Thursday, August 22, 2013

Is it Work or is it Play?

My husband asked me this as I was working on some new silk scarves.  He's creative with words and can build stuff but isn't artistic in the visual sense and that world is often a bit of a puzzle to him.  He said he thought that when artists were working it was often the same thing as playing.  It made me think.  Is it work or is it play?.  And just in case you're of the same generation as I am and are now hearing a certain tune in your head, here it is:  "Was it Bill or is it Ben?"

It's a tricky question to answer.  I sometimes feel a bit boxed into a corner with it.  People appear to be implying that because expressing my creativity in clay, fabric, paper, or whatever is really important to me it therefore isn't work in the sense that someone doing a dull paid job means by the word.  If you enjoy it, it isn't work.  I've even heard other artists express this idea, but I don't agree with it. The line between the two is difficult to place, though.

The difficulty is compounded by the fact that we use the word "work" as a noun meaning what might be described as "product".  I'll put that aside for another time.  For now, I'm just talking about the activity.

I earn my living through my work.  My work is mostly some kind of creative output.  But here's another complication: when I'm being creative, my sense of play is often present, particularly when I'm using colour.  It was because I was about to paint a silk scarf that I could see my husband's point: I was about to play with colour combinations.  On the other hand painting a silk scarf is something that takes care and can go wrong if you don't pay attention.  I find that textiles work in general takes a lot of concentration and am often more tired after silk-painting or machine embroidery than I am after making pots.

It's true that I have chosen the work that I do.  It was a free choice.  Most of what I do is very enjoyable, some bits are routine and some either just dull or actively unpleasant, such as pugging clay in the winter when my hands turn to ice. Packing up after a market isn't much fun, particularly if it's cold, windy or raining (or all three).  My job is like any other in this regard, it comes with better bits and worse bits.

Another factor is that if you are involved in the arts at an amateur level, by and large it's up to you what you do and when.  If you want to make your living at it, your artwork is always to some extent market led.  At the basic level, this means that if I want to sell silk-painted scarves, I need to make sure that the right numbers in the right colours are available at the right outlets to sell.  To do this, I may need to make more scarves in colours that don't excite me as much as others and then I'm more conscious of the work/play divide. 

So is making silk-painting scarves, mugs, greetings cards or earrings work or play?  You've probably realised the answer I've been heading towards:  it's work.  If I don't do it, I can't pay my bills.  Work which involves being able to play.  And although this may seem strange to some, one doesn't always feel like playing!

The scarves above are of a new small triangle design that goes with the newest triangle earrings, which you may remember my posting about earlier in the year.  Look here and scroll down to the bottom of the page for the triangle design.

Monday, August 5, 2013

We like sheep

Hands up those who are now hearing Handel's Messiah?  No?  Well, here you are then.

But I digress.  Yes, already.  There hasn't been nearly enough digression in recent blog posts.  The point is that I like sheep and so, it turns out, do lots of other people.  I suppose it would be the same whichever animal I thought of but it does seem that over the years I've been representing animals, I've chosen ones which then turn out to be really popular.

I started out earlier this week intending to begin some new chicken canvasses and found myself drawing sheep, as you do.  I've never tackled them before.  Some animals I represent in a very stylised way, like the fish and lizards, and some more realistically.  It turns out that sheep are to be in the realistic category.

It's also been a while since I blogged about the progress of any one piece of work, so I thought I'd take the opportunity, following on from my last post, to show a few stages in the sheep pictures.  I don't have the stages broken up as much as I did with the lizard vase (and the colours of the photos are not entirely accurate) but you can still see something of how a piece develops.

First, following on from my last post, here's the most recent page in my sketchbook.  These sketches were made from photographs of sheep (which I didn't take, in this case.)

Next, I painted the basic colour areas of the picture onto silk habutai.  After the paint was fixed and the outliner removed, the silk was mounted onto muslin (for some strength) and then the detail of the sheep was worked in machine embroidery.

Once I'd got the essential subject of the picture worked, I added some background.  The silk panel was then ready to be mounted onto silk dupion.  Here it is pinned on, ready for hand stitching.

After that, I added some more machine embroidery was added and now the piece is ready to be mounted on a frame and backed and prepared so it can be hung.

This is as far as you get now with the photos, though.  You'll have to wait to see the completely finished piece until Another Beastly Art Exhibition in November. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

From there to here

I first learnt about the design process at college. For each fashion or textiles project we had not only to produce the finished item (garment or length of printed fabric or constructed textile) but the artwork that led up to our finished design.  Well, that was the theory, anyway.  Anyone who has recently completed a course in art or design (or whose children have done so) will now be familiar with this as these days it is common practice.  In the early seventies, though, it was my first experience of this.  And it really wasn't how I worked.  So,  like others who worked as I did, having had the idea of what I was going to make soon after receiving the brief, I then worked on my 'design' folder, doing the sort of sketches, colour swatches, tests, etc that a person might have done to get the idea I ended up with.

This method never stopped me getting A grades, so it has a lot to recommend it.  Indeed, I used to teach it to GCSE students who found themselves knowing what they wanted to make at the beginning of the project and not having the first clue what was supposed to go in their design folder.  It seems to me that if you're lucky enough (and I am lucky in this) to get the best ideas just like that, you should go with them.  Not using those ideas and working painfully through the design process to arrive at something less pleasing would be silly.  This is not to say that if you find a better idea during the backwards design process you shouldn't go with it;  you should.  It's just that it never happened to me.

These days I do some preparatory sketches now and then.  I have a sketchbook for my textiles ideas.  My current one is about half full.  I began it in 1999

I know these were ideas for wallhanging borders.  I also know they were never used.

In those days I used to set aside a bit of time for some background work during the year, so the theory was that I had some designs I could call on later, but after a few years of not using most of the ideas I had sketched, I moved on to sketching things that I knew I was going to need and that's the way I've worked ever since.  Some years I haven't even added to the book at all.

At the end of my last blog post I included a photo of a black and white butterfly on a thistle.  A friend suggested that this would make a lovely scarf design.  I wasn't sure I was up to it as it's quite a different idea from the designs I've made so far, however it felt a little like a gauntlet being thrown down so naturally ....

And I'm really rather pleased with it. The design process in action. From there to here.