – some with a brush, some with a shovel, some choose a pen”

Jackson Pollock

Part one of this “Making Marks” blog concentrated on marks made using traditional artists’ materials such as pens, pencils and crayons, but these are only the tip of the iceberg as far as mark-making is concerned. In this week’s blog our featured artists demonstrate the wide range of objects and materials that can be used to ‘make marks’ without even leaving the house. These artists demonstrate how your own home can provide you with plenty of tools to make marks with, whether it is a precious object such as your father’s screwdriver or the remains of your lunch.

Joan Bingley has literally being “burning the church roof” in her fireplace at home to produce a plentiful supply of her own charcoal. Her explorations into the potential of this material illustrate the fun and unpredictability of experimentation.

“The cedar shingles on the church steeple in the village had been badly damaged by woodpeckers and were replaced over the summer. Those of us with fireplaces were encouraged to help ourselves to the old cedar shingles, which when broken make excellent kindling. They also proved to make good, easily held charcoal for mark-making. Some control and cleanness of mark was possible with the flat pieces of partly burnt cedar. Later attempts with part of a log remaining in the grate when I came to clean out the ashes in the morning proved less comfortable to hold and produced messier marks, though some offered interesting textures.”

Robertta McPherson demonstrates what can be achieved using her father’s screwdriver and a hammer to make some powerful marks, as well as a trusty pipette.

Marie-Ghislaine Beauce shows us how humble household tools can make interesting marks. These powerful marks have been made using a paper cutter. She liked this tool due to the thickness of the line and the ease of use.  She also experimented with a pastry wheel to create more delicate lines.

Jo Coombes has made abstract repeat patterns using a grouting tool. It is interesting to see how the quality of the mark changes depending on how the tool is used.

Jo has also developed her mark-making technique and has create realistic images of plants using items found in her house such as a piece of rope and the lid from a felt pen.

Some people find that mark-making can be a way into discovering the joys of art, especially if you have been told in the past that you can’t draw. The process of experimentation to produce abstract marks and surface texture can be very satisfying, as there is no right or wrong.

Linda Walsh admits that she has only recently discovered the freedom of mark- making and is now fully on board with the idea and is even encouraging her grandchildren to get involved too.

“I came late to ‘mark making’ as I was convinced I couldn’t draw and as a consequence I didn’t ever try!
It was only after I had joined Phoenix, and the group set various drawing exercises (with many groans from some of us), that I began to enjoy just making marks, especially with elongated brushes, pencils and various homemade tools. The process of experimentation gave me the confidence to try my hand at ‘proper’ drawing too! I try to encourage my grandchildren to explore marks and colours without always wanting it to be ‘like real’. “

Linda has definitely been thinking ‘out of the box’ to create these playful images from a cereal packet and the remains of an orange peel, which just goes to show you can play with your food as long as it is with creative intent!

Samantha Jones has taken the idea of using household tools for mark-making one step further, and has used her freezer to create these beautiful marks using ice and dye.

“I like the unpredictable nature of the ice dyeing technique as you never quite know what end result you are going to get, as the dyes split out differently each time. Also the fabric and paper, depending on where they are placed in the dye bath, will take the colour in a variety of ways and different folding techniques will again give various results”.

…… to be continued ……



One of our talented artists, Maria Walker, exploits her passion for mark making in this four-part series, where she encourages us to explore and “play” with making marks.


“Mark-making” is very much like Marmite – artists claim to either love it or hate it!

But making marks is actually an essential aspect of our creative practice. We make marks with pens, pencils, brushes, paints, a needle and thread, and all kinds of other instruments that allow us to express our creativity.

As Phoenix artists are always up for a challenge, our members have been specifically exploring what mark-making means to them and how they use it in their work, the results of which I shall share over the course of this four-part series.


