Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Art Archive

Welcome to my art archive. I am currently off on some adventures, making new art work, documenting some older work and writing stories for my web-comic:

Feel free to take a wander around Too Folk to be Cool, take your shoes off, settle in. 
There is lots to read and look at, from essays about my artistic process to photographs of lighthouse tea cosies and bad bears that happen to be pin cushions. If you are not in the mood for reading, take a glance through my photo galleries, just click on the buttons under the title.

If you want to make an inquiry abut any of my art work, 
please contact me at:     

Click on an image below to read some of my most popular posts.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Phase 2 Starts Here

I took an unintentional break from writing here last week. A culmination of factors led to a tiredness that would not permit me putting pen to paper. I have started to volunteer at a community art studio in Dublin, I had a family reunion in Wexford and I have a couple of commissions on the go that needed my attention. All of these things were combined with the fact that the last tea cosy I showed you here was also one of the last projects I had readily documented on my computer. Apart from a couple of other works in progress my photo archive has all but dried up and phase 2 of my art archive needs to take place.

I have a hunt ahead of me. I must travel to foreign abodes to photograph, document and capture my work in their now natural habitats. I also have an archaeological dig to do; I must excavate what is now the historical work of my late teens and early twenties. I have a couple of portfolio cases groaning with drawings, paintings, print work and sculpture that I need to scan and photograph to include in this ever expanding document of myself.

So what was a steady and continuous process of documentation may become a less conventional beast, until I find my feet in this new territory of exploration. The photographing stage always takes longer than expected and the volume of work may delay what has been a regular and routine posting up until now.

I hope you can bear with me as my work takes on this new form in the background. It is exciting to re-discover old art work, old talents and dusty capabilities. The opening of my ancient artistic history makes my fingers tingle and makes my heart remember times of creativity past. I already have a longing to re-engage with some of the techniques I haven’t used in some time. Holding the heavy paper, seeing my marks made across it, is like retrieving long lost parts of me. The combination of idea and creative action makes for visceral memory making. I am walking through my memories at the moment and re-connecting with the brush strokes that make up my story. Here is just a taster of things to come.

Watch this space. 


Tuesday, 14 May 2013

I am a Map-maker, Part 2

Welcome back. Yesterday I showed you this map-inspired tea cosy in its first stage. It was in a traditional map format which basically means it was flat, it could be read from left to right, right to left, from top to bottom and from bottom to top. Today I would like to show you the piece when it is transformed into its intended purpose- a tea cosy.

When I had the idea for this piece I was really excited by it. I worked very hard on research, design and the making of all the separate elements that make up the final vision of the piece. I sewed everything into place and I added upholstery trimming to the hem to strengthen its form and also to create a frame or border for the images to sit within. So you can imagine, after doing all that work and I finally get to the stage when I can sew in clasps and snaps to be able to turn this map into a tea cosy, the trepidation I felt when I placed the finished piece over the tea pot. I hoped to the gods of art and design that it would look exciting and interesting rather than an unreadable jumble and a big mess. Thankfully when it was sitting in place I felt satisfied with how it had turned out and that my design had held strong in both formats. 

Now instead of being able to read it in its traditional form, it could be read many different ways. The 3D details stood up off the background and demanded attention. It was a traditional map no more, it was now a kind of unique globe that could be viewed from many different angles.

As I said yesterday, the images I chose to use on the piece were from the stories I heard in the conversation I had with the man it was commissioned for. Family life was a big part of the stories I heard and so I decided I would embroider two family portraits; one of his family growing up and one of his own family now. I chose browns, beiges and sepia toned threads for the embroidery of the older portrait to give it a sense of history and of times past. I decided I would embroider his current family portrait in Technicolor and in a more caricatured style. I wanted it to be soft, bright and with a sense of fun about it.

In the old-fashioned maps I used for inspiration for the piece, I found there can be a lovely mixture of images and written text. I find the combination of the two very appealing visually and I wanted to incorporate this into my own work. I found a quote from William S. Burroughs that seemed to suit the tone of the piece perfectly. I had embroidered the writing onto a piece of white felt and used it on the tea cosy as another form of visual and thematic interest.

As you can see from the photographs, there is a tiny room on the map. The man had told me a great story about a room he had lived in when he was younger and I wanted to make a representation of it for the piece. I set myself the challenge of making it as small and as detailed as I possibly could. I made a tiny bed, a clock, a window and even a tiny door with door knob included. The idea was not to make an exact replica of the room but just to have something on the tea cosy that symbolised his experience.

All the details of the piece were based in stories I heard in our conversation. The lighthouse, the tower blocks, the portraits and the room all came from the man himself. I think this is partly the success of the piece. The sharing of his stories generated a visual story in my mind that I then wanted to communicate. The tea cosy is obviously very personal to the man it was made for but I think our interconnectedness as humans makes us interested in each others stories. I think you could feel it is so personal to the recipient that it would not be of interest to anybody else. But my experience in making it has been the opposite. I have found that its unconventional beauty draws people in and makes them want to know what it is about. I think it makes you think about what would be on your own mind map. What would be the symbols and the landmarks? Whose faces would you see? What stories would be told? 

Monday, 13 May 2013

I am a Map-maker, Part 1

Sometimes I will be asked for a gift voucher to give to someone as a present. The idea is that rather than the giver commissioning a piece for the person, the receiver of the gift can pick his/her own art work to be commissioned. One such recipient of a gift voucher decided they would like a tea cosy as their present. For some reason I was surprised at the request, maybe because he was a man and my inner sexist had emerged. So I sent him on photographs of my previous work so he could get a sense of the kind of things I had made in the past.

We arranged to meet for a cup of tea and a chat about what he would like from his tea cosy. We had a long talk but not very much of it was about tea cosies, colours, ideas or any of the usual information I try to garner when developing