Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Doing funny things with lines

I've tried all kinds of art and craft from felting and crochet through to painting and pastels. Part of the fun is just having a go and seeing what happens, but eventually you have to focus in on something if you're ever going to grow and develop.

I'm not sure I'm ready for that just yet, but I've been trying to spot the threads running through what I enjoy the most. So far I've got...

  • Simple, graphic-style line drawings (or woolly things!) 
  • Not much perspective, a lot of 2D
  • Making a connection with people - a smile, a nod, a memory. If I'm really lucky, a laugh.

I've also found creating something daily is incredibly useful for trying new techniques and coming up with new ideas. Over the summer I'm putting all of this together and posting cartoons on Instagram

I used to do little drawings as a teenager - I thought nothing of it at the time, I was just messing about with the kids at school. But it's great fun to be having another go and to be able to share them online.

Here are my first few...

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I know, very silly.

With a daily thing like this some work well and some are duds, but each time I've tried it I've learned loads. It's well worth a try if you fancy it.

Update: I've really struggled to draw daily so far because of life in general getting in the way. But I'm doing my best and staying relaxed about it.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Amazon Merch: Getting started

I like art and I'm also a bit of a geek, so I love the idea of combining the two and selling the result online.  In other words, using print on demand to sell my designs on t-shirts, canvases, mugs, pillows and anything else I can find!

If you're not familiar with print on demand, this is where the customer buys the product and then the item is printed to order and shipped to the customer.

A few months ago I discovered Amazon Merch, which is Amazon's print on demand service. It's still only available to buyers in the USA and you can currently only print on t-shirts, but I wanted to get some designs on Amazon ready for when the service is rolled out to the rest of the world and more products are available.

And of course I can sell on Amazon.com immediately.  

The first challenge with Merch is that it can take months to be approved (for me it was just over three months). So if you're thinking of trying it, apply right now (link). 

My application came through a week or so ago and as you have 120 days to get your first design up before your account is inactivated, it was time to get designing! 

You need to upload a .png file with the right dimensions and a transparent background. Amazon provide templates to help. That part is fairly easy. What is more challenging is... 

- Finding a design that will sell (there's tons of competition) 
- Optimising your product description so people can find it when they search

I'm still working on  these because it's early days!

Another challenge is the copycatting that goes on. If you do hit upon a popular design, the chances are someone will copy and undercut yours, so it pays to not share all your designs in one easy to find place. 

For this reason I'm only sharing one of mine here...

There are already  tons of t-shirts on this theme so it's not exactly risky.  (No, I didn't do much research before I came up with this one. I'll try harder next time!) 

As you can tell, it's early days for me. I always reckon the best way to learn is to just dive in and do it. After making so many digital products I love the fact I can make physical products, too. Great fun!

If you'd like to know more about Merch I recommend the Merch Entrepreneur podcast.

If you have any questions on Merch just let me know and I'll do my best to help.

Monday, 10 July 2017

Opening Night at the 25 and Counting exhibition

Wednesday 5th July 2017 and it's the opening night of the 25 and Counting exhibition at the Panacea Museum in Bedford...
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Yes, this is the 'woman' exhibition I've been mentioning for the past 6 months or so! The name has been changed to reflect the twenty-five plus women who are now contributing.

The exhibition is mostly on the top floor of this beautiful Victorian building, which was part of a religious community until just a few years ago.

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The aim of the exhibition is to make women's art more visible. This seems a noble enough aim, but once I found out just how little women's work appears in galleries around the world... well, I was shocked.

'Work by women artists makes up only 3–5% of major permanent collections in the U.S. and Europe,  and 34% in Australian state museums.'  nmwa.org/advocate/get-facts

To attempt to redress this balance, women are putting on their own exhibitions. And that is the goal of Ana Ortega and Sophie Atkins of NOHATcollective, who organised 25 and Counting.

I've written in previous posts about how I found this subject hard. It was so broad yet at the same time so personal. And for me, 'broad yet personal' describes the exhibition, too. Each piece tells something about an individual's experience of being a woman, whether that's her personal story...

