Artists Interview

During our members interviews we have ventured behind the scenes, sharing these established practitioners approach to the creative process. It is evident that the level of commitment involved in making new work and pushing their practice demonstrates courage, determination and hard work.  Sometimes this can be daunting, but in Jenny’s words…Take a deep breath and begin to stitch.

Jenny Bullen
Are the ideas/themes for this project ongoing or new?
The work for Insights is ongoing and I was pleased to have the opportunity to do so.

I am lucky to live near the sea as well as woodlands and try to establish a sense of these places in my work. Walking along the shore, for instance, and observing how the tide comes in over the mud and pebbles and the detritus it leaves behind. Because of Lockdown the woods and footpaths have been more accessible than the shore and this year I have enjoyed watching Spring gradually appear and the return of the migratory birds.

I tend to stitch intuitively, and by hand,  collecting together fabrics and threads, piecing and patching and folding and creasing.  Recently I have become interested in producing small 3d works rather than wall hung pieces as I feel quite strongly that textiles should be touched and handled as they are so tactile. I draw and paint, not as a design source, but they obviously inform my textile work.

What is your favourite part of the creative process?
For me it is the moment when I thread a needle with the absolutely right colour and thickness of thread, and know that I have searched for  the perfect fabrics among the boxes and bags scattered around the house. I find the correct size needle for my thread, my tiny stork embroidery scissors, inherited from an old friend, a thimble, take a deep breath and begin to stitch.

Jenny’s workspace

Artists Interview

The Textile Study Group is a group of artists and tutors, well known for innovative and challenging approaches to art practice and contemporary teaching.  This week we dip briefly into Alice Fox’s reflective approach.

Alice Fox
Are the ideas/themes for this project ongoing or are they new ?
The themes I am working on for Insights are ongoing. I see all of my work as a continuum and although pieces might be presented as discreet ‘projects’ they are really just steps along the same pathway. The brief we developed for Insights made it clear that we wanted members to work in their usual way, recording their development process and trying to understand more about why they do what they do. Writing about it would enable a sharing of that process but also perhaps a learning experience for us individually.

As a visual artist was it a challenge to write about your practice ?
I recently completed an MA in Creative Practice. Writing reflectively about our own work was something we were very much encouraged to do as part of the course. I really valued embedding that reflection in my practice and felt it was something I wanted to continue after the course finished. It can be a challenge to take the informal reflective writing that one might do in a notebook for one’s own use and turn that into something that someone else might want to read. I have enjoyed attempting to do that coherently. As the person responsible for bringing the publication together for the group (with support of other members and our Editors June Hill and Melanie Miller) I have so enjoyed getting to know my fellow members’ work more through this project. I’m really looking forward to sharing that with our readers when the book is published.

Alice Fox studio

Artists Interview

Time  to share a  brief insight into the thinking  and creative approach of Alison King, another one of TSG’s nationally and internationally recognised member . We hope that you have enjoyed these posts and in a small way allowed you to get to know the group.

Alison King
Are the ideas/themes for this project ongoing or are they new ?
My work for the Insights exhibition came hard on the heels of a three month long, two woman show   with Rosemary Campbell in Peebles last Summer. So the ideas and themes  for Insights very much follow on from those visited in that show – landscape and history. I stay, some of the time, in the Cairngorms of Scotland and you can’t live there, as an artist, without learning to love the fantastic scenery. I strive to reflect in my work not just the physical aspects of the landscape – the shapes and colours – but somehow the romantic, sad atmosphere. I am particularly drawn to the woodland around my home – when the sun creeps through the trees suggesting that another world lies just beyond. You will often find me out with my sketchbook observing how the land has been moulded by its history – from the ruins of old crofts and hamlets to the remarkable patterns created by the heather burning. These highly geometric patterns  are particularly inspiring . It’s amazing to witness the game keepers battling with the fire and the wind high up on the hill tops, trying against the odds to create an encouraging  habitat  for the young grouse.

As a visual artist was it a challenge to write about your practice ?
I’m not sure I can say that I enjoyed writing all of my chapter in the Insights book but I do know it was very good for me! It certainly focused my mind. It led me to analyse my way of working and appreciate which aspects of the creative process are most important to me. I am very lucky to have a  large studio to work in so I can lay out areas of assorted fabrics, print and collage on a big scale. Painting is also a large part of my practice, so I have easels and pin boards to work on. This space has probably turned me into a very messy artist, mostly working intuitively and probably in need of some organisation!

