Consolidating a folio of drawings and a written reflection on Part 1

I chose nine drawings to send to my tutor for ongoing feedback. Five of them were from the work I did in Project 2, drawings of the blankets from the archive. I chose a mixture, ink, drypoint, collage and watercolour/pen ones:

I found drawing the blankets from the archive quite a challenge. Trying to record the textures, patterns on a cloth was hard and required a few different approaches. I learnt that I needed to be a lot more focussed and selective when drawing, as it’s almost impossible to process and respond to all the information I am taking in at once, I found it better to make decisions about my drawing. So some I focussed purely on the marks and patterns I could see. Others I found rearranging the fabric and not having it laid out straight was more interesting compositionally. Translating these marks into collage also required me to think differently. How to portray such fine textures and details? I had never thought of using collage in this way. I’ve only ever thought of in terms of shape and form. I have also turned to colour more, and investigated printmaking a bit.

I selected four from Project 3 looking at my flower studies.

Although I enjoyed collecting and arranging my own sources to record from. I don’t think I pushed myself as much in Project 3: Picking and Portraying. I had lots of initial ideas of really playing around with print, pushing the ideas of composition as suggested in the file, but due to being ‘on/off’ with my study time at present I found it hard to keep up the momentum. I think I played it safe/easy in terms of materials.

I really enjoyed looking at Blackadder and Askey in particular – but wondering how I could bring in some other elements. From the research points, I noticed how often I was drawn to and picked out the elements of composition as well as when artists made a bold visual response.

 

Research Point 1: Notes on Wabi Sabi

I have known of the Wabi Sabi concept previously, but was glad to be reminded of it.

Wabi: Freedom from attachment / Subtle / Profundity / Simple / Humble

Sabi: Austere / Sublimity / Asymmetry / Weathered

Wabi-Sabi: Simplicity / Tranquility / Naturalness / Grace

This quote,  “wabi-sabi is the art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in earthiness, of revering authenticity above all,”

and from the same site:

Wabi-sabi reminds us that we are all transient beings on this planet—that our bodies, as well as the material world around us, are in the process of returning to dust. Nature’s cycles of growth, decay, and erosion are embodied in frayed edges, rust, liver spots. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace both the glory and the melancholy found in these marks of passing time.

Robyn Griggs-Lawrence, Wabi-Sabi: The Art of Imperfection

I find these notions life affirming, and helpful not only in creative making, but approaching living in general. It makes me think of not fighting against something. To live with surrender, it eases the need to assert/prove oneself. It is about accepting things, and realising that true beauty comes from the ability to recognise the beauty, the good everywhere.

Leonard Koren discusses the relationship between Wabi-Sabi and the notion of beauty, “the condition of coming to terms with what you consider ugly…that beauty is a dynamic event”.

This concept of ageing, that that beauty is not static and cannot be found in something not changing.

Sabi things carry the burden of their years with dignity and grace: the chilly mottled surface of an oxidized silver bowl, the yielding gray of weathered wood, the elegant withering of a bereft autumn bough. An old car left in a field to rust, as it transforms from an eyesore into a part of the landscape, could be considered America’s contribution to the evolution of sabi. An abandoned barn, as it collapses in on itself, holds this mystique.

http://nobleharbor.com/tea/chado/WhatIsWabi-Sabi.htm

On reading this, I immediately took my camera and ran out to my garden, and behind my own sheds there is a field, in which there is that type of abandoned barn, collapsing in on itself. I look at it everyday as I park my car near it, and am always drawn to it, never really knowing why. Apart from maybe, thinking, when is it going to fall? Or will it do so, so slowly that I won’t even notice? Photographing it today, I noticed how much more it has crumbled and fallen since i originally moved here. And yet I see it every day? So I didn’t notice.

Wabi-Sabi seems to be about the art of balance. Of noticing how far you can go, or how little you can have, or  how ruined, how old, how minimal, how unfinished, how incomplete. It seems to be about having a peaceful relationship with time. With anything that is dynamic actually. So, relationships and creating come into this too.

