0

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.

IMG_5073

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.

IMG_5068

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

img_5089.jpg

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

IMG_5090

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.

IMG_5079

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.

IMG_5084

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

Thanks for reading.

 

 

0

A day with the Vultures

Life has been rather chaotic recently and building work has got in the way of blog writing and creativity.  However back in September Murray and myself went on a terrific ‘Meet the Vultures ‘ experience day at the Hawk Conservancy Trust near Andover. Below, I am holding one of their Hooded Vultures.

img_0562-1

Below is Boe, a juvenile Egyptian Vulture. The adult Egyptian Vulture (Neophron percnopterus) is white with a striking yellow face it is also called the white scavenger vulture or pharaoh’s chicken. It is a small old world vulture and the only member of the genus Neophron. Widely distributed; the Egyptian vulture is found from southwestern Europe and northern Africa to India.  Egyptian vultures feed mainly on carrion but are opportunistic and will also prey on small mammals, birds, and reptiles. They also feed on the eggs of other birds, breaking larger ones by tossing a large pebble onto them. The use of tools is rare in birds and apart from the use of a pebble as a hammer, Egyptian vultures also use twigs to roll up wool for use in their nest. Like so many vultures numbers of this species have declined in the 20th century and is categorised as endangered.

img_0520

Below is Phyllis a stunning King Vulture.

img_0498

The king vulture (Sarcoramphus papa) is a large bird  found in Central and South America. It is a member of the New World Vulture family Cathartidae. They live mainly in tropical lowland forests.  Although predominantly a carrion feeder they are also opportunistic and are known to scavenge alongside Capuchin monkeys eating monkey leftovers or eating invertebrates that the Monkeys have disturbed.  They are also known to follow Turkey vultures to food and then use their large size to dominate smaller vultures species at the carcass.

Large and predominantly white, the king vulture has gray to black ruff, flight, and tail feathers. The head and neck are bald, with the skin color varying, including yellow, orange, blue, purple, and red. The king vulture has a very noticeable yellow fleshy caruncle on its beak. This vulture is a scavenger and it often makes the initial cut into a fresh carcass.  King vultures have been known to live for up to 30 years in captivity.

King vultures were popular figures in the Mayan codices as well as in medicine and local folklore. Despite being currently listed as least concern by the IUCN, they are decreasing in number, due primarily to habitat loss.

Below is Burdock, one of the Trust’s Turkey Vultures.

img_0695

The Turkey Vulture (Cathartes aura), also known in some North American regions as the  turkey buzzard, it is the most widespread of the New World Vultures. It is one of three species in the genus Cathartes  of the family Cathartidae.  It is found from southern Canada to the bottom of South America. It inhabits a variety of open and semi-open areas, including subtropical forests, shrublands, pastures, and deserts.

The turkey vulture is a scavenger feeding  almost exclusively on carrion.  It finds its food using its keen eyes and sense of smell, flying low enough to detect the gases produced by the beginnings of the process of decay in dead animals.  It roosts in large community groups. 

‘The ability to forage by smell is uncommon in the avian world. It travels low to the ground to pick up the scent of ethyl mercaptan, a gas produced at the beginnings of decay in dead animals. The olfactory lobe of its brain, responsible for processing smells, is particularly large compared to that of other animals. This heightened ability to detect odours allows it to search for carrion below the forest canopy. King vultures, black vultures, and condors, which lack the ability to smell carrion, follow the turkey vulture to carcasses. The turkey vulture arrives first at the carcass, or with greater yellow-headed vultures or lesser yellow-headed vultures, which also share the ability to smell carrion. It displaces the yellow-headed vultures from carcasses due to its larger size, but is displaced in turn by the king vulture and both types of condor, which make the first cut into the skin of the dead animal. This allows the smaller, weaker-billed turkey vulture access to food, because it cannot tear the tough hides of larger animals on its own. This is an example of mutual dependence between species.’  It currently has a conservation status of least concern.

The African White-backed Vulture (Gyps africanus) had been one of the most common African vulture species in much of sub-Saharan Africa, avoiding only the denser forests and very dry habitats. Recently, however, scientists are reporting alarming population declines in this species’ numbers in West Africa, particularly in unprotected areas. Similar drastic declines have also been documented in East Africa. It took biologists a while to discover the cause of these declines, the answer was shocking.

img_0608

Vulture numbers in Africa are dropping dramatically due to a carbamate pesticide called Carbofuran or Furadan. This pesticide is being misused by livestock owners and some pastoralists to poison predators like lions and hyenas that attack their livestock. If Furadan is sprinkled on a dead cow the wild animals  that subsequently eat the carcass die too. This affects not only lions and hyenas, but also Tawny Eagles and vultures. Populations of White-backed Vultures, Rüppell’s Vultures and Hooded Vultures have been so badly affected by these poisonings that they are threatened with extinction.

