Review of artist – Jean Haines

Towards the end of this course I discovered an interest in watercolour painting and part of my investigations into the medium have led me to the artist Jean Haines, mostly because hers was one of the few books in our very small local library!  The book in question is called Atmospheric Watercolours (Search Press, 2012).

What immediately strikes me about Jean Haines style is that it is very loose with a lot of freedom rather than traditional, dark, landscapes which was how I rather naively thought of watercolour paintings.

Jean Haines blog site http://watercolourswithlife.blogspot.co.uk/ is full of her paintings and a real source of inspiration.  Her paintings tend to fall into two categories:

  • images that are only partially painted so the viewer fills in the rest of the subject themselves, such as this fox below

Half Way There

and

  • images where the subject is melded into the background with only certain parts picked out in detail as in this page scanned from her book

Jean Haines 1

Jean has an adventurous use of colour, introducing colours that do not appear in the subject in nature but add drama and emotion to a painting.  The painting below of her sheep shows a range of colours on the sheep bodies that would not exist in real life but give the work a huge vibrancy. This use of colour is something that can be translated into my textile work, throwing in colours to really make a piece of work come alive.

sheep

Also the painting of Venice below has very glowing, pure colours. Referring back to the colour studies I did from David Hornung’s book Colour: A workshop for artists and designers, Jean uses a lot of prismatic colours, a broad range of hue and a broad range of value to create maximum impact.

Venice

To introduce myself to Jean’s style and use of colour I decided to do some painting in watercolour myself, trying to achieve her sense of freedom.

To begin with I tried her technique of painting a background first, and then picking out detail from the shapes that appear in that background.  As it is Spring here we have just had Daffodil Day and I had some real flowers to use as a subject.  I prepared a background with a central wash of yellow and peach colours, crumpling cling wrap on the top as it dried to form different patches of colour.  A dark green area vaguely represents stems and the top right purple acts as a colour contrast.  Once the background was dry, I picked out random daffodil shapes but tried to keep them blurred and married with the background.

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The result was quite good with the daffodils but I feel I covered too much of the paper with paint and needed to leave more white areas to counterfoil the colours.

My colours are also not pure enough, probably because I am being too cautious with their usege which means I layer colours on top to add depth and this loses the clarity and vibrancy, leading to a certain muddiness.

My next experiments were on the subject of whale sharks, an immense oceanic fish that appears in the waters off the coast between March and July each year and grows up to 8 metres in length.  I have swum with one of these creatures and have an abiding memory of it looming up out of the dark waters as it moved by.

The first painting was to get the subject in place and experiment with creating a difference between the central image and the sea even though the colours were similar.  This was achieved using the cling wrap technique for the sea.  But I feel that the painting lacks punch and doesn’t have the colourful drama of Jean Haines’ work.

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A second painting was more successful in introducing un-natural colours and adding much more vitality to the whale shark. I tried to get the idea of the back end of the whale shark disappearing into the dark sea.

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For my third whale shark I took the approach of not painting the whole creature and leaving more white paper showing.  This was more successful in creating a central image with strong colours against a lighter background. I am improving in using stronger colours in my first washes to gain the clarity and avoid muddiness.

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The idea of creating an image and stopping just as it becomes recognisable is one that can be translated into other mediums and I can see this working particularly in techniques like applique.  I also like the method of allowing the background to dictate the main image. For example, the following piece of fabric which I ice dyed has definite floral patterns in it that could be picked out in stitch to create whole or partial flowers that merge into the rest of the background.

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I have picked up a lot of ideas and inspiration for the use of colour, composition and the partial representation of forms from Jean Haines work which shows the benefit of looking at the work of artists across multiple disciplines.

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Experiments in marbling

I had my first attempts at marbling with a basic shaving foam method that I included in my log here: https://tigerctextiles.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/marbling-fabric/

I stated at the time that I wanted to do more experiments and this was reinforced when I came across the work of Marit Fujiwara https://tigerctextiles.wordpress.com/2015/05/13/review-of-artists-marit-fujiwara/ who used marbled fabric as the basis for her creations.

Some searches on the internet bought me to Galen Berry’s website http://marbleart.us/index.htm.  Galen has 30 years experience in marblng and has self-published an amazing booklet “The Art of Marbling” that I quickly purchased.

