23 November 2014

An imaginary map quilt

Blue Collar City by Sally Dutko (via)
"Yes!" was my response on seeing this photo in Kathy Loomis's review of the map quilts in Quilts=Art=Quilts. In fact she's reviewed all of the categories of quilts in the show - abstract, representational, etc, and with considerable insight ... she was a juror for the show ...

So, why does this piece hit all the buttons for me?
- The title: it does what it says on the box - with tongue in cheek.
- The aesthetics: composition, materials, colours.
- Thrift: clever reuse of materials.
- Inventiveness: I find myself mentally sidling up to the artist's moment of seeing-the-connection, vicariously enjoying the moment when the pieces fall into place, the way is clear...
- Verve: everything is confidently placed, without fuss or fiddling.

The size is 52"x36" - it would have been easy to make this quilt, this map, too big or too small, but it's in balance with the size of its components.

And ... it almost looks like a real city, without the viewer having to fuss about details. You don't get lost in looking for familiar streets; you can stand back and think about what "blue collar" means in the life of a city, in the death of a city, in the lives of its inhabitants. Imaginary map, imaginary city it may be, art work it is ... and it's what the viewer brings to the work that completes it as art. For someone outside the industrial life a a city, "seeing" this "map" is totally a feat of the imagination, but none the less real for that.

22 November 2014

Large sketchbook development

The little John Piper picture in my new large sketchbook has been joined by another image I simply couldn't throw away (for reasons not yet known to me), a vignette of a carving of an Indian(?) musician -
After cutting out its shape through several pages and glueing it on the last one, I started adding colour (the paint was used as glue too). On the last page of this set has been rolled with block printing ink ... which, being water soluble, easily mixes into any paint subsequently added to it.
The ovals are the cutouts, also inked up, for use elsewhere ... cut into filigree perhaps? Thinking about this as I write, the next step with the musician will be to draw him, or others like him*, behind the cut-outs and on other parts of the pages. Also, I'm seeing faces on the left-hand page - amazing how we tend to see faces whether we look for them consciously or not. John Updike said something about abstract art aspiring to remove anything that could be seen as a face...

And coincidentally to faces - from a review of James Hall's recent book on the self-portrait, this photo from the review in World of Interiors -
It's a self-portrait of Sofonisba Anguissola "holding a medallion". Hall says that the medallion is actually the back of a mirror bearing her father's initials and a marginal inscription: "Painted from a mirror with her own hand by the Cremonese virgin Sofonisba Anguissola". Perhaps this was fresh in my mind when the Indian musician, with his "medallion", came to hand?

Elsewhere in the large sketchbook, more scrapes and blobs of colour get added whenever the paints or pastels are handy -

*Similar musicians are surprisingly hard to find on the internet, but this one is certainly appealing -
Apsaras as a musician, 6th century Chinese, V&A (via)

21 November 2014

Photo download organising tip

A very simple thing is saving me lots of frustration. It's one of those "why didn't I think of this sooner" things....

When I (and perhaps you) download pix from camera or phone, the "natural" way they are organised is by date taken, oldest to most recent ... so you have to scroll down to the bottom to find the photos you took only yesterday.

It's so much easier when the most recent photos are at the top of the screen.

At the top left of the screen is an icon called "Change your view" - click on the arrow to get options -
Near the bottom of the list is "Details" and it's here that you can re-order the way you see your files -
Clicking on the column heading changes the "Date Picture Taken" column to show the most recent photos first -
Change the view back to "Large icons" so as to actually see what the photo is. (Take a moment to delete the duplicates!)

Now the latest photos are shown at the top, saving you the effort of having to scroll down. OK, that scrolling only takes a little time, perhaps less than changing the view - but this new way of looking at the files has a knock-on effect -- to the other folders in which you have photos.

My downloaded photos are saved into monthly files, named "2014 05may", for example, so they are listed in sequence and are easy to identify. The photos within these files are listed in reverse order, so that the newest are at the top - and that means that the photos downloaded today are most easily accessible. (The rest are out of sight, off the screen, not cluttering my field of vision - that helps!)
"Image Size" is found under Image in the Photoshop menu
My downloaded photos arrive on the computer at 180 pixels/inch resolution - rather useless, as it's neither 72 pixels/inch to use on screen, nor 300 pixels/inch to use for printing. It's a camera default, and I have a workaround, a little routine for preparing the photos for use on screen -- open, crop, deal with colour balance, save for web.

