Contemporary Passions Statement

Contemporary Passions 2016         Sue Farrow-Jones

Initially I thought I would produce images of Birds and Animals for CP16. Maybe domestic animals, such as hounds, as I have lived with Irish Wolfhounds and lurchers but late last Summer 2015 I started to see hares in the lanes and fields around where we live. It reminded me of a time when I lived in Cheshire in the 1970s, and passed a field everyday on my walk into town, pushing my children’s pushchair. All year round there were many hares there.

It made me realise that the South West doesn’t have many hares, mainly owing to it being an agricultural area – hares don’t have burrows, leaving leverets at risk of farm machinery as remaining still is their main protection. I joined The Hare Preservation Trust and found out that there is no closed season for hunting hares. I found it very sad, that these beautiful, magical creatures are not protected by law in any way. For instance, hundreds are killed in the Scottish Highlands to protect game shooting, removing the natural food source of Birds of Prey, leaving partridge and other game birds to flourish only to be shot as ‘sport’. Badger, fox and protected Birds of Prey are often also killed for the same reason, damaging the natural ecological balance of nature.

I learnt about the story of Melangell, The Patron Saint of Hares. Being Welsh myself I decided to visit the church in Powys at Pennant Melangell in May, where they celebrate Saint Melangell at her shrine there. She was the Daughter of an Irish Chieftan living in the 7th Century. She ran away to avoid the marriage of convenience her Father had planned for her and started a religious community in a valley in Powys. This came about as one day, whilst out walking she saw a hunter with his hounds, chasing a hare. The hare ran to her and hid in the gathered fabric of her cloak. She prevented the hounds from catching the hare. The hunter who was in fact a Prince – Prince Brochwel Ysgithrog, was so impressed by her courage that he gave her the valley and she became the Patron Saint of Hares, protecting all the wildlife in the valley and providing establishing a religious community, a sanctuary for women and animals for 37 years, until the end of her life.

I began dreaming about hares and collecting information about their history and found fascinating ancient images and historical information, stories and myths. There are many carvings and images of hares in churches in Devon, especially on Dartmoor, So…. There are many images of hares as my exhibits in Contemporary Passions this year, drawing on these influences.

My other main influence was the poem ‘A necklace of Wrens’ by John Hartnett, the late Irish poet. His experience as a boy of being the first object that fledgling wrens alighted on as they left their nest, resonated with me. I loved the poem and had a similar experience myself, as a young girl I knew where many birds nested and loved sitting quietly and watching the parents feed the young until they left their nest.

A Necklace of Wrens

When I was very young
I found a nest
Its chirping young
were fully fledged.               

They rose and re-alighted
around my neck,
Made in the wet meadow
a feather necklet.

To them I was not Human                                                                   but a stone or a tree                                                                        I felt a sharp wonder                                                                             they could not feel.

 

That was when the craft came                                                           which demands respect.                                                           Their talons left on me                                                                          scars still not healed yet.

I love his understanding of how precious our wildlife is – ‘the scars not healed yet’ being the way the experience stayed with him into adulthood and how that close encounter with tiny birds was so special and can’t be easily captured.

For me it conjures up the magic of our wildlife, of the natural world we are so fortunate to be part of. I just wish we could tread more carefully than we do.

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Golden Hare but not with gold!

Still not sure about what I want to do with these prints but I know I am feeling good about once again using screens to print images on fabric. Today I printed on some lovely floaty grey fabric with indigo ink and thought this would make a nice scarf.

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I have found out that I don’t need the underlay I have been using, but the prints come out OK with just the table protector on the kitchen table. This means I don’t have to have a big heavy roll of underlay hanging about in the kitchen!

I have bought a couple of different fabrics and will use different colour inks to see what I want to use for some scarves. I do like the floaty stuff though!

Golden Hare printed!

I first printed copper on navy, to make a prototype dress but didn’t really like it; so washed it out before fixing.