Alison in her work space

Artists Interview

We are just over  half way through our artists interviews, with another 11  artists to be profiled.  This week we are in conversation with Lois Blackburn.

Lois Blackburn

During this project have you looked at a new way of working? 
Like so much of my work, ‘Blood Sweat and Tears’, was about finding new ways to give voice to difficult or unexplored subjects.  It was also a first for me, blurring the boundaries between my personal work and the work I do with arthur+martha, bringing together my love of quilt making, text and silk painting in one piece.   

 I’ve created a double bed size quilt, covered with paintings of objects I associate with the menopause. It might be a Spanish fan carried with me, prepared for hot flushes, or handfuls of chocolate to counter the drops in Magnesium. Written onto the objects is information garnered from the internet, research and personal accounts. 

 The writing for the project was a big challenge for me, but the thinking, planning, making of the quilt I found a wonderful process. A confidence boaster, a stimulus for new work. I’m a peri-menopausal women, in a household with a hormonal teenager – a recipe for disaster. One way I manage the increased levels of anxiety, stress and unhappiness is through the artwork. For many years, through the work of arthur+martha

I have seen the positive effects of creativity on other people, on their health and wellbeing. But I have often taken it for granted for myself. This project has helped me benefit from what I share with others through my collaborative practice.

 During the project I wrote a couple of diary accounts, reflecting on my way of working practice, here’s an example from 1st Feb 2019.
It’s been a hard few weeks, there are things that help- getting out for a walk, Pilates, creativity and chocolate.
I’ve created enough paintings on fabric now to give me a good idea of what it might look like as a double quilt size piece. Right now it’s looking a bit messy. It’s when I have to hold my nerve. I’m at the point when the lack of designing, might bite me on the bum. If I had sat down and worked out a composition on paper I might be better prepared… But right or wrong this way of working continually keeps it fresh for me. My current challenges- creating a composition that works. This is just an eye thing- (one of these days perhaps I should revisit the classic composition devises- maybe my next project) I am lucky enough to recently have room for a design wall. The bits of fabric get moved around, pinned and re-pinned.
I’ve started to cut up the pieces of painting that didn’t work so well- and am thinking about collaging these on other bits that didn’t work, or in gaps, this technique of cutting up and playing a lot- it suits me in its looseness.
The other thing I’m thinking about is how to quilt it. I’m dipping in and out of Pinterest, seeing how other artists are doing it. I’ve done one quilting sample- but rushed in and it went a bit lumpy. Next sample I will properly tack together. I’m trying to not get distracted by emails or the time ticking until the school run. 

What is your favourite part of the creative process?
One of my favourite parts of the creative process is responding to life’s challenges, to tell stories. Using art as a way to release tension, share delight in the world, and to see the positive benefits of health and wellbeing.

In these challenging times of Covid 19, I feel very lucky to have creativity as part of my everyday life and find joy in being able to share some of my work practices with others. I’ve just started a new project, ‘Here Comes the Sun’. I am inviting people from across the globe to make embroidery for a new quilt. Whoever you are, where ever you live, whether you regularly stitch, make art, or haven’t picked up a needle and thread since school, everyone’s welcome. I’m delighted by the response so far, it’s full of potential, full of un-knowns, a bit scary. Being able to quickly turn an idea into a reality, it’s got to be the best part of the creative process for me. If you are interested in joining in, or know of someone else who might, take a look at our website:  .

Lois in her studio

Artists Interview

This week Dorothy Tucker’s  short yet insightful  interview  discusses  the  inspiration and processes that inform her textile practice.

Dorothy Tucker

Are the ideas/themes for this project ongoing or are they new?   
The blue sky days we have had over the last few weeks have been beautiful.  I love to paint mainly in watercolour and weather permitting out -of-doors.  I had imagined that this spring and summer I would be out and about painting in lovely locations along the North Norfolk Coast.  But the coronavirus is restricting the possibility of any of us being in the big out doors to the confines of our gardens – if we are lucky enough to have one – and to walks immediately around where we live. During the lock down I have been busy gardening, unpacking boxes of books and filling the bookshelves in our new home. 

