Janet Haigh : Her Work

Textiles: ideas, drawing, design, stitching….


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Heart Space and Flower Drawing

the choice of flowers for the drawing class

I have just given my  first “Flower Drawing for Stitching” class at Heart Space Studios –  to just 2 people – still early days for the new textile workshops but I have committed to teaching everyone, regardless of numbers, for the taster days, ie. one day workshops to whet the appetite for the longer 6 and 10 week classes. But the first thing I had to do was to go and buy the flowers – always a treat. I asked the local florist, Barry Toogood, for some dying tulips and he didn’t look at all fazed but immediately went to the back of the shop and produced 2 lovely bunches of floppy stemmed tulips – for free.

The local flower shop with perky tulips

I also bought, ranunculas large pinks and whites, and a bunch of my favourite florists flowers ( on account that I cannot grow them myself) anemonies – in  MIXED COLOURS – these are difficult to find now as the style police seem to have gained control over anemone growers so that they are often sold in bunches of one single colour – what a ludicrous thing to do – surely what everyone loves about anemonies –  apart from the sooty black centres, the undulating stems and their ruff of brilliant green petals – is the wonderful mixture of glowing clashing colours; magenta, purple, crimson, palest mauve, softest pinks and whites suffused with lime and pistachio.

floppy tulips and mixed coloured anemones all ready to draw.

My two students had totally different attitudes to the flowers and the way they worked; but they both started off in exactly the same way when I asked them to choose one flower and just draw it for 10 minutes ( I always like to see just what people do when left alone, it tells me so much even though everyone is always very nervous when they start to draw in classes).

starting to draw

And 99% of people I teach always pick up a pencil, draw a shape and fill it in with colour, which is a waste of time and deadens the drawing by “filling in syndrome”

pencil drawing first - colour later

Occasionally, very occasionally, the colours are picked up first but I always start with the colours – I mean – what is your first response to most flowers, apart from scent which we aren’t dealing with here? So my first exercise in drawing classes is usually colour blocking then drawing outlines.

colour first for this pink and white anemone

I must admit they were both very diligent with my ‘strict mistress’ teaching style, and were soon developing lively studies to develop embroideries later.

looser and livelier drawings

pen and ink helps fluffy lines to calm down for this delicate leaf study

Choosing different media to suggest different surfaces also controls the scribbly or nervous “one of these lines must be correct”  type of drawing.

softer media used to describe ranunculus petals

In the afternoon each student had to choose a drawing to stitch…and put the flowers away….this really tests the observational studies.

taking some notes of petal formation for stitching

Ann White carefully made some line drawings and notes about petal sequences and the results of her studies carry her through to the applique stage where she was able to use her lovely marbled silk that she had brought with her from another course.

transposition from drawing to stitching

I learnt a lot from this class myself, timing is essential if students are to achieve a decent piece of work in a day…it proved impossible to finish such an intensive set of research and sampling in the time, even though these students were experienced before they came to the class –  so I need to adjust my way of working for the short classes but observational colurs and line drawing will always remain the starting point for flower embroidery.

Sue Pickering's enamel and beaded flowers trellis

But one of the real joys of teaching in this new studio, is meeting like-minded people, and to prove this point Sue brought a piece of vitreous enamel flowers on a trellis that she had made at another series of classes in Bristol.  I was so impressed and delighted and not a little envious of her work – as it seems much wittier  than my own enamel flowers – that they now hang in the Heart Space Studios window.

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Severn Sea Skies

June early morning sky from the bedroom window.

For the past 22 years I have simply enjoyed the views over the Bristol Channel, which flows past a salt marsh just beyond the garden wall of our house in Portishead, North Somerset.My husband, Stephen Jacobson, has regularly painted the views of  the sea and landscapes which surround the house, while I have simply enjoyed the ever-changing light, skies and tidal waters of the estuary.