 

I then printed gold on yellow. Happier with this but I know from using metallic inks in the past, it is a nightmare to keep the screen from drying out between lays – and sure enough there is some irregularity between the first lays and the final ones. If I’d used non-metalics I’m sure it would be a better print……..

 

but pleased with the way the image lines up. Don’t know why the background here appears to be much paler than it is, it is in fact yellow as in this photo below:

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I now have to move the print along, re-pin it and continue the print for the width of the fabric – then the pattern I’ve made will be placed on it and a dress made!  I hope!

Golden Hare print

Just finished preparing the latest screen for printing. This was a screen I made from start to finish… well I didn’t grow the trees or weave the mesh but I bought 4 pieces of plain sawn pine 34mm x 34mm for £7.99 from Trago’s, enough to make at least three screens and bought a couple of metres of T43 screen mesh, used abought £1.00’s worth on this screen, the cost of printing the acetates was pence, having first drawn the image and photocopied in in black.

After making the screen, I stretched the mesh using my work station to clamp the screen onto, rolled the rest of the mesh around a piece of dowel and pulled really hard, stapling as I went. Reasonably taut, there may be a better way. (When I did this as a job I had the use of a proper screen stretcher, what a luxury!)  I already had site lamps from Screwfix and last night, having coated my screen and dried it in the bottom drawer of my plan chest, (only dark place I could find) I rigged up a way of hanging the lamps over the screen to project the image, through the acetates with the image on, onto the screen. The lamps were on for 3 minutes but 2 would have been enough, I think. I hope to print later today. Watch this space!

I loved the process of producing a screen almost as much as printing, it is a magical process – I realise that my admiration for The Bloomsbury Group was as much for their capacity to make what they needed to create, as their bohemian lifestyle – I love the idea that if you wanted to make tiles, you dug the earthenware clay, made your own glazes, if you needed cloth you wove or printed it, wallpaper? cover the wall with decoration. I love that idea that if you want something you can usually make it, as long as the raw materials are to be found.

I had some table looms, and made some frame looms for me and the kids, years ago, and spun Jacob sheep’s fleece to weave, when I ran the pottery at Kilworthy House, I made my own glazes, learnt from a ceramic teacher who employed me as her technician at Knutsford Comprehensive, so already that desire to start at the beginning to make the means by which images can be produced and reproduced, was very strong for me.

Little Running Hare print

Just finished the Little Running Hare print on yellow linen, printed in gold, although the gold is difficult to see. An experiment to see how the table is working, how the gold prints (Speedball, not my much liked Sericol, now no longer in existence) and whether the screen I made yesterday was OK, as I developed it using a Wicke’s 400 w site lamp, so a bit hit and miss. I developed it for 5minutes and this was too long, I

had difficulty washing the screen out, so next time 2 minutes should do it. I shone the light up with the screen above, next time I’ll shine the light down on the screen as the glass I placed over the Kodatrace didn’t keep it flat enough so some light crept between the screen and the Kodatrace. Still. trial and error!

New Beginnings

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I’ve just made my print table. It’s 2′ x 4′, not very big but to be portable and fit on my kitchen table, this is a workable size (for now, one day when I get a studio….) It consists of two boards glued together, covered with carpet underlay to give it some flexibility, then covered with pond liner stapled to the wood, to make it smooth and waterproof and finally, using PVA glue, calico has been stuck down to pin the fabric to be printed, onto.

The art work has been made very black in order to produce the screen, only allowing light to penetrate unprotected areas, so the photo sensitive emulsion will wash off leaving the image to be printed.

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The image was taken from my lino print ‘Melangell’s Hares’ and is 300mm x 380mm. It has been modified to repeat horizontally and vertically if I wanted to produce a length of fabric.

The screen is ready, I have my brand new sparkling squeegee (very different from the worn and battered squeegees I used to use!) all ready to print.