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Wendy Matmough discovered Nike the goddess of victory was the symbol of her own home town, which resonated with her own experience of overcoming a difficult marriage.

...or an experience shared by almost all women around the world...

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... or more political  statements about about how women's rights are in danger of being eroded (One of the Monkeys on The Back of Womankind by Helen Jones - I didn't manage to get a photo of this one).

Each one is like a window into someone else's world.

Here's mine, it still seems surreal to see my own work hanging on a wall at an art exhibition!

Thank you and congratulations to Ana and Sophie.

The exhibition is open at The Panacea Museum in Bedford until 12th August.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Mixed media Art Workshop at Bedford Arts and Crafts Centre

I spend a lot of my art and craft time at home, learning from the Internet, so it was a real treat to go out for a whole day last Saturday. I went along to a mixed media workshop with a couple of friends from the craft group I attend and spent a full five hours of interrupted time just making stuff.

Yes, I did eat some lunch but I timed it to fit around my work's drying time!

The tutor was Lisa Tilley who is a textile artist at uoldbag as well as teaching at Bedford Arts and Crafts Centre.

The day started with Lisa talking us through her process for exploring and experimenting with a variety of techniques and materials. I found this really helpful because I've fumbled my way through a process for the last two exhibitions and it turns out I wasn't too far off track. Maybe I'm being a bit too hard on myself because it was based on the process I was taught as a design and technology teacher. That was a long time, ago, though!

The big lesson for me was to not be too concerned about the outcome in the early stages and just see what happens. I've also been a little hesitant lately about practical things like which glue should I use to stop my work falling apart? Why does my thread keep breaking when I try free-motion machine embroidery? Lisa helped me by answering lots of these questions.

Then we got stuck in to the making. The main techniques in the morning were batik and printing. Batik is 'drawing' with hot wax on fabric or paper, then applying dye, followed by removing the wax with a hot iron. Then you can repeat the process if you want to. Here's the first one of mine (blue dye on purple fabric):

With the printing, we applied (thick, sticky) printing ink to a plastic sheet then either removed some or put in objects to cover some of the sheet before pressing a piece of paper on top. Here's one where I scribbled in the ink:

I'd not used either technique before, so I spent quite a while just experimenting, to find out what was possible and how the materials behaved.

Once our work had dried it was time to layer it up, combine it or add embroidery (hand or machine). When I've tried this before I've struggled with composition. I'm never sure how to change a collection of objects into something that looks like a whole. So I did a lot of arranging and rearranging. 

I've been playing around with sewing and crocheting on paper this year, so this was also a good opportunity to pick Lisa's brains on how to approach this!

I decided I needed a theme and as I've been playing around with ink and lines lately, I decided on 'words'. 

Here's what I came up with:

Top right: a page of the script from the film Casblanca, with batik on top.
Top left: printing inspired by hand lettering or maybe a signature
Bottom left: Batik pattern inspired by some of the artwork on the Lindisfarne Gospels with hand embroidery on top.
Bottom right: A print of a feather with silver ink added on top.
Middle: Quote by John Dryden 'Words are but pictures of our thoughts' on thick paper with torn edges.

This was great practice at going with the flow, as this was a more experimental approach than I normally take. Usually I have the end result in mind when I begin.

It was a really enjoyable workshop and I learned quite a bit, too. If you're in the Bedford area I recommend taking a look at the programme on offer at Bedford Arts and Crafts Centre.

Next time I fancy trying lino printing!

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Hello impostor syndrome, welcome back!

A few weeks ago I handed in my art work for the Woman exhibition, which opens in just a couple of week's time. The exhibition is now called 25 And Counting.

All good. Then the publicity materials began to appear...
Also good, but I felt a bit of discomfort at 'An exhibition by woman artists'. I'm not a woman artist, I got a GCSE in art in 1988 and that's about all. Is my work art anyway? After all, I did it with marker pens.

