SEENUNSEEN EXHIBITION PREPARATIONS

As a group we have not met in person since March 2020, so we were very excited to be able to go to the Church Hall in August 2021, particularly since we really needed to see our exhibition work in the flesh. Zoom is great for certain things but definitely not for appreciating artwork in its entirety.

We are on a bit of a tight deadline as our SeenUnseen Exhibition will be showing at the Robert Phillips Gallery in Walton-on-Thames in October, and selected work from it will be moving to the Willesden Green Gallery in November.

It was great that most of us were able to attend the meeting and bring along our artwork, so we could come up with a plan for installing it in the gallery. Unfortunately Alison couldn’t come due to poor health, and the intrepid Joan B was marooned on an island off the coast of Pembrokeshire due to a storm, but the
also intrepid Robertta, who has recently moved up to Scotland, made the long journey south and brought her beautiful work for us to see.

Our hall is big enough for us to spread out all our work so everyone can see.

Joan Glasgow carefully laid out her work, which is inspired by mindfulness, on the floor.

Kate Davis had remembered to bring a cloth.

Maria Walker hung hers off the ballet rails.

Marie-Ghislaine Beaucé was very organised and had even brought a stand to display one of her hangings but had to hold up the other one for us to see what it would look like suspended.

Linda Walsh attached her graffiti-inspired work on the wall.

Jo Coombes needed Linda’s help to display her breakdown printed cloth.

By the end of the session we had a plan on how to start hanging the work when we go to install, but usually we have to tweak our plans once we get into the gallery and see the work in situ.

We also managed to go outside, between the heavy rain showers, and take a new group photograph for our website.

Robert Phillips Gallery, Riverhouse Barn, Manor Road, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, KT12 2PF
Wednesday 13 October until Sunday 31 October 2021
www.riverhousebarn.co.uk
Further details, including a map to the Gallery, can be found by visiting the  Exhibition Dates  page of the Phoenix Contemporary Textiles website.

The Willesden Gallery,, The Library at Willesden Green, 95 High Road, Willesden, London NW10 2SF
Tuesday 16 November until Saturday 27 November 2021
www.brent.gov.uk/willesdengallery

SEENUNSEEN – FORTHCOMING EXHIBITION PREVIEW – PART TWO

In part two of the preview of our forthcoming exhibition SeenUnseen, we continue with the work of the remainder of our artists, but first here is a reminder of the dates of the two venues of our exhibition:

Robert Phillips Gallery
Riverhouse Barn, Manor Road
Walton-on-Thames
Surrey. KT12 2PF

Wednesday 13 October until Sunday 31 October
www.riverhousebarn.co.uk

Further details, including a map to the Gallery, can be found by visiting the  Exhibitions  page of the Phoenix Contemporary Textiles website.
.
Willesden Gallery
Willesden Library
95 High Rd,
London NW10 2SF

Tuesday 16 November until Saturday 27 November 2021
Further information can be found here: Willesden Gallery

The Environment

The seen and unseen aspects of the environment, and the tension between nature and man has inspired several of our artists.

Jo Coombes

A raw and unexpected beauty is often glimpsed in our industrial wastelands.  Man-made artefacts, decayed and rusting structures are partially obscured by the natural world regenerating the landscape.  Lichens, weeds and wild flowers push through cracked concrete, and seed in the wall of abandoned buildings, disguising their original purpose. Jo has tried to capture these striking ‘edge-lands’ in her work.

Robertta McPherson

Robertta’s inspiration is the ancient sites found in her locality.  The spirit and strength of the Neolithic peoples endures through time in their tombs and stone circles.  The 16th Century agricultural corn pits and the manmade tree circles of today reflect a similar circular form. She use’s paint and stitch to
portray the weathered stone and flora found at these sites.

Joan Bingley

Much of Joan’s work has been inspired by her interest in birds. Playing with a variety of images of flocks of birds, of dangers to them such as electricity pylons and wind farms, and of individual birds attacked by predators or tangled with seaborne plastics, the title SeenUnseen sparked a connection in
her mind with threats to bird life.
Current work combines images of birds in swirling flocks with looming human figures that may provide an unvoiced threat.  She is working mainly in monochrome to emphasise the threatening aspect, but dashes of colour may be added later. The above image is based on a photograph of her own elongated shadow but others include crowds of figures.

Kate Davis

The natural world has been of constant interest to Kate and for SeenUnseen she has been studying the character and structures of wild plants and flowers. “There are an amazing number of varieties, which can be seen on our regular walks around the local area and trips to the countryside”, says Kate. She has become even more aware of the cycle of life and explosion of growth of plants in the spring and summer to the dying back in winter, followed by regeneration the following year.
This theme resonates with the current worldwide interest in bio-diversity, and the power of nature to combat global warming and to improve the quality of people’s lives.

Language

The ability of language to both enlighten and obfuscate has been of interest to two of our artists.

Linda Walsh

Easily seen, but written by the unseen . . . ‘Graffiti’.  Graffiti originally meant something scratched onto a surface and can be found as far back as in ancient Egypt. Ranging now from simple words or initials to elaborate wall paintings, it is seen as defacement and vandalism. which is a punishable crime.  Linda plans to create some free hanging ‘walls’ with added graffiti.