Sources:

http://www.utne.com/mind-and-body/wabi-sabi.aspx

http://nobleharbor.com/tea/chado/WhatIsWabi-Sabi.htm

http://www.touchingstone.com/Wabi_Sabi.html

1.4: Lines & Edges / 1.6: Detail & Definition

I found the archive items I had chosen much more conducive to being recorded and observed via these exercises.  I have grouped them together because at times I was using both the idea of line to look at the details, the damage, the close ups. This is probably due to the blankets being blankets, quite flat and 2 dimensional, but with plenty of texture and pattern to record.

 

I recorded the drape and patterns of the teal Lewis blanket using ink. I kept adding papers together as I went. I found this a liberating way to work, only committing to more space as and when I needed it.

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The details, especially the edges, the fraying that occurred in the Flintshire blanket was really interesting to me, as was the pattern from the Lewis blankets. I made many small pencil drawings of them when visiting the collection.

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I then found further ways to explore these marks, with pencil, ink and drypoint printmaking and watercolour washes.

 

I also use ink, pen on acrylic washes, mono print and dry points to capture the lines and details. I found that trying to record the whole item was so difficult, it was much easier to focus, go close-up or pick out key parts that I wanted to record.

 

 

Project 2: Recording & Capturing

I have been working through the exercises, as always in a very UN linear fashion. This is partly due to wanting to make the most of my time recording directly from the collections in situ, and following as many of the exercises as possible in this way. I did make sure to take a lot of photos. I visited three times in total, and found that recording straight from source was the best way for me to really understand the nature and qualities of the blankets.

I did print out my photos, and in some cases colour photocopied them and enlarged them so that I could get a better sense of the details and patterns.

1.3: Making Marks

I thought I would enjoy this exercise. I did enjoy exploring mark making and thinking about the qualities of the blankets. I did come up with some lists in my sketchbook:

Texture, weight, structure, damage, sturdiness, rough, practical, warm, heavy, old, pattern, itchy, thick, weighty, strong, repetition, old, bobbled, fraying, geometric, intense,  weave, handmade, worn, full, enveloping, functional, wrapping, useful, woollen, cotton, linear.

I used a number or tools: toothbrush, sandpaper, roller, scourer, credit card, palette knife, corrugated card, cling film, a bottle cork…

What I found challenging is to interpret the items with these marks. I did create one piece that I thought was successful in capturing some of the linear, strong and weighty qualities:

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Using cork, credit card, palette knife and acrylic

I also experimented with some printmaking techniques, for instance making collagraphs of inked up muslin to reflect the weave, heaviness, intense and full qualities that I had noted in my list, along with the woven elements to the fabric:

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Nostalgia

I find that these Welsh blankets carry a lot of nostalgia for me. It makes me think of people living in more humble situations. A more humble time. These blankets are functional. I associate them with people living in harsher winters, in cold stone and slate cottages with fires and the odd age. It creates an image of ‘home and hearth’.
Even visiting the collection, Jane Beck has recreated a tin shed, full of bakelite goods, using scraps of blankets and made them into cushions, hot water bottle covers, tea cosies…She even has Radio 4 playing in the shop. These evoke another time, a post war era of ‘make do and mend’, rationing, keeping warm, keeping together…cosy, safe, protected.
It is a heritage that isn’t my own, but living here in West Wales, a strong sense of these values remain. The rural life and culture here move at a slower pace then the one that I was brought up in London.
Nostalgia has definitely been making a comeback these past few years. There seems to be a return to bespoke/handmade/craft/ancient arts/vintage. In a world of speed, change, returning to something old can give us a sense of security.
These blankets are standing the test of time, and still serve their purpose.
Particularly the two made by Daniel Lewis all woven with a 4 heddle loom from his house in Barley Mow.

Substance & Story – Exercise 1.2

Although I haven’t been writing on here, I have been busy working through Part 1, in fact I am nearly ready to get on with Project 3, so I have made myself STOP with the practical work and get organised with writing up my notes and research.

Having identified my three pieces, I was ready to write down the answers to the substance and story questions. Like the practical exercises, I found that many of the answers overlapped since all three of my items of Welsh blankets.