The "organisational" part of that routine has taken care of itself, now that I have a monthly file for the on-screen photos ... and that's the "why didn't I think of this earlier" part of this story. Previously, the selected, edited, resized photos went into the main folder, and once I'd used them they went into "archive" folders - sometimes....
Not the best way to keep on top of things
Sometimes that step was forgotten, making for a clumsy, inert backlog, some of which hadn't been used on the blog but had been sent in emails. (What a mess; I've not yet steeled myself to deal with it.)
So much better - monthly folder with most recent photos at the top! 
In their monthly folders, current photos at the top, the older ones can simply be disregarded. How simple, how obvious, is that? ... once you think of it.




20 November 2014

Poetry Thursday - Fine Knacks for Ladies, by Anon

Sing along (via)
Fine Knacks for Ladies

Fine knacks for ladies, cheap choice, brave and new
Good penniworthes, but money cannot woo;
I keep a fair, but for the fair to view;
A beggar may be liberal of love.
Tho' all my wares be trash, the heart is true,
     the heart is true,  the heart is true.

Great gifts are guiles and look for gifts again,
My trifles come, as treasures from my mind,
It is a precious jewel to be plain,
Sometimes in shell, the orient pearls we find.
All others take a sheaf, of me a grain,
     of me a grain, of me a grain.

Within the pack, pins, points, laces, and gloves
And diverse toys, fitting a country fair
But in my heart, where duty serves and loves,
Turtles and twins, courts brood, a heavenly pair.
Happy the heart that thinks, of no removes,
     of no removes, of no removes.

Borrowed from "An Elizabethan Song Book."
John Dowland, Second Book of Songs or Ayres, 1600. (via)


Carol Rumens' analysis of the poem will deepen your understanding of it - there is a little mystery about the author - it's given as "an old peddler's song", but could it have been Dowland himself, or perhaps Thomas Campion? And what of those "removes" in the last line - a removal of clothing, perhaps?

Plenty of renditions of the song can be found on youtube - by Sting, a 1984 BBC clip from the King's Singers "Madrigal History Tour" (with a young Antony Rooley on lute), by tenor Tyler Ray, from German television sung by the Singphoniker (with a good strong countertenor), by Alfred Deller, an inspiration to the early music revival ... pages and pages of versions ...
Traditionally rendered (via)

"We would like to sincerely apologise"

Spotters of split infinitives may well think this is going to be another rant about editing (lack of) - but no ... split infinitives are small beer in the word-misusage pantheon. More on that another time, perhaps?

This is a story with a nicely surprising outcome. It started when my son found a bit of wood in his packet of crisps - and let the manufacturer know. 

Back came this box of goodies -
with an apologetic letter -
which details how they are improving their manufacturing process. Hopefully no other bits of wood  found their way into crisps packets ... if you find one, let them know!

19 November 2014

Poking around in and around the Barbican

The Barbican was planned in the heady days when "everyone" travelled by car, so getting there on foot is a labyrinthine trek. Either you go up narrow stairs, along a windswept plain, down shallow steps - and up yet more steps, internal this time, to the art gallery ... or you dodge between temporary fences along the  upper levels - as we did, and on passing the Conservatory found that it was open.
It was built to camouflage the fly tower of the theatre, once and possibly still the highest in Europe, or at least the UK or perhaps London. It's a nice addition for events held in the adjacent halls, and is open to the public on Sundays, 12-5.

Our destination was the Constructing Worlds exhibition - photography dealing with architecture. You can see some photos on the website, and read the exhibition wall texts. This image (found here)
appears with the Audioguide on the website - it's by Lucien Herve, taken at Chandringar, Le Corbusier's designed city in India - I did try to draw it in order to make sense of it. (Look how important that one little person in it is...)

While I was writing down the name of the photographers and extracting "one little fact" from the wall text, not once but twice a member of staff came over and mentioned that the texts could be found on the website. Which was nice.
I'd been interested to see this show because of having to wait for a train and having a chance to draw the interesting structure on the poster for the show, which also appears on the cover of the book -
It's the Monument to Progress and Prosperity on the banks of the Yangtze River, photographed by Nadav Kandar.

Coming out of an exhibition like this, you see your familiar surroundings in a new way -
Outside the Barbican Art Gallery
While in the building we had a quick look at a little exhibition about the architects of the Barbican itself - these are the "old fashioned" tools of Geoffry Powell -
Another visual delight was the lighting in the cafe -
And then we went to The Curve - wow - 12,000 cyantopes! -


The artist, Walead Beshty, photographed the front and back of each piece as it was made (over more than a year) and the photos are being assembled at half size in chronological order in huge books. Two are on display ("don't touch!") and there will be 41 eventually. The words stamina and endurance come to mind.... Not only in the making, but in the week or more it took four people to install it all. It's on till February ... read more about it here.

