Friday, 8 June 2018

Creating Monsters

On Wednesday this week, I spent a lovely day at St. Patrick's Catholic Primary School on the other side of Sheffield. It was my first school visit since getting back from my Australian adventures.

I was meeting just the KS1 children, so it was a day of wall-to-wall storytelling. I started with them all together in the hall, did some drawing at the flipchart, then read Class Two at the Zoo, always a favourite. 

Through the day, I saw three of the classes again in their classrooms, and we read another 5 stories, sang silly songs and did tons of drawing together. When I read Bears on the Stairs, I took the opportunity to do my class-eating poem with them, which I always really enjoy. If you haven't heard it, here is a little film, made by a teacher at a previous school visit. Watch the cute little boy in white:

Another of my favourite activities is the design-a-monster-by-committee game. I ask various kids about different elements of the monster, then do my best to illustrate their ideas, so we build it up a little at a time. The children always get really excited as the monster gets sillier and sillier. The deputy head at St Patrick's loved it too and wanted to share it with the parents, so she got me to recreate their monster after school, while she filmed it appear on the flipchart.

Thanks you SO much to everyone at St. Patrick's for such an easy and fun day, and a special thank you to Miss Hall, their much-loved art teacher, for looking after me so well. 

Friday, 1 June 2018

Photographing my Textiles

Last week, I decided to bite the bullet and get professional photographs taken of my textiles work to date. They are so hard to photograph properly, because the beauty is often in the detail, which never comes out well when you do it yourself. Colours are an issue too. The light is never balanced right and never even across the surface.

I took a dozen pieces out into Derbyshire, to the Little Longstone studio of photographer Matt Swift. Watching him in action was fascinating and really emphasised why my own photos of the work are never very successful.

It took a couple of hours to work out the best way to light them. He tried a few possibilities, each of which brought out different aspects of the textures and materials. The organza in particular was interesting. Lit in one way, you got a lot of sheen on the surface, which was lovely, but it emphasised the top layers, so that the stitches beneath were less visible: a bit like looking at the sea through polarised or non-polarised lenses. 

Another lighting set-up really brought out the stitched texture of the surface: the way the top fabric has a subtly 'quilted' quality, as each stitch pulls the layers tight. This added a pleasing 3-dimensional element, but needed to be reined in to some extent, or it was more pronounced than the stitches themselves.

We played about with different effects, using my Ladybower piece as a tester. Each time he took a shot, a battery-pack the size of a small dog in the centre of the space powered a blinding flash not unlike a lightening strike. A second later, a new image appeared on the huge monitor beside me. They were so incredibly sharp you could zoom in and in and in, until tiny stitches were big as string.

Typically, we decided that the first arrangement he'd tried was the best, so he moved the 8ft reflection screen and the two big, black umbrellas, and re-arranged tripod lights until all was perfect.

Once we got that nailed, the rest was like shelling peas. One piece after another was carefully secured in place and shot through with the lightening. I am delighted with the results and would highly recommend Matt if anyone else in my part of the world needs the same thing doing.

Thursday, 24 May 2018

The Competition Results are In!

It's official - we have a prize winner! Well, two winners actually, and they are both FANTASTIC sketchers, as you can see!

We had entries for the Sketching Work Design competition from Australia, Canada, UK, Hong Kong, India, Italy, Japan, Portugal and the USA, which was so exciting, both for me and the rest of the research team, who got quite giddy when new ones kept coming in  from far and wide for them to open. 

The first prize goes to Deb Mostert from Australia, for her excellent portrayal of the job of the Collections Manager at Queensland Museum. She created her entry on two sketchbooks, both of which are gently but wonderfully detailed and communicate so much, so clearly. We were all bowled over by them.

The second prize goes to Rita Sabler from the USA, for her story of a freight train operator for The Union Pacific Railroad. Through her beautifully captured details and observations, Rita conveys a real sense of the man's personal relationship with the work.

You can see the full concertina sketchbooks of both winners and read more detailed feedback from both myself and Professor Parker on the project's website. All the entries are now being scanned. I will do another blog post as soon as they are done, to show some of the other entries that came close. They were so gorgeous, it was both a terrible and a wonderful task, having to choose.

The sketchbooks will be returned to the artists as soon as possible after scanning. Please bear with us - it takes a while. If there are any concerns about anything, please contact the research centre. Don't contact me, as I am now home in the UK and so won't know anything about what's going on.