Maria Walker

“Oratio Interrupta”
Maria’s work explores the gap between the ‘truth’ and the ‘untruth’ in the current political arena.  During the pandemic she became intrigued by the new language that emerged and the numerous ‘Covid sound bites we were subjected to, and started to wonder whether truth is indeed an abstract concept in this ‘post-truth’ era.
Illegibility has long since been regarded as a way to obscure and confuse meaning, and she has utilised this device in this body of work to comment on the way politicians choose their language carefully to obfuscate the issue.

We hope you have enjoyed the preview of our exhibition Seen Unseen and we look forward to seeing you at our exhibition if you live in the London area. We will be posting more images of the actual exhibitions on our blog and on our social media platforms so watch this space!

SEENUNSEEN – FORTHCOMING EXHIBITION PREVIEW

Phoenix Contemporary Textiles Group usually exhibits every two years and our exhibition Seen Unseen was supposed to have been shown in October 2020.  However due to all the uncertainty around the pandemic last year we made the decision to postpone our exhibition by 12 months until 2021. This has given us an extra year to work on our ideas and we are now excited to be showing our work at two different venues in the autumn.

Robert Phillips Gallery
Riverhouse Barn, Manor Road
Walton-on-Thames
Surrey. KT12 2PF

Wednesday 13 October until Sunday 31 October
www.riverhousebarn.co.uk

Further details, including a map to the Gallery, can be found by visiting the  Exhibitions  page of the Phoenix Contemporary Textiles website.
.
Willesden Gallery
Willesden Library
95 High Rd,
London NW10 2SF

Tuesday 16 November until Saturday 27 November 2021
Further information can be found here: Willesden Gallery

Seen Unseen: background

We chose the exhibition title Seen Unseen, after much deliberation as a group, because we felt this title allowed enough freedom to be open to various interpretations but also carried with it an element of intrigue. Our artists have
definitely not disappointed, as their responses to this title have encompassed various aspects of life, including the natural and the built environment, history and mankind’s impact on the world, the language of politics, mindfulness, graffiti, perception and memory.
As a group of contemporary artists we set out to challenge people’s perception of textile art. This is especially true this year and visitors to “SeenUnseen” can expect to see a wide range of both traditional and more unconventional materials and techniques being employed. We also pride ourselves on our innovative and imaginative displays in our exhibitions, which we hope will send the visitor away feeling excited and
stimulated by new ideas.

Preview of SeenUnseen

As we approach the opening of our exhibition we thought we would give you a taster of the work we will be showing and some insights into the various interpretations of the title, written by the artists themselves. The postponement of the exhibition by a year has given us more time to prepare
and there have been some interesting developments.

The Space Between

The starting point for the work of two of our artists was the phrase “The SpaceBetween.

Alison Hird-Beecroft

Alison’s work is about “the spaces in between” and the patterns they make, especially when viewed through layers of grids. She has been studying the Moire effect or interference patterns and has made a collection of threaded structures.  In her recent work she has been photographing structures and distorting shapes by the use of light, water and magnifying glasses to produce wall hung images.

Marie-Ghislaine Beauce

‘Monochrome Weaving’ 

What could be found hidden between two woven pieces of materials?  Marie- Ghislaine aim was to create a space featuring many links, made of ribbons of different fabrics, reminiscent of the vertical lines of a contemporary sky-scraper. Because of the suppleness of the fabrics used, the size of the inner space created can be adapted to your mood.

Memory

Rosaline Darby’s work explores the way memories are made up of fleeting glimpses, or very clear impressions of brief, often insignificant moments. We piece these together, re-sorting them in our minds over time and embroidering and overlaying them with other memories, to the extent that, upon revisiting a long-remembered place it is often nothing like the image in our minds.

Imagination

Lynne Butt plays with the concept of the seen and unseen by introducing an imagined narrative into her work.

Lynne’s starting point for SeenUnseen is a photograph that she took of the Shard in London.  Its base merges into the surrounding area, and the very top into a blue/grey sky, the middle section stands out clearly against white cloud.  The figures in her work are cloaked and hooded – mysterious!! – sometimes disappearing into their background, sometimes standing out.
“The Artist” comes at night wanting to escape the city, he has dreams of medieval knights…..he paints on a rough and crumbling city wall….he is part of the scene he is painting and the city is part of him.

Mindfulness

Joan Glasgow

“Mindfulness” is the central focus of Joan’s work, which encompasses meditation through movement. She has researched and explored Taijiquan (Tai Chi) and yoga, although Tai Chi remains the dominant force.  Both however draw on their respective ancient beliefs, and are steeped in culture, tradition and spirituality.

The ancient art of Chinese Calligraphy, for example, is at the heart of the discipline of Tai Chi.  However, the foundation of Taijiquan is based on ten principles, and these can be applied during execution of the numerous forms, and the 24 movements (short form) is one of the elementary aspects of these, all of which are meant to empty the thoughts and quiet the mind whilst practising the “form” (or choreographed movements). Like Edgar Degas, Joan is attempting to capture the transient movements in the form.
Having begun this work in 2019 with no awareness of the cultural shift in our society that COVID-19 would take, mindfulness has become a cornerstone in society worldwide, the practice of which she cultivates herself and has become a lifeline and a key part of her spiritual journey.