“Marks are the alphabet that form the words that make the prose, and are elements with which the drawing is made.”
Mick Maslem and Jack Southern

Lynne Butt  – Line Samplers

Artists make marks using all manner of drawing media but more often than not, they start with a pen, pencil or crayons. Over time the marks artists make to create a piece of work become second nature to them, so every so often it is beneficial to ‘perform an artistic reboot’ and experiment with materials and document the sort of marks these drawing materials are capable of making. Early in 2020, before Covid 19 forced us to move our monthly meetings to Zoom, Lynne facilitated a short mark-making workshop for us. The workshop was inspired by the ‘Line Samplers’ workshop in the book ‘Expressive Drawing’ by Steven Aimone and it certainly got the ball rolling for us.

As Lynne explains,
“Line Samplers are based on the idea of traditional embroidery samples and the exercise is designed to make the artist observe the differences in the nature of lines made by different tools. In the workshop we used a variety of tools including ballpoint pen, felt tip pens, graphite pencils, charcoal, crayons, pastel sticks, brushes or sticks with paint or ink and we worked on smooth paper. The exercise can also be done on rough paper.”

By the end of the workshop we had each created an A2 Line Sampler, which we shall be keeping to use as a reference in the future.

Writing and Language

The written language is a particular form of mark making. Writing developed from the pictorial marks our ancestors made into the letters that make up the written languages of the day. Artists use writing and calligraphy in their art to communicate in literal and abstract ways.

Robertta McPherson has created this striking image on a workshop with Debbie Lyddon where she made pages for a notebook using phrases. Can you work out what it says?

Jo Coombes has been using calligraphy to inspire and express positivity and hope at the end of a year decimated by COVID, in the expectation that 2021 will see a return to normal life. Her work “Pill of Hope” is based on ancient Greek script and is made with a wooden coffee stirrer. The main word translates as ‘Hope’ and the background says ‘I heal’.

Maggie Barber is currently writing her thoughts and ideas in a multi-layered way, making the text illegible. By using different pens of different colours and sizes, brushes, inks, acrylics and fine markers, she is achieving depth and interesting elements worthy of further development. In this work she has transformed a negative concept into something beautiful by repeating and overlaying the word ‘isolation’.

Maria Walker has been recording the new vocabulary that has emerged as a result of the Covid pandemic to fill the pages of her sketch book with asemic writing. She collects these ‘Covid Sound Bites’ (words and phrases from the media and politicians) and puts them to paper using homemade pens such as sharpened sticks and pens made out of soda cans. She writes quickly and overlaps the text so the meaning becomes obscured and the words become mixed up to create interesting surface textures. It is her intention that the phrase will not be instantly recognisable, rather the viewer will have to search for meaning using the occasional legible word.

The majority of Maria’s sound bites come from Boris Johnson as his language is so flamboyant.

But mark-making doesn’t have to be done on a small scale or on your own and group projects can be fun and creative. I was reminded that a couple of years ago we enjoyed a communal mark making session at our meeting, using a very large piece of paper, paint and sticks as drawing instruments.

….. to be continued …..

Featured Artist – Alison Hird-Beecroft

What is Stitch?

Alison Hird-Beecroft takes us on her journey through stitch, and embarks on a passion which has become the driving force to her remarkable creativity.

I was preparing a piece of work for an embroidery exhibition.  I had woven a piece on a peg loom in colours and textures that I was pleased with and used my embellishing machine to add areas of interest, which seemed to work, but then I realised that there was no actual ‘stitch’ in it and wondered if it would be accepted, so I decided not submit it in the end.   .

A few years ago I submitted two large three dimensional pieces to another embroidery exhibition.  These were pieces I had spent a good deal of time on and had been exhibited in London so was surprised to get there and see no sign of either.  I assumed they didn’t display them as they were made of pleated translucent plastic that had been manipulated with very long threads held under tension.  I thought at the time that maybe plastic was not to their taste, but now I look back and think that they didn’t regard the threads as stitches.  It now clearly states on the form that there must be some stitches in the work.  It set me thinking about what defines a stitch.