Equipping myself for “proper” marbling rather than the basic shaving foam method took some time.  I needed Carageenan which is used to create the size that the paint is dropped onto;  Alum (aluminium sulphate) for preparing the paper and fabric so that it holds the paint; the right paints, and various tools such as combs, rakes and broomstick brushes.  I couldn’t find anywhere in Australia that supplies the tools so some time with lengths of wood, nails, a hot glue gun and pins was required to create rakes and combs.  I also made some broomstick brushes by purchasing a new broom with plastic bristles, cutting these off and making them into bundles.

The size mix is prepared the day before, as is treating the paper/fabric with the alum mix so it has time to dry. For my first samples I tried using acrylic paints.  In Galen Berry’s booklet he explains that there is a vast difference between the different acrylics available and not all work for marbling.  Whether they work or not is also irrespective of price, as some good quality paints do not work well but other cheaper brands do.

I soon discovered that my home made brushes were too short and didn’t work well.  I also found that the paints I used (Chromacryl) worked well for some colours but very badly for the rest.  In fact the only successful colour was red so I ended up with a very red based print as seen in the photo below. I did a number of experiments with the acrylic and none were successful.

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A rethink was in order.  I decided to try a product I haven’t used before which is Liquitex Acrylic Inks.  They come in a bottle form with a dropper so are ideal for dropping onto the size, removing the need to come up with alternatives to the broomstraw brushes.

I also got some OxGall which is a wetting agent and spent some time just dropping the inks into size to test how they spread.  All the colours apart from black needed gall added to them to stop them from sinking and help them spread.

What I hadn’t realised was that my size had deteriorated and was too runny.  I reread the booklet to discover that it keeps for up to 10 days in the fridge but mine had not been refrigerated so my first experiments with the new inks were in the “satisfactory-but-not-wonderful” category. The photo below shows a sample on cotton fabric, the colours are quite pale but there is a greater range than using the acrylics.

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It was after this first lot of experiments with the inks that I had a moment of serendipity.  As I was emptying the tray of size, the remaining inks had sunk to the bottom and were forming a layer on the base of the tray.  I just grabbed a piece of alumed paper and pressed it onto the base of the tray to pick up the inks.  The result was amazing as seen in this next photo:

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Such vibrant colours and amazing patterns!  This is so like the beetle wing designs that I was using in my final project 10 – perhaps I can create more work like this and build on that theme even more?

My next session of experiments was with some newly created size.  I managed to get some really strong colours from the inks.  Firstly on paper:

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And then on fabric, this time some silk that I had soaked in the alum mixture.

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Mixed results with the yellow ink in these, with it being quite splotchy in the second print.

On draining the size from the pan I again made a print with the inks on the base, on another piece of silk fabric.

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Some more very exciting colours and marks, created at random from the ink remnants in the tray.

I still have some work to do on my technique.  The size is supposed to be reuseable for a number of prints but mine was getting too dirty after just two prints so I need to do some research and check if I am making it incorrectly.  Then I want to try to produce larger pieces as those above are all A4 size or smaller and I will need larger pieces if I want to use them in textile art and particularly if I want to experiment along the lines of Marit Fujiwara’s work.

Reflection on feedback from assignment 5

My tutor feedback for the final assignment included some good pointers for future work.  The main point I picked up is that I may have a tendency to produce final pieces that are too neat and over planned, thus losing some of the spontaneity and energy of early, rough work.  This is indeed a hard balance to achieve as the coursework emphasizes the planning process so there is a fine line to be drawn between the right amount of planning to satisfy the assessors without so much planning that the energy is lost.

My tutor has suggested that if I continue my studies then it would be useful in future blogs to include how I challenge myself by responding to the work of other designers.  I did this in my current blog in a couple of places by producing samples based on the work of Maggie Grey, India Flint and my last assignment was heavily influenced by Marjorie Schick so more exploration in response to other designers will be a goal for future courses.

A suggestion for this current course is to revisit the research points and see if they can be added to.  I have done this with the research point for assignment 4 (originally published on 26 May 2015) as I came across an interesting magazine article last week that introduced some new ideas into the research point.  I will have another look at the other research points to see if they can be expanded.

A tale of two dresses

As mentioned in my previous post I have used the time while waiting for feedback on Assignment 5 to finish off other projects.  I received the feedback this morning but in the meantime had finished working on a rather special dress so thought I would write about this before responding to the feedback.

This project started 3 years ago when I decided to bite the bullet and prepare an entry for the World of Wearable Art show in Wellington New Zealand.  As well as having an interest in wearable art I also enjoy watching the behind the scenes extras included with major film productions such as Lord of the Rings.  I decided to combine the two interests by making a costume that would be a “making of” in its own right, so the one costume would show the different stages of construction.

