“August rain: the best of summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd, uneven time.”
It’s not just August which has been wet. Apart from a few sporadic days of tropical heat that coincided with the first week of Wimbledon, this summer has delivered more and heavier rain than was needed by my garden. Luckily I’ve had lots of things to keep me busy. College finished in the last week of June but college projects have been ongoing ever since and if you take a closer look at my website you may notice the results of one of them – including some better photography.
Given the choice I’ll do pretty much anything rather than sit in front of a computer screen (which accounts for the random blog postings) so I wasn’t best pleased when Delyth (course leader on my MA in Contemporary Crafts at Hereford College of Arts) suggested that I should rebuild my online presence for the Professional Practice module. She was right that the website was looking a bit ‘tired’ and that was because ever since it had been created (thanks to a grant from the Arts Council of Wales in 2014) I had done very little with it and certainly didn’t mess about with the tricky bits behind the front page. She was also right that the content didn’t reflect my current practice, though to be honest this is her fault because – thanks to the MA course – I have gone from using felt to creating mixed media work, lino cutting, hand-made paper and making maps with techniques as diverse as photography, poetry, video, bone carving, weaving and drawn illustration.
Trying to find a way to get all of those activities to sit on a website without the result looking like the aftermath of a jumble sale was going to be a challenge but then, just before the end of term, our MA cohort was treated to workshops with Pete Mosley (coach, mentor and author of The Art of Shouting Quietly . At the end of the four days Pete told me that I was a ‘multi-potentialite’ and a ‘multi-faceted person of intent’. He might have just wanted to get rid of me because my allotted tutorial time was up by using words I didn’t understand but I prefer to think that he was helping me to join up some dots. It turns out that there are lots of us ‘multi-potentialites’ in the world and this is just Emilie Wapnik’s term. Barbara Sher uses ‘scanners’, Roman Krznaric says we are ‘wide achievers’ and my late Aunty Phyl would have called us ‘Jack of all trades’. In Welsh the term is Wil naw swydd which translates to ‘Will of the nine jobs’. How lucky is Will to be able to restrict himself to just the nine!
I’ve always been able to turn my hand to lots of different things, not brilliantly but with competence. The only skill which escapes me is music – including dance, singing and even the enjoyment of listening to anything other than Gregorian chants. I find music at best irritating and at worst, discomforting. Apart from that there is virtually nothing that I’m not interested in or nosy about. I followed Pete’s advice and made a list of all my activities and interests: it took up two sheets of paper and I only stopped writing because it was getting silly. It got me thinking about whether I could combine all of my various activities into my new-ish website and use it to keep an eye on all my spinning plates. Whilst I was thinking I popped up to Craven Arms for the launch of the new Wales Rail Trail which is going to create a long distance footpath that links to the stations along the Heart of Wales line.
For once the weather was good and the scenery was stunning. What made the day truly memorable for me though was that as I walked to the station to get the train home, I noticed a road sign that was almost covered by hedgerow growth. Pulling the leaves away I found this and ticked something off my list off my bucket list – and you will only understand why if you are a history (in particular, Roman history) nerd like me.
Early July saw 13 children and four adults from Llangan Primary School coming to visit our garden. In order to maintain some semblance of control, I’d sorted out the activities which included a tour of the garden, produce tasting, a quiz, observational drawing and the very popular ‘Cake Idol’ competition between Truly Cake and Thunder & Lightning Cake. It was great to hear Harri (aged 10) telling Max to “be serious because every vote will count!” Democracy is safe in their hands. As usual Thunder and lightning cake won and if you follow the recipe I’ve attached you’ll realise the reason.
Meanwhile I was still wrestling with the website and wondering how many wrong buttons I’d press before the whole thing collapsed before my eyes. Distraction came by way of a few days in Aberystwyth during which time I managed five exhibitions in a single day. The first was ‘Lives of the Celtic Saints’ at Llanbadarn Fawr Church and very lovely it was too. I followed that with ‘Fallen Poets’ (poignant), ‘Arthur and Welsh Mythology’ (jaw droppingly good) and ‘Legends!’ (amazing) at the National Library of Wales before getting to ‘Radical Crafts’ at Aberystwyth Arts Centre.
