Friday, 14 November 2014

What I Do And Where That Came From

As you might gather from this post, I was recently invited to participate in the Around the World Blog Hop – a forum I had never come across before where artists involved in writing, painting, textiles, book art, photography and sculpture are asked to respond to  four questions about their work and their process.

It was Sharron Deacon Begg who invited me to follow her on this hop around the world.  She writes about her work at her blog called Threadpainters Art.   It was way back in the eighties, before we both became silver-haired, that I met Sharron when I joined the Connections Fibre Artists group.  Like me, Sharron’s inspiration comes from the land around her.  She expresses her reaction to that landscape through watercolours, pen and ink and needle and thread.  It is her beautiful sensitive thread painting that I am most familiar with but you should take a trip over to her blog and check for yourself.
So now I have to write about my own work.  This does not come naturally to me, I’d rather stitch any day rather than write!  The four questions I have to answer were given to me in a specific order, but I am going to change things around and start with question three which seems to suit my flow of thought better.

Why do I create what I do?
When my grandmother taught me embroidery and insisted the wrong side be as neat as the front, I certainly never thought of it as an art form.  Even from a young age my plan had been to become an artist in the more traditional sense of painting and drawing.  Little did I imagine I would end up covering cloth in sometimes unruly stitches.

What brought me back to embroidery was an adult education quilting course I stumbled upon when my youngest child was about to become a teenager.  To my surprise this ended up being my jump start back into a creative life. 

From these two traditions, the one embroidery from my English childhood and the second from quilt making from my new North American home, I began creating work that combined the two.  At first the stitches were by machine with a few hand stitches scattered throughout but today the machine embroidery has been almost completely replaced by hand stitches.

Today I continue working with cloth and thread because of their tactile nature.  No day is complete without the feel of cotton, velvet, wool, or linen or silk between my fingers.  Simply put it is just what I am driven to do.

What am I working on?
Over the years my work has been drawing closer and closer to nature.  As I write this post I am in the beginning stages of new work based on the east coast landscape.  These pieces will not record the actual landscape but my reactions to and observations on living in and treading lightly through this land.  I am observing small marks and shapes but thinking large. I am observing nature’s imperfect patterns and rhythms and thinking repetition interrupted and pattern broken down.

Another project that is always on the go and was started three years ago is the stitched journal of my daily life.  My original goal was to stitch a simple row of embroidery every day but this has evolved to include simple stitched images of events in my day.  It was a conscious decision not to record world events, just those simple things that occur in the life of someone living in the woods of Nova Scotia far from the madding crowd.  Never having been able to maintain a written journal I wanted to keep this project as simple as possible, therefore I opted for a six inch wide scroll format.  After all, stitching a line of embroidery six inches long every day sounded simple and would not overwhelm my day.  In the beginning my scrolls became cumbersome in their length and so now I restrict each scroll to a three month period...much more manageable!  However, as I write they are all sewn together into 117 feet and hanging in the Western Branch of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
My thoughts on the answer to this question is simply that we all come to our work having experienced different life experiences which have formed us into the uniqueness that we are.  Each one of us would approach the same subject or inspiration differently.  Each one of us would have physical differences that affect the weight of a mark, the size or angle of a stitch.  Therefore all work differs.

I am not sure what my genre would be.  If a genre is textiles...oh, my goodness there are so many genres within that one genre.  If my current work falls within a genre of hand embroidery then mine would be different from some in that it is usually a repetition of simple stitches or marks often interrupted by slightly different marks.  Repetition and breaking that repetition as Mother Nature seems to do is something I consciously think on.

How does my creating process work?
My process starts with getting to know my subject.  Many years ago I read "Drawing Closer to Nature" by Peter London.  He taught me the importance of knowing, really knowing my subject.   He wrote: "Find a portion of the world that is close at hand and adopt it.  Become acquainted with it.  Draw closer to it by staying with it over a long course of time.  In all seasons, all times of day, all weathers, all circumstances of your own life.  The more often you return to this chosen portion of Nature, the more finely you will be able to perceive its more delicate features, as well as the slow-to-emerge pattern and rhythms."

To record ideas and work out basic design I fill sketchbooks with marks and thumbnail sketches.  I am not very organized and these ruminations never seem to end up in one concise sketchbook but sprinkled through several.  I really should try one day to work in one book at a time.  By no means do I have a finished design worked out by the time I move onto fabric and thread so there can often be false starts!  As I work through this initial phase at some point there is a sudden surge of energy and I know exactly which pieces of hand dyed or natural dyed fabrics should be pinned up and arranged on a design wall.  Then I am off to the races!  There is always an ebb and flow to my process with periods of high activity interspersed with periods of rest when I have to stand back and reflect on whether things are working out or not.  I always say I have a love hate relationship with my work.  There are times when I think it is the best work I have ever done but once finished I am soon not satisfied with the end result and eager to get on to the next piece that will definitely be an improvement.  But having said that, when I come across an older piece, I often am pleasantly surprised!

Now let's go play.


  1. A lovely, thoughtful Penny! Thank you for this peek into your inner artist. She's lovely!

  2. It should have read, "a lovely thoughtful post, Penny". LOL!

  3. Lovely to read your thoughts.

  4. Thoughtful indeed. I agree that the "How do you differ from others" is a bit like "How long is a piece of string" because our experiences are all so different that being like someone else would be almost impossibly difficult!

  5. Beautifully written - gives insights to your fans (of which there are many).xx

  6. How wonderful to read more about you and how you have gotten to where you are with your art. Great post!

  7. Wow ... lovely peak into your thoughts and methods ! I particularly like your 'mark' sketch ... Stitched but not stitched ! And you are a very dedicated stitcher. Thank you for this addition to the blog hop.
    ps. just put some black into the under-side of my silver hair ;) ;)

  8. You certainly did a good job of drawing the reader into your process and it was fascinating!


Thank you for taking the time to comment, your thoughts are most welcome.