Hilary Ellis

From Ellis’s artist statement:

The strangely allied terms of signification and importance are explored in my most recent work. They are re-considered through a long standing practice of pale and muted works, which speak quietly of an enduring and persistent nature that dwells quietly within the realm of traditional womens’ work and its often futile repetitions. The nature of these discreet yet insistent marks, scratches and stitches appear as an overwhelming desire, signifying the chaos cloaked beneath every search for order.

Ellis’s work features small, repeated marks which nevertheless have enough variety to imbue her pieces with life and energy. She is not trying to emulate a machine-made uniformity. This detail from Requiem I (2016) shows a background of marks which appear to be scratched on the surface randomly, through which neat loops are stitched in a grid, but the thread is allowed to fall in any direction. The combination of marks gives a sense of depth.

Knotted (2015) also makes use of a background onto which thread is applied. In this case the background is a fine, neat grid bearing the appearance of a woven fabric. Dark thread is knotted through the fabric, outlining edges of a design, but also spilling over those edges. The tiny size of the knots creates a subtle depth to the surface but also compels the viewer to linger, imagining the time taken to create each one in just the right place. The fading out of the knots gives a sense that the work might be unfinished. Ellis herself asks the question: “When is a work of art finished? It is often a random decision which indicates the function of free will in a series of obsessive, almost mechanical processes we would usually associate with the writings of Aldous Huxley and George Orwell.”

In Ritual III (2010), Ellis makes a long series of small marks which could be interpreted as very simplistic human figures performing a series of movements. The ‘ritual’ is not made explicit and Ellis sees rituals in both religious and secular worlds. Ritual imposes order on chaos. It is a way of governing actions, times and places. The marks in this piece are varied and distinct, but the whole is ordered in a grid which containes each mark in its own space. Although each mark is simple, the whole piece is very complex.

I appreciate the way that Ellis distills her ideas into small, simple marks made in repeated ways. Order and disorder are clearly held in tension in all her works. The scale of her work draws me in and makes me want to spend time examining each stitch and each mark, as well as considering the whole piece.

However, for me, the unrelenting grimness of her chosen colour palette is offputting and tends to make me think of the mechanical, the concrete, things without life. Some of her mark-making seems obscure to me and I can’t see it as more than pattern-making.

“a drawing attitude”

Following the links in the course material, I went to Alison Carlier’s website and was fascinated by a digital download available there:

a drawing attitude“: a transcript of conversations with five artists about drawing, 2013.

I found all the discussions interesting, especially around the ideas of what drawing is and what it is for. Here are some excerpts which particularly interested me:

Stephen Farthing:

I think what I am doing when I draw is speculating over the appearance of something, the visual appearance of something, because you are definitely giving a visual form to
something that if it’s coming from an idea previously doesn’t have a true form. But also there’s another reason for drawing which is to explain things to other people. And I use both forms. As far as I’m concerned they’re distinct. (p.6)
I think it’s very interesting that Farthing talks about ‘speculating over the appearance of something’. It’s as if the appearance isn’t something he knows, it’s just something he’s considering and exploring and imagining. However, he does seem to be talking about imaginative drawing here: ‘an idea [that] previously doesn’t have a true form’. By contrast, his other kind of drawing to explain things suggests drawing as a form of communication. The former is his own self-explorationg; the latter is for the benefit of others.
Stephen Farthing:
I heard a very interesting thing at a conference, they said when we speak it is when we have an information overload in our head, and I think that we draw for the same reason. (p.14)
I’m not sure I completely agree with this. I think there are lots of reasons to speak which aren’t to do with information overload, but perhaps there is a kind of speaking – or writing, or other sort of self-expression – which is about having things bursting to come out. Similarly drawings can be made for all kinds of reasons, but some are certainly about having ways to get things out of the head and onto a page.