One of the things I like about Aberystwyth is how esoteric some of the street entertainment is. This was the scene at a free concert of folk music on the promenade.
Lorraine (my website guru) lives in Aberystwyth and gave me some ‘calm-down-and-get-on-with-it’ advice about button pressing. On the way home I walked walk part of the Aberaeron to Lampeter trail to visit Llanerchaeron and apart from advising you to be very sceptical about the information which is given to you there about where the nearest bus stop is, I heartily recommend the place. It is beautiful.
Eventually I got to the point where I couldn’t put off interacting with the computer any longer. Even the weather conspired to get me into cyberspace as rain, more rain and then, yet more rain fell. Stuck indoors one damp afternoon I pressed my first button and found that nothing catastrophic happened either to the world in general or the website in particular. Buoyed by (probably misplaced) confidence, I pressed button after button removing redundant tabs and inserting new, relevant ones. Whereas activities used to be crammed into four sections, my website now has 18 different pages and all my interests are arranged in a logical and integrated whole with lots of bits and bobs embedded – just because I learnt how to do it and wanted to show off.
Hopefully you’ll have a tolerant attitude to any bumps and wobbles in my newly realigned website. It’s not only Sylvia Plath’s time which is odd and uneven.
“They were maps that lived, maps that one could study, frown over, and add to; maps, in short, that really meant something.”
Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals.
If you read my last blog ( Give me a map…) you’ll know that I put the blame for my love of maps fairly and squarely on my father.
The responsibility for my love of poetry is less easy to assign to just one person. This never mattered very much because it never occurred to me that I would need to get the two things to work together. Doing the MA in Contemporary Crafts at Hereford College of Arts , however, has created some unusual alliances in the way I think about things. Around about the time I was walking the Wales Coast Path around the South Gower, two projects were occupying my mind.
The first was how I was going to find away to convert all of the experiences and ideas of that journey into a map that made sense and the second related to a piece of work that I have been asked to submit for the exhibition called ’50 Bees – The Interconnectedness of All Things’. You can find out more about the exhibition here . Luckily I was reading ‘Art Quilt Maps’ by Valerie S. Goodwin. One of the chapters is called ‘Map Haiku:Visual Poetry’ and set me on the way to making the sort of maps which reflect both the physical landscape and the way in which I experienced it when I was out there walking.
A word about Haikus and other forms of poetry
Lots of people don’t know what a haiku is. This is because they didn’t grow up with my sister Helen. By the time she was 10, Helen knew virtually everything in the world (or so I thought at the time). It is thanks to Helen that by the time I was 8, I had been instructed in a variety of theories including how to mummify a corpse ancient-Egypt style, how to skin a rabbit and -most importantly for my MA – how to write a haiku. A haiku is a form of minimalist Japanese poetry with a set number of syllables. Strictly speaking, the first phrase should evoke the season to set the time of the haiku, the second phrase the place and so on. Let me not, however, give Helen more responsibility for my love of poetry than she is due. My mother was a poet whose work was best described as Vogon-like (only readers of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy will understand – and sympathise). I grew up with shopping lists written in rhyme, limericks on birthday cards and – worst of all – letters to teachers excusing me from games or for absence – composed as country & western style song lyrics.
