As our Bucks Open Studios exhibition finishes on Saturday at Blossom & Grey in Chesham Bois, I wanted to share some of my work (as I’ve been putting examples of work by the other artists on Facebook for the past few days). I seem to have gone off-topic a bit here and ruminated on my experience of putting together the work for my first Open Studios.
My original idea was linked to shadows and silhouettes which managed to morph into angels and heaven. You might have seen some of the pictures I took of angel statues at the V&A which got me moving from figures and shapes back into my favourite things - capes and feathers.
I made a new cape for this exhibition. The cape I made for the book Cut Shape Stitch has been the most popular piece I've made so far and it regularly comes out for an airing (I'm always grateful when Maggie Grey uses it in any of her talks) and I wanted something this time to be slightly different and more structured. My mum, who is clearing out nearly 40 years of belongings, found a vintage cape pattern (there's a rather fetching poncho in there too) and gifted it to me.
Recently, I have become more interested in mixed-media work and I wanted to incorporate that into the new cape. I had a length of Lutradur (heavy weight) and this created a good firm base on which to work. I included stencilling with moulding paste, coloured with Adirondack Colour Wash in Stream and an outer layer of silk crepeline (inspired by my interview of Game of Thrones embroiderer Michele Carragher who uses this for her embroideries) stamped with archival sepia ink. The stiffness of the Lutradur had it’s challenges and my original lining fabric didn’t have the give for the curves around the collar but after a few stressful days (embarrassingly close to the start of the exhibition), I pulled it together and got it finished. It is called Heaven’s Cape and stencilled with words associated with angels. The real angels I think turned out to be my family, having to live with someone who had all her ideas two weeks before the exhibition and spent one of those weeks on a half term break (to quote Withnail, “We’ve come on holiday by mistake!”). The last week of frenzied Panic Stitching and beans on toast for tea all round was mercifully short-lived. I knew I could live on crisps and Ben & Jerry’s for a week with no lasting damage.
The angel wings were featured in the piece ‘Winging It’. You can tell the state of mind I was in when I got to this piece and named it (on Wednesday, with the Private View on Friday).. Luckily this piece had had a little more planning before the holiday so it was more of a case of finishing the machine stitching of the background and stitching lots of Lutradur feathers to attach on top. I had a visit from a friend whose advice I asked about the placement of the feathers. She favoured a sculptured form (which is what we ended up with), holding the piece up to see how it would look, only for us to stand and watch as all the carefully placed feathers fluttered to the ground (I hadn’t quite got to the stage of securing anything at that point). A minor setback, marked by regular texts from me to her that two more, three more, four more etc feathers had now been stitched back on. It was good advice though and using the idea from Pauline Verrinder‘s article in the current issue of Workshop on the Web, where wire was used to create sculptural stitched pieces (Pauline’s work is wonderful), I used a wire-stitched backing and moulded it when all the feathers were where they should be.
For the other feathers floating round, I made some cards and one more piece which used some of the printed silk crepeline from the cape. Is that creative recycling, creating a body of work using techniques and materials that are linked together or the fear of having to throw anything away? I managed to get it framed, although fought with the frame in order to do so. I think it sensed my vulnerability at that point so did everything it could to hinder my progress. I got there in the end (sigh).
Finally, there was Heaven’s Handbag. Again, I’d miraculously done some of the feather stitching well in advance and using stencilled Lens Tissue (same stencils of text that I had created for the exhibition), used this as an outer layer. The sequins were from a dress that Caroline Kirton’s daughters (stars of many of her works) were throwing out (yet more recycling) and some handles and pendant Christmas decorations that in my years of hoarding them, I must have known I would need to use them at a time when time was of the essence. The bag is quite fragile but there’s room inside for some of the essential everyday items your average angel might need. Those are planned for another day.
By contrast, the pieces which used Gelli Plate printing as a base were made up of machine embroidery and I found these came together easily. The frames were not out to get me on this occasion either….
As this was my first Open Studios and exhibition of any kind, it was a steep learning curve. How to get your work done on time was one, trying to create work that is cohesive (whether through a starting theme or using techniques as your basis) was another and also thinking more commercially about what people might like to buy. It will be interesting at the end of the exhibition to sit down with the other people in the group and see what they thought, what ideas is gave us and how we can move forward. The panic and stress of putting it all together was a new experience for me but now that it will shortly be over, I am hoping to learn from the experience and note down any creative thoughts as I go along.