Stephen Farthing:

I will go and look at a set of drawings by John Ruskin in the Ashmolean. And you have a little wooden easel in front of you. And I have a pad of paper, and I will sit and draw it. And the idea is that I’m doing it to get to know that drawing, to see how it’s made.The first thing is, you can learn a fantastic amount about drawing by doing that, in fact the more you engage with drawing the easier it becomes to understand it. (pp.18-19)
I really like that he said this. I often feel as though it’s ‘cheating’ to copy someone else’s drawing, but actually as a way of understanding a particular work, and also developing those skills, I’ve found it really helpful.
Kelly Chorpening
…that’s a bit of the baggage that drawing has, that it’s about creating some kind of resemblance of something in the world (p.28)
Chorpening associates drawing with creating a resemblance of something: ‘Does it look like X?’ but also calls this ‘baggage’ as if that is a negative aspect of drawing. Certainly drawing doesn’t have to be concerned with photo-realism (thank goodness) but it does seem as if a drawing should capture some aspect of the object: outline, form, texture, pattern etc. In the case of drawing as communication, this seems to be necessary for success. Chorpening talks about drawing as a way of visualisation of scientific processes where the resemblance is not to an object, but to the process being described. In the case of drawing as expression and exploration, however, I wonder whether resemblance is really necessary.
[the drawing attitude is] this open-endedness that might lead you to making a work of art in any possible media (p.30)
For Chorpening, drawing is about exploring possibilities before committing to making a piece of work, and before making decisions about the medium for the work. This seems to relate to Farthing’s idea of drawing as speculation. Here it’s speculating about something which doesn’t yet exist.
Anne Brodie
…the word ‘sketch’ is almost interchangeable for ‘explore’, and I think explore has to start in your head before you touch the material. But you can explore through a material, you can sketch through thought processes, through seeing what materials do. (p.38)
Brodie ‘sketches’ in glass or film or whatever material she is working with. She has a wide definition of sketching which encompasses almost everything prior to working on an actual piece. Simply thinking through a piece can count as sketching for Brodie.
It’s an enquiry. It’s a curiosity. It’s a hunt for trying to convey something that’s not conveyable in words about something that is usually overlooked. A space that needs a voice. (p.43)
Like the previous artists, Brodie views the drawing attitude as one of exploration and enquiry.
Jordan Baseman
I think that a bad drawing attitude… is ‘there is my accurately rendered thing of this other thing.
…when something is bad it’s just not interesting. (p.47)
For Baseman, without ideas, drawing is a waste of time. Accurate representation in itself has no value if it has nothing else to communicate.

Introduction: Observing qualities

Sketches of my Style Lounge objects

   

Barbie wearing an outfit of gold velvet and the reverse of the fabric. The panels are stitched together with simple herringbone stitches and the edges are left fraying. The two sketches using ink indicate the different surfaces of the fabric, with simple lines showing the outline of the figure and dress, including the headdress. I wanted to give the velvet sections a soft depth to them, so I used a natural sponge to apply the ink, without worrying about being too precise. Then I used a fine nibbed pen to show the stitches and the outline. The first attempt fell off the end of the page, so I began again on a larger sheet. I also did a pencil sketch of one section, using different marks to capture the different surfaces and focusing on the edges and stitches visible.

   

The black gin bottle with its shiny glass surface was full of reflections. My first sketch used a permanent marker with different widths of line to indicate some of these. The perspective on the bottle top is all wrong, and I think the paper label was distracting. I turned the bottle to the back and ignored the small sections of paper still visible. My next two sketches both used ink applied with a plastic knife, first on tracing paper and then on cartridge paper. I like the way that the ink conveys different levels of blackness, and although the drawings aren’t perfect, they definitely capture the quality of the bottle.  

I made a detailed pencil sketch of one section of the necklace. The details on the actual necklace are quite small and it helped to scale up the drawing a bit. I found it hard to capture the glitter of the original but I was pleased with the drawing as a whole. I think the smooth gold of the leaves and stem contrasts well with the more complicated texture of the flowers. I then made a much larger sketch using ink and the plastic knife I’d used on the bottle. Of course it was impossible to get the same detaile, but I like the freedom and energy of this drawing. I used textured fabric to make marks for the flower and the pointed end of the knife for the tiny jewels set into the leaves.

 

The smooth wooden surface suggested a pencil drawing to me. I used a brown graphite pencil and made two sketches: one showing the wood grain, and one focussing on the tone of the polished surface reflecting the light. I think these were both effective in communicating the different qualities of the surface.

