A couple of days ago I had a longing to paint stripes! Luckily I found a new concertina notebook stashed in my studio drawer – couldn’t be a better match. Sometimes it’s so nice and so necessary to have a play, to make familiar marks and run colours together just for the fun of it; to use as many brushes and as many palettes as I want for no reason other than pleasure and curiosity.
The backs of the pages are still blank – I think I may give them a bit of a thrill too. The only problem is that the book came in a rather posh case, and the paint has now made it too fat to fit back in….
I’ve been very occupied lately on some scrumptious new projects. Being something of an impatient show-off I’m a little frustrated to be unable, as yet, to reveal any of the work I’ve been doing. In fact I can’t even disclose who it’s for, such is the nature of contracts, newness and the realities of production. Some work will become public in just a few weeks from now, some in months, and some well into next year. There’s not been a lot of time for lolling about in the sun!
You may like to join me painting on fabric, or learning about repeat patterns for textiles: my (covid safe) workshops are opening up again at Morley College and HandPrinted, and newly at Minerva workshops – details on my events page here.
For the short course at Minerva I’ve been invited to teach about making and hand-painting repeat patterns for textiles. We’ll have a weekend looking at and investigating repeats, and then building and painting them together; ten days later we’ll reconvene to assess how everyone’s work has got on and to iron out and discuss any problems. Places on this course are limited and it’ll be quite intensive – I’m looking forward to it.
And while we’re on the subject of hand-painted – there’s still time to bid in the auction being held by Holly Fox Lee in support of the Fashion and Textile Museum, which has been severely hit by the covid crisis. All the lots have been donated by makers and artists; there are many unique pieces of work available, including this fabric panel of mine, painted on calico. Bidding is open until May 12 – be quick – you may yet catch my runner!
For one of these new secret jobs I’ve been able to look quite far back, and draw on work in Susan’s and my archive collection, which covers our 50 years of work together, and with our studio, from 1961 (and a few childhood paintings too). And – deep sigh – I’m building another one now of my own work since 2011. We licensed, rather than sold, design, and in the process also painted many sketches, roughs, non-starters and colourways so the archive holds a wealth of paintings, thousands. It still rather amazes me when I see it all again; it really is quite a resource and record. I like to meander through my old sketchbooks, which have the power to make the past feel very present, bringing back moments, memories and ideas. Here’s a tour through one of them, complete with a sort of commentary. If nothing else it illustrates the persistent ‘what-if-ness’ of my own design process – and ‘what-if’ can be both prosaic and fanciful.
In her recent lecture for The 20th Century Society, Naomi Games gave us an insight into the design process by showing us the sheets of small sketches her father Abram Games had drawn as he worked through his different ideas for the Festival of Britain symbol. Again, it’s the journey that is so interesting to me – the little changes and progressions, the yes and no of the thoughts, the outlines drawn round the most promising solutions. And then the external realities of what the commissioners seek and require, the practicalities of production, the conversations which shape the work to its final form. There’s plenty of to and fro, back and forth, doubts and questions as a designer – however experienced you are. And those essential conversations are so much part of the creative process – along with the sudden unpredictable brainwaves.
I’ve recently enjoyed hearing the jaunty Peggy Seeger on the radio, talking about and singing songs from her latest recording. Her voice remains beautiful – though she says the quality comes and goes, depending on the day – and I love this short film of her and her sons singing ‘The Invisible Woman’ – not least because I can catch a glimpse of a little painting I did of them performing at the RFH a few years ago when she was 80! Her straightforward but rather mischievous approach to life was evident when a few days ago on In Tune (BBCRadio3) she repeatedly called Sean Rafferty by the name Jerry! Realising her slip after a bit, she apologised, but was unabashed and humorously invited him to call her Mabel in return!
I’ve relied on Radio3 to help me through these last long months. From having a full orchestra in my sitting room to a single birdsong, my ears and mind have been eased, excited, expanded, entertained, encouraged. And this week I’m really enjoying The Essay – Dan Rebellato’s accounts and thoughts about the Paris Commune, now celebrating its 150th anniversary. You can catch up and listen here. Their radical plans and action for education, women, society, the acknowledgement of artists and designers, the pulling-down of monuments – I love hearing about it all.
The famous chair – in my last blog I showed the panels I’d painted for the upholstery; well, here’s the finished article pictured sitting in the upholsterer’s workshop, along with with some details and a little iPad drawing I’d made at some point as my rough guide. Carol Arnell has done a brilliant job, especially with that tricky double piping thankyou!
When it comes to making clothes I am frankly slapdash – most of my skill goes on hoping for the best! Which reminds me of a line in the film ‘The Secret Life of Walter Mitty’: “The only exercise I get is jumping to conclusions.” I could certainly do better – and this small book from Linda Lee’s ‘The Sewing Workshop’ will definitely help. Linda sells fabrics and patterns, runs many tutorials and workshops online and off, all from her base in Topeka Kansas; and she brings tours for textile lovers over to Europe and the UK. They’re packed with interesting visits and experiences; I happen to be one of the attractions – teaching a one-day workshop. Check it out, especially if you’re a US reader.
And now for some refreshments!