A huge congratulations to both Deb Mostert and Rita Sabler, whose prize money should be on its way pretty soon, as well as to all the artists who entered - great job. Well done everyone!

Monday, 30 April 2018

Sketching the Workplace Competition: Shortlisting

Well, I can't quite believe that it's nearly time for me to fly home to England. It's been quite an adventure. Luckily, it's not quite over yet ...

Since I finished the sketching part of my residency at the CTWD. John and I have been away travelling for a nearly a month through Western Australia (which is why there's been no blogging), but we arrived back in Perth on Sunday. 

This week, I have a last few days of things to do. One big thing that's left, is to judge the competition. On Monday morning, I had the excitement of arriving at the research centre to find a huge pile of entries waiting!

I spent the whole day trying to whittle them down. Not easy! I created a long list, then a shortlist, all of which was incredibly hard, as the standard was really high and the entries were often quite different to one another. These are just a few details I photographed to show you (they are all longer concertina sketchbooks), from just a random handful of them.

There were over 40 entries, from all over the world: Australia and England (obviously), but also Canada, Japan, India, Italy, Portugal, Hong Kong and America. Which is really interesting, since you get to see jobs and workplaces from a cultural perspective, as well as a personal one. 

We were lucky enough to have one or two jobs represented by more than one country, like these butcher sketches, from India...

...and also from England:

The range of jobs was really wide too: a Museum Collections Manager, dealing with stuffed animals, a cello teacher, a bookbinder, a mechanic. There was a big garment manufacturing business, an artisan jeweller, a florist... Plus loads more. The researchers are so excited by the material. They've been eagerly watching the pile of envelopes grow while I've been travelling.

We devised a numbering system for the judging, to keep things anonymous, just in case I happen to know anyone who has entered. I am presenting my shortlist to Professor Parker on Wednesday. 

She will look long and hard at the written element of the project, to make a judgement on how incisive and communicative each entry is. That, as well as a 2nd pair of eyes on the sketches, will help us choose the two winners.

Just two! Oh dear...

I have a couple more days of sketching to do myself before I fly home - jobs which fell off the end earlier in the residency. I'll tell you about them when I get home.

And don't forget to watch this space for more news about the competition prizewinners!

Friday, 16 March 2018

'So, how are you with blood?' they asked...

I am bundled up in navy scrubs and an attractive hair cap. An operating team of 9 or 10 people move around the theatre, getting things ready. I have not been allowed to bring in my art kit bag, so the patch pockets of my scrubs are full of pencils. I have a mask over my nose and mouth which keeps fogging up my glasses and I am standing in a corner, trying to be less in the way, wrestling with my concertina and clips. One clip pings across the floor. I apologise, then scurry and bend to pick It up from under something which is beeping. My patch pockets empty pencils onto the floor with a clatter. It is all a bit more tricky than I had realised.

We are here to observe an afternoon of hand operations at Fremantle Hospital. I am sketching and the researcher from UWA is making notes and asking questions of the team when she can. As usual, we are interested in how people feel about their jobs, what they enjoy most, what gets them stressed.

I am surprised at the number of people in the team (I once had foot surgery, which I sketched by the way, but I could swear there were only 3 people in theatre). The surgeon has a relaxed manner which helps me feels less intrusive being there, but things suddenly get super-tricky when I am asked to put an x-ray tabard over my scrubs. It weighs a ton (lead??) but, most importantly, there are no pockets. I transfer my favourite three pencils into my mouth and try not to dribble.

The experience is fascinating, just watching the process. There are 3 short operations, one after the other. I scribble like crazy and catch what I can. Luckily, being hand surgery, I can't see the nitty-gritty, just the cluster of experts around the outstretched arm. I have no idea how I will react to the incision and the blood, so I wait until near the end of the afternoon before I inch close enough to get a decent view. I don't faint, thank goodness. How horribly embarrassing that would be.

When we are done, we get a few minutes to chat to the chief surgeon. He gives thoughtful answers. It's hard, he says, when you are operating and are unsure of what to do for the best. You're in charge and the team look to you to be the one who knows what your doing, but it takes courage to admit when you need to stop and take time out to think, or ask advice from a colleague.

When asked to rate his job, on a scale of 1 – 10, he says it depends: 'Some days it’s definitely a 10, others a 3. Some days you really help people, but on others it doesn't work out. When I'm stressed,' he says, 'I head for the biscuit bin'. He taps his belly. 'Can you tell?'