Walking back to the tube, we saw this sign, amid others pointing what used to be where now modern buildings stand ("Thanet House was on this site, demolished 1878" etc). (Ironmongers Hall in the background is a survival from the 1920s, though Pepys mentioned the previous Hall, on a different site, scorched but not burnt in the Great Fire) -
"The probably site, where, on May 24, 1738 John Wesley "felt his heart strangely warmed." This experience of grace was the beginning of Methodism. This Tablet is gratefully placed here by the Drew Theological Seminary of the Methodist Episcopal Church, Madison, New Jersey, U.S.A. August 1926"

What a mixup and layering of history London is, not just in grand places but on ordinary streets.

18 November 2014

Tuesday is drawing day - Horniman Museum

The Horniman currently (till Sept 2015) has a display of Romanian textiles - and this poster from its 1985 exhibition is one of my earliest London "souvenirs" -
so in front of the textiles is where I settled down, choosing first of all the vivid patterning on a coat that also showed signs of moth ravages (a subject close to my heart) -
As you can see, the black background to the border gave me some problems, using water-soluble pastels. How I longed to have had some black tissue in my bag ... but you can't carry everything, it's a matter of making do with what you have - and there's always the possibility of doing more once you get home.

On the other side of the display case were "my three guys" and other icons, flanked by colourful cloths, as they would have been displayed in traditional homes -
 This is St Elijah, driving his chariot across the sky to bring rain for the farmers -
Copying "primitive art" allows for a variety of sins ... accuracy isn't part of the spirit of the thing. First I put down some areas of colour -
The line-work made it come to life -
The blue and "beige" backgrounds await a decision on how to add them - watercolour? acrylic paint? pencil crayon?

The icons on display were painted on glass, so the lines would have been put on first, then the colours, with the background last.

One of the glories of the museum is an enormous walrus, first exhibited in 1886, though the museum has had it only a century. The "souvenir" biscuits are a nice touch -
After lunch we decided to continue drawing. Jo went to work on several versions of the walrus, and I settled down in front of one of the bird displays -
My drawings are linked to an ongoing photo project -

Candidates for "Close encounters of the bird kind"
After drawing the birds (from a distance) I went up close to add their names, and to get a closer look. For several, it wasn't all that easy to find the right bird ... which rather mirrors a story told by the scientist Richard Feynman. His father had pointed out to him that it wasn't useful to know what the name of a bird was - that told you nothing about the bird, it just told you about humans: "Let's look at the bird, and what it's doing."

17 November 2014

A quick visit to the British Museum

Two forces propelled me to the BM on Saturday afternoon: finding out about sketching stools, and the Germany exhibition. (Timed tickets for the latter, unless you are a "friend" of the museum.)

Also I wanted to do a quick rekky of the Korean Gallery, in preparation for drawing day tomorrow - and found it was closed for renovation! This required a reconsideration, a search for quiet rooms. Room 95, Chinese ceramics, is usually quiet, hidden away off the north staircase, and has such lovely things, beautifully displayed -

Also on the north stairs are the Print gallery, and above that, the Japanese gallery -
Below, the Chinese and Indian galleries, in a long room with gold leaf on the walls; the bays lend themselves to being out of the full flow of the traffic -
Then right near the back door - the north entrance - is the Islamic gallery -
fascinating and usually not too busy, not as busy as the Egyptian galleries at least! So that's the destination of choice.

Sketching stools are available on racks to your right as you enter the Great Court from the front entrance, and as you enter the Living and Dying gallery from the north entrance. Others are said to be in or near Room 56 on Level 3, but that is dangerously near the ever-popular Egyptian galleries.

In the Print room, on level 4, I found a small display put together by 6th form students from a local school, who also wrote the labels -
The prints they chose ranged from the 16th century to these modern prints by two of my favourite artists, Chris Drury and David Nash -



As for the Germany exhibition - I've started listening to the "Memories of a Nation" podcasts, all 30 of which are available on the BBC website - and got curious about the actual objects. No photography in the exhibition (and it was fairly crowded and dim), but the objects discussed are pictured on the BBC website, as well as highlights on the BM website. The exhibition runs till 25 January.

Not a "nice" subject

Today is World Toilet Day - something we in the Western world are spared having to think about, yet elsewhere to have a proper toilet is a dream. 

