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Slender billed Curlew

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The first of the pieces based on the Slender billed curlews plight is now complete.  This work was inspired by the wonderful book ‘Orison for a Curlew’ by Horatio Clare.

I have absolutely loved researching this piece and trying new techniques such as simple fabric dying, beading, fabric painting and metal leaf.

 

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I’ve really enjoyed experimenting  with the background and how it could tell the story of this fated birds migratory route, which has led to its almost certain extinction.

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The final piece, incorporates a rock made up of small maps of the key areas listed in Horatio’s book.  Initially I had planned to make each area an individual stone but this looked cluttered.  The balance of telling the story and still creating an attractive piece of art was an interesting test.

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I have started to use the information and research I have gathered on this bird into another couple of pieces, I look forward to writing about these another day.

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I absolutely love what I do, learning about these birds, the threats they face and their possible/probable extinction.  I do however find it incredibly sad that I will never run out of birds in this category and wonder what the future holds for nature in a man-made world.

As Horatio Clare says ‘ A world in which only the robust survive is a dulled and blunted planet; all crows, and no colour’

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Slender billed curlew Pre-stitching progress.

 

I’ve been really busy creating since the building work finished at Easter.  A few pieces are complete and ready for framing, others are pieced and ready for stitching.  The thing I have totally neglected is my blog!  Apologies in advance that I am going to be playing catch up and that you will receive a number in quick (ish) succession!  I hope, once up to date on work done that I will be blogging in the moment…..

The work that has consumed most of my time has been a series of work on the probable extinction of the Slender billed curlew.  These pieces as previously discussed are based on the book ‘Orison for a Curlew’ by the wonderful Horatio Clare.

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Above, the initial sketch and fabrics chosen for piecing the first art quilt. You can see I have shown both the front and back of a couple of the fabrics as the back was the most suitable for the areas in question.  Never forget to look at the back of fabrics, it can double the options you have when piecing.

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Above, the bird pieced and ready to start adding fine details with fabric paint below.

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Encouraged by the members of the quilt group I’m a member of, I decided to have a go with new techniques to create backgrounds.  I can highly recommend this photo paper for transferring images with an ink jet printer onto fabric.  Because the bird had such a hazardous migratory route I wanted to show these areas in map form.  I used images from a very out of date atlas and started experimenting.

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Above you can see samples of these prints, before and after dying the fabric in a weak tea solution.  The idea is to stand the bird on a stone, hence the more natural colouring from the tea solution.

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Below, experimenting with ideas for pebbles and stones around the main rock.

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Although the image below is an ‘old moon’ rather than a ‘new moon’ I wanted to incorporate this image using metal leaf.  The slender billed curlew’s Latin name is Numenius tenuirostris meaning the ‘slim beak of the new moon’.  The image direction of the new moon didn’t work with the first piece so I’ve used a little artist licence!

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Unfortunately my favourite pen (a Frixion, iron removable pen), which I usually highly recommend for sketching details as a guide to follow with thread, removed the dye from the backing fabric (you can see a white line around the moon).  This would not normally be a problem as I would thread paint over the area, however for marking out a circle that was only partly used it was an issue!

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Below, second take on a slimmer crescent moon.

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Samples done, the time was right to start planning the final piece, You can read more about this in the next blog.

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First steps on a locally inspired project

The Common Crane Grus Grus

Despite not posting a blog in months, lots of things have been happening in the background.  Despite my life being consumed by 6 months of building work at home I have, slowly been working on a few new projects.

One of the projects for this years ‘Work in progress – Unfolding Stories 3’ at UWE will be based on the reintroduction of the Common Crane to the Somerset Levels.

Back in March my husband and I made a very early start to Slimbridge Wildfowl Trust in Gloucestershire.  We had booked onto a walking tour of the area with the aim of seeing some Common Crane (Grus Grus).   We were able to see a number of cranes in the wild around the site and then a few in captivity (ideal for someone like me who does not have a very powerful camera lens).

I so enjoyed researching the vulture and swallow pieces I made last year that I have decided to base a series of work for the 2018 exhibitions on birds with an interesting back story, whether that be reintroduction into the UK, threats of extinction/habitat loss or just a story that makes us marvel at what  their life involves.

The Common Crane seemed an obvious choice due to us living so close to an area that has seen the reintroduction of the bird onto the Somerset levels as part of the Great Crane Project.

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My aim is to create a full body study of the Crane for one of the final pieces (not sure yet whether they will be in flight or on the ground) but I’ve started small and made some watercolour sketches of the head and neck.