END of Part ONE ……

EXHIBITIONS REVIEW

As lockdown lifts our artists are beginning to get out and about and are visiting exhibitions. Maria Walker made a trip into London recently and has picked out some highlights from her visits to galleries on the Southbank and Bermondsey.

The Hayward Gallery

I started my day at the Hayward Gallery where you get to see two exhibitions for your entrance fee. These exhibitions are on until the 25th July.

Matthew Barney : Redoubt

This exhibition is the artist’s first solo presentation of work in the UK for over a decade and features a series of imposing and intricate structures cast from fallen trees from the Sawtooth Mountains in Idaho, as well as over 40 engraved and electroplated copper plates and a feature length film (which can also be viewed at home from the link in your ticket). Although the film, which weaves together the story of the mythical huntress Diana, cosmology and modern American political narratives, underpins the physical artwork, I was able to appreciate physical artworks without having watched the whole film.

As a textile artist I tend to view exhibitions through a ‘textile filter’ so for me the stars of the show were the imposing life-sized sculptures of fallen pine trunks, which had been cast in shades of silver, bronze and gold and were arranged around the galleries. The detail on these gigantic tree trunks was intricate and beautiful. This had been carved by the artist, creating patterns evoking lace and the camouflage garments worn by the characters in the film.

The beauty of the trunk contrasted sharply with the way they were supported by and combined with machine-made industrial elements so that they suggested weapons and rifle stands. All this made for a very beguiling exhibition.

Igshaan Adams: Kicking Dust

This smaller exhibition at the Hayward provided a complete contrast in atmosphere as most of the room was an immersive installation consisting of ephemeral cloud-like structures made from wire, suspended over a vast woven and embellished dreamscape.

Adams’ cross-disciplinary practice combines aspects of weaving, sculpture and installation whilst exploring concerns related to race, religion and sexuality. He draws on the material and formal iconographies of Islam and his intricate textile works also reference the socio-political histories of creole communities.
Each work, and the exhibition as a whole, is composed of multiple patterns. These explore the potential of woven material to reflect the multiplicities of Adams’ own identity and of broader cultural interchange.

Throughout the exhibition, Adams builds on this sense of movement and journeying. Visitors encounter pathways through the gallery created by the placement of weavings on the floor.
The pathways resemble tectonic forms, like the nature of the weave itself. They evoke ‘desire lines’, paths that pedestrians take intuitively rather than following set routes. For Adams, desire paths are human traces in a terrain that represent both freedom and transgression. This sense of ‘desire’ comes across strongly in Adams’ practice as he seeks to liberate himself from homogenous constructs of identity.

Tate Modern

Cecilia Vicuna:  Quipu Womb

I have wanted to see this piece of work for a long time. Reminded when I noticed a recent photo of it posted on social media, I decided to make a detour to see it.

This vast ‘visual poem in space’ is made from over 50 large strands of unspun wool, dyed red and knotted, which flow to the ground through a metal ring.
The work references menstrual blood as well as the energies, flows and cycles of nature.

White Cube, Bermondsey

Bronwyn Katz: I turn myself into a star and visit my loved ones

As an artist who has used bedsprings in my work I had to visit the exhibition by Bronwyn Katz.
The South African artist’s sculptures deal with materiality, narrative and social history and she works with found materials.

In this exhibition her large-scale sculptures consist of deconstructed metal bedframes: the exposed bedsprings are combined with metal and plastic scourers to create a brightly-coloured, patterned and textural surface but they also hint at her own cultural identity.

Bermondsey Project Space

Reconnecting: Sustainability First Arts Prize 2020

My final stop of the day was to visit the Bermondsey Project Space, where the Sustainability First Art Prize 2020 was having its delayed Private View.  My friend, Estelle Woolley, had been awarded Highly Commended for her ‘Pandemic Nature Masks’ so I went along with her. She was very pleased to see her work was being displayed in the window of the Gallery and it was good to attend my first Private View for nearly two years.  Perhaps things are getting back to normal.

CYANOTYPE PRINTING WORKSHOP

Rosaline Darby reports on an exciting workshop she organised for some members of Phoenix, despite the prospect of uncertain weather conditions.

It was disappointing not to be able to meet as a whole group at our usual venue in July, the lifting of Coronavirus restrictions having been delayed, particularly as we are raring to go with planning for our exhibition in October. However, Joan Bingley came to the rescue, offering her spacious and peaceful garden as a meeting venue, which was perfect for the Introduction to Cyanotype Printing workshop.

We began by coating samples of our own fabrics and paper in the light sensitive chemicals before leaving them in Joan’s airing cupboard, in the dark, to dry.

Then we placed plant material, feathers, lace and acetate stencils onto pieces of cotton, silk, watercolour paper and Chinese rice paper that I had prepared ahead of time. These were held in place with sheets of glass and laid out in the sun for the magic to happen.

Once fully exposed, the pieces had to be quickly and thoroughly rinsed in cold water to prevent any further reaction with the light.