The dictionary definition says that a stitch is a loop of thread resulting from a single pass or movement of the needle in sewing, knitting or crocheting.  All the definitions of stitch seem to involve a needle and a material to pass through.  I don’t know if the action of the multiple needles on an embellishing machine, pushing one layer of fabric through another counts as stitch as no thread is involved.  By the same token, if a thread passes around something and not through it and a needle is not necessarily involved, can it count as ‘stitch’ or ‘embroidery’?

When I began City and Guilds in the early ‘80s I enjoyed learning all the different embroidery techniques such as black-work, canvass-work and pulled thread that used stitch in an interesting way.  At some point I began experimenting with stitch on paper which I had folded and cut. I found that not only did I use stitches to be decorative but they started to be used to shape the piece I was working on.  I then used stitches to join components together so I no longer had a background.  I wound thread around the components instead of stitching through them. The stitches got much longer and formed a mesh which held a structure together under tension and pieces became three-dimensional. This is what I am doing today, with the meshes becoming more complex as I gain experience. The long ‘stitches’ overlap each other and form patterns that move when you look from different angles.  I sometimes call my work ‘structural embroidery.’  A friend asked me “when did you stop doing embroidery.” I didn’t know I had!


Alison Hird-Beecroft

Artists’ Tools: Part 4

Our fourth and final part in this series on artists’ tools explores the potential for making our own tools to fit a purpose or explore artistic potential, which makes for an exciting,  productive and engaging way of connecting with the finished piece.

We will also show you the fun some of us have had making our own tools and using them for mark making.

Jo Coombes finds that her collection of household items – plastic cap, tree tie, biscuit packaging and corrugated cardboard make the most interesting marks for her when printing paper and fabric. She is always on the lookout for unusual textures and patterns. Nothing gets thrown away until she has checked its artistic potential!

On a recent seaside holiday, Maria Walker enjoyed fashioning this set of tools from objects found on the beach.

Maria has also made her own walnut ink and has been exploring the marks that she can make using it and some of her home made tools.

On a recent visit to some woodland owned by a friend, Rosaline Darby collected items to use for drawing, printing or mark-making and adapted some of them to make more effective tools.

Here are some of the marks she achieved.

We hope this has given you some inspiration and an appetite to try something new or experiment with everyday objects – the outcome may surprise and delight you!


Artists’ Tools – Part 3

The English proverb:  “Necessity is the Mother of Invention” probably holds true for this third part in our series where we will be showing how we improvise in our art practice by making use of everyday objects, and adapting those designed for other purposes.

Joan Glasgow turns to the cocktail stick continually. She uses it for stuffing and turning the points of very small objects. There may well be purpose made tools for the job but when working on a small scale, Joan would not be without her cocktail stick.

Marie-Ghislaine Beaucé is using the flat handle of a wooden kitchen spatula to turn larger strips of fabric inside out and the rounded end of a knitting needle for the narrow ones.

A selection of Jo Coombes’ favourite tools ……

…. and here are some in action for breakdown printing:

These are the tools Alison Hird-Beecroft is using at the moment to produce the photographs she takes of her threaded structures and the shadows they produce.  There are several coloured bottles and the jar with iridescent cellophane strips and all contain water. The shape and thickness of these affects how the light is refracted.  She uses sunlight beams in a dark room or light beam from the torch shown in photo, putting the structure in the beam that comes through these props or behind them, which makes a more distorted shadow.

Jude Kingshott uses roofing plates and bulldog clips in her eco-printing process.

Rosaline Darby’s initial training was as a zoologist and she finds that the precision tools from her university dissecting kit often come in handy in her textile work.

…… to be continued ……

Artists’ Tools: Part 2

Vintage and antique tools are some of the most treasured and sought-after possessions, whether its for nostalgic reasons or simply because there is nothing better on the current market, our relationship with our tools play an important part of our creative process.

In this second part of our tools blog we will be showing you some of the treasured items that we have inherited or collected.

Joan Glasgow regularly uses this beautiful vintage sewing machine that was given to her mum by her dad. She says its stitching is still as smooth as silk!