Not settling for half measures, I decided to make my costume in very time consuming needle lace based on Venetian Gros Point lace with heavily padded edges.  The plan was to have part of the dress finished, then the rest in different stages of completion so you could see the entire “making of” by looking at the dress.

The first stage was to select a basic pattern to use as a template and I selected a McCalls pattern with an asymmetric line and a nice shape to the front.  I cut out the pattern pieces and taped together the darts and pleats to form single pattern pieces for the front and back.  Then I cut a single dart in each bodice and another on the hip line to simplify the shaping.

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I transferred the outline of the pattern pieces on to brown paper and then started to pencil in my design.  I designed a simple heart and flowers motif and drew 3 different size heart templates for continuity, then did the design freehand by drawing long sweeping curves down and across the pattern pieces and then branching off with the hearts and flowers.

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When I was happy with the design I inked it in.

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Next the brown paper was placed onto calico and large pieces of clear sticky backed plastic were placed on top.  This provides a smooth surface for the needle to slide over when making the needle lace.  The outlining threads were couched into place over the main design lines. These are the only stitches that go through the layers of plastic, brown paper and calico.  All other stitches are worked so they anchor onto these outlining threads but are not attached to the underneath layers.

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Now for the filling stitches. Stitched in Colour Streams Ophir thread in Umbrian Gold.  In this next photo the colours of the thread appear very similar, but I soon found out when I ordered my next batch of thread just how different the colours were for the same named thread.  I ended up buying 140 skeins from as many different suppliers as I could find in Australia, even asking them to deliberately send me threads from different batches so I had maximum variety.

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In this next photo you can see how the batches of thread differed greatly so I had to mix them up so as not to end up with big blocks of each colour variation.  This photo also shows where I started adding the underneath layers of white padding (white yarn) around the edges of the shapes.

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Padding in Venetian Gros Point is a time consuming operation.  Multiple strands of thread are laid over the base layer of white padding, and these threads are added in one at a time so the padding is shaped as it goes around a curve.  You can see this clearly in the photo below that shows the padding increasing in width and height.  As the covering buttonhole is stitched the individual strands that form the padding are carefully pulled through to hide the ends.  After the highest/widest point of padding is reached the strands are then carefully cut out one by one to narrow the padding down again.

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A section of the dress is shown below with some completed areas and some still being worked on.

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When the lace is finished, the couching stitches that hold down the original outlining threads are cut away by separating the brown paper from the calico.  The lace is then lifted carefully off the top of the clear plastic. At the stage in the photo below, the lace has been partially removed from the backing leaving some areas still with the brown paper and partial stitching in place to achieve the “making of” effect desired. I made a black underlay for modesty.

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This is the dress as originally finished, designed to show how it was made.

Lace featurette front

It wasn’t accepted into the World of Wearable Art which was not surprising.  I do not think it had the impact to show on stage from a distance but needed close up inspection to be appreciated.  For a show like WOW it helps to have a great silhouette and something that really stands out on the stage. So here I was with around 500 hours work and rather a lot of dollars spent and a lovely large piece of needle lace folded in a box.

Move on a year and I decided that the lace simply had to be rescued and repurposed.  I came up with the idea of making a full length evening dress for myself and using the lace as highlights.  I chose a very classic black velvet and made a dress to a pattern called Anna from By Hand London, an independent sewing pattern design company.  Then for the scary part – trying to envisage where the design elements of the original dress would fit on the new version and using a large pair of scissors to cut through the expanses of beautiful needlelace.

And it worked!  I very careful shaped the needle lace when cutting it to give me pieces that would curve across and down the bodice and length of the evening dress I had made.  Then I had to stitch the needle lace on to the dress, trying to hide where I had cut ends of lace.

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At the back of the dress, I swept the needle lace so it would go across the zip.  This is a loose flap of lace that is held in place by a simple press stud enabling it to be lifted up to reach the zip underneath.

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So after starting the original WOW version in 2012, the evening dress version was completed in August 2015. A very long time in the making and at one stage I really thought  I would not end up with anything wearable but I am very pleased with the end result.  One day I will make another attempt at an entry for WOW, giving more consideration to stage impact and having an amazing silhouette.

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Interim projects

While I am awaiting feedback on the last assignment for A Creative Approach I have used the time to complete a few other projects, a couple of which were works in progress from before I started this unit.

