What I did at the weekend


I realise that I have rather fallen in love with the zentangle technique and that this is a stitching and not a drawing blog, but I was very pleased with myself for this task, and just wanted to share it.

As part of the course I am following, there is a daily task, and the one for Saturday was to play around with what are called the strings.  These are the pencil guidelines that split up the ground for the various patterns.  I was idly making a few sketches when I came up with one that looked a bit like the Tacita Dean pieces that I blogged about just after Christmas:


I did quite a rough string from memory which I filled in:


Then I remembered that I had bought some photographic type stencils so I decided to try those out:


I added quite a bit of trompe l’oeil shading, and deliberately chose the more figurative patterns.

It’s just nice when things come together,




Learning Medieval Embroidery at the Ashmolean


I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that there were several things I wanted to blog about: drawing armour at the Wallace Collection, and drawing zentangles,  then there was the Kevin Coates exhibition and the workshop I did at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford on medieval embroidery with Tanya Bentham.  I’ve done the zentangles and the armour  and now it’s the workshop.

The workshop was held in conjunction with the exhibition which was of a bestiary of jewels associating animals with certain people such as Flaubert’s parrot and Montaigne’s cat and so on.  So in the workshop we were invited to take a fantastical animal from our imaginations or a manuscript and combine it with a person we would like to make it for.  We were also learning to do laid and couched work, which was the embroidery technique used on the Bayeux Tapestry.

I did the course because it was taught by Tanya Bentham.  We have been in touch for a couple of years via our blogs but we had not met, so I was in a bit of trepidation in case we did not get on.  But, Tanya turned out to be fantastic.  She is a very good and well-prepared teacher, and the workshop was an absolute bargain as we not only got the tuition but a generous supply of all the materials, and the frame, and the most delicious biscuits imaginable, including some raspberry macarons that will live long in the memory.  Plus she gave me a big bag of beads.  Fantastic.

Anyway, I decided against one of the bestiary animals as I was totally enchanted by a lovely unicorn jewel that Coates had made for his wife.  I made a sketch of it:


It was a very beautiful piece set with various precious stones.  I decided I wanted to do a unicorn because  I had done some work on the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries in Paris for a scholarly piece of work.  Although unicorns now seem to be viewed as horses with a horn, I know from the Medieval Historian, that originally they were as much like goats as horses and often had beards and a lion’s tail, like the one in the following zentangle:


This is a technique in a second book on zentangling that I bought, in which you define an outline using the patterns and the  silhouette is a sort of negative space.  Here’s a detail:


I decided to combine the unicorn with my dog, Harry’s ludicrously fluffy tale.  Here’s the working sketch:


And here’s the shocking zentangle of a unicorn I did while waiting for my tutorial with Tanya:


My problem as with the first drawing is that the unicorn is white, and the wool fabric we were embroidering onto was also white.  I decided to do my couching in blue and also to have a blue tale and blue outline so that the white creature would stand out:


I  thought it gave a sort of fairytale or heraldic flavour to the piece, like the books of hours rather than the Bayeux Tapestry or Lutrell Psalter, which were our main inspirations:


It is a very rough piece of work and not up to Tanya’s standards but I really enjoyed doing it.  The outline is in split stitch, as is the beard, and all the wools are dyed with natural dyes and so are authentic.  I quite liked the discipline of a small colour range, and I forced myself not to add a bead or a gold thread, even though I was desperate to put some sparkle in his eye.  He is probably about four or five inches high.

I also enjoyed doing some sketches.  This one, which reflects my current interest in armour, is a rescue on a terrible drawing:



I found them quite compelling to draw:


And enjoyed working with the head as a design like the original inspiration:


I think a bit of watercolour wash really lifts these drawings.

So this was a fantastic workshop and I really learned a lot.  The technique is easy in theory, but it takes a lot of practice, I expect, to get to the point where you can do it as evenly and accurately as Tanya.  If you want to see how it should be done, check her website Opus Anglicanum

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Interesting book for makers

images-2I seem to have started doing book reviews on this blog.  This wasn’t a conscious choice; I just want to share some books that I have either enjoyed or found interesting.

Andrew Marr’s book about drawing is largely a picture book with lots of illustrations using either conventional pencils and paint or his iPad.  It is a nice book to leaf through just to look at the pictures, and he is a talented artist.  There are some delightful drawings of his daughters, for example and interesting sketches of his travels.  But he also has very interesting things to say about creativity, and in particular, making.  The book is an exhortation to people to take up making, as much as it is about drawing.  So he says on page 90:

Drawing will make you a better person – not morally necessarily, but it makes you think.  It will help you see hidden patterns all around you, and make you a discriminating lover of landscape, faces, and mundane objects.  It becomes an education, which changes your brain as much as learning to play the piano or to dance.  It is about striving to become more fully human.