 

   

For the vase I began with a sketch focussing on the reflections in its surface, rather than the surface pattern. I used a Sharpie on glossy coated card to help capture something of the shiny quality of the vase. It wasn’t very satisfactory for larger areas of black, but the lines worked well and I think it captured the rounded form of the vase. My second sketch focussed on the surface pattern, using masking fluid spattered on watercolour paper, and then ink was applied once the fluid had dried. After removing the masking fluid, mottled spots similar to those on the actual vase were revealed. I really like this sketch, despite some of the smudges. I think it conveys the form and surface of the vase well, and I think the loose strokes of ink over the marks of the masking fluid are very effective. Finally, I focussed in on a detail of the surface pattern and made a drawing to communicate the way that the mottled pattern varies with different reflected colours: dark against light and light against dark. I really like this sketch and I think this kind of pattern has lots of potential to develop.

Evelin Kasikov

Evelin Kasikov is a London based artist and designer. She gained her MA in Communication Design from Central Saint Martins in 2008, graduating with Distinction. She then set up her own studio in London, specialising in typography and editorial design. Before all that she studied Graphic Fine Art at the Estonian Academy of Art and worked as an advertising Art Director in Tallinn, Estonia.

Her approach to craft is analytical and firmly rooted in her graphic design background. She uses both digital and craft methods in her work, combining the two in a unique way. Her embroidered works are designed on a computer, then pierced onto paper and hand-stitched with mathematical precision. Evelin’s best known technique, CMYK-embroidery, is a handmade printing process. Her stitched typographic illustrations have appeared on the pages of Financial Times, WIRED and The Guardian to name but a few.

From: http://evelinkasikov.com/About

I love the use of textiles in the graphic design work of Evelin Kasikov, especially her explorations of colour in the CMYK-embroidery. She has transformed a simple cross-stitch technique by rotating, changing scale and overlaying multiple stitches.

CMYK-a_by_Evelin_Kasikov-91

CMYK ‘A’ green/purpleThe carefully calculated overlapping crosses give the effect of a purple colour towards the bottom of the letter and green towards the top. This is easiest to see from a distance, or by squinting. With this technique a simple, familiar form of a letter becomes intriguing, complex, nuanced. It’s also an interesting way of pointing out the complex way our brains work. We can see the distinct colours of the threads and the crosses, but we can also join them together to see an overall colour. This reminds me of the way that pointillist and some impressionist art works – up close, you see all sorts of unlikely colours, but from a distance, they coalesce into a recognisable scene. Kasikov’s work also reminds me of Bridget Riley, with her ability to conjure up colours which aren’t there.

In “Left & Right III”, Kasikov is exploring the notion of left and right brains as orderly and analytical vs creative, by using different shapes, different stitches, and different ways of using colour.

Left-Righ-EvelinKasikov_III

The graphic design background of Kasikov is clear in the clean lines and the carefully considered use of colours which all have a similar brightness. The ‘splashier’ shapes on the right are still kept controlled and contained, but they have much more movement than the jigsaw pieces on the left. I don’t find the piece emotionally compelling but I do find it interesting to consider and I admire the precision with which Kasikov executes her ideas.

I am particularly drawn to XXXX Swatchbook. This article outlines the process of making the book.

Name of piece: XXXX Swatchbook
Year of piece: 2016
Size of piece: Book, 180 mm (W) x 210 mm(H)
Materials used: Paper, Embroidery thread, Cardboard, Bookbinding cloth
Techniques used: Graphic Design, Hand Embroidery, Book Binding.

The combination of the digital technology used to produce the charts and the simple, old-fashioned stitching with embroidery thread on paper has created something unique. The finished book has wonderful tactile qualities and yet the simplicity of the swatches gives it an orderly, analytical feel.

One of the assignments later in this module involves creating a colour book, and while I am not planning to emulate the years of work that went into Kasikov’s XXXX Swatchbook, I am very inspired by it.

 

Introductory assignment

“In this project you’re asked to collect, then visually observe, explore and record a group of textiles and materials. You’ll create a folio of 10 to 15 drawings that visually capture the qualities and properties of the items you select.”

Stage 1: Gathering materials

stylelounge2

I chose the theme ‘STYLE LOUNGE’

My first thoughts were of glamour: 1920’s or 1930’s hotels in Art Deco style, with mirrors and gilding. Elegant, clean lines on the furniture, with luxurious materials: velvet, satin, leather, gleaming chrome and highly polished wood. Men in bespoke tailored suits and women in chic cocktail dresses. Cigarette holders, champagne and cocktails. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Effortlessness. Life of luxury and leisure. Seeing and being seen.

stylelounge1

Other ideas that came to mind:

Lounge lizards; nightclubs; hairdressers (when you google ‘Style Lounge’ this is what the first few pages are full of!); exclusive fashion, beauty, shopping places.