Unfortunately,  poachers are also using pesticides to poison vultures for other reasons. When a poacher illegally kills an elephant, rhino or any other animal, they don’t want the authorities to know about it. For example, if they kill an elephant and take its tusks, leaving the rest of the carcass behind, vultures will soon come to feed. If park rangers see vultures circling in the sky, they know that something has died and may investigate. To cover up their crimes, poachers lace the carcass of the animal with a pesticide. When vultures comes down and feed, they get sick and die, this crime allows the poachers to escape before anyone learns what they have done.

Despite efforts to ban it, Furadan is still cheap and available over the counter in Kenya and other countries.

The story of these fabulous creatures is fascinating and its great to see places like the Hawk Conservancy working so hard to help creatures in the wild and educate us about this crisis in this country.  Vultures, whether you like them or loath them are remarkable creatures who play a vital part in their ecosystems.  Their loss will have catastrophic effects on their environments.

 

I really recommend the Vulture experience day at the Trust you can read more about it here.  I was inspired by these birds  to make the first (of hopefully a few) vulture pieces.  You can read about this piece on my blog here.

You can read more about their plight in this National Geographic article from 2015.

img_0656

0

A New Robin Workshop

A few weeks ago I held the first of my second bird themed workshops at Midsomer Quilting on the Mendips in Somerset.  Last year my 4 workshops were all based on a Barn Owl.  This year they are based on this beautiful photograph taken by Dawn Porter.

8585831110_2babfcb84e_o

Below a quick watercolour experimenting with the Robin on a snowy branch.

IMG_4724

When I’m planning a piece for a workshop, I photograph each stage and print A4 copies of these images for the class to see each part of the work in detail on the wall.  These images run alongside class notes and 3-4 templates.  I demonstrate each stage as the day goes on, allowing the class to see the progression and build up their own image.

IMG_4771

Thirteen lovely ladies came on the course, they were great fun and produced lots of lovely Robins.  I was so busy chatting that I completely forgot to take a photo at the end of the day showing all their progress.  Chris luckily took some photos of the group though.  The next Robin workshop at MQ will be held on Saturday the 16th of September.

IMG_1330

1

Pheasant

I have been looking forward to attempting a more realistic Pheasant for a while now, it was the subject of one of my very early pieces of textile art.  You can read this early blog from March 2015 here.

The aim is to create a set of  four or five of our the beautiful game birds in the UK.  These will most likely include the Red Legged Partridge, the Red Grouse,  the Black Grouse, the Woodcock or Snipe .

 I have approached this piece with a certain amount of trepidation as pheasants are so highly marked with so many feather patterns across their body.

Carl Bovis, a nature photographer from Somerset has taken many beautiful photographs  of pheasants, capturing their iridescence and feather patterns.  Carl has been kind enough to let me base pieces on his work.  More of his work can be seen on his ever changing blog carlbovisnaturephotography.blogspot.co.uk

IMG_5051

I have written in earlier blog posts about how much I have also been inspired by artists in my family both amateur and professional.  My Grandfather was a miner, amongst other things during his life.  He took himself to evening classes (probably through the WEA – Workers Educational Association) to improve his talent for drawing and painting.  Below is one of his pieces of ink on wood made into a tray based on a Cock and Hen pheasant.

img_3635.jpg

IMG_3636

Selecting fabrics for a new piece is one of my favourite stages.  The colours and textures for this piece were especially inspiring.  Male Cock pheasants vary hugely in their colours and feather patterns, some can be quite dull, others unbelievably vivid.

I have lived with this chap at this stage for a number of weeks, afraid to start stitching, in fear of messing up his chest feathers.

IMG_4941

Unsure of how heavily I would be stitching him I decided to make him in a hoop rather than on the backing fabric.

img_50191.jpg

I was (probably due to fear) unusually grown up with this piece and prepared samples to test both thread colours and stitch patterns.

img_50221.jpg

Enough was enough and stitching finally started.  As usual I started with the eye, which compared to many of my pieces was very small, this came with its own complications, with the fabric catching on the hoop and the needle pressing the tiny piece of fabric into the larger pieces of fabric beneath.