In some ways I failed to escape the early influences and I still find it incredibly easy to write in verse although I usually get bored and move on to a different activity after about 4 stanzas. Luckily I live in Wales, a country with more than its fair share of poets. I love the brooding melancholy of R.S. Thomas (Reservoirs):
“There are places in Wales I don’t go:
Reservoirs that are the subconscious
Of people, troubled far down
With gravestones, chapels, villages even:”
and I adore the imagery of Dylan Thomas(Hold hard, these ancient minutes):
“Hold hard, these ancient minutes in the cuckoo’s month,
Under the lank, fourth folly on Glamorgan’s hill,
As the green blooms ride upward, to the drive of time;”
So as I thought about the South Gower and the 50 Bees, I wondered about using a haiku as a starting point. Especially as I had no other ideas floating about in my head. Rather than use a Japanese form of poetry, I did a bit of research and found that there is a Welsh version called an englyn. There are 24 different styles of englynion which range from incredibly complex to just downright incomprehensible. The englyn milwyr (soldier’s englyn) was the simplest: 3 lines, 7 syllables per line with the last syllable of each line rhyming. I thought that the soldiers wouldn’t mind me borrowing and tweaking their englyn so I decided my verses would be in English and would go with the 3 lines, 7 syllables but not bother with the rhyming. I started with the 50 Bees simply because time was pressing and I had been getting emails which urged me to send photographs of the completed work as soon as possible. The COMPLETED work? Small chance of that happening. I had been assigned a bee called the Colletes Cunicularis which is a fussy eater of goat willow and has very specific ideas on where home should be – sand dunes. Also, my bee was prone to dancing with all the other bees from her hive. I liked that image and thought about it a lot as I walked around the sand dunes of Kenfig Burrows in Glamorgan.
According to local legend Kenfig was once a rich town and its people were cursed after they failed to show shelter to an old man on a stormy night. Voices on the wind were heard to cry “Dial a ddaw” (Vengeance is Coming) and by morning the whole town had been buried in a sandstorm. It is said that the bell of the church can still be heard ringing from beneath the waters of Kenfig Pool. That story helped my englyn along.
“Paths swept by wind, strewn with gold
are lost to all save those who
watch her giddy dance unfold.”
There we are – 3 lines, 7 syllables per line. Easy – thanks to Helen and Mum.
It made my final piece of work for the 50 Bees exhibition almost logical. I just scaled everything up and got my poetry in for all the world to see.
I decided to apply the same methodology to the South Gower. I looked back over the photographs I had taken and the sketches that I had made. In my mind the images of stairs cut into the woodland floor and the smells of carpets of wildflowers were still strong; I remembered that I had been mulling over a problem and trying to find a solution that was proving to be irritatingly elusive. 3 lines, 7 syllables per line later, I came up with this:
“Heavy, heady, scented steps
Violets, Ramsons, Celandines
Perfume the path, the moment.”
I was more pleased with the englyn than it probably deserves and this may have been because it kick started a design idea for a map of the South Gower walk. I did a postcard size sample piece to just make sure I had the colours, lines and textures going the way I wanted them to.
I came to the conclusion there wasn’t enough map-like content in my postcard. It could as easily have been an atoll in the South Pacific as the coast of South Wales. I refined my design and my colour palette and started again, this time working on watercolour paper rather than fabric and layering up glazes before stamping the text on. I’m not that keen on stitching into paper and I’ll probably be altering my techniques before I do the next map but I’m not dissatisfied with the outcome of the South Gower map.
Felly, i ble nesaf? Wel, es i am dro dros y mynydd lleol sef Mynydd Llangeinwyr. Roedd y gwynt yn gryf iawn. Tynnais i luniau gyda chamèra ac yn fy llyfr sgets. Wedyn, daeth y geiriau’r englyn yn hawdd.
My next map is probably going to be based on a walk I did over Llangeinor Mountain. Llangeinor is a tiny hamlet on an ancient drovers’ route across the Glamorgan uplands. On the day we crossed these now barren moorlands, the wind was harsh and bitter so:
“That wind – cuts through cloud spun light
carving shapes, crafting shadows,
splintering the dry stone walls.”
I’m not sure what sort of map I’ll be making to go with this englyn but I’m pretty sure that it will be one to frown over, study and it will mean a bit more than if I’d just drawn the route.
Never written an englyn: try now! 3 lines, 7 syllables per line.