Luckily, the rain held off long enough to allow them to dry.

Some exciting and satisfying results were achieved, several exploring our personal themes for the exhibition.

While the cyanotypes were drying, we even managed to fit in a very useful critique of three members’ work for the exhibition, so all in all a very satisfactory, spontaneous afternoon.

INTERVIEW WITH ROBERTTA McPHERSON

Some of our members are just too modest to write a blog about themselves so Maria Walker decided that she would just have to interview them instead and
Robertta McPherson offered to go first.

Maria:  Can you tell me what initially captured your imagination about textile art and who were your early influences?

Robertta:  My passion for embroidery started in childhood. My grandmother and aunts were skilled at sewing, knitting and crochet and produced beautiful work.  They were amazingly patient with my attempts to learn from them. Later, I was fascinated by the historical embroidery found in museums, which illustrated the variety of techniques and textures found in examples of early Opus Anglicanum work, Tudor embroidery to Ayrshire whitework. My love of history continues to influence my work today.

Maria:  What was your route to becoming the artist you are today?

Robertta:  Seeking a creative balance whilst working in a male dominated environment led me to develop my knowledge. Courses at the Royal School of Needlework, City & Guilds Parts 1 & 2 and other part time courses gave me a sound grounding in design and techniques. (In those days the City & Guilds requirements included a thesis).

My love of history was combined with embroidery and research into Icelandic Embroidery.  Unfortunately it is lost now but my memories of a fascinating research project remain. The Icelandic Embassy and the facilities of the Victoria & Albert Museum library provided me with a wealth of material and I was able to view examples of Icelandic embroidery brought back by William Morris, now in the V&A collection.  In later years I visited the National Museum of Iceland and viewed further pieces of historic embroidery, and the church at H`olar.

An example of Icelandic embroidery – Detail of an Altar Frontal from the cathedral church of H`olar now on display in the National Museum of Iceland. The frontal was worked mid 16 th century in laid and couched work
in wool, linen and metal thread. The image is taken from a book on Traditional Embroidery.
by Elsa Gudj`onsson

It was during this time that I joined the Embroiderers’ Guild, and enrolled on some evening courses run by the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA).  After a teacher training course with the ILEA I taught a leisure class for adults for a short time.

On my retirement I renewed my teaching qualification for adult leisure classes. I enjoyed passing on my love of embroidery, covering a variety of traditional techniques and also a knowledge of historical embroideries, to my students.  Retirement also gave me the opportunity to undertake the Embroiderers’ Guild Development Scheme exploring fabric dyeing with the subject of ‘Arches and
Beyond’.

Batik Arches on felt and organdie dyed with indigo

Regular part time courses and Summer Schools at Missenden Abbey with Hilary Bower encouraged me to develop a more contemporary approach. The interaction with other textile artists stimulated exploration of other materials and methods used to translate a design. My delight in the tactile quality of hand embroidery was enhanced with the use of paint, monoprinting, applied papers and sheer fabrics. Athough I renewed my practice of machine embroidery it did not diminish my preference for hand stitching.

Maria:  Where does your inspiration for your art come from and do you use a sketchbook?

Robertta:  Throughout my journey a constant source of inspiration has been the natural world and the built environment.  Increasingly the exploration of history and the human footprint is a major focus in my work. I use a sketchbook to research and develop a theme with on-site sketching and photography a starting point.  Colour and texture are important elements in my work.

Drawing with a pipette

Maria:  What is your chosen technique and your favourite resources?

Robertta:  I generally work with a plain background, often of calico, with my design drawn and painted on with watercolour or inks. Layers of sheer materials or paper might be added with hand, and, occasional machine stitching. My favourite resources are needle and thread.

Fragment: A Medieval Missive 1 (Swan)

Fragment:  A Medieval Missive 2 (lion)

Maria:  Apart from Phoenix are you a member of any other groups?

Robertta:  I am a long term life member of the Embroiderers’ Guild, and I was a founder member and chairman of the Ealing Branch.  On it’s demise some years later I joined the London Branch.  Roles of chairman and committee member for the London Branch brought unexpected pleasure and increased contact with like-minded embroiderers.

When I left London, last year, I joined the Galloway Branch of the Embroiderer’s Guild. However Lockdown happened and the group held its meetings on zoom. Now, sadly, with the changes at the Embroiderers’ Guild it will no longer be a branch of the guild, but the plan is to continue as a Stitch Group.

My membership of Phoenix Contemporary Textiles is a constant source of pleasure. Despite moving from London I have been able to maintain my membership and plan to travel to meetings regularly.  It has expanded my knowledge of new materials, printing methods and kept me abreast of current thinking, taking my work in new directions.  I still use traditional techniques and perhaps I am too representational in my work.  However interaction with more contemporary artists is encouraging me to develop further.  Working to themed exhibitions has widened my interest in unexpected topics and fed into my love of research.  A past exhibition theme of “Women by Women” led me to research the artist, Winifred Nicholson. Her still-life paintings frequently featured domestic
objects and flowers. Thus my own work involved objects I had inherited from my grandmother and father – teapot and ginger jar etc.