Hello impostor syndrome, welcome back!

If you look up the definition of art, you'll find about a million different answers and my work is sure to fit into at least one of those definitions. If you need to have gone to art school to be an artist then I don't fit the requirements, but then again it's not like I'm practising medicine here. Nobody dies if I get it wrong.

And what does wrong mean in this context, anyway? Is it even possible to get it wrong? Perhaps knocking out something without thinking, caring or having a message might count as wrong. I definitely did none of those things, I gave this project a lot of thought.

Coming at this as an amateur gives me an interesting perspective, actually. I see the art world admiring conceptual art that makes you think and challenges you, but almost everyone else admiring art that shows technical skill and (often) looks very realistic. I feel like I'm bouncing around somewhere in the middle, feeling a fraud because I'm not clever (skilled? qualified? experienced?) enough for the conceptual stuff (yet?) but I don't have the technical skill to make myself feel confident as a layperson, either.

I could spend all my time going around in circles with this, but the only thing that will move me forward is to actually do it. Make something, anything. As I found with my online business, you learn by doing, not by planning and thinking. OK, some planning is good, but a surprising amount of my plans fall in to place as I'm practising, testing, playing around. Suddenly the fog clears and the path appears.

So my way through impostor syndrome is to stop thinking and start doing.

This was inspired by a post I read by Amanda Palmer yesterday. It's reassuring to read that someone as successful as Amanda still has to deal with these gremlins! If you don't know who she is, the best intro to her is probably her TED talk, The Art of Asking.

How do you deal with your impostor syndrome?

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Just an average human? My latest piece is finished!

It seems a very long time since I agreed to take part in this summers' Woman exhibition but my work is done and the official hand-in date is tomorrow!

Here it is:

It's acrylic on canvas and the brief is here. 

The theme of women and identity was so incredibly broad that I found this really tough. Lack of experience was also a challenge for me, I had some ideas that looked great in my mind but I didn't have the skills or experience to go ahead and create them! Eventually I decided to pick one idea and dive in; I'd learn what I needed to know as I went along. 

If you're wondering what my painting is all about here's the statement that I'm submitting alongside it...

What is it about me that makes me a woman? What is my identity as a woman? And how do I feel about it?

As I explored what this might mean I found nothing really resonated with me. I didn’t understand why until I realised I was digging down through clichés and stereotypes of what a woman should be.  Underneath it all I found that I just wanted to be a human being.

I also discovered that being able to feel this way is a privilege, because many women do need a strong female identity to stand up for their rights. I don’t feel the need for this and I’m very grateful to the people who came before me who made this possible.

My piece is a collection of objects around me in my everyday life. What can you tell about me from them? How are they different from the objects a man might have? And how are they different from what a woman may have had a hundred or even a thousand years ago? 

The exhibition is from 5th July to 12th August at the Panacea Museum in Bedford. I'll post more about that here on my blog and on Instagram nearer the time. 

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Drawing with the boy

I've written a fair bit about art and craft from a female point of view but one thing that bothered me a little was how boys can feel excluded.

I couldn't help but notice that many of the art and design activities for children were a bit girly. It would be a shame if boys were excluded from being creative because the activities we give them aren't engaging them.

Luckily for me, I stumbled across a solution. When I started to work on my drawing about six months ago, the style that appealed to me was a graphic, almost cartoony one. This is perfect for my seven year old son and soon we were drawing together.

Here's one of his drawings:

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And here's one we worked on together (I drew the dalek, he coloured it in.)
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Yes, Dr Who features a lot in his art work! (There's a lot of Star Wars, too). His drawing has improved lots over the last few months, in fact a few weeks ago his entry won a drawing competition and the prize is to paint his design on the wall of our local food bank. Very proud mum.

I hope that having an activity we can sit down and share will be a useful conversation opener over the coming years, too. I'm sure there will be times when we need to talk and it might not be easy to get started.

By the way, if you're looking for a craft activity for boys, these pipe cleaner ninjas are brilliant. (Girls love them too.)