About three years ago a friend and fellow gardener told me of a wonderful book she had read called The Morville Hours . Written by Katherine Swift it tells the story of the creation of a garden at the Dower House in Morville, Shropshire. The Morville Hours is not your normal gardening book of Latin plant names (don’t do them), pests (got too many of them) and so on; rather it is an invitation to follow the author on a very personal journey of self-discovery with digressions into planting, history, nature and the priniciples of the Benedictine Rule. I know this because three years after Susan lent me the book, I have reached page 164 (which means there are 184 to go: at this rate I will finish the book in October 2019).
I should now apologise to those who lectured on the Creative Writing Course at the University of Glamorgan, in particular Maria Donovan , Barrie Llewlyn and Rob Middlehurst because my speed and enthusiasm for reading books is no further advanced now than when they despaired of me between 2004-2007. Maria instilled the values of sharp editing and good punctuation into me, Barrie taught me objectivity and quality control while Rob and I shared a fondness for 1940s detective stories and surreal humour. None of them persuaded me to read for the sake of reading.
For a little while I considered whether I should continue my embryonic career in writing but when push came to shove, I found that I could either write or sew – there wasn’t enough in my creative reservoir to do both. The call of the needle and thread proved stronger than the pen or keyboard and the rest is history. Except, that is, for me nurturing a small disappointment that I never did the MPhil in Creative Writing. At the end of this month however, I embark on the MA in Contemporary Crafts at Hereford College of Arts which should satisfy my postgraduate tendencies for a bit.
I was accepted onto the MA course by virtue of embroideries like ‘Carnedd Cynddylan’ and ‘Dark Tonight’, and tempted by the prospect of learning how to blow glass and forge metal that I could use on pieces of Textile Art.
Over the summer my idea for the MA project has developed and spread like one of the plants in Katherine Swift’s garden. At first I intended it all to be inspired by my interest in landscape history. Then I thought about how I could incorporate myth and legend; next came the need to include artefacts and relics; now I realise I have the opportunity to include all the things I learnt through studying Creative Writing with Maria, Barrie and Rob. Whether all my ideas and plans will ripen into fruition is another matter but I am nothing if not optimistic.
Back at the start of the year I set myself some goals (as opposed to New Year’s Resolutions). The first was to do some form of further education so I think that one can be ticked off as achieved (or at least a work in progress until December 2017). Another was to end the year leaner and fitter than I started it. To this end my sister and I have been doing a 500 mile challenge to raise money for the British Heart Foundation. (You can track our progress here .) It started back in March with the Carmarthen Mayor’s Race and
our challenge finishes next weekend at the Swansea Bay 10k. In between, my quota of 250 miles has seen me doing a fabulous run around the National Botanic Gardens of Wales, trekking miles along the wonderful Wales Coastal Path
and completing the iconic Severn Bridge Half Marathon.
Sut ydy’r her o deithio 500 milltir cysylltiedig â Chelf Tecstilau? Oherwydd fy mod i’n cael fy syniadau gorau drwy bod y tu allan. Does dim ots a fydda i’n rhedeg, cerdded neu eistedd a chael picnic! Mae rhaid i fi fod yn yr awyr agored i gael syniadau ac ysbrydoliaeth am waith creadigol.
In much the same way as Katherine Swift and the garden at Morville came together to produce a magical book that was as much about the human condition as it was about gardening, I find that just being outside is a huge inspiration to my Textile Art. I saw the glistening raindrops on moss covered stone walls that edged the lanes I was running through at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales, I felt the sense of isolation and aloneness along parts of the Ceredigion coast and I smelt the swirling muddy waters of the Severn Estuary. These are memories which no camera could capture as an image. The next time you find yourself short of inspiration, try moving through the landscape whether it’s a worked garden like the one at Morville , the wild and rugged hills of Wales or anything you are within reach of!
“green bursts out on every herb; the top of the green oakwood is bushy. summer has come,”
Irish, 10th Century.
When you have a garden, you have no time to call your own. Flowers, fruit and vegetables are the most demanding of children. In exchange for their beauty, their perfume, their usefulness and their sustenance they have learnt only two words and they use them incessantly: “me, me, me” and “now, now, now”.