In my own work my attention and focus has turned inwards.  I am patching and piecing together scraps from the best parts of an old pair of Levis jeans with suiting fabrics from a sample book, overlaying some areas with fine coloured cottons, working blocks of hand stitching over the patches, and sanding some surfaces away. This is evolving into a series of nine irregular blocks which reference a nine patch quilt. But I do not intend to join the blocks together.  They will remain separated from each other – not touching. 

Stitching by hand is essential to my working practice.  I like the rhythm and feel of a needle and thread going in and out of the cloth, and value the meditative zone it takes me into. The way I am stitching is informed by kantha. In the first week of the lockdown I took up stitching a kantha which I had begun on a recent trip to India. This helped me to slow down and to settle into my workroom again.

The work numbered and pinned onto my workroom walls is on-going, work in progress. It is a development of ideas and working processes which I used to create Orange and Indigo , a flat piece and a folded bundle, recently completed and photographed to be included in my chapter for  INSIGHTS .

As a visual artist was it a challenge to write about your practice?
INSIGHTS  has required me to reflect very deeply on how I work and what my work is about.  Initially I found it  difficult to find connections  between things seemingly  going in several quite different directions with outcomes which did not appear to relate to each other in linear way, Once I had sorted and drilled down far enough it was challenging to articulate what I had I discovered in words.  As a result of working through the project brief I feel rooted and can confidently say : Essentially my work is about light and colour.  The multi-media way processes I use reference textiles such as kantha, Japanese Boro, the Gees Bend Quilters from Alabama, USA.

In my water colour painting I explore light and colour within limited palettes, through mixing incremental amounts of pigments using perhaps just two colours. In these fabric pieces I am working with Orange and Indigo.  Orange is a powerfully radiant colour which I associate with the sun, warmth, abundance and life. As a counterpoint Indigo provides a darkness, and the blue shades of Levis or worn working clothes.

In the nine block series the radiant power and size of the orange square is gradually diminishing, losing its strength until the amount of orange will only suggest a reflection, and then even that will disappear. 

This idea is so deeply disturbing and depressing I hesitate to share it. But if the blocks were presented differently, say with the last block as the first  in a horizontal series row or in the series but in reverse order,  then the work could be read an orange square of colour coming back to life in whatever the new normal is to be.   

Dorothy in her workspace

Artists Interview

It’s time for another revealing interview from TSG member  Mary Sleigh .  Alongside other members, Mary’s work  will feature in our new book and visitors will be able to see all members contributions at  the Insight exhibitions in due course.

We will publish further information about the new publication and exhibition dates so please watch this space.

Mary Sleigh

Are the themes/ideas for this project ongoing or are they new?
My ideas for  INSIGHTS are ongoing themes, developing and moving on from previous work. They also fit in with ideas already agreed for new work in an exhibition to be shown at The Rope Walk in Barton on Humber in September. It’s important to me that I try to keep a focus as there are always so many distractions and other exciting  avenues to explore which are tempting.  I am easily tempted and really don’t need any distractions! The discipline of pursuing an idea helps me to dig deeper and find ways of expressing my ideas in a fresh way.

It’s been enlightening writing about my practice for the forthcoming publication. In looking back, I realise that there is a recurring thread that runs through my work. It’s  about a sense of place and its stories. There is a different emphasis but in essence there is a common theme which reappears in recent past work; Cloth Stories, Peat Lands and  It starts with a Step. Everyone loves a story as I do. There’s  always a story where people have lived and worked and even when nature has taken over, people have left their mark. So, it’s that connection with places and people and unexpected discoveries that keep cropping up. Part of my connection to the land  comes from my fascination in foraging, gathering and sorting, often giving me starting points for my work. I remember as a small girl in the West Indies having all the time in the world to search for treasures precious to me but of no intrinsic value. So, there’s nothing new, as  I realise when looking back. Finding connections with places and people as a theme continues. It’s a thrilling moment when I stumble on  an unexpected  gem while exploring and immersing myself in a place.

What is your favourite part of the  creative process?
It’s rather like a rollercoaster with ups as well as downs. Ideas come  at unexpected times and certainly not when I’m trying hard to come up with an idea. It’s a wonderful moment when an idea pops into my head. It has probably been simmering in the background and something triggers it to come to the surface. Initially in my head, it is marvellous, exciting and achievable.

Then there’s the really difficult bit, the hard graft of developing the idea; at times desperation and then exhilaration and then a sense of direction and purpose – that’s a  great moment.