The Ginger Jar


Freesias with my Grandmother’s teapot

Maria:  Do you have a website and Social media accounts?

Robertta:  I do not have a personal website.  However as a member of Phoenix my background and work can be seen in their website.  During Lockdown my knowledge and use of social media has increased. I have found WhatsApp and Zoom a lifeline during this last year. I now post some work on Instagram and have found it a useful source of contact with other textile artists.

@roberttamcpherson

Maria:  What do you think is your most successful piece of work?

Robertta:  I find this a very difficult question to answer. My most successful piece of work is always the one which I have just finished and feel completely happy with.

Maria:  What are you currently working on?

Robertta:  Currently I am working on pieces for the SeenUnseen exhibition. I have started with the human footprint during Neolithic times and the feature of stone circles in this area, developing the circle motif forward to tree circles, natural and manmade, in modern times.

Maria:  How have you found life in Lockdown ?

Robertta:  I have struggled throughout the past year of the pandemic.  Creativity and motivation have been in short supply. With the encouragement and support of Phoenix members I did have occasional bursts of interest in sketching.  The group projects also helped and, at last, I have started stitching again.

Experimenting with markmaking using seaweed

THAMES MUDLARKING PROJECT

Kate Davis reports on her project, which relates to a group venture about mudlarking on the foreshore of the River Thames, near the OXO tower in London.

Most of the items found were affected by being in the water and gritty sand for some time.
They included a variety of materials such as metals, wires, nails, building ceramics;  and domestic pottery, shells, oyster shells, stone, flint stones, pitch, fishermen’s implements, bones, and the plastic detritus of modern day.

However, with some imagination the findings can be related to the lives of Londoners of the past. Over the centuries artefacts have been lost in one way or another, then eventually found by someone scouring the the tidal mud.

Relics from Anglo Saxon, Roman, Medieval, Tudor, Stuart, Georgian, Victorian times and through the century up to the present day. Evidence of these can be researched at the
Museum of London, the Museum of London Docklands and the British Museum.

How did these pieces relate to the owner?
What part in someone’s life did they play?

When was this part of a roof tile made?
Where was it made?
Who bought this roof tile?
Who placed it in position on the roof?

Handling my finds from the river reminded me of my collection of pottery shards found when digging in a garden in North Buckinghamshire. These pieces were also part of peoples’ lives, as those in the Thames, and they also were found by chance and could have been buried in the ground for evermore.

The connection of the past draws one in and makes one more aware of previous generations. The finds have tactile qualities and represent design styles common at certain  times in history.

SKETCHBOOKS – PART TWO

This second and final part of Lynne Butt’s series on Sketchbooks demonstrates how integral it is to make notes as a progression of ideas, whatever your medium:

“My spiral book, size 21cmx29.7cm, is more a record folder than a sketchbook containing drawings and photos of work in progress, as I prefer to work up my pieces in my mind, and use pen and paper only to add ideas of improvement.

The zigzag shape is a sharp change of direction from the straight line, long or short in time; the acute angles defined by these changes vary in intensity creating abstract geometric patterns. I chose the zigzag subject for it represents the accidents in the timeline of the year 2020, created by the repeated lockdowns.”
Marie-Ghislaine Beaucé

“If asked, ‘Do you keep a sketchbook?’, then I would have to say no. I do however have many ways in which I hold and record my thoughts, ideas and makings. “

“The most important is probably the internal ‘sketchbook’ I carry around in my head. Accessible at any time to no one but myself, it is the place where I ruminate, discuss and imagine. I spend a lot of time thinking.”

“Many thoughts do not ever become reality, others are explored further to become real objects. It is then that I inhabit a book; generally, with a black cover, spine ribbon and elastic band to keep it secure. On the spine I stick a small label in Dymo tape, using the manual machine inherited from my Father. Often the books are labelled on a specific subject, but more recently I have included a general book labelled EMPTY HEAD BOOK, a place for anything I need to download from my head, that doesn’t yet have a place to be. The books contain a great deal of writing, the more I write the more I see the value of it. There are diagrams too, this is my drawing, capturing something I am thinking or making. And whilst making I record details, things that I need to remember, revisit and revise.”

“As most of my work is 3D, it becomes part of a ‘sketchbox’. I like labels. Often I annotate samples with luggage labels, with comments about materials, techniques and personal notes too. I keep most samples, there is always something to be learnt from everything I make, even if I am not satisfied with it. The failures become seeds for new ideas, areas of development or further exploration.”
Mary Crabb

“I love sketchbooks and keeping them is fundamental to my practice. I always have several on the go in different sizes and formats or dedicated to particular themes and I enjoy making my own to suit particular requirements.

One little book,  that is dedicated to very quick sketches capturing the behaviour and character of my garden birds, is on my work table ready for action at all times.

I also use sketchbooks as project journals, working through ideas, recording processes, and noting down things that I might want to pursue at a future point. I often find that going back through one of these books helps to get me out of times when I feel stuck or undecided about which direction to take.”
Rosaline Darby

“Finding the perfect sketchbook is quite a challenge, which is why I always have a few on the go at one time and I probably have far too many. I always have a very small sketchbook in my bag when I go out for sketching and note taking and larger ones for home.