He acknowledges that drawing involves a certain vulnerability:

To draw is to display yourself – your own mind, the quality of your memory and attentiveness.  (p. 62)

But, he argues, we have a propensity for drawing:

To try to take down the world in in the shorthand notation of line seems a very simple thing to do.  We seem to have an instinct for it.  Mankind has drawn for as long as the record goes back.  But once you begin you realise it is also a personal gamble.  (p. 63)

One of the strong arguments in the book is that to make is to be fully human, and people who don’t make are denying part of themselves.  I have a folk belief that making things makes us healthier, and that stultifying our creativity causes all sorts of illnesses.  I don’t think that makng will make you live forever – my father made radio-controlled model airplanes all his life and died very young, but I do believe that not finding an outlet for our creativity adds to our stress levels and degree of satisfaction with the world.  As Marr says, there is a very simple joy to be had in making something which has never existed in the world.

I have been interested to observe my own progress making daily zentangles.  It really does make you see the world differently.  I look for patterns which I could adapt to make a zentangle pattern in the world around me.  I like sitting back having created something that wasn’t there before.  And, I think, the daily discipline is making me a better drawer.  No-one seems to want to hear that drawing is about practice, but I think it is: practice and confidence which are intertwined.

There is a review of Marr’s book which contains his thoughts about how having his stroke made him a better drawer at the following link:


The book is published by Quadrille, 2013.

Zentangle from Sunday walk


I have blogged before about my little self-improvement project to learn how to zentangles by doing one a day for six weeks.  I am now in week five and the stakes have been raised.  This week we not only go into colour, but we also start creating the tangles properly as artworks.  The task was to work with colour and the book suggested that the drawings work well as botanic pieces, so yesterday when we were walking the dog I took some photos to use to develop a botanical drawing and to make up my own tangles.  The resulting zentangle is at the beginning of the post.  Here’s the beautiful park in glorious sunshine:


These are the photos I took:


You can see the leaf shapes in the drawing.  The watercolour effects were done with intense coloured pencils, mainly with the colour lifted with a wet brush from the point of the pencil.


What I did on Sunday

Well, I should have been working at the day job, but for some reason I have the big Urge to Create yesterday and so I gave in.

I finished the last of the little Laura panels just after lunch and I went up to my workroom and thought about what to do with them.  I was going to make them into a long band to use as a border on the big Laura Ashley quilt, but in the end I thought that they looked better as a mini quilt in their own right.  Here they are roughly laid out against a piece of fleece on the sofa.  These were just planning photos to help me to remember the placement of the panels, so they aren’t top quality:


I intended to stitch the panels together and then do some embroidered arches to frame them, as in this paper mock-up in my sketchbook:


But when I put the quilt together – very simply with two lines of topstitching in a blending in colour – it soon became apparent that the quilt with all the beads would be too heavy to move under the sewing machine – it would result in pointy stitching instead of smooth curves.  So I would need to think of something else.

The background fabric is a really tough upholstery Laura Ashley fabric which limits choices.  I thought about applique-ing on the arches over black tulle, but it didn’t read clearly enough against the gold background.  I was hoping to use some patterns from all the zentangling I have been doing, and this worked on the stitch sample I made, but again would not have been feasible with so much embellishment weighing the whole thing down.  So, I began to experiment with drawing onto the cloth:


Again, this is a working photo to see how this ‘reads’ from a distance.  What I decided I liked was the little highlights of white which the pattern provided, so I experiment with working with that:


You can see this on the left.


I extended it a bit to get an idea of what a whole row would look like.  I think it could look great.  So I thought about drawing directly onto the quilt top.  The only problem with that would be drawing against seam lines which would stop the flow of the pen.  Which leaves cutting arches from another piece of fabric and applique-ing them down.  This is fine, except that every archway will have to be different, which will look fantastic – I really like irregularity in these things – but it will take forever to draw up and cut out!  At this point the light was going, so I left it and decided to sleep on it.  Assuming I go back and finish it, it does mean that I will have something for the Bristol Quilters exhibition, which is a relief.

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Steal like an artist


I seldom do book reviews on the blog, but this is a book that I read on a train journey a couple of weeks ago which is worth a look.  I can’t help but feel that my grate friend Alf Rehn said most of this better first, but it is a short snappy book about getting on with creating and making and not just sitting about moaning about not being able to draw.

The central tenet of the book is that we start by stealing but as we practise and become more accomplished we make our own original work by using what we have in the mental filing cabinet.  He gives some interesting ideas about keeping on track and finding time to work, and he describes his own process pretty honestly – at least it rings true.  It is full of the usual inspirational, unreferenced, quotations, one of which, from John Cleese, I really liked:

We don’t know where we get our ideas from.  What we do know is that we do not get them from our laptops.

Which is the sort of thing that I would like to shout at the next person who exhorts me to do more innovative – ie technology-based teaching.

I have certain been up and down the curve that he gives on page 83, and thought other people might find it interesting.

The life of a projectpdf.001

So, this is a short, reassuring read, just right for commuting.