There are many textile artists who choose to be inspired by gardens but I am not one of them. I am happy however to use my garden in the same way as I start a piece of stitchery off on fabric. I get an idea which develops and grows almost of its own accord. Mine is just the hand that happens to hold the needle and thread in textile art and in the garden mine is the hand that happens to wield the trowel and spade. In both cases, before you know it, the idea starts to look like it had planning behind it.
Whilst I’ve been preparing for the exhibition on 30th & 31st July at Bryngarw Country Park I’ve also been working on the garden, developing a small area to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. Although these may seem like wildly divergent subjects, there has been a common thread running through them – the concept of San Fairy Ann. My late and lovely Aunty Phyl used to dismiss all the awkward happenings which came her way in life with a casual toss of her hand and a good-humoured “Oh, well. San Fairy Ann.”
Only recently when I was doing a bit of research on the First World War did I realise that Aunty Phyl had probably inherited the phrase from her Uncle Sid who had been a sapper at the Battle of the Somme. “San Fairy Ann” is generally accepted to be an Anglicisation of “Ca ne faire rien” which means something like “nothing really matters” . I can have no concept of how people like great Uncle Sid coped with the reality of the horrors of war and the imminent and random nature of a brutal death but it may be that accepting that life itself is imminent and random so that nothing really matters was the only way to face each day.
In developing the work for the exhibition ‘A Habitation of Dragons’, I’ve been thinking long and hard about dragons. The last official sighting of a dragon in this country was in 1743 which is not that long ago. It’s easy to think that the things which happen in our lifetimes are of earth-shattering significance and, on a personal level, they may well be but we are such short-lived creatures. To a dragon, to whom time is an illusion that holds mankind in its thrall, the traumas of history would ebb and flow in the same way as the moon waxes and wanes, the tides ebb and flow. One of the hangings I’ve created for the exhibition is of an old, wise dragon called Col whose expression probably reflects the same realisation that “nothing really matters” .
I recently read an interesting article about a woman who lost her son when he was just a young man. She asked the journalist who was writing the obituary to keep her son’s death in perspective because it had taken him just a few minutes to die but before that he had lived for 27 years. When I was planning the garden to mark the centenary of the Somme, I thought about that a lot. We look back on the horrors of the First World War, at those gaunt and traumatised faces staring out from grainy black & white films and it’s easy to forget that they, too, had gardens to dig, seeds to plant, weeds to pull. There would have been a Jack Russell to walk, a cat to stroke, a book to read, a football to kick around the park with a couple of mates. We have focussed on their end, not their beginning or middle. Focussing on their end may be right but it should not be exclusive.
So I called my garden the “San Fairy Ann” garden and I set about building as a celebration of all of their lives and their hope that nothing really matters. As with so much in my garden, I don’t know the Latin names of plants and quite often, not even the English names of plants. I know their colours, if I like them, if the bees like them and if they come back year after year or are one summer wonders.
I foraged some 100 year old bricks from the reject pile in the old brickworks near our house and I edged my little curling path that winds in and out of the dappled shade so there’s a sense of motion but you don’t actually get anywhere. One of the roses is called ‘Absent Friends’ and many of the plants have been given to us to plant by our present friends. There are happy plants and there are poignant plants growing side by side. There are seashells and windchimes and little solar powered lights and everywhere there’s a sense of things weaving in and out. To them, there probably seems no order to anything. To me, when I was planting the garden and laying the paths, there seemed no order to anything but now that summer’s here, it has all come right.
Bydd croeso i bawb i ddod i ymweld ag ein gardd ni ym Mis Medi. Ewch at y cadwyn isod am ragor o fanylion. Byddaf i’n hapus i siarad yn y Gymraeg ar y dydd pe hoffech.
And that has made me realise that maybe great Uncle Sid and his compatriots may have understood the lyrics of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody in a deeper way:
“Carry on, carry on, as if nothing really mattered at all”.
