I said that I would do a post on Zentangles, which I have been working on, inspired by my friend Beatriz and her one-a-day art process.

A Zentangle is a drawing, done in ink with some graphite added to make the shading.  I really like the combination of the media.  It begins with pretty random marks across a square which are called strings.  Then you fill in the compartments with a variety of patterns which are pretty simple to do but look impressive when done en masse.  That’s about it.

I came across them at a craft show, I think, and went home and had a look on You Tube.  There are a lot of tutorials and examples up so you can learn how to do them pretty much from the web.  I bought a book, however, in a proper bookshop and not from Amazon.  I chose One Zentangle a Day: A six-week course in drawing for relaxation, inspiration and fun by Beckah Krahula.  It has, as it says, a lesson a day for six weeks.  I think it’s a great start.  It doesn’t insist that you use anything in particular, though it does suggest certain materials, and you can do it with a felt-tip, a pencil and a sketchpad if you want to.

The Zentangle crowd strike me as a bit odd, there is a lot of intellectual property protection wrangling, which I understand but don’t particularly want to know about.  Also I am not especially interested in ‘yoga for the mind’.  I just want to expand my range of patterns and ideas for my sketchbook/workbooks, and to get inspiration for machine quilting and embroidery.  I don’t need the Zen bits so much as the tangles, which are the patterns.  The people that invented it naturally enough want to make a business out of it, and you can buy kits and special paper, as you are supposed to do it on special tiles which are squares of a particular sort of paper with rounded corners.  I think you could probably do it with a biro and some photocopying paper, although the biro would eventually get messy.  I don’t like the you have to join the club atmosphere that much, so recommend the book by Krahula who goes reasonably light on this, and the material on You Tube.

Krahula’s book is good in that it takes you through building up a pattern step by step and even a complete beginner like me can get the basics in a week.  This is my sketchbook which shows the exercises and a finished piece:


You will see that they all have daft names, which I think you are supposed to memorise.  I find it takes about 45 minutes to do a full Zentangle, and they are a brilliant way to fill in dead time like sitting on a train or walking the dog who stops to sniff every single blade of grass in a field.


This is one of my first Zentangles.  And this is a picture I have used before of using the tangles to fill in an existing drawing:


It shows the white on black approach which is effective in drawing black armour.

I’d recommend this, because if you can hold a pen you can do, it is quite relaxing, and it is good fun to stand back at the end of it and see what you have created which is always quite different to what you see close-up.  I like combining my drawings with the tangles as embellishment and fillers:


So, it is worth picking up a pen and having a go.


Drawing armour at the Wallace Collection


The first subject on this week’s list of things to blog about was drawing armour at the Wallace Collection.  This all started because I am interested in men’s workwear, and in particular the development of the business suit.  There is a fair bit of interesting material about this.  Anne Hollander and John Harvey are probably the best place to start.  One argument is that men’s suits can be traced back to suits of armour in that they are composed of tubes of cloth which encase the body just as armour is made of tubes of steel.  You get the idea if you think about suits made in mohair or silk which are shiny and metallic.  Here’s a classic:


And a suit of armour:


My argument, of course, is that the suit acts like armour – symbolic armour against the symbolic violence in organisations.  A perfect example of that is Suits (which you can see on British TV on Dave).  The series is about an aggressive US law firm, and the protagonists are all exquisitely dressed:


And style and self-presentation is everything:


The women are also exquisitely dressed in very close-fitting dresses.

One of the things that is really interesting about armour is that battlefield armour is different to ceremonial armour and to jousting armour.  Form really does follow function here.  Jousting armour is designed so that lances glance off it, and ceremonial armour is meant to dazzle.  It was violently expensive, custom-made, and people commissioned it from craftsmen all over Europe, particularly Germany and Italy.  So, despite my qualms about the violence involved, it is interesting in its materiality and functionality.