Monday, 17 April 2017

Being a human being (Woman exhibition progress update 1)

I worked through ideas for my entry into Bedford's Woman exhibition but nothing really felt right. I found the idea of identity as a woman fascinating - it's so complex and personal. But whenever I tried to define what it meant to me all I came up with were stereotypes and cliches. None were really me.

The more I tried to define what it meant to me, the less I wanted to be put into a category. All I want to be is a human being. 

At the same time I became interested in pop art and illustration. I also stumbled across Kate Bingaman-Burt  who draws everyday objects. That gave me the idea to draw the everyday objects around me and let the observer decide what they say about me.

This brought up more questions about the amount of stuff I own. Am I more than my physical stuff? If so, what? How different would this painting look in five years or ten years? How much of my stuff is now digital rather than physical? How much different is my stuff as a woman compared to the stuff owned by a man?

I looked at artists who paint lots of objects together to get an idea of how to arrange my stuff so it looked like art and not just a mess (although now I come to think of it what's wrong with a mess?) and to get an idea of the scale to use.  Pierre Alechinsky paints lots of objects and often uses ink, Keith Haring painted lots of objects, often as simple line drawings and also added movement, which is something else I'm considering.

This is a page from my sketchbook where I played around with ideas...

This is where I'm up to now, I'll post my next update soon!

Sunday, 16 April 2017

A new art exhibition in Bedford: Woman & Identity

Good news! We had such a great time with Weaving Narratives that we're doing it again!

There are few changes, though. This new exhibition is not connected with the Bedfordshire Archives, but it is being arranged by two of the contributors to Weaving Narratives, Sophie Atkins and Ana Gonzalez Ortiz. Many of the Weaving Narratives contributors are taking part but there are lots of other artists involved, too.

Here's the brief:

"There is a wealth of female artists working in and around the Bedford area. But where
are they? What issues are they concerned with? We want to create an opportunity to
make these artists and the issues addressed in their art visible to the community in
which they live and work. And so was born our project: Woman - a pop-up multi-
disciplinary exhibition featuring work by female artists in the centre of Bedford.

The ethos of this exhibition is positive exposure. It will provide a fantastic opportunity
for participating artists to gain exposure for their work. But more than that, it will be a
positive force for the community; offering opportunity for a wider and more diverse
participation in the arts in Bedford, bringing the art to the people and also
encouraging an exciting dialogue with the community around art and the issues central
to the work of the female artists. It will be rebellious, fun, thought provoking and

The theme of the exhibition will be ‘Identity’. You may interpret that however you like.
We do not wish to limit ourselves in any way to conventions surrounding womanhood,
as we are all of course so much more than just a gender. You may also like to consider
ideas surrounding the visibility vs. invisibility of women."

The exhibition will open on 5th July at the Panacea Museum in Bedford and run until early or mid-August.

I got hold of a copy of the brief in November 2016 and I've changed direction so many times since then! Women and identity are such broad themes that it's been really hard to nail down one idea that I could make into a piece of artwork.

Initially I wanted to show that many of the creative women I know and who taught me wouldn't consider themselves to be artists at all. Instead, they were sewing, crocheting, making-do-and-mending and all the time supporting one another with a good natter, tea and cake. I had an idea that I'd make a fabric collage expressing these ideas and using these techniques. Here are some examples of the fabric 'patches' I made:

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This was interesting, but it didn't feel right. It felt like an extension of the Weaving Narratives project I did last year. I was ready to move on and try something new.

I'd been practicing my drawing for six months or so, and I wanted to so something with what I'd learned. But I also wanted to use strong colours, so that would mean I'd need to go beyond just the pencil and fine-liner I'd been using up until then.

The trouble was that I hadn't painted anything since I was at school, so that would be another learning curve. Good fun, but had I bitten off more than I could reasonably chew before the deadline? Here are a couple of my experiments with pastels and acrylics. (Oil pastels because I love the bright colours and I happened to have a pack lying around. Acrylics because Mr Google said it was the easiest way to get started with painting - and again, I love the bright colours).