Below is “Sea Siren”.  This is a lifesize mask made from felt that I sculpted over a mould and stiffened to hold the shape.  The felt extends in a single piece around the mask and I pleated and swirled this to form water like waves and ripples.  I sponged the face with acrylics and stitched designs onto it using needlelace techniques.  I had got that far before I started A Creative Approach but wasn’t satisfied with the outcome so put it to one side.  I recently started work on this again, and decided it needed a lot more depth of colour so I added the darker blue silk fabric which I inserted into the channels in long strips.  I formed the ends of the strips of fabric into swirls and stitched these into place around the edge to add more texture and dimension.  The final touch was a scattering of white and blue pearls to add a bit of sheen, another texture and pick up on pearls of the sea.

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A more traditional piece of textiles I have just finished is a quilted jacket.  I started hand sewing the squares together on a holiday a couple of years back and it has been one of those long projects just worked on when I was away from home and needed a portable project to hand.  When started I had originally planned to make a full quilt, but once I started A Creative Approach I decided that I would be unlikely to spare the time to make enough squares for a quilt so I shortened the project into a jacket.

I selected a boxy style jacket with minimal shaping to really show off the pattern which is called Cathedral Windows.  I selected Japanese themed fabrics with a red and black overall colour theme.

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More sketchbook work

I’ve reached the end of the Sketching and Watercolours Journal Style course that I have been doing online.  In the last couple of lessons I have had my first use of a Tombow pen and applying water to soften the lines and create shading.  This was used to produce this sketch of a boot:

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I am pleased with the way I was able to show the shading on this boot and like using the Tombow pen.

This was followed by another shoe study:

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The final session included a sketch of a wine bottle and I added a wine glass into the composition:

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I used the Tombow pen for the wine glass and watercolours and a normal pen for the rest.

Reflecting on this online course, I have come up with a number of benefits I have gained:

  • as it was to produce Journal Style pages they have all been to a certain style with borders and text that I wouldn’t normally use.  This has, however, made me think more about composition and layout of pages and borders, and extending work beyond a line border;
  • I have become more confident in my use of watercolours and more relaxed in their use, with a slightly messier style rather than trying to be precise all the time;
  • I have been introduced to continuous line drawing and discovered that I really like this as a method of mark making;
  • I have translated a couple of my continuous line drawings into stitch which has given me practise in free motion embroidery and also opened up a new possibility in pictoral textiles;
  • I have tried a Tombow pen (other water soluble pens would work) and have found that this produces wonderful effects when combined with the continuous line drawing and then adding water to soften the lines and create shading;
  • my shading and highlighting is improving and I am applying greater contrast in values which will bring my work alive;
  • as well as converting some line drawings into stitch, I am also working on developing the Sturts Desert Pea images that I manipulated in Paint Shop Pro into stitched textiles.

All of these benefits will reflect in my textiles work and the general sketching and colour practice can only benefit my creative development in the longer term.

Sketchbook update

I’ve been continuing with my sketching and watercolours course and produced some flower studies.

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I did another flower study, of a Sturt’s Desert Pea that grows wild out the back of my house.  This has strong colours and a very defined eye.

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I decided to play around with this image in Paint Shop Pro, so I cropped out the flower head area and then used Polar Distortion to see what effects I could get.

Day 27

I like the dramatic effects of the sweeping lines and colours in these so decided to get 3 printed larger. The height of these is 59cm.

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My intention with these is to work on them using the “oiled, crumpled and stitched” method I experimented with earlier in A Creative Approach (reminder photo below).  I want to link all 3 images together to form one large image, but with each one slightly offset in height.  Stitching will extend out the edges so I need to select an appropriate background to mount them on.

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Also from sketchbook work I have played with a couple of collages based on circles. This first one uses papers I created when playing with my Gelli plate.  I chose two papers where I had made an initial and then second print so I got the contrast in values.  I cut circles out of these and collaged them onto a backing paper that was created in the same colours with the waste from the brayer.  With this piece the appearance of the colours changes as the light and dark circles cross different parts of the background.  So the darker circles fade on the left and the lighter circles fade more on the right.  Both jump out well in the centre against the bright orange/red which really pops out of the background.

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For my next collage with circles I picked a plain black background and cut circles out of one of the large paint splash pieces I created after seeing Chihuly’s work.  I selected a piece with strong lines to really contrast with the circular shapes used.  The one odd piece is actually the reverse of the paint splashed paper and I was playing with the idea of creating a focal point

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