“How do you find the time” ? I am often asked this when people question me about my stitched work. Depending on the frame of mind I’m in, I answer “would you ask a man that”? but most often I simply state “This is what I do, and not much else gets done”.
Lately I am having to really study other people’s ways of working as I have been requested to mentor 2 volunteers, Sue Pickering and Sarah Thorp, at Heart Space Studios, in return for 2 days work each a week, when they help with the day-to-day activities of the studios, organise the publicity and take part in the weekly planning meetings. I feel certain that if it wasn’t for our team of volunteers, headed by the first and foremost, Sophie Bristol, Heart Space would not be in business and still growing.
The idea of personal mentoring for developing her own textile practice came from Sue, in return for sorting out my publicity and keeping the studio neat (did I say she is a neat- freak)? she asked if I would discuss her work with her and give her some special making classes. She had been to several of the Heart Space classes, and realised that she needed some different direction for developing her own ideas. But crucially, after recently completing an Art Foundation year and as mother to 2 school age children (with a previous career as a university lecturer with a doctorate in psychology) she knew she had neither the funds nor the time to continue academic studies.
Likewise Sarah saw the same opportunity, she was willing to give her own time to “get the word out” about the Studios. Having been a knitter from her early years and completed the same Foundation year as Sue, she also has a young family to look after and is frustrated not to be able to develop her own designs to sell in the regular Bristol art trails in which she participates and helps organise. Sarah is now using Heart Space Studios as a base to develop her burgeoning PR practice – I have never met such an active advocate for the things she loves.
I first started working with Sarah, she wanted to develop new products to sell on her numerous stalls around the craft markets in the city. Design development is my home territory as I spent 25+ years as a design and drawing tutor for textiles in the Fashion and Textile BA degree course at UWE. Bristol. I feel confident I can help Sarah with her design ideas and technical control, the immediate problem was unearthing her goals – she was making and selling simple large knitted scarves and small stuffed toys …we soon ascertained that this was not what she hoped to be making in the future, she wanted to really develop the knitting and combine it with other materials.
I asked her to bring in an inspirational object, image or idea – anything at all that visually excited her and she felt she could explore; to my delight she brought a book of exotic interior designs and turned immediately to the page above, telling me in the process that she had designed and built 2 houses on Tobago several years ago….. This then became our starting point.
We discussed what we both saw in the image, what atmosphere did it evoke and what did the actual background shapes remind us of – it is useful to develop other associated research areas when first embarking on new ideas. I asked her to work carefully from the photograph, selecting out the major colours and winding yarns and fabrics to develop a colour palette and to look at several artists who I had been prompted to recall by the shapes in the background, Picasso and Braque had immediately come to mind. Other areas to research were African sculpture and musical instruments. I also asked for 6 small drawn ideas sheets combining both knitting and stitching – all in a week.
It was obvious from what she brought the next week that Sarah was struggling to find the time ( and head space) to do the work – not surprisingly she had underestimated how long this form of research takes – even so she brought in enough varied, if muddled, work to develop into some really exciting colour exercises.
Up till now Sarah has worked tonally, blues with greens and turquoise, reds with pinks, using yarn straight from the packets of Collinette yarns with no extras…she needed extras to make this knitting start to reflect her vibrant and eclectic interior decoration ideas.
Meanwhile Sue took a different tack, she wanted to talk to me, at length, to explain her situation which is reflected in the work she had achieved at Art Foundation level….
So her theme is a massive modern concern, for want of a better way of putting it, ‘what it is to be a woman with a demanding young family, who needs her own time to develop/rediscover her own sense of self”. Sue tries to achieve this by working in “stolen moments” between the daily necessities of family life. She also stated that ” there is no good reason at present for my textile practice, it is self indulgent……..I have to invent reasons for doing my own things, and going to textile workshops, sort of sanctions this activity” I was learning a lot about why people are actually drawn to doing our workshops.
What Sue has is a really big subject to work with but as yet a narrow visual language with which to do it – she has relied on her academic background and use of data collection of written and spoken language to make herself understood, she has an efficient strategy for recording her research – a bit too strict in my opinion….but my task is really to find a textile language for her to work with, because she responds emotionally to textiles. When asked about the textile discipline she feels most drawn to Sue answered – Felt – how weird is that? Felt is one of the least amenable of all the textile media to express precise imagery and writing….this was looking promising.
So I asked her how she manages to find time to make work at home, and she answered that when she was really frustrated or really too tired to do any work in the home, she promises herself an hour at the end of the day when she goes into her workroom and makes or prepares a felt bead (which she had learned at a class at Heart Space) or a small flower, meaning to do something with them all later – she is stealing time to make a store of things for later.
But I just thought of wearing those beads made out of so much frustration – they would surely itch and scratch you – I asked her to bring these things in for me to see.
They look so benign and cheerful don’t they? But really think of the determination that it takes to make each bead, and when you look at the collection above, take away the color and they do look like chrysalis …I thought maybe to make a collection of them as frustration made palpable – maybe a cabinet of curiosities?
So there are my 2 completely different mentees…each in search of their own personal goals and each with different strengths and weaknesses to bring to express them selves…I will continue to show the development of their work.