Incidentally, there was a happy ending for great Uncle Sid. He returned from the First World War, married his sweetheart, Charlotte, and went on to become a grower of the best and tastiest runner beans in his village. I think he’d be very happy to see our San Fairy Ann garden. If you’d like to see it too, you can come to visit when we open our garden for the National Garden Scheme between 12-5pm on Sunday, 4th September 2016.
Dw i’n gallu cofio Wncl Sid yn dda iawn. Roedd e’n ddyn hyfryd. Roedd e’n arfer rhannu ei ginio o bysgod a sglods gyda ni. Roedd e’n arfer ysmygu pibell gydag arolwg o dybaco melys. Mewn storm, roedd e’n arfer cerdded lan i’r mynyddoedd achos bod ofn arno fe.
When my super intelligent, super talented sister decided to write a blog, her biggest challenge was not how she would find the time to write (newly retired from keeping the NHS afloat, time for personal pursuits is a novelty) or what she would write about (cooking, touring, history, walking, living in the beautiful Welsh Marches etc). No, it turned out that what caused her embryonic career as a blogger to stutter was finding a title for it. After trying to match the expectations of her potential readers with her own ideas and aspirations she came up with this which I think works pretty well (as, indeed, do her blogs).
When I started out as a Textile Artist I wondered whether I should use my own name or come up with something a little less personal. There were a couple of reasons: firstly, my name is not that uncommon and, coincidentally, there’s another Maria Lalic in the art world although she is higher profile and exhibits in places like the Tate; secondly, as much as I love textile art, I also love primitive craft, writing, teaching workshops, gardening and loads of other things. I wondered about having an all-encompassing label for these things because I thought that people who liked my artwork might think that there was a multitude of people with the same name doing loads of different things. I couldn’t come up with the umbrella term in the same way as my sister did so I settled on giving each activity a different name. Textiles to Treasure showed off my attempts at crafts,
Rebecca Alston wrote short stories, book reviews and magazine articles and Simple Country Folk reflected my interest in gardening, simple living and self reliance. When Lorraine from Greenweeds Web Design got involved she was adamant that everything should come under my name because she said – quite rightly – all of the different aspects of my character affected the work I produce as a Textile Artist.
I wasn’t convinced but I said goodbye to all of my alter-egos and carried on as just me. Nowhere is this more obvious than on my twitter account where I use my 140 characters to micro blog about textile art,
my cat Lily,
how the garden looks,
the weekly Porthcawl Park Run
and my treks through the local countryside.
Weithiau, wrth gwrs, rydw i’n ysgrifennu yn y Gymraeg achos bod diddordeb mawr ‘da fi yn yr iaith Gymraeg ac Hanes a Diwylliant Cymru ac mae llawer o bobl yn defnyddio twitter am yr un peth.
We pretty much get stuck with the names our parents give us but of course you can wreak revenge when you name your own offspring though that is easy compared to naming pieces of artwork. When I had my usual pop up exhibition at the year’s Wonderwool I was struggling with what to call this piece but my problem was solved by my pal, the wonderfully talented artist Miranda Bowen , who came up with a great title.
At the same event I showed some work that I had made for an exhibition that I’ll be having at Bryngarw Country Park on the 30/31 July 2016. Exhibitions also need names! I found a snippet of a quote from the Book of Isaiah which referred to a ‘habitation of dragons and a court of owls’ so the name for the exhibition is ‘A Habitation of Dragons’ and all of the pieces of work will be inspired by dragons or dragon-lore.
That’s a lot of titles to come up with and whilst they sound a bit fictional (Heuldra, Lamia, Sreca for example), all of the names have their roots in mythology or the Welsh language. So whilst I was standing there at Wonderwool, waxing lyrical about the variety of Textile Art I had on display, talking about the things which inspire or interest me and giving information about our NGS open garden day to just about anybody who stopped long enough to listen, a lady came up to me and said “Is this all yours?”
“Yes,” I replied.
“There’s too much,” she said, “and it’s all too different, too confusing. I can’t cope.” And she walked away.
I wonder what Lorraine would have to say about that.