Surrounded by what seems like chaos and too many possibilities I enjoy the gradual process during sampling, experimenting and handling materials of resolving  a way of working and creating some sense of order. I love this part when once I get stuck in, one thing leads to another.  It’s really satisfying to find solutions to problems and ways that express my ideas as simply as possible.

I enjoy the actual making process and the completed work is often  quite different from the original idea in my head.

Mary’s workspace

Artists Interview

As we  try to navigate this uncertain period , we each find our own pathway. For some the extended time has given rise to creative endeavours, for others it may have come with increased stress and anxiety.   As artists our need to learn, share and grow will always  be important, along with being part of a community and  knowing we are not alone on this path.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank you for your continued support and interest in reading our artists interviews.

Janet Edmonds

During  this project have you looked at a new way of working ?
My theme for ‘Insights’ remains largely the same as it has been for many years. I have always collected stones and pebbles and other items carried by the sea onto the beach as it invites thoughts about the processes by which they have arrived in that place and what enabled the erosion of their form and surface. The central focus of my practice is making and building in response to worn and eroded surfaces on dimensional objects, beginning with drawing to familiarise myself with the proportions, dimensions, shape and quality of the object.

I have been working with a fragile skeleton of a small piece of plant material that has inspired a collection of stitched forms, exploring crochet as a different method of construction. I am trying to capture the delicate, fragile nature of the structure with its quiet colour, whilst trying to say something about the unknown journey that brought it to rest on that beach.

Working with a small crochet hook allows me to construct in the round, backwards and forwards, up and down, to create the form. I then have a firm object upon which to add various appendages and surface texture using stitch. I aim to make a form using just thread that will be self supporting without the need to employ strengthening materials.

What is your favourite part of the creative process?
Although I am inspired by the whole process, there are two stages that I really enjoy. Firstly, I like drawing because not only is it a learning process but I like the feel of the pen or pencil in my hand and the sound and feel of the tool on the paper surface. When using ink or paint I like to see the flow of the wet medium reacting to the paper. Whether it is a loose expressive drawing or a detailed observation of an object, I enjoy the discipline of reproducing what I see on a two dimensional surface.

Secondly, I do like to get to the point where I can sit and stitch. Stitching can be a meditative process, when the creative decisions have been made and serious making can begin. The repetitive action of drawing thread through cloth is a deeply satisfying activity and to see a project slowly emerge towards completion is rewarding.


Artists Interview

This week our  interview is with Jean Draper, her words are rather pertinent given our current situation.  Talk of  empty spaces, protection , social justice and barriers, a reflection of  society at the moment.

Jean Draper 

Are the ideas/themes for this project ongoing or are they new ?
Working towards ‘Insights’ was no exception to my usual way of working as it was my aim to show honestly how I work, rather than making one piece for the book and the exhibitions. For many years my source of inspiration has been landscape, usually barren and rather harsh areas where ‘the bones’, or structure, of the land is very evident. Whilst my source has remained similar, the work has changed and evolved as I have gradually developed ideas and different ways of seeing. A thematic way of working has huge advantages as it allows for absorption in the subject matter and the development of related ideas from one piece to the next. In the particular landscapes that ‘speak’ to me, with their huge, seemingly empty spaces, there is much to be found – many overlooked features – if one looks closely. In the past details of rock textures, crevices and cracks in rock and earth surfaces have been of great interest. More recently I have been paying attention to elements such as thorns and overlaying, dense, often dried plant forms, which seem to me to signify both protection and obstruction and can, sometimes, be quite menacing. Forms such as these, much simplified in my work, have become a metaphor for other issues of social justice that have concerned me for a long time and continue to prey on my mind. Many peoples’ lives are deeply affected by barriers and restrictions of many kinds which prevent them progressing, attaining and living a decent lifestyle. I had already begun to experiment with work made from layers of hand-stitched meshes, and now continue to develop these ideas, trying further to express my thoughts about barriers to progress and the restraints that many people experience in life.

What is your favourite part of the creative process?
I do not have a favourite part of the process of making. The whole creative process is important to me and occupies both my thoughts and activities each day. My research consists of reading, listening, making notes and drawing. My sketchbooks, a very important part of my work process, are a mix of drawing (both sustained and quick sketches) notes, and lists of ideas. I find it essential to have notes and drawings together to enable me to remember a moment, or to look back and regather momentum with particular ideas. Sampling different methods and with various materials in order to express my ideas, is another vital part of the process before I finally begin to make a finished piece.

