The incredibly short summer “break” is already nearing its end. I have taken my head out of my research paper for a few days to see where I am on the practical making side of things, and start with a plan on where to go next. I want to go into my second year with a clear plan – the unit 1 experimentation has been fun, but it is time to stop floating about and focus down the processes and concepts I’m looking at. Well, that sounds decisive doesn’t it?
My hesitancy has been understandable I think: I enjoy using a range of different techniques and have never been particularly over-attached to any specific materials. How do you then start to narrow the field once you have been specifically encouraged to make it so wide? I got started thinking again about ‘my practice’ and what this means to me now – almost exactly a year since I walked out of my desk job and into the studio.
I like making quilts. I like making functional quilts that you can wrap yourself up in on the sofa or the beach on a cold winter’s day. Or as cushions. Surprisingly to myself, I have ended up liking the slow, hand-stitching techniques, particularly old english patchwork, paper piecing, hand-quilting, (although I like a pre-cut as much as the next person). What I feel though, is that ‘art quilts’, are not the best way for me to say what I need to say. I realise I am not a natural textile artist – fabric does’t automatically come first for me as a design medium, however well I can manipulate fabric and stitch. I want to just make quilts because I want to. Actual old-fashioned usable quilts, not just something destined for the wall.
Aside from cross-stitch, poetry and calligraphy were probably my first ‘art forms’ as a child. As someone who loves words and the expression of feeling through words, this is no surprise. What has surprised me is that I think I am quite good at it, and that I can get better at it with more practice. Paper and ink are always the first things I will reach for if have spare time in the studio to play….and as for all of these small books / book forms I have made on courses lately….definitely, definitely need to do more. I’m not excluding fabrics and stitch here, but I want it to be there because the work demands it, not as a precondition.
My new discovery – basket weaving, in an almost infinite variety of forms. I love the freedom you have to create sculpturally with these processes. What I also like is the raw human-ness of the making processes. Basketry has been around as long as people, they have a place in every aspect of our lives. If you extend this out to weaving in general, it is rooted in locality more than any other making process I know, a harmony of harvested natural (or processed!) fibres and human craft skill. Ok, I admit, I’ve been a bit taken by this! The one thing I have realised though my essay research (particularly into Chris Drury) is how the engagement with local can provide volumes of context to understanding your making process: A craft skill originating to a specific region (such as Cumbrian dry-stone walling) or a native material grown and used in a particular area (e.g Japanese Bamboo). Basketry is a naturally 3-dimensional medium, and if you can look at the fibres in the right way, they will tell you what to make with them.
So where does that leave us?
Well, for the purposes of my MA I am going to start to focus primarily on processes associated with basketry/weaving, looking also at how to incorporate and develop my existing textile/drawing practice. As part of my overall ‘professional practice’ I will continue to work on my calligraphy drawings & 3d poems, it will be nice to think they may eventually overlap anyway. My surface design skills and techniques can translate directly over into working with paper.
As a current statement of practice then, focussing on material and process (note, not the concept for once!) this is my first draft:
Predominantly, I like to work with fibres, combining the delicacy of natural plant fibres and papers with the cold hard edges of iron and steel. This embeds a strong sense of dimensionality, both in my drawings and 3D structures. My work balances the tension between here and there, between order and randomness: combining precision basketry and textile craft techniques with processes which bring serendipity and wildness into my materials.
More tomorrow on what experiments I have been doing lately…