"2.5 billion people lack access to improved sanitation" says the World Toilet Day website. One billion people around the world do not have access to a toilet and must defecate in the open. Even travelling from their home to a public toilet can be dangerous and frightening for women and girls. 
"Inadequate sanitation remains one of the world’s most pressing development issues, often hitting women and girls the hardest." (via)
"My Toilet: global stories from women and girls" is a photo exhibition at the Royal Opera Arcade, Covent Garden, 10-5, till 22 November. "The images and stories show that, although the type of toilet changes from country to country, the impacts show recurring themes. Having a toilet can mean dignity, safety, education, employment, status and more wherever you are in the world. A toilet equals far more than just a toilet."

Moan on Monday - ruthlessness

In response to my post about the moth damage to a little sweater knit for a toddler some thirty years ago  came an outcry and a clamour to save it, preserve it, mount it as a museum object.

Although I understand this preservation instinct, I have been ruthless and have discarded the now-useless, un-beautiful object - but not without preserving its memory as both useful and beautiful; made with love and joy.

There comes a time, I've come round to thinking, when you have to let go. Let go of the thing - not of all its associations.

In general it's hard to let go of things that have good associations ... in fact it can feel like you're throwing away all the good memories that are embedded in the object. But you aren't.

Yet some objects that hold less-good memories can be hard to let go of - what about those unwanted presents from "important" relatives? - most frighteningly, family furniture that "must" be fitted among your own things.
Someone's inheritance (via)
Another category is the things you have several of, "just in case" - and who among us isn't "guilty" of this?

A subcategory of "just in case" could be called "wishful thinking" - it includes those clothes you keep because you might lose (or gain) weight sometime soon.

It's a widely-held belief that the moment you throw out something, you'll "need" it ... or rather, there will come a moment when it would have been useful. Poppycock! If the thing had been languishing in a forgotten cupboard, would you have been able to use it? It's likely that you're only noticing this "need to have the object" because you've seen or handled it recently - what about all the many other objects that are quite happily and uneventfully discarded?

Ruthlessness in regard to discarding things can go too far - how sad to hear "my mother threw out my teddy bear and didn't tell me". (We hear a lot about hoarding disorder, but is there a "fear of clutter" disorder too?)

Artists have built reputations on acts of destruction, and gained much publicity from getting rid of all their possessions ... only to build up a new collection. There are so many things in our environment, we all have so many belongings, thanks to machine manufacture and lifestyle aspirations and consumerist pressures. These days, second-best beds are rarely mentioned in wills and legacies. Easy come, easy go...

While having this series of fleeting thoughts, I've unearthed another topic to cogitate on - "What is valuable?" It would seem that being ruthless (in discarding things) means having a clear line between what has value and what doesn't. That clear dichotomy rather frightens me, but some people are quite sure in their own minds about this distinction. They know what they don't like, and never give it another thought, except for telling you about it!

The sad little sweater was valuable to me, but I didn't look after it and the moths damaged it. Its intact memory is now what I value about it. Objects come and go, but are more than their physical, tangible embodiment; isn't that why we have photographs, descriptions, and mental pictures?


16 November 2014

Yet another opportunity for drawing

Recently I joined the local art society, not sure of what to expect, apart from the chance to exhibit work twice a year. Turns out it has a sketching group, which met recently at Sutton House in Hackney.

In its garden is a strange contraption -
which turns out to be a rather magical place, a sort of compressed classical interior - go up the narrow staircase to the gallery, or go past the grand fireplace to the lower area, which is the right height for a child or a seated adult -
On a warmer day it would have been a good subject for a pastiche on Piranesi?

Inside the house, the cellar was a bit chilly but had a convenient table, and some enticing baskets in the corner -
 My drawing is a (lurid!) concatenation of the two areas -
A possibility for another drawing was this staircase-window view, with its gamut of reds and a convenient step to sit on -
But the Georgian Parlour offered a windowseat with radiator underneath, so I edited a few things out of this crowded corner (what a glorious chair...) -
Too much editing-out, perhaps - the drawing looks  sadly empty, but maybe that's because the perspective has gone a bit wonky here and there -
Never mind, I'm really enjoying using the neopastels and the waterbrush, and am getting bolder about mixing colours. Anyway, it's all about looking.... and I've just now seen that any shadow from the table is missing, as well as any indication of a skirting board.

Elsewhere in the house is a cafe with second-hand books to browse -
And these chairs in the garden rather called to me -