IMG_5025

On to the fun part, the head and neck.  The jewel like colours of the threads start to build up the feathers.

IMG_5026

IMG_5031

Using a real pheasant tail feather as reference.

IMG_5033

Back and tail complete, legs to be sewn once he is placed on the backing fabric.

img_36391.jpg

Final stitch details will be added when he is on the backing material.  My thought is to stitch some grass and possibly heather details around his feet to complete the piece.

img_3641.jpg

I hope to be posting the final stages of this piece over the coming weeks.

Thanks for reading.

 

0

The Long-tailed Tit

Somerset is a beautiful county to live in, we are surrounded by stunning scenery and wildlife.  Capturing this beauty in photographs is certainly not a skill I possess, I do not have the patience, eye or equipment.  Thanks to social media I came across a wonderful nature photographer based in Somerset called Carl Bovis.  Carl has been kind enough to let me use his photographs as inspiration for my textile work.

I really recommend taking a look at his ever changing and inspiring blog which you can read here carlbovisnaturephotography.blogspot.co.uk

This is the first of at least two of his photographs I hope to base pieces on for  Somerset Art Weeks Festival in October this year at North Wootton Village hall.

2017-01-11_11-32-40_resized[1]

I love this photograph, the seed head and position of the bird make a perfect composition.

Long-tailed Tits are such characters, they follow us along hedge rows, busily chatting in a large group always slightly ahead of us walking.

Below you can see the quick watercolour I made to get a feel for the colours I would need to search for in fabrics and threads.

IMG_4748

The initial selection of possible fabrics for bird and background.

IMG_4787

The bird pieced and ready for stitching.  In the end I used just 6 fabrics .  The long tailed tit is a really fluffy little chap so I imagined at this stage that he would be fairly heavily stitched.

IMG_4791

I selected the very busy background to mimic the green background of the original photograph and to enhance the appearance of numerous seed heads along a hedgerow.

Below, the  piecing stage is complete and ready for stitching.

IMG_4802

A selection of possible threads.

IMG_4805

Below, starting to add texture and depth to the bird.

IMG_4808

As you can see, this is very much a work in progress.  October and the Somerset Arts Week is seeming rather near now.  But finally I am feeling focused and have a number of pieces on the go.  The trouble with this is remembering to return and finish pieces (my least favourite part!) when the excitement of researching a new bird calls!!!

Oh to be a completer-finisher!

 I hope to show this at its next stage soon….

2

2017 12 x 12 Challenge ‘Magic, Mystery & Legend’

Midsomer Quiltings annual customer 12 x 12 challenge is once again on and as impressive and creative as always.

For the past six years they have challenged their visitors to create 12”x12” mini-quilts, on a given theme. The quilts are then exhibited at the shop. Most of them are donated by their creators for sale, by secret auction, during the exhibition. Since 2011 the annual Challenges have raised over £10,000 for charity; the last four of them for Dorothy House Hospice. Last year £3,030 was raised for the Hospice.

You can read more about the original American 12 x 12 challenge here as well as seeing all the entries to the previous challenges.

Below are a few of my favourites, if you would like to see all of this years entries and maybe even place a secret bid in the hope of winning one see below.

If I can’t get to the Challenge exhibition, how can I bid?
This year the exhibition includes the 1000th 12×12 that we’ve included since the first challenge in 2011. A lady in Austin, Texas, has already enquired how she might bid for one of this year’s 12x12s and it occurs to us that there may be others who’d be similarly interested. Consequently, pictures of all of this year’s quilts that are offered for sale are available on Flickr so that anyone can view them and if interested can make bids, that, if successful, will benefit Dorothy House Hospice. If you wish to bid please email us at De@MidsomerQ.com with your bid including the Number and Title of the 12 x 12 . All online bids must be in by 23:59 GMT on Sunday 18th December. 

Its been a family affair this year as you may have seen in an earlier blog post.

Chris had asked if I would like to exhibit some of my latest work whilst the 12 x 12 was on, as it was where this all started.  My Blackbird singing in the dead of night entry in 2014 started this whole wonderful journey!

Sometimes we need to be pushed a little in life and face a new challenge….

Sometimes what seems a small almost insignificant step can lead to a large change in your life.  The 2014 12 x 12 challenge at Midsomer Quilting was one of these occasions. The theme that year was ‘Music’ and one of my entries was based on the song ‘Blackbird Singing in the dead of night’ by the Beatles.