“The quality of the paper is important, smooth paper for drawing and coloured pencil work, heavier paper for gouache, watercolour and mixed media, my preference for bright colours sees me searching out books with white paper although it is not so important for ink drawings.

“I use sketchbooks for technique experiments, trying out new art materials, colour samples and just doodling with ink, pencil or paint.”
Lynne Butt

“I was going to say I didn’t use sketchbooks much until recently. But I realise that I have always used ‘ideas’ books. Probably not very carefully thought out and often just a collection of images that I had collected on the ‘topic’. Perhaps even just shoved into a basket rather than collected into an actual book. Some of these developed as what could be called ‘scrapbooks’ ….. how do you define the difference between sketchbook and scrapbook??

“I also had a few books of ‘techniques’, trying out things like gesso, image transfer, laminated paper. Not that in my mind they were ‘proper’ sketchbooks .. whatever that means!

“I was always someone I labelled as ‘can’t draw’ so the idea of sketchbooks seemed to be beyond me. But, with encouragement from fellow artists, both in Phoenix and other groups I have become more confident about making attempts at drawing and also realising that I could use washes of colour or patterns or stamps or stencils etc to ‘make marks’ and that not everything needed to look perfect or be realistic. Someone once told me that you should never have a ring bound sketchbook as it is too easy to tear out pages and that to develop ideas and confidence you should never pull out the page even if you think it is a disaster!

“So in the last few years I have become an avid fan of the sketchbook. Sometimes still topic based others a great mix of ideas to try, odd watercolours, little sketches, bit of collage etc etc.

“What I really enjoy is sketch booking my travels. At this very moment the idea of travel seems a bit of a dim and distant memory so it is good to have my sketchbooks to leaf through as a reminder. I have been lucky enough to travel to many countries and in 2019 even had an extended stay in Italy for 3 months …. that has resulted in 7 sketchbooks …. so far!! These involve drawing ‘on site’ plus lots of photographs to help me sketch later.”
Linda Walsh

“Writing this has prompted me to hunt out my old sketchbooks and I was surprised that I have at least fifty. My books contain records of subjects I found of interest at the time. As well as sketches, they include a mix of project notes, cuttings, design and colour way ideas, and fabric and stitch samples. Holiday sketches and those of children and grandchildren bring back memories of people and places.

“In 2020 during the first lockdown due to Covid 19, I decided to devote a very personal sketchbook to the wild flowers seen on our early morning walks in the local countryside. This theme was chosen in relation to halting global warming and preservation of bio-diversity. Much pleasure was obtained from studying the flowers and plants along our route. The structures needed close observation, the shapes of petals and leaves often very subtle. This became a book where I instinctively explored different techniques, mainly going back to drawing which I found to be a mindful experience. My book turned into an ‘album’ of more careful drawings and the development of unexpected styles.

“Keep an open mind and see where it leads you…………”
Kate Davis

It seems there are many alternatives for sketchbooks –
Note book,
Diary,
Journal,
Internal sketchbook i.e. Head
EMPTY HEAD BOOK (my favourite)
Sketchbox
Scrapbooks
Project journals
Aide memoire
Box file
Sketch and ideas box
Camera
Tablet
Phone
Album

SKETCHBOOKS – PART ONE

Lynne Butt brings to life her love of sketchbooks, along with her fellow Phoenix artists:

Sketchbooks…..An indispensable tool for artists

A finished piece of art grows from a sketchbook.

They are the place where the seeds of ideas are stored, where they germinate and grow.

Sketchbooks take many forms…..books, boxes, pin-boards, loose papers gathered together, iPads, cameras and….HEADS!

To have access to the inner workings of the artist, the process of making art, the germ of an idea, the very beginning of a work of art is a great privilege.

Phoenix members allow us a peak into these precious objects.

“For years I have kept sketchbooks with different objectives. Some bring back memories of places I have visited, containing sketches, photos, tickets, etc.; some record information and notes from exhibitions and courses I attended; others explore and develop designs or file research material.

“Regular sketching sessions, with friends at Kew Gardens gave me a topic for one of my Brooklyn Sketchbooks. Outings with Urban Sketchers took me to areas of London not visited for many years. A collaborative exercise with a friend produced a fascinating fold-out sketchbook. Whereas the Phoenix Sketchbook Project was an interesting challenge, each month’s topic set by a different member.

“In my textile sketchbooks I document the process of developing my work. Each provides a diary for a specific theme to explore ideas, note background research, enter samples of potential materials, stitches, colour and techniques. The collated information is useful reference for the future.”
Robertta McPherson

“Along with the images I put hand written notes of how things had been done and lists of key-words that described the work or how I felt about it. I wrote about what worked and what didn’t and why for future reference. Materials such as threads and glue were put to the test and I added samples to the journal. Starting half way through the empty book with images of her work. The idea was to have plenty of room to more forward with ideas as they developed, and backwards to record the work that had led up to that point.

“I recorded the sychronicity of a visit to the Anthony Gormley exhibition where he had worked on a huge scale to create a grid which fitted in with the work I was doing to produce ‘moire’ or interference patterns in my work and how they changed when you move round them.”
Alison Hird-Beecroft

Alison also uses apps such as Picassa and Picsart’ to produce collages.