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So I was learning loads but still not much closer to what to make for the Woman exhibition.

I looked to female artists for inspiration and although - again - I learned loads, none of it was close to the way I felt about my identity as a woman. In many ways that was a good thing because so much of women's art seemed to be about oppression and suffering. I totally understand why women have felt the need to express themselves in this way and I feel very fortunate that I don't need to. I'm not especially political, either. I admire women who are, but it's not me. So what was I going to do?

Watch out for the next post and I'll let you know...

Sunday, 5 March 2017

What? More exhibitions?!

It's now a year since I was scratching my head over what to create for the Weaving Narratives exhibitions. I thought the story would be over in October 2016 with the last Weaving Narratives exhibition in Flitwick, but it's still unfolding. (Or possibly unravelling :-) )

Bedford Central Library wasn't on the original list of venues, but once they saw the exhibitions at Luton and Flitwick libraries they invited us to exhibit there, too. This was really exciting because I've been visiting Bedford Library since we first moved here when I was six years old. When I go up to the second floor balcony I can still remember the smell of coffee that wafted around there when it was the coffee bar! By a strange coincidence the library was opened a few days before I was born, so we almost share a birthday (this seemed more relevant when I was six than it does today, though!)

The library is just down the road from all of the places that feature in my pieces, so it couldn't be much more local. Here are a couple of photos for you.

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I helped out on the first day of the exhibition, and as it was the 9 to 11am slot on a Thursday morning, the visitors were mainly retired people. Many were fascinated and really enthusiastic about work on display, with many of the pieces bringing back memories from long ago. Some pieces are based on buildings that have been demolished (e.g. my Picturedrome Cinema and Emma Johnstone's Cardingtom Mill) so I was heard the comment "I remember that! Actually, DO I remember that? Where was it?" a few times!

I had a long chat to an older guy who I think just needed to have a chat with someone about how he was getting older, didn't see his friends as much  and could no longer do some of the things he used to enjoy. He wasn't feeling sorry for himself, I think he just wanted to talk. I hope that, when I'm that age, someone has the time to listen to me.

In those two hours I learned first-hand how art can make a connection with people. Until then I'd tended to believe the stereotype that art is elite, expensive, hard to understand and if I'm honest a bit pretentious. This was the complete opposite of that...personal, emotional, tactile, real.

So the official Weaving Narratives exhibitions are over but there is one more unofficial one left to go. Anne-Marie Stijelja curates the art gallery at Bedford Hospital and has asked the contributors if we'd like to exhibit our work there from the end of March until June. Over half of us (maybe even most of us?) said 'yes' so look out for our work if you're passing by the door of the Swannery Restaurant from March - June 2017.

And...I'm making a new piece of work for a completely new exhibition this summer, so look out for a post on that soon!


Update, May 2017 - here's a photo of the exhibition at Bedford Hospital:

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Friday, 3 March 2017

My 21 Day Drawing Challenge

I enjoyed Von Glitschka's 5 day drawing challenge so much that I decided to take his 21 day drawing challenge, too.

It didn't seem like a big thing at first - after all it was only about fifteen minutes a day over the Christmas period. But I learned loads in that time. It really did show the power of doing something every day.

I posted my drawings on Instagram, I'll add a few in this post:

Some drawings went well and I was pleased with the result, others I found really tough and I had to tackle them a few times to get a half-decent result. Others I totally misunderstood but even then I learned a lot about how I made assumptions about what was being asked!

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One of the best things to come from this drawing challenge was that my children were so curious about it that they joined in. So not only did they learn a thing or two about drawing, the three of us had some pleasant drawing sessions together over the Christmas holidays.

Back last Autumn I decided to improve my drawing because it's a basic skill that wiould give me lots of options in any art or craft I chose to do in future. But it's taught me so much more than I ever expected. Watch this space, things could get interesting!