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The first ‘lay’ misses out the middle section as the screen would smudge the print if it was put down next to the first print. I used a hairdryer to speed up the drying process, keeping the screen well away, so it wouldn’t dry out.

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The tape at the bottom of the print shows the registration marks – this is so that I know where to place the screen to fill in the centre print, when the first ‘lay’ is dry. This is all very temporary and experimental, but it may be OK for what I’m hoping to do.

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The final print has worked well enough I quite like the way the images join up making a river flowing down between the trees. This print is for my Daughter, Sar to make a lampshade out of. My lovely friend Linda says it would make a nice skirt!

 

Screenprinting in my past.

Screenprinting

I’m just starting to print on fabric again after many years. I’ve missed it and often thought about how to find the space to print again. This has taken me back to being wistful about the years I worked at Plymouth College of Art and Design (from1985 -1991) as it was then, now just Plymouth College of Art. I took a short course there last year but found it frustrating not having the luxury of autonomy, that I had in the past.

I was almost tearful to see and use the 5 metre table I had in my print room at Wolsden Street, which was the ND Fashion Diploma annexe. I have printed hundreds of metres on that table – I was there six years and each 2nd year student printed at least 5 metres, 1st year students at least 3 metres about 30 students in all, so at least 240 metres a year, over six years, that’s around 1,040 metres of printed fabric at least as I printed the background screens to the fashion shows, held at the Theatre Royal in Plymouth and The Royal William Yard.

To think now why I ever left that work is hard to get in touch with, it wasn’t well paid and I worked very hard. The lecturer in Textile  Fashion Design was Louise Allcoat, who was the driving force behind the student’s work, her commitment to Fashion as an industry and to the students was legendary!

The rush to print so many students towards the end of their course but still allowing them enough time to make their garments out of the printed fabric in time for the fashion show in July,  was very pressurising for them and for me and I often worked many more hours than I was supposed to. There were set backs of massive importance like my darkroom, where I had a few screens drying after being coated with light sensitive photo emulsion, being exposed by students using the light-box to work on their kodatraces, when this happened it would mean I needed to strip those screens, re-stretch them, re-coat them and start again, this was at least a day’s work was lost at a very busy time.

At the same time it was part of the job to make enough photocopies of the design sheet of each student, sellotape them together to fit across the width of the screens so that the design would be printed across the whole width of the fabric. I would pin, (every couple of inches) each student’s chosen fabric the length of the print table and having produce their screen by laying the joined-up black photocopied design on the light-box and exposing the screen for the required minutes so that where the screen was protected by the design the light sensitive emulsion would not develop, so would be washed off in the next part of the process. Where the light hit the unprotected part of the screen, it would develop and be resistant to water and the water-based inks I used. Then I would hose down the screen and dry it, ready for printing.

The second year students produced at least three colour printed fabric so that was three screens that I had to produce and ensure the registration of the print fitted together perfectly. They would also produce another simpler print in a different fabric. First year student might print one or two colour prints, priority was given to second years as they were finishing their course. Each student would then spend a day with me in the print room, holding the other end of the screen as we would see their design come to life on the table.

This was achieved by measuring the length of the image on the screen, then marking that measurement on the registration bar which would be covered with masking tape anew for each student. A piece of card taped to the screen would line up with the marks on the registration bar; then the angle of the screen worked out to ensure the print was at right angles to the cloth on the table, this was done with screws on the frame of the screen adjusted so that all would print accurately. I would mix the inks (Sericol) reproducing the colours that the student had used in their design. There were several overhead heaters and once one ‘lay’ had been printed, the heaters would dry it as quickly as possible (but not dry the ink in the screen!) then the second ‘lay’ would be printed to fill in the alternate gaps – this was necessary as the screen would smudge the wet ink if the design was printed one after the other. This meant the measuring of the gap between ‘lays’ had to be very accurate other wise an under or over print would occur. This was a very scary part for me as I have to check numbers a few times at least ‘ cos I’m not good with them!