It also has a complicated relationship with civilian clothing.  Sometimes the armour apes civilian fashion, and sometimes civilian fashion borrows from men’s armour.  Uniforms are a case in point with Jimi Hendrix and his heavily frogged jacket:


The Middle Ages/Early Modern period mixed fashion and opulence and function and utility and back again.  So armour mimicked the very close folds of linen worn by men (and changed very frequently):

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The armour, then, is modelled to look like fashionable civilian dress as seen in these sketches from the Wallace Collection, but equally, there was a fashion for ordinary clothes to ape battledress.  An example of this is the slashing found in much of the clothing of the period.  The little puffs of fabric do demonstrate that the wearer has sufficient money to buy the fine silk required to get this effect, but it also looks like fine underlayers coming through slashes from a sword blade in combat:


My sketch of two portraits in the National Gallery shows many of the features that armour displays.  In the figure on the right we can see the very broad shoulders and tapered waist of the warrior’s armour, the pleated shirt which we see in the plate armour, and the slashes echoing the sword blows.  The military and civilian is collapsed together.  The drawing on the left shows the silhouette found in so many of the suits of armour in the Wallace.  Paintings in The National Portrait Gallery brilliantly show the silhouettes on which the armour was modelled.  The peascod jacket is seen in its fabric incarnation in the famous portrait of the Earl of Southampton:


It’s a great portrait because he looks so dastardly:


So.  There is more to say about this, but that can wait for the summer and the conference presentation.  I wanted to end this post by adding in elements of the Zentangle doodling I mentioned in my last post.  The workmanship on these pieces is stunning, and the catalogue and the commentary in the Wallace Collection urges us to see them as works of art (although it is difficult to see past them as works of murderous intent).  I took some of the armour in the Wallace Collection and added the zentangle patterns I’ve learned so far to turn them into works on paper, to show their proportions and their decorative qualities.  I started by drawing them in my sketchbook and then filled in the spaces with the doodles:



This last one is done with a white gouache pen on black sketchbook paper and gives a nice feel for some of the black armour or the bas relief pieces.  This final sketch is my rendering of a design on one suit of armour’s screw heads into a Zentangle pattern.  It was fun to make:


I really think that the doodles help to capture something about the armour.  I just haven’t quite understood what yet!

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What I did at the weekend


I have no idea where to start today so this might be a real ramble, for which I apologise in advance, but lots of things have come together in that last few days which has been fun but hard to untangle.

Let’s start with the four elements.

  1. The medieval historian and I, with our very Grate Frend Alf, are doing a mini-symposium in the summer at a conference in Utrecht (which is a lovely place and not quite as ‘urgent’ as Amsterdam).  Our topic is play fighting as a preparation for, and a metaphor for business.  Alf is looking at wrestling, the M.H. is looking at the melee, and I am looking at men’s business suits and suits of armour.  The M.H. (now Professor Medieval Historian) and I went to the Wallace Collection to have a look at some armour close-up.  Note to blog readers, the Wallace Collection has a bookshop and gift shop full of things you want to buy and not just cheap tat.  The restaurant and cafe which is a domed-over courtyard is just delightful.  The whole thing is a short walk from Oxford Street, and escaping that madness is always a good idea.  I never ever thought that I would have the slightest interest in armour, and to some extent it is still repellent.  Prof M.H. showed me a completely gruesome thing for upper cutting on the battlefield that really shocked me.  As Grate Frend Alf has been known to say, if you want to see creativity just look at the development of weapons and torture instruments.  Anyway, lots of sketching of armour ensued.
  2. Inspired by my other Grate Frend Beatriz Acevedo, who did a glorious series of watercolours (or possibly fluid acrylics!) of bug a day for a month, I decided to do a similar project and decided to learn properly about Zentangles, which is a sort of doodling which is supposed to help you to meditate.  I bought a teach yourself book which is a six-week course and I am on day ten.  I am not that bothered about producing Zentangles, but I do like the patterns for adding to drawings and initially started doing them to get some fresh ideas for machine quilting.
  3. I went to a workshop at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford with the gloriously talented Tanya Bentham, who makes reproduction medieval textiles.  I learned how to do some basic authentic medieval embroidery.  I was not brilliantly talented or a natural at this, but I loved every moment of it.
  4. The workshop was tied into the lovely Kevin Coates exhibition, A Bestiary of Jewels.  This is a collection of jewels based on making an animal pendant or brooch for a person linked the animal, so Montaigne and his cat, Lewis Carroll and his dodo, Gerard de Nerval and his lobster.  Coates is unusual because he mounts his jewels within an illustrated manuscript page or seemingly pinned to a page in his sketchbook with his preparatory drawings which look a bit like Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.  He is also clearly a really scholarly man, which leaps out from his designs, and he is a very talented musician.  Every year he makes a jewel for his wife’s birthday and a selection of these was on show too.