Piece 1: Substance

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The first item I will write about is the oldest. It is made from sheep’s wool, most likely Welsh. There is no label, but this also helps to date it, since labelling only came into effect later on, at the end of the war as a way of keeping a control on price and quality, part of the rationing system. The wool has been spun and dyed with natural materials, although not sure what. Maybe madder? Since the cloth is woven, it is best not washed. Jane Beck said something about an old saying (?) that

The blanket is a carthenni (double cloth), dating from the turn of the century, about 1870. It was produced by Daniel Lewis on a 4 heddle loom. He wove all his blankets on this loom, which apparently is quite a feat for the complex designs that he created.

Much of this information is thanks to Jane Beck, who has read and researched much. Traceability is important, although ownership can sometimes be a grey area. In this case, this blanket is woven by one man from his own home. However it took some time for even an expert to work out and find who made it. Is it harder to have a personal voice in textiles than in fine art? Textiles can often carry a function, so they can journey from home to home. There are many parts to a process. With blankets, there are the farmers and their sheep. The carders, the spinners, the dyers, the weavers…. A textile can pass through many hands and last many years.

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Piece 1: Story

It is clearly well worn, there is some damage particularly on two opposite edges of the blanket. It looks like it happened when it was folded up as they are in the same position along the edges. Possibly due to mice? Long term storage? Even so, it is still durable and sturdy. It still feels very strong and weighty. Also like many things, it is often the earlier ones that are better quality. Made to last! There don’t seem to be any repairs to it. I quite like fraying caused by the edges.

I imagine that this blanket will have kept someone very warm. Which was necessary at the turn of the century, where people in rural Wales may have been living in cold, damp cottages.

The blanket pattern is known as ‘Lampeter Star Quilt’ designed by the maker, Daniel Lewis. It is the same pattern as the second piece, also made by him that I chose. There is a border running all the way around. Mills and weavers stopped adding borders on two of the sides as a way of reducing waste. Without a border, the cloth could be woven and cut on the loom, and then a new blanket started straight away without rewrapping the loom.

The last part of the story questions relates to nostalgia, but I have chosen to answer this section after I have discussed my other two choices, since I think it will be repetitive in how I approach the question…

Piece 2: Substance

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The second blanket has a similar provenance to the first. It was made and designed by the same man, hand woven in his house in Barley Mow, Lampeter. The main difference is that it is dyed with aniline dyes. It amazes me that it is actually the same pattern as the one previous, and goes to show how transformational a colour palette can be in the textile world. The 2 ply (‘double cloth’, as discussed in this post ) means that the front and the back are very different.

I assume the original wool came from the fleece of a Welsh breed of sheep, since it would make sense for the woollen industry in Wales to be directly connected to it’s rural, agricultural landscape and sheep farming industry.

Most of the information has come from Jane Beck. She has researched widely and her website is now part of the National Web Archive. I have also used the book she lent me, The Welsh Woollen Industry, J.Geraint Jenkins; although Jane advised that even some of the information in there was not accurate.

Piece 2: Story

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This blanket was made in the 1920’s, the indicator being the use of aniline dyes which became widespread post war. It seems to have been well kept, with no sign of wear. The colour way seems unusual to me, which is why I picked it from Jane’s collection. Jane and I both agreed that Daniel Lewis had a creative and personal approach to his weaving, and seemed to have a natural flair and feel for how colours and patterns would work in a weave.

I thought that his designs and colour palettes (amongst the others in Jane’s collection) were very forward looking and this one in particular looks quite contemporary.

Piece 3: Substance

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The third piece is also a Welsh woven blanket, made of both wool and cotton. Although there is no label, a discussion with Jane led me to learn that this was likely to be a blanket from North Wales. There were a handful of cotton mills turned woollen weaving mills in Flintshire who were experimenting with using a cotton weft possibly to use up the left over cotton from their time as a cotton mill. ‘Holytex’ (or from what I have read in the book, ‘The Welsh Woollen Industry’ might be an abbreviation for Holywell Textile Mill) was the last cotton mill, originally built in 1777 for cotton spinning, and converted for wool manufacture in the 1830’s/

Much of the information about this piece is more a process of deduction using Jane’s knowledge. But it is not clear which mill produced this. All that is known is that it is Flintshire, cotton and wool blanket with natural dyes, most likely one of them being madder.

Piece 3: Story – to be continued/updated

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