Red Sail & Sunset, Stephen Jacobson, oil on board

most recent early morning drawing of sky - June 2010

But about a year ago I started to make notes of the early morning and late evening skies looking towards the Welsh hills. At first when ever I woke up very early and just before rolling over back to sleep, I made quick notes of the colours, they were so stunningly beautiful I just wanted to remember them later – the notes were really just lists or stripes of colour, the marsh, the water, the hills, the sky striations of clouds or simply the blend of colours from reds of the sunrise up through to the blues of the morning sky. Then I made pastel colour studies from the pencilled lists later on, before the image in my head had disappeared.

pastel colour studies made from pencil notes

In the evenings I took photographs of any good sunset, well just after it had set, as the sky lights up in warm gold and pink striations as the light catches the underside of the clouds and vapour trails. I then started to take photographs during the day, trying to keep a record of the changing light and tides. But interestingly, when we had the recent ban on air travel due to the Volcanic dust threat, the skies here were not at all spectacular, it appears that most of these striations are in reality, vapour trails.

September sky looking towards Wales.

early evening sky at high tide

I had no idea or real wish to make any work from these notes, I just kept them in a work book and sometimes cropped the photographs to make them conform to same shape as the scribbled morning lists. I did think that they reminded me of the strips of coloured yarns in my various colour charts and pinned some of them into a work-book. The strip shape, I realised later, has been suggested by a narrow window strip made by glazing bars on either side of the main windows of the house, this design is a feature of many of the older houses in the town.

studies of skies in work book with embroidery thread colour chart

Then late last year I went to see an exhibition at Tate Liverpool called Colour Chart: Reinventing Colour, 1950 to Today, and it was full of colour chart paintings from the early American painters of the 50’s and 60’s. Here were simple colour strips and squares on white grounds, they were just like the embroidery thread charts. I decided that at the first opportunity I would develop some larger pieces of work, using the charts as a device for putting the strips of colour together but was it to be in enamel or embroidery?

Eventually the opportunity has presented itself, I am going to make a series of large enamel panels which can hang in other people’s gardens, evoking the wonderful skies we get here. They will be made for the North Somerset Arts Week, as an open studio exhibition. Six other artists who live in this area of Portishead and are inspired by the estuary to make their work, are exhibiting under the title of The Severn Sea – the old name given to this particular wide stretch of the Bristol channel formed by the  confluence of the rivers Severn and Avon. So watch this space for further developments, I have about 10 months to produce the new work and it has to be done in odd moments between my other projects and commissions. Meanwhile I will leave you with yet another striped sky taken a few days ago.

The latest after - sunset over the Welsh hills - taken early June 2010.


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My Enamelled Garden

the enamel garden in my own garden

I have been working on the Pages Gallery section of the blog to show other aspects of my work, and to make some sense of how I could develop this site further I went for a consultation with David Abbott at Chesapeake Design in Bristol, who specialises in Word Press systems. I have already got the Hearts section organised for the Pages Gallery, but now I want to start to show other areas of my work which are important to me, like my enamelled garden.

The Enamelled Garden was a research and development project, funded by Arts Council England, that I undertook several years ago. The idea was to develop my stitched work into another medium, vitreous enamel, and I undertook to develop “collections” of different types of fabrics to decorate large scale metal sculptures for gardens.

large wool embroidery of Lytes Cary in Somerset, 2001

enamel topiary hedges sculptures.

Japanese stencil collection.

lace collection in my garden

The collections comprised, embroidery, lace, chintz, Japanese stencils, crewel-work and darned topiary. The decoration was taken from my past work which has always featured traditional embroidery designs and techniques. I liked the idea of making weather resistant textile designs – enamel can last indefinitely – unlike fabric when exposed to light and weather.

I wanted to take the fabric  flowers back to the garden

detail of embroidered and beaded collection with Fox Terrier.