I was tempted to take the hairdressing theme, but decided to stick with my initial ideas as that seemed to provide the most potential for lots of interesting textures and tactile properties in my chosen objects.stylelounge3

My house in no way resembles a glamorous art deco style lounge! Nonetheless, as I considered the theme, I was able to gather a collection of objects which related to it in some way. I started with finding luxurious fabrics: Liberty print silk, satins, chinese brocade, a velvet cushion. I also got out some metallic gold cardstock to use as a possible background. My mirrors are all fixed to the wall and it was impractical to include one in my collection. I sorted through my small collection of jewellery and tried out several pieces including a silver and pearl pendant, and a small silver bag. In the end, I selected the gold flowery necklace for its interesting surface textures and shapes.

stylelounge4

The lid of a posh candle gave a suitably polished wooden surface. I have a selection of glittery vases and jar, and chose a large one with an elegant shape and a mottled gold surface. To reference the cocktail lounge, I included the Hendricks gin bottle, with its distinctive black glass and sophisticated label.  Finally, I wanted to include a ‘person’ in my lounge, so I picked one of my Barbies, wearing an outfit I made a few years ago, from silk velvet, using both its front and reverse, giving an interesting contrast of textures.

stylelounge5

I tried a variety of arrangements for the objects, finally settling on the one pictured above. I found that I preferred the arrangements where the objects were connected in some way, and with fewer background fabrics visible. This arrangement reflects the black, ivory and gold colour scheme which I associate with the Style Lounge theme. Each object contributes a different texture and shape, but all of them have the luxurious quality I was looking for. There are interesting patterns on the brocade, in the necklace, on the vase and the gin label.  Although there is no mirror, there are reflections on the surfaces of the vase and the bottle. I think that this collection of objects and surface will be an interesting group to explore in the next part of this assignment.

The other thing I notice when looking at the pictures is that I really should have ironed all the fabrics before starting!

Course aims and outcomes

From the course handbook.

The course aims to:

  • allow you to explore archive textiles through observational drawing and develop textile design ideas
  • introduce you to ways of recording and using colour from different sources using a range of media
  • develop your awareness of traditional and non-traditional yarn types and simple textile sampling
  • develop your reflective skills and ability to evaluate the appropriateness of different approaches.

Some of these clearly build on aspects of the foundations course: drawing, developing ideas, sampling and reflecting. There is more focus on textiles, in drawing, developing yarn samples and so on. I found that the foundations course materials were well-structured, building up skills and ideas in stages, and looking through the materials for this course, I am anticipating that there will be a similar progression.

On successful completion of the course you’ll be able to

  • develop visual ideas to show a personal interpretation for textile-based work
  • demonstrate sensitivity in the translation and handling of colour
  • use a range of textiles media and techniques to creatively develop design ideas
  • reflect upon your own learning experience in the context of your studies.

I’m really excited about the section on colour! I did find some of the assignments in the foundations course a bit frustrating with their insistence on black/white or neutral media. I’m also looking forward to having more space to develop some of my own ideas and interpretations.

Your tutor will be looking for evidence that you’re beginning to demonstrate these learning outcomes in your work. It’s a good idea to apply these to your progress at the end of each part of the course and reflect in your learning log on whether or not you feel you’re beginning to develop these skills.

I’ve included this post on my learning log as a reminder to keep reflecting on my work with these criteria in mind. This self-assessment is a required part of the course:

Note down your findings for each assignment you’ve completed in your learning log, noting all your perceived strengths and weaknesses, taking into account the criteria every step of the way.

  • Demonstration of technical and visual skills – materials, techniques, observational skills, visual awareness, design and compositional skill (40%).
  • Quality of outcome – content, application of knowledge, presentation of work in a coherent manner, discernment, conceptualisation of thoughts, communication of ideas (20%).
  • Demonstration of creativity – imagination, experimentation, invention, development of a personal voice (20%).
  • Context – reflection, research, critical thinking (20%).