Scrapbook cum journal for the upcoming Phoenix exhibition Seen/Unseen

“I used to create very scrappy disorganised sketchbooks as a hasty record of my thought processes and working. Now I try to be neater, so that the book becomes more of a work of art itself. I start with a ‘spider diagram’, then my research, and finally all the samples of ideas and techniques in drawing and stitched fabric.

“This process is ongoing – I don’t decorate the whole page with contrived attractive backgrounds, so the neat version can look too plain and lacking in artistry. The main purpose of researching a current theme could be lost in a highly decorated sketchbook.”
Jo Coombes

“I always make one for an exhibition, even if some of the entries are retrospective. Our visitors seem to love looking at them as much as the finished work”.   Jo Coombes

“The closest to a conventional sketchbook is the type used on my travels.  Always a size to tuck into a large pocket or small backpack, preferably with a ring binding so pages can be fully open for ease of use.  On my travels, drawings are supplemented by found objects and souvenirs so they include leaves, pressed flowers, feathers, boarding passes and museum entry tickets, sometimes even attempts to record my reaction to sounds as well as sights”.

“In my textile work, the ‘sketchbook’ is both a box file into which I throw cuttings, samples and notes of ideas for later sifting AND the camera on my mobile telephone, which has now replaced printed photos from a pocket camera.”
Joan Bingley

“I have used sketchbooks throughout my textile practise. They serve various purposes. Sometimes I record the entire process; thoughts and experiments and at other times simply use them as reference. In this instance I collect images, articles, interesting website information and references to other textile artists. I tend to have a “sketchbook” at hand as an aide memoire/journal, noting ideas for future projects, new processes and techniques to try; suppliers, tips and tools.”
Maggie Barber

“Sketchbooks, story and mood boards are an integral part of my design process, without which my ideas would amount to nothing. However, my departure from a “conventional sketchbook” started when my time constraints limited the number of physical activities achievable for me within the deadlines I set myself.  Furthermore, the scale of my constructions changed as I began to take part in exhibitions; I needed to fill more expansive space, 3D prototypes became more ambitious and were more or less “flattened” when placed in a book; so my sketchbooks became more “sketch- and ideas-boxes”!!

“Nowadays, I tend to record on my iPhone much of my thought processes, images (even those created on paper) and store them in a folder for either reference or later retrieval.  Eventually they will be stored on an external hard drive.”
Joan Glasgow

“Even though I don’t use a sketchbook in a conventional way, I have realised looking back over the years I have constantly kept a note/sketchbook.

I fill my books with ideas, information and things I need to do. At times these books can seem more like a diary, containing my inner most thoughts.

Poetry, song lyrics, I really didn’t quite understand how important they are to my practice. What to do with them after I am gone?”
Jude Kingshott

“Like everyone else, for the  many years while I was studying art and embroidery at educational institutions I was ‘forced’ to keep a sketchbook (or creative journal as it was sometimes called). We were encouraged to document our creative processes and journeys in these books which were then marked by our tutors and these marks contributed to our overall grades. The result was I spent an awful lot of time on these sketchbooks and I personally felt they had an adverse effect on my creative flow as I was always looking backward rather than forward; so when I finished all my studies I stopped keeping a sketchbook.

“Over time sketchbooks have crept back into my art practice but in a very different manner. Now they are just for me, no one else is going to look at them unless I allow it. So you are very privileged I am sharing some of them on this blog.

“The first type of sketchbook to creep back into my practice were the ones I keep for a specific sketching project, such as those I used when I embarked on a project of documenting my vintage cutlery collection. Originating from Sheffield, cutlery plays a significant part in my childhood memories so this documentation project was part of my creative research on objects and the emotional attachment we have to them.  In this case the use of a sketchbook was important and I thought of it as an art object in itself.

“Secondly I always have a notebook on the go, in which I write down ideas I have as they occur, things I read in books, quick sketches and things I find. I don’t think of it as a ‘sketchbook’ its just somewhere to jot down my thoughts. I try to start a new notebook when I embark on a new project (to try to impose a discipline on my otherwise unruly mind) but it never really works as my thoughts are circular and overlapping. I am often working on a few ideas at the same time which all intertwine so to be honest the linear structure of a notebook isn’t really ideal but I have not found anything better.  I do lots of writing in my notebook as that’s the way my mind works – I can’t remember what I have read unless I write it down!  I also kept this notebook when I was researching emotive objects and you can see it is very messy and was done purely for my own use. I carried this book around with me all the time, at workshops, at museums and even on holiday.”
Maria Walker

To be continued ……

FEATURED ARTIST – MARIA WALKER

Maria Walker takes inspiration from the everyday events of the past.

THE LIGHTFOOT LETTERS 

This story begins with a bundle of old letters I found one rainy Sunday afternoon in an antique centre in Cheshire in 2009.  I had originally intended to cut up the letters to use in the mixed media collages I was making at the time, but when I started to read them – somewhat guiltily at first – I realised that I had discovered a real treasure trove of social history and my scissors were not allowed anywhere near them.