As time went by new print processes were developed such as 3D print and metallic print where the screen had to be washed out and dried between ‘lays’ as the particles in the ink easily blocked the screen if left even a short time. Each year I struggled to ensure all the student work was printed and often worked through lunch and stayed late until I was exhausted, my hand constantly covered with ink. With a new Head of Department, Irene  Brown, after Julie Jarvis who had been a wonderful HOD, came new ideas, I was doing more teaching, teachers from local schools came for two day workshops to learn how to screen print in their schools and groups of young people came for skill training.

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Here are some of those young people printing their designs.

It was Irene who realised that during the time I worked one to one with each student, they very often used the time to talk about problems they were experiencing such as  homelessness, problems with parents or step parents, abuse, financial difficulties, these were National Diploma students so didn’t usually receive any financial support from their local authority and were often forced to live at home, whatever age they were or how supportive their parents were. Eileen suggested I enrol on a counselling course and over the next four years I completed an RSA Counselling in the Development of Learning course, two theory and practical Counselling Certificates, and a Diploma in Counselling Studies at Plymouth University, eventually a BA (Hons) degree through the Open University in Social Sciences.  Plymouth Art College was very supportive of this and I will always be grateful for that support. For a while I worked as a printer and as the College Counsellor. Finally I moved to the main college site and had to decide to commit to the counselling work as the demand grew involving more hours than I had available if I’d continued in the several part time jobs I was doing. I spent another twelve years working at PCAD as their counsellor and trained and supervised many counselling students during their courses. I was working four days at PCAD and one day and evenings at Dartington College of Arts, on The Dartington Hall estate which is where we now lived, as Tone was employed there as Welfare and Accommodation Officer.

Before this, my background had been teaching Art and Crafts at Kilworthy House, Tavistock, where my first husband, John was Director. It was a socio-therapeutic residential community for young people 13- 18 years old with Emotional and Behavioural Disorders. I lived and worked there from 1976-1983, then started at PCAD but was also, at first part time at Torbay Woman’s Refuge for Domestic Violence and worked as Vanessa Robertson,’s (the weaver) colourist. At the same time I was Pen Dalton’s print technician on the Art in a Social Context at Dartington College of Arts for a couple of days a week. So for a while I had several part time jobs, three days I drove in to Plymouth and two days in Totnes, where we had moved to from Ugborough. I often think how interesting it is that my work experiences came together to form the work one does! This was when Tone was a very mature student at Dartington on the four year Theatre course – I did lots of work to help with finances especially as two of my three children were also at college, Gin at Dartington, Sar at Laban, Jake soon to be at South Devon College – busy time!

Although I was only part time employed at Plymouth, it was for 52 weeks so for all the holidays I was there by my self. I spent the time cleaning screens and renewing stock, ordering paper, inks etc but one year I was approached by a designer to print fabrics for Jim Henson’s Mother Goose stories, this was for a video of around 39 short stories where Mother Goose tells her three goslings various nursery rhymes. The style of the production was based on Maxfield Parrish’s designs. He was an American painter and illustrator born in 1870, died in 1966. His work was known for its neo-classical imagery and use of saturated colour.

The fabrics I was given were beautiful, mainly silk and satin, not that easy to print on but… the designs were given to me on paper and in the size they wanted to have printed so I had to transfer them on to screens and print in the colour required. there were checks, fleur de lys, dots and other shapes in one colour prints, so fairly straight forward, after some of the student work I’d printed.

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Some of Maxfield Parrish’s brilliant illustrations and paintings that were the inspiration for the costumes in The Mother Goose Stories. I believe Maxfield Parrish was the illustrator for the original Frank Baum book of Mother Goose.

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Unfortunately many of the stories have not been produced on DVD in the UK and have now been bought by The Disney Channel, so not very easy to play them here. Here are some of the stills from the videos showing glimpses of the fabrics I printed in I think 1989. You can see how Maxfield Parrish’s designs were used as inspiration for the sets.

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