A dweud y gwir, does dim ots ‘da fi nawr. Yn yr Eisteddfod Genedlaethol eleni, byddaf i’n gwneud sesiwn crefft ym Maes D yn y bore ac yn siarad am fy ngardd yn y prynhawn Ddydd Gwener. Dewch a dweud ‘Helo’ pe basech chi yno.
“You can’t see the forest for the trees”
Once I make up my mind to do something I am completely committed. It’s getting to the point where I make up my mind that causes me trouble. Take going on holiday for example. When I was young there was no choice when it came to destination or activity. We had days out when Mum convinced us that walking miles, beachcombing and swishing little fishing nets in mountain streams were the ultimate holiday pastime. Picnics of squidgy beef spread sandwiches and warm orange squash with the promise of an ice cream cornet for good behaviour were all we wanted – which is just as well because that was all we got.
These days I keep my holidays short and pack them with all sorts of activity. Last week I combined walking part of the Wales Coast Path with, amongst other things, meeting my chum Lorraine from Greenweeds. Lorraine tries her very best to get me interested in and interacting with social media. To some extent, she has succeeded but not, I suspect, in the way she anticipated when she created this website. Anyway, let’s go back to the Wales Coast Path. The weather on Tuesday started off cold and squally and ended up like the tail end of a hurricane. Not ideal conditions to be walking along cliff tops with waves crashing on jagged rocks a couple of hundred feet below. Nevertheless I started walking at Llanrhystud and aimed for Aberystwyth.
Before the weather closed in I got some spectacular views of where I’d been
and where I was going.
Photographs like this are not much use to me as an artist. They’ve got too much detail and not enough atmosphere to remind me of what it was like to actually be in the landscape. Diolch byth am fy llyfr sgets! Mewn gwirionedd, dw i ddim yn dda iawn yn tynnu neu beintio go iawn ond dw i’n mwynhau sgetsio. Using a sketchbook allows me to pare down the information and give myself a starting point for a piece of textile art. These are some of my sketches of the part of the Wales Coast Path between Llanrhystud and Aberystwyth and I don’t apologise to purists for the standard of drawing.
These sketches are the size of Artist Trading Cards and you can find out more about the background of ATCs here. They are a perfect example of how working with less can bring you more. Even if you don’t get involved in the trading aspect, restricting your design information to a small piece of card can really focus your mind on what’s important in your artwork. ATCs are a great way to network with other artists but also help you to develop your own abilities.
Day 2 of the holiday involved a trip to Dolgellau to visit the amazing wool shop Knit One , which is run by the beautiful black cat, Bramble Murgatroyd and her assistants, Angharad and Kate.
Bramble, Angharad, Kate & I would never have encountered each other if it hadn’t been for Lorraine persuading me to use Twitter as a form of micro-blogging. In 140 characters and 4 images, I can show the world – or at least the tweeting part of it – what I’m up to as an artist. I soon realised that more people are interested in what Lily, my cat, is doing than what I’m creating. In this example of less being more, getting a tweet from Bramble about how cats don’t like circular knitting needles, led to me spending a fabulous morning in Knit One having a lesson in how to knit using a magic loop. On the journey back to Aberystwyth, my sketchbook was at hand, recording less detail and more memory prompts.
With a rucsac packed full of fleece that Lorraine didn’t want, day 3 saw me back in Llanrhystud, this time walking the coast path south towards Aberaeron. The weather was glorious, the terrain kinder and the views spectacular. I could put some photographs here to prove it but my third example of less being more comes from looking for shapes and lines rather than a whole picture.
Incidentally on my way back from Dolgellau I called into the Centre for Alternative Technology which is where I first discovered Permaculture. For ditherers like me, being spoiled for choice can be a real challenge because I spend too much time and effort on trying to deal with the whole picture Instead of the bits which are important. There’s a great website describing Permaculture principles that you can view here and I’ve deliberately directed you to Principle 7 which is about designing from patterns to details – useful when you can’t see the forest for the trees .