The letters were dated from 1923 and 1924 and had all been written to Frances Lightfoot who was at that time living away with her aunt. All the members of her large family, who lived in Widnes in Cheshire, wrote letters to her, and between them they recount what everyday life was like for a working class family at this time. Mostly the letters were written by Frances’ mother, Ada Lightfoot, who kept Frances informed of all the local gossip, the antics of her younger brothers and sisters, and the ordeal of doing the washing. Other letters contained stories of trips to the dentist, ice skating on frozen ponds, Christmas parties at school, killing pigs, mending boots and the general election.

These letters provided me with inspiration for my textile art, which is inspired by memory and everyday life, and I started to create narrative-based artwork that told the stories I found hidden in these letters. I was particularly inspired by Ada’s numerous accounts of the minutiae of everyday life,  For example, the arduous task of doing the laundry and keeping her children clothed and warm. I wanted to bear witness to what this family had gone through in the 1920s through my textile-based practice so I started to create digital collages from the scans of the letters, incorporating lines from the letters, images from my own personal photographic archive and items such as buttons, lace and stamps from the period. For example, in ‘Nice Frock’ I used a photograph of my mum when she was three in 1926, to represent Dorothy Lightfoot, of whom Ada writes “she is delighted with the photograph of her with the nice frock”

Nice Frock

The text itself became an integral feature of my artwork as it gave voice to the universal concerns of the working class woman that Ada was writing about in her letters.  I felt that through the act of embroidering Ada’s words onto garments I was able to reinforce their impact and make them relevant for today.

Ada’s Corset

Corset detail

Doing the family’s washing in the harsh winter weather took up most of Ada’s week, sometimes her son Peter would stay off school to help put the clothes through the mangle. ‘The Washing Gets Me Down’ is a digital collage in which the overall worn by one of the women is made from scans of the words written by Ada in her letters to Frances and was inspired by Ada’s references to the ordeal of doing the laundry, which took her the best part of a week. For this work I used an image of my husband’s grandmothers, one of whom he tells me,  was never seen without an overall.

The Washing Gets Me Down

The next chapter of this story took place while I was working as an Artist in Residence at an event for creative writers and by chance I met a poet called Angela Topping.  As I talked about the letters and the family who wrote them, Angela realised that I was talking about her own family and the letters had been written by Angela’s grandparents to her Aunt Frances. There were even a couple of letters written by Angela’s father who was about 10 at the time.  We later decided to collaborate and started to plan an exhibition that would be a fusion of textile art and poetry, and that is exactly what we did.

I was particularly interested in the lives of ordinary working class women and used memories of my own grandmother to explore the theme of a ‘woman’s work is never done’. She was a very industrious woman and in her life she ran a bakery, an off licence and finally a boarding house in Blackpool. I used images of her to create a design, which I printed onto a tea towel and embroidered the names of household chores around the side.

A woman’s work is never done

I also used an old photograph of her working on her sewing machine to create the work ‘Make me a Dress’, using the technique of reverse applique. As the work progressed words from Angela’s poetry became intertwined with my textiles.

Make me a Dress

Ada’s accounts of the hardship of doing the laundry resonated with me so much that I decided to explore this theme further and created an installation called Ada’s washing line, each garment recounting a particular aspect of Ada’s story. I
made children’s garments using vintage fabric and designs I found in pattern cutting books from the 1920s. I added text found in Ada’s letters by stitching and cutting into the garment.

Ada’s Washing Line

Garment Detail

Garment Cutwork

Lettering detail

I was also interested in the objects the family would have used and how these objects also have a story to tell. I often juxtapose objects with my embroidery to create installations which reinforce the narratives I recount. In Ada’s ‘Ironing Board’ I used a vintage children’s ironing board and embroidered the lines from Ada’s letter telling Frances of how she had cut her thumb and how painful it was when she had to do the ironing.

Ironing Board

The poverty of the Lightfoot family was apparent in the letters and they did not have any precious objects to pass down. My stitched textile collage ‘No Heirlooms’ reflects this through collage, free machine embroidered drawings and text from one of Angela’s poems.

No heirlooms

Inspired by the paper-cut artwork of Rob Ryan I developed a technique of creating lines of text through cutwork in my installation ‘Lean into the Wind’, which was inspired by the poem Angela wrote about her father skating on a frozen pond.

Lean into the wind

Cutwork in progress

Another exciting aspect of our collaboration was that I was now able to use Angela’s images of her family in my artwork.  Imagine my excitement when I was able to re-unite a photograph of each of the family members with their actual words they had written all those years ago. The words “I’d rather have a Spoon” came directly from a letter written by the father Peter when he recounts that he was going to a hotpot supper and complained that he would have to use a knife and fork but would rather have a spoon. I loved this letter so much that I had it enlarged and printed onto canvas to hang on the wall in the gallery.

I’d rather have a Spoon

Peter’s Letter

I have now made over sixty pieces of artwork and the Lightfoot Letters exhibition has been exhibited widely across the UK. There is not enough space here to talk about every piece of work but you can see more on my website.

Maria Walker

Website:  www.mariawalker.co.uk