This very simplistic piece started me on a new path. I so enjoyed creating this little bird that I started to design and make others. The order these came about can be seen in the scrapbook below.

It was after I had made 4 of these pieces that Chris suggested I had an exhibition at the shop! The whole idea seemed ludicrous and frankly rather daunting. That said Chris is nothing if not persistent and persuasive. We discussed how many pieces I would need and I made a quite non-committal reply saying I would see how it went.

Eight months later we started hanging the 12 pieces ready for the exhibition.

So much has happened since that first little Blackbird was created

Textile art ticks all my boxes. I love sketching, choosing (and purchasing) new fabrics and then painting the tiny details with thread. . I love the hunt for a colour or pattern that is the answer to the specific area of a project I am working on.

I have become obsessed with creating birds through this medium.

One of the things I love about making a piece of textile Art is never having to face that scary blank page; once a backing fabric has been selected, the scene is set and you are off. Fabrics are so inspiring; it fascinates me how they jump out at me and provide me with the answers to tricky areas. That said sometimes I get so carried away with the stitching that I look back and wonder why I spent so much time on the fabric selection!

Since this first challenge back in 2014 I have been experimenting and the series of pieces I have created since have been instrumental in stretching my technical and creative abilities and have helped me to find a subject and style that I love.

Since joining the Contemporary Quilters West group I have been inspired and challenged to develop my ideas. I have loved creating these pieces and have immersed myself in the birds and their stories. The pieces all have a story to tell and have allowed me to develop my techniques and break away from my typical format.

This journey is continuous as each piece teaches me something new or gives me ideas for the next project. So many bird, so many ideas….so little time!

After 20 years in the NHS and a move in Somerset in 2008 I had been looking for something new, it is still quite unbelievable that a small challenge entry could have changed my life in such a pleasurable way

We hope that by featuring these pieces at the exhibition other people may try something new and find that it takes them somewhere unexpected too…

img_2069

0

Midsomer Quilting 12 x 12 Challenge 2016

This year its a family affair, all four of us are having a go!

The title this year is Magic, Mystery and Legend

Since 2011 Midsomer Quilting on the Mendips in Somerset have held their own 12 x 12 challenge for their customers.  This fundraising event has raised thousands of pounds for Dorothy House Hospice.  You can read more about the challenge here and on a earlier blog post of mine from 2012 here.

Not surprisingly my entry is bird related, though in a very different style to my usual work – it had to be a Phoenix.  I had great fun playing with such a different design and used some metallic threads.

img_1295

img_1288

Chris at MQ has always said that it fascinates him the number of their quilting customers who have engineering partners – I am no exception and Murray this year decided to also take up the challenge but in metal.  The idea was based on the Dragon Smaug from J.R.R Tolkien’s ‘The Hobbit’  – in his under ground lair full of treasure.  He’s enjoyed creating the piece below in  his ‘Man-Cave’, using an array of welding equipment.  Its sharper than the average 12×12 though!

img_4357

Below, the finished product – it may need to be displayed on an easel as its very heavy!

img_4356

Lucy and I recently went on a two part course with Claire Passmore at MQ  called Claire’s Techniques and Further Techniques.  We had a brilliant time playing and experimenting.  One of her favourite techniques was using lino printing.  Her piece, based on Glastonbury Tor is made using the techniques Claire taught us.

img_4379

We live very close to Glastonbury Tor, I love Lucy’s simplified image, especially the winding path.  Below, ready for printing.

img_4378

The course has been a great introduction to the techniques out there as she started a GCSE course in Art Textiles this September.  Claire is a fabulous teacher, so many great ideas, really enthusiastic and supportive.  We both thoroughly recommend going on one of her workshops.

Below, printing in progress.

img_4384

Below the printings finished, all that is left is some simple stitching.

img_4383

Megan our youngest, loves creating, whether it baking or sewing.  She’s dabbled with Free-machine embroidery before and I have written about what she has made in an earlier blog post you can read here.

Her idea was to make a ‘Superstition Dragon’, who would be breathing out lots of well known sayings and superstitions.

img_4360

Above, transferring the image onto Bondaweb.

img_4361

Fabrics selected and Bondaweb transfers ready to iron onto fabrics.

img_4365

Cut out pieces ironed onto baking paper.

img_4374

Final selection of backing fabric.

All pieced and ready for stitching – next weekends challenge as homework to finish…

Lost of this has been done in a day!  Good job we had the extra hour…..

img_4382