Jo Coombes has her granny’s leather work bag and its contents. She says, “Poor lady was dumped in at the deep end looking after my brother and me as children and was pretty hopeless domestically (she had had staff to bring up her own daughters). But she smelled wonderfully of talc and camphor, had the most extraordinary pink whalebone corsets, and a closet full of fur coats. Her one culinary achievement was the most delicious hot buttered scones.”

Robertta McPherson’s needlecase and thimble belonged to her aunt, and her pincushion is from the Embroiderers’ Guild Millennium Project. She made the tassel for her scissors so that she can tell which are hers.

Linda Walsh’s Venetian glass pen was a present from her daughter and makes some lovely smooth marks.

Mary Crabb uses a wide range of simple hand tools to make her work. These are just a selection. She says, “Tools are very personal, and just by handling a tool you form a relationship with it. My favourite tools are those I have inherited and remember using as a child. My Grandad used to buy me a new tool every Christmas, each stamped with my initials and the date. These are the most treasured of all.”

During lockdown Kate Davis re-acquainted herself with watercolour painting.

She says, “This made me think of my father who was art trained and encouraged us to draw and not just fill in colouring books. On holiday in February I lost my watercolour box, so I have resorted to using Dad’s box, which I treated badly in my teens. Also I am using my husband’s seldom used paints and adding gouache to obtain certain colours. Derwent Inktense pencils are useful for extra colour and line. I have a large selection of brushes and these were given me by my older daughter. My younger daughter has commissioned a painting of irises from me which is not an easy task as she is a good artist and designer herself.”

…… to be continued ……..

Artists’ Tools

What are your go-to tools when designing or creating?  Rosaline Darby has collected ideas from all our artists and presents us with some exciting images and stories from a range of contemporary tools to some which may take you down memory lane.  Written in a four-part series, you’ll be keen to continue to the next stage.

Part 1

We all use a wide variety of different tools in our work, from state-of-the-art, specialist and purpose-made ones to those adapted from other uses, cherished items inherited or passed down, tools improvised from everyday and found objects, and those that are home-made for a specific task.

In this first part we will be sharing some of our specialist tools.

Maggie Barber’s beautiful, detailed and intricate quilting is produced using this wonderful long arm Bernina sewing machine.

Whatever form of textile work Joan Bingley does, it is always some form of needlework. And that means the type of tool she uses most is a needle.

There are specialist sewing needles for every use: upholstery or sail for heavy fabrics, curved for awkward corners, blunt ends for canvas and fine points for darning. There are a vast range of needles differing in point style and size, eye shape and size, length and diameter, including degree of taper. Joan sometimes resorts to the stereo microscope to check markings, especially to see sizes for the sewing machine, and how sharp or worn the needle points are. Worn or damaged points can spoil the fabric.

Some years ago, Joan was given a set of needles in a case by the then Master of the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers, a livery company in the City of London. This is so attractive and her existing stocks so plentiful, she has not yet brought herself to use one of this set of needles. She just enjoys looking at them.

What Linda Walsh uses most are her digital camera and computer. Loving to travel, she takes hundreds of photographs around the world, changes them on the screen, transfers them to fabric and adds stitch.

Rosaline Darby’s work almost always incorporates printmaking of one sort or another, which requires a range of different specialist tools including silk screens and equipment for carving and printing lino and wood.

Lynne Butt also enjoys printmaking, and is mainly focussed on that as well as drawing and collage at the moment. On the Gelli plate is her very beautiful walnut drawing stick and a pallet knife which is useful for mixing paints and printing inks. It is also great for getting glue under those annoying bits of papers that don’t stick down entirely. Also her bone folder that she hadn’t used much until recently when she discovered how useful it is for smoothing collaged papers and a roller/ brayer essential for printing.

Samantha Jones was lent a new tool recently, a Japanese Screw Punch. Needless to say, she thinks she may have to purchase one, although a bank loan may be needed first!!

….. to be continued ……