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Scott Petrek was our fabulous expert for the morning.  If you are on Twitter I recommend you following him.

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Rather than start with my usual technique of piecing fabrics to build the basis of the bird structure I decided to experiment with fabric pens.  Using a very small number of colours and nib width I created a simple picture ready to stitch.  I enjoyed the freedom and speed of this technique but didn’t like the ink spreading gradually on the fabric and felt limited by the number of colours I had.

I have been encouraged by the members of the Contemporary Quilters West to experiment and try new techniques.  I’ve loved having a go, but have to say I love the piecing stage of my work a little too much to change yet!  That said, the end product of this quick experiment shown at the end of this post is so heavily stitched I do wonder if you could tell the difference!

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Machine stitching over the painted outline.

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I have enjoyed experimenting with a different foundation technique.  I look forward to creating the same picture using fabrics and comparing the results.

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In the meantime I need to start sketching some outlines of the whole bird ready to start the larger piece over the coming months.

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Our group will be at the West Country Quilt & Textile show from tomorrow until Sunday, this year, rather than having a gallery of finished work you can view our working studios, where a number of us will be demonstrating some of our techniques.  I will be there tomorrow morning, it would be great to meet you if you are coming along.

Thanks for reading and I look forward to updating you on progress.

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Slender billed Curlew – A story of extinction?

 

Their are two groups/individuals that have influenced the direction and depth of my work over the past 18 months.

Firstly, the members of the Contemporary Quilters West.  I’ve been a member of this group for a couple of years now.  They have challenged me to go deeper into the stories of the birds I create.  They have gently encouraged me to experiment, telling a story through  the backgrounds of my pieces.

This, I have to be honest was challenging at first but I now understand where they were trying to take me.  When you become passionate about a story, you want to convey the emotion you feel through that piece and not just produce a ‘pretty picture’.

The second influence was an author and travel writer called Horatio Clare. Horatio’s book  ‘A Single Swallow’ took me on a journey that I have not looked back from.  This book inspired a piece I made last year called  ‘A Swallows Tale’.  It aimed to tell the story of the birds northern migration from South Africa to Wales.

I have recently read Horatio’s book ‘Orison for a Curlew’ – In Search of a bird on the edge of extinction, this book has become the inspiration for my next series of work.  I read this wonderful book in an evening and look forward to telling you more about this bird and the threats it has faced in later blogs.

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The Slender billed curlew, Numinous tenuirostris  ‘the slim beak of the new moon’ is one of the world’s rarest birds, which due to how long ago it was last sighted may already be extinct.  Below, a taxidermy example of the Slender billed Curlew.

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A quick ink and pen sketch of the bird at a scale I hope to use him on the final piece.

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Below, an entry in an old birding magazine about the bird.

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Using literature from the internet and Horatio’s book I have started charting the birds main migratory route from Western Siberia, with key areas used for nesting, pit stops on route, finally stopping along the coast of north Africa.

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This piece is requiring a great deal of planning and experimentation. Despite this being challenging I am loving the research thats involved and really hope that the final piece will tell a story of how fragile these birds lives are (one of so many species) because of mans careless and often selfish use of our planet.

 The bulk of my work to date illustrates birds in great detail leaving the background very simple. Last year Chrissie Seager kindly spent a day with me explaining some of the many techniques available to add surface design and colour to fabrics.  One of these techniques uses Golden Fluid Matte Medium.  I am currently experimenting with this technique to transfer old map images to cloth.

Simple lino cut silhouettes of the curlew in flight will hopefully work on these images, illustrating the birds migratory route on the backing fabric.

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I look forward to updating you on progress and possible technical disappointments on route to the final piece.

Thanks for reading.

 

 

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The Merlin

The Merlin, at just 25cm long the male Merlin (or ‘jack’) is Britain’s smallest falcon. The great ‘Tweet of the Day’ book by Brett Westwood and Stephen Moss describe him, ‘This magical bird is aptly named: appearing out of nowhere, hurtling over the ground on tight, compact wings as it flies in hot pursuit of a flock of Skylarks or Meadow Pipits’.

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Without a shadow of a doubt my favourite group of birds to make are Birds of Prey.  The Merlin however was not known to me and it was only after reading James MacDonald Lockhart’s beautiful book ‘Raptor’ that I started to look into the bird, discovering how powerful fast and beautiful they are.