“There is nothing which happens by chance; we may not see the guiding hand, discern the greater plan but it is there and it is not there by chance.” Alfred Browne
“There is no shame in being yourself and doing what you want to do.” MacGregor MacDonald
GETTING STARTED (Deuparth gwaith ei ddechrau)
I have been muttering about doing a course in Textile Art for ages. And ages. And ages. I’ve scoured university websites, been to lectures and booked myself on open days. All half heartedly because I couldn’t make up my mind what, exactly, I wanted to do, where I wanted to do it and where I wanted it to take me. I only made up my mind because I spent some time house/dog sitting for a friend with no distractions to hand apart from a sketchbook and pencil, Betty Edwards’ book, ‘Drawing on the Artist Within’ and my Ipad.
So firstly, if you are even slightly interested in why some people are naturally creative and others have to work at it, Betty’s book makes good reading and some of the exercises were so thought provoking that after Chapter 3, I had abandoned thinking about my creativity and got a plan in place to do something about improving it.
Cue the Ipad and a not very long search to find details of the MA in Contemporary Crafts course at Hereford College of Arts . It took me less than 5 minutes of reading to know that this was the course for me; by the next day I had printed out and filled in the application form, got a reference sorted and arranged to visit the MA exhibition at the college. You can see the work of the current cohort of students and read about the vision of the course designers here. I took a portfolio including most of the work from ‘Etifeddiaeth’ which spent last summer on exhibition at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama Library.
Lucky I did because after seeing the amazing workshop areas and spending time with incredibly talented and inspirational Holland Otik, I was offered an interview (and then a place on the MA course) by ceramicist/artist blacksmith/garden gnome collector/course designer Delyth Done .
Mae’n wir taw yn dechrau unrhyw dasg yw’r peth anoddaf ond unwaith rydych chi’n dechrau, mae’r ffordd yn agor o’ch blaen. Ewch ymlaen!
So what, you’re probably wondering has all this got to do with what Alfred had to say about chance? Well , it’s this: the reason that I abandoned drawing with Betty Edwards was that the lap – squatter – aka Mac the dog – got himself into such a position that balancing the sketchbook was impossible.
The only recourse left to me was to keep googling until I found something interesting. Which I certainly did! Edrychaf ymlaen at Fis Hydref!
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there” L.P. Hartley
When I was in university first time around, I came close to being a lost cause as far as Textile Art was concerned. As a student I under-achieved most of the time and very little of my under-achievement was due to expected student activities like too many nights out and too little work done. No, my underachievement was mostly because I didn’t have a clue about what it meant (or took) to be creative; Poor Mrs Parry, and Mrs Burden, and Miss Routley, and the rest of them (too numerous to mention even if my memory allowed it) – they all laboured long and hard to ignite even the smallest spark of creativity in my soul. Fellow students oozed talent (this is the Textiles Graduate class of 1979) but I absorbed not a single drop.
Just as we all had given up finding a technique I was capable of, we came across the work of the Kuna Indian tribe. Finally, something I liked, something I could do and – most important of all – something I wanted to do. But within weeks of producing my first piece of “Molas” (brightly coloured felt appliquéd onto fabric as decoration), I had graduated as a teacher and joined the real world. Life conspired to help me forget the Kuna Indians until a few months ago when I bought a book called Morehouse Farm Merino
The very nature of Molas means that you have to keep your designs simple. This can be harder than it sounds for someone like me who loves a bit of embellishment. My first attempt was “Three sleeping sheep with yellow ear tags”.
I’d come across an article in an old copy of Quilting Arts Magazine about cuffs so I turned my first piece of Molas into a cuff by weaving some braid as a fastener.
I really liked the idea of cuffs as wearable art so I kept going.
As the Christmas season approaches, I’ve increased the size of my Molas work and produced a wallhanging for my fellow blogger, Mrs B of At Home in the Hills (which went down quite well, I think).
So, forasmuch as Shakespeare described the future as an undiscovered country, I suppose it’s worth remembering that the past can be a place of adventure too.
Nadolig Llawen a Chyfarchion y Tymor!