Monday, 27 October 2014

Wild Networking

Wild Networking is something that is organised and curated four times a year by artist Sophie Cullinan the Education Co-ordinator at Fermyn Wood Contemporary Gallery.  This is an opportunity for artists to meet up from different media and to come together, use the Lodge and the space around  it, experiment with new ideas and learn from each others skills, knowledge and experience.

The brief or central theme for the meeting was 'Rural Factory',  allowing artists to respond to what the countryside has to offer in the form of inspiration and materials.

If there's one thing I'm not so keen about being a freelance artist is network meetings.  The bringing together of complete strangers in the hope that there will be a melting pot of ideas, sharing and offering opportunities that you may have come across.  In reality, like most people, this is an uncomfortable situation to find yourself in.  Trying to gain eye contact, and then starting a conversation and being English, my first line might be relating to the weather or how far a person has travelled or simple, asking what they do often like drawing teeth.

I feel like a cross between a cold caller and a Rolodex, hoovering up useful information and future allies for my business toolbox.  Like in life, many of these people you will never meet again, some will be more memorable than others depending on how much they engaged you in that very first conversation.

I have noted (as in note to self) the Wild Networking before and was curious how I would fit in with these strangers whoever they might be.  I often feel as a designer/maker I don't quite fit into the art world, all very high brow and pompous, not designed for my lighthearted view.  I often feel like the child in the Emperors' New Clothes who points out the obvious.  So I have skirted this opportunity a few times before I finally decided to attend, "Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway" quoting the book of the same name.  Then panic started to set in, what was I going to do when I got there?

One thing that I have in my favour is that I really do enjoy adventures.  Every opportunity that comes my way, be it an exhibition, a trade or selling event, a workshop or attending a talk is always viewed as an adventure.  I don't know what will happen, who I will meet, what I will do but if viewed as an adventure it becomes more palatable and easy to handle.  One more thing, I knew there would be three familiar faces that were attending the day.

The journey to Sudborough Green Lodge is always one of pure pleasure and I am always left feeling how wonderful it would be to live in relative isolation.   To get to the lodge you have to come off the main drag and travel through the forest via dirt track, slowly, for about 10 minutes until you reach a wooden gate which takes you into a field with a double cottage in it.  The freedom that you are away from the noise of the everyday is the most joyous experience one can feel in a modern world of noise and technology.

The lodge has 3 bedrooms, which probably sleeps 5 or 6, so ideal for an artists retreat although on this occasion I would only be there for the day.  The most welcome site was the wood fire, which was in full burn and exuding a wonderful warmth into the room.  A few of the artists had already arrived so I said my hellos before I was given a hot mug of tea.

I had brought with me some threads, wire and a needle.  My thoughts were to take myself to the place I am most happiest and that is making.

I went into the kitchen and gathered up some tools I would need, cutting board, sharp knife and a plate, then I went outside and gathered some apples which a subsequently sliced up in readiness for the next part of the process.  Whilst I was outside I introduced myself to Sue who was collecting stones and apples.  It was quite cold and I wondered what had drawn her to be there.

As I busied myself at the table in the dining area, I noticed that one of the artist was weaving small branches together which looked interesting, I tried to strike up a conversation but I could feel that she wanted to be in her own creative bubble so I left her to her own devices.

Before I set about assembling my apple wreath, I thought I would see what others were up to.  Carole was in the other small room printing and another artist was taking photographs.  I chatted to him and he shared a little about his job and his need to get back to his art.  Then I had a look at how Sue was getting on.  She had quartered apples and had them arranged on the table in such a way that when the wind blew the apples wobbled together in unison, I found that both intriguing.  There were other mini installations she was testing which I was eager to revisit later.

The apple wreath was carefully assembled then hung on one of the apple trees.  It seemed fitting for it
to go on the one that had actually lost all it's apples, it was my act of homage to the tree to celebrate the abundance it had provided.  My wreath took pride of place but I decided to apple bomb the trunk and one branch to add fullness to my art installation.