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‘Merlin’s have a chequered past.  Once valued as a lady’s falcon, they were very popular with female monarchs including Mary, Queen of Scots; but more recently they have been persecuted for nesting on grouse moors.  Afforestation of moorland habitats also reduced their numbers, as did the use of chemical pesticides during the 1950’s and 1960’s.  From a low point of about 500 breeding pairs in the early 1980’s, the population has now more than doubled, but the status of this tiny falcon remains precarious’ (Tweet of the Day’).

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From a quick sketch I selected the following nine fabrics.

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Below, a close up of the bird pieced and marked with iron removable pen ready for stitching.

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During one of my recent workshops one of my students introduced me to a pen that has been invaluable on dark fabrics.

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For such a tiny bird I used an unbelievable number of thread colours, in reality he is a blue/grey colour but there were elements of lilac and purple too.

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Below, stitching the backing fabric.

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Finished a perched on a branch, the original is at the printers awaiting the final version, for now a photograph!

 

Finally, if you love Birds of Prey I really recommend you reading ‘Raptor’ by James MacDonald Lockhart.

The original has now sold but a limited edition print of this Merlin is available on my  website.  Thanks for reading.

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‘One for Sorrow’ The Magpie

The Magpie, a beautiful, striking bird but not easy to love!  The ‘Tweet of the Day’ book describes them as garden villains ‘because of their habit of feeding on the eggs and chicks of other birds’.

A member of the Crow family, these black and white birds have the most wonderfully  iridescent wing and tail feathers of green, purple and blue in the sunlight.

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I decided to make this Magpie after enjoying the challenge of the Rook earlier this year. At a quick glance the Rook is a totally black bird but it was great to experiment and play with all the ‘petrol’ colours visible when the bird is seen in full sun.  The Magpie’s bright colours are more visible but the colour palette of fabrics was similar.

I was a huge fan of Ladybird books as a child, I was really pleased to find this book at a local flea market. The illustrations were always beautiful.

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After sketching a quick outline, I chose a simple, small group of fabrics, knowing that the majority of the work in this piece would be threads.  Below, the five fabrics used for the bird and one for the backing.

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The Magpie, pieced and ready for stitching.

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Thirteen thread colours were used in this piece, a mixture of King Tut, Oliver Twist, Guttermann Sulky and YLI machine Quilting threads

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I have recently bought a deeper hoop, this holds the material far more tightly.  The only disadvantage is its a very tight fit under the machine – I have to remove the foot very time I change thread colour.

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As always I started with the face, head, neck and particularly the eye.  Using a number of variegated threads I could build up the light and shade in those areas.  Once these were complete I started to add the very bright, iridescent threads onto the wings and tail.  As you can see above these are too bright and needed toning down with darker threads.

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For a bird with such a small simple colour palette he was surprisingly difficult to place on a suitable backing.  After trying him against 6-7 colours and patterns I decided to chose a simple light fabric that would not be too dominant.

The finished piece is now available as a print and the original can be seen at the West Country Quilt Show in November details here

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CQW ‘Unfolding Stories 2’ Rook Lane, Frome

As a member of the group Contemporary Quilters West, we are currently holding our biennial exhibition at Rook Lane in Frome, Somerset.

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Read more about us here CQW

The building is stunning, it was built in 1707 a non-conformist chapel and as such is large, light and airy and has plenty of space for each of the pieces show at their best.  In 1968 the chapel closed and was abandoned and vandalised, falling into terrible disrepair. Fortunately, after many years it was rescued and renovated by its present owners, NVB Architects who also run it as a community arts centre – hence our presence here.

There are works on show from 15 of our members and all the pieces have a story to tell!  The exhibition is called ‘Unfolding Stories’ and the work shows the progress we have made since the last exhibition.  We do not set a theme to our exhibitions which makes it a very interesting body of work.

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We have had lovely visitors who have enjoyed chatting about the work on show and quite often the stitching they have been involved with.

On Sunday the 3rd of July we will be having a ‘Meet the Artists’ day with tea and cakes, it would be great to see you!

The exhibition runs until Tuesday, 5th July between 10-5pm – and Frome Festival starts today too – so there is lots to see and do in Frome over the next few days. We look forward to seeing you!
Venue:  Rook Lane Chapel, Bath Street, Frome, Somerset BA11 1DN
For more directions Click here.
There is only disabled parking at the Gallery, parking is available in town.  There is quite a steep hill to reach us so you may wish to drop anyone who may struggle with this hill at the gallery before parking.
There is a Park and Ride service available in Frome, please click here for more information