So, bring these four elements together and some sort of weird pattern emerges.  I will, I think, blog about these items separately, otherwise it would take all of Sunday for you to read a unifying post and no-one is that supportive of my endeavours – so some quick photos of all four elements:

Sketchbook page from drawing at the Wallace Collection




Medieval embroidery


Kevin Coates


St Judes Fabrics


This is a website I would like to share for anybody who likes fine graphic prints in slightly nostalgic colour schemes.   The link is http://www.stjudesfabrics.co.uk/

Several of the cushions and bags are on my wishlist and I can see some of the fabric stretched over canvas on my walls.  Visual delight.

Tacita Dean at the Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen


Tacita Dean

The last time we were in Copenhagen to see our lovely friends, we went to the National Art Museum (also seen in the most recent series of Borgen).  One of the special exhibitions that was on was a show of Tacita Dean’s photographs called Print Projects.  I really liked a group of photos which looked like a collection of individual negatives, some of which are in the wobbly photograph above.  I made some sketches at the exhibition:






I thought this would be a good way to use the photographic prints that I got for such a great price in the new fabric shop I couldn’t resist:


All I need now is the time to make them!

On-line textile retailer with some lovely stuff

Very quick post.  This is a great website/shop which is worth a look.


Have a good weekend.


Little Laura 6


This seemed like a nice Little Laura for Valentine’s Day (which happens to be my birthday), because of the little red enamel heart;


I like this one because the stitchery at the bottom of her skirt is the direct result of sketchbook work.

My dog loves going for a walk, but actually understands ‘walk’ as ‘stand about in the open air not moving for hours’.  Over the years I have developed a number of things to fill the waiting time, including taking photos and drawing when the weather is up to it.  On one walk I took some photos and then worked on them a bit when I got home:


It occurred to me when I was working on the pages that I could place Laura in the grass:


The grass is simple long stitches with some mal-formed french knots to represent seed heads.  This shows off the wonderful perlé cotton that is my favourite.  The sketchbook is an experiment in clipping together loose leaves with clip rings.  It is less robust than an ordinary sketchbook but allows me to move stuff around.  It’s also lighter to take with me to talks.


Little Laura 5


I rather let rip on this one and added about as much embellishment as I could squeeze in.  Sometimes more is more.  I think it works because there is a lot of patterning and repetition in it, otherwise it might just be overwhelming.


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Little Laura 4


This one is the first of this series that I did.  It has a very geometric stacked-up pattern feel, but the bronze on bronze pattern made with metallic machine sewing thread, here used for hand embroidery seems to me to give it a kind of sixties feel:

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I really love these kinds of Troika pottery designs and wish I had the money to collect some.  I grew up with these kinds of ceramics and it looks like they are making their way into my work.

As usual, the first one I made is probably my favourite.  I think it’s because the scale is right, I like the Troika aesthetic, and I find the patterning of the geometrics rather restful.

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Little Laura 3


I do love an encrusted surface and this Laura has a lot of very shiny black beads appliqué-d down the right-hand-side.  There is an old turquoise bead earring on the left, which I got in a lucky bag I bought at a vintage fair.  She also has a strip of burnt orange silk with a traditional wheat ear quilting pattern in turquoise.  I put in some silk to enrich the Laura Ashley fabric and I think that the beads would not have worked without it.  The quilting is clearly a nod to traditional quilt patterns which I really love.