I try to keep ‘finished’ work as flexible as possible for as long as I can, cutting, subtracting, adding, evaluating until I am reasonably satisfied. But I am never totally pleased with the results of what may be many hours of work, and see each piece as part of my development, a stepping stone to the next one.   

Jean Draper workspace

Artists Interview

Over the last two months we have posted seven artists interviews, how times have changed since our first one in February . Today we are in conversation with Rose Campbell.

Rose Campbell

I am really looking forward to the exhibition at the Festival of Quilts where our Insight project will be on show.  It has proved to be very different project to anything I have done previously.

I’m used to writing to support narrative within my textile pieces.  Ive had work publicised and written personal statements but this project was in a different league. My kind of writing is more to do with calligraphy although I am no expert, I’m rather fond of incorporating text within my work.

I’ve been asked  before on more than one occasion by students ‘Why don’t you write a book?’ and the answer has always been ‘No, not my scene’ but here I am, having written ‘a chapter,’ thanks to the major challenge set by the TSG .  It took me quite sometime to get my head around it. I won’t say more…it’s in the book! In the end I think I got there but I feel much more comfortable articulating visually rather than literally.

One of my latest pieces is inspired by the naturalist John Muir and his quote ‘Into the Forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul. It’s reflective piece, making use of mirrors to create shadow and mystery and is a follow on from my work connected to Glentress Forest. The initial work was inspired by the activities related to the forest and will be on show when we launch our book in Birmingham. The follow up smaller pieces use print incorporating branches from the forest itself. I flatten them by soaking them in the bath, dry them, paint them and wrap them. I personally love walking in a forest but it is easy to loose my sense of direction and so can have a darker side to it as well.

The Textile Study Group is a fantastic group to be a member of, lots of challenges, encouragement and friendship aplenty.

Rose in her studio

Artists Interview

Isolation is the experience of being separated from others, either physically or emotionally.  Through our posts, we hope our small contribution of sharing our working practice allows us to  strengthen the sense of community. Hopefully the insights of our artists, will inspire you to continue creating or even maybe even start. This week we  bring you another revealing interview from member Sheila Mortlake.

Sheila Mortlock 

Are the ideas/themes for this project ongoing or are they new ?
During the beautiful summer of 2018 whenever I was out in the local countryside I spent time as I walked observing those areas at the edges of fields that mark the boundary between the cultivated and uncultivated, edge lands. However, it was a holiday that year to a much loved and area of enormous personal significance in the North West Highlands of Scotland that the idea for my project crystallised when I became aware of the boundary markers that set out the divisions between individual crofts. First visited as a child many years ago, the area at the time of our earliest holidays was predominantly Gaelic speaking; a community of crofts, small arable holdings that relied on sheep and fishing. The historical element of this project was important from the start as I investigated the issues surrounding the Crofting Acts of 1886 and 1919 when many of these boundaries were created. This body of work was inspired by the place, imbued with many happy memories of long ago and hopefully reflects something of the culture and heritage of a remote part of Scotland.

What is your favourite part of the creative process?
Had I not gone to art college I would have studied history. It is an interest that finds its way into all my work and so the early stages of any new project are always filled with days of investigation and reading, visiting and observing, an immersive process that will inform the textile work that evolves. I feel that a depth of knowledge of the subject is a critical part of my work’s development. For this project, after our 2018 holiday I visited the Highland Archive Centre in Inverness and had access to documents relating to the specific area around the time of the 1886 Crofting Act which for the first time gave security of tenure to the tenants. However, I also looked back at old photographs taken by my father in the 60s and 70s to back up my sketchbook work and the photographs I had taken to develop ideas. However the landscape in all its colours and textures were also important inspirations including the range of seaweed colours, grasses, rusty corrugated iron sheds and the rocks, the fabric of the landscape.  As I have worked into the textiles for this body of work I have drawn on techniques and design developments that explore the mark making possibilities in the subject and it has been important to retain the freedom of the marks achieved on paper, interpreting them on fabric and in stitch while exploring the fragility of fabric as a metaphor for the fragility of that way of life, the heritage of the crofts.

Boundary watercolour drawing