I had the original steel plates laser cut and ground – coated by the commercial vitreous enamelling company A.J.Wells, who undertake innovative work with artists and designers in their workshop /studios on the isle of Wight. I then made the decorative additions at the Enamel Research Department run by Elizabeth Turrel at UWE. Bristol. Elizabeth kindly consented to act as my technical advisor. The size of the plates to be enamelled were up to 60 cms wide, most enamelling kilns are very small as this is a craft medium used mostly by jewellery makers. The kiln at UWE is  industrial size taking metal plates up to almost 2 metres in length. I also cut copper shapes using a hand held plasma cutter at the university metal centre, it was a tough and challenging learning curve. Not least bcause I had to enamel all the backs of the garden sculptures, usually enamels are placed into jewellry or framed, here the backs would be viewed from all angles

selection af enamelled backs of garden pieces.

embroidered and beaded collection

the first samples for the pansy faces, cut by a hand held plasma gun.

The whole of the finished garden project and the later additions are now included in Pages Gallery. It has been widely exhibited, I have lectured about it several times and it profoundly changed my working practice. I am now the proud owner of 2 enamel kilns, my small kiln takes plates up to 30×30 cms and my large kiln will take a piece of metal 45 x 60 cms – just about half a yard of fabric! Both these kilns were made to order from the Northern Kilns Company, as was the industrial sized UWE kiln. The garden however now lives with me as part of a constantly changing set of sculpture in my own garden, the pieces get moved about as and when I need some changes, and they are particularly useful in the winter even though they are now well weathered by all the wind, spray and water that the Bristol Channel throws over our garden wall.

crewel - work collection

the first garden flower - cross stitched rose in coloured wire.

Originally I had decided to embroider the entire garden, so my first piece was this cross stitched rose, it took 3 days to stitch in wire and that was after a week spent, cutting, drilling just under 300 holes and then enamelling – the skin on my hands was shredded while stitching the wire; 5 stitches at a time was all I could manage as the copper wire broke with the friction of the repeated action entailed in stitching. Time to re-think, the next set of flowers was beaded and appliqued into position, this lead to many variations.

selection of small white beaded flower heads, destined to become brooches.

enamelled single flower on camellia bush in summer.

Once I had placed the enamels into my own garden I had lots more ideas; the original garden had been planned on paper to enable me to create costs for the grant and working patterns for the metal workers. Left to my own devices things started to develop. Copper distorts in the heat of the kiln, now instead of trying to flatten it I just let it happen more, suddenly the leaves had a life of their own.

crewel work leaves twist and turn around their copper tube stems.

Last year 2009 I opened my garden to the public as part of North Somerset Arts Week and so I set out all  of the garden pieces out and made lots of new sculpture for it as well.

potted topiary terriers keep guard over the estuary.

seascape iris seen against the inspirational view form the garden.

I worked with a garden designer Julie Dunne, of Trug design company,  and she helped to get the garden more balanced to integrate the enamels more easily into the existing scheme. She recommended making a series of irises that reflected the colours and striations of the sea scape. On her advice I made some garden screens, enamel hangings tied together with wire they led me to make a series of other stitched enamel panels ( watch out for these later) the Quercus Curtain was first trialed on the open studio garden week.

quercus curtain sample hanging in early spring garden 2009

Even the small wood store at the back of the house and which is stocked with wood washed up onto the beach in the winter gales, was  decorated for Arts week.

the wood store with enamel flowers and candlesticks

Below is an arrangement of enamels in pots for the North Somerset Arts open studio week, things tend to just get rearranged on a regular basis.

enamel topiary and flowers outside enamel studio

I can just be seen talking to visitors in the enamel studio, and by chance when I looked at the visitors I realised they were Angela and Alban, whose wonderful garden in Somerset I visited this weekend was open for the National Garden scheme. This has been featured on Rosemary Murphy’s blog Share my Garden, where I can be found hiding behind a pair of sunglasses and a sun hat all “dressed up like a dish of fish”, to quote Rosemary. I’m wearing a pink frock which I recently swapped with Kay from Blaze gallery for a bag of my best fabric scraps for making her jewellry – the dress had belonged to Hanne but she had given it to Kay to cut up for her beads but then I saw it and tried it on…….but that’s all another story.