All too soon it was time to have lunch and break bread with my fellow artists.  On entering the dining area I noticed that the other artist I had tried to talk to had finished her piece and had made an effigy using twigs and an apqple as a head. The meal consisted of orange and carrot soup, parsnip and apple soup, quiche, baked potatoes, cheese, nibbles and orange juice.  The atmosphere was very relaxed and natural and we all shared aspects of our practice from projects we were currently working on.

All in all I could take a sigh of relief knowing that it wasn't as bad as I first thought.  This is a relaxed opportunity to really self indulge yourself in art for you and no-one else.  I came away with more than I went with; apples which I will make into chutney, the knowledge that it is always good to challenge yourself and step into the unknown, a collection of shared experiences, and a mini exhibition invitation entitled "Size Matters".

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Workshop Treat - learning how to make buttons with Gina-B Silkworks

Question:  When do I ever go to a workshop that isn't run by yours truly?

Answer: Very rarely.

On Saturday 11th October I booked myself on a button making workshop which included all sorts of buttons; Dorset, Death's Head, Shirt Wing with Gina Barrett, star of Create and Craft.

It was a few months ago whilst researching the technique of Dorset buttons that I came across her book, Buttons, A Passmenterie Workshop Manual and subsequently bought it.  I absolutely adore technical books and exploring new techniques.

When I taught myself how to do lace tatting a couple of years ago, I could find no-one to show me despite getting in touch with the Ring of Tatters organisation.  So teaching myself was literally all trials and tribulations, starting off, then realising that I had been working back to front, getting the tensions right, understanding patterns, basically the whole kit and caboodle.

Before I bought the book I had researched a little on the subject and come up with what I thought were successful attempts at Dorset buttons but kept wishing that there was a workshop available to attend as some of the button structures were quite complicated. I had seen that Gina had received plenty of requests to do a workshop.  I signed up to her mailing list, as you do, to keep up to date, hoping upon hoping that I wouldn't be inundated with email after email asking to buy this and buy that, offer this and opportunity that.  I really hate that don't you.  I like to think that occasionally an artist will let me know what's going on in their world then I can attend exhibitions, workshops or talks if they are close enough.  I just like to be informed not nagged.

Anyhow, digressing slightly, when I did receive the newsletter I had been waiting there happened to
be the long awaited workshop opportunity, as you can imagine, I was right on the button (excuse the pun) in making sure I secured a place for the day.

The workshop was held at the Whipper Inn at Oakham in Rutland.  Lovely location very rural town, lots of interesting shops and a few galleries to explore.  The workshop was held in the conference room so was a great space with plenty of room.  Perhaps my only criticism was the lighting was a little poor in the afternoon but then conference rooms aren't designed with stitchers in mind.

I arrived ever so slightly late due to my SATNAV's insistence that I wanted to go the market square which is where the front of the hotel is situated.  I hadn't missed too much fortunately and very quietly and quickly got out my scissors, notebook and pin cushion.  All eyes were then on Gina.

The first button we explored was a Death Head button (green button) which immediately made me think of the moth's with a similar name.  I don't think there was one person, apart from Gina, in the room that didn't worry about overlapping their threads as they wrapped their way to the first completed button.  Along the way we discovered how to keep our tension in check and how there are different ways to achieve this by using pointed wooden dowels of various thickness or a mental pokey tool similar to my bookbinding awl.

Everyone worked at their own pace, which is how I like it in my workshops.  I managed to squeeze in a second Death Head button.  (black and white).  Lunch came around to quickly.  Some of the group had brought lunch with them, others like me ordered from the bar.  As a veggie there normally isn't a great deal to choose from and the same was said for this venue., unless I wanted a large sit down meal.   I opted for a cheese salad roll (very special roll) and some onion marmalade.  Sounds lovely?  All I can say was it was a bit strange to have marmalade and red onion mixed together as a condiment and not onion made into marmalade as one usually expects.

In the afternoon we moved onto other buttons including the shirt wing (blue button) and passementerie button (small round button).  By this time the group had become very loose and a little more confident about trying new techniques and different styles of buttons which Gina moving attentively around the group to ensure we all were happy with our attempts.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day and would highly recommend the workshop with Gina.  The fabric buttons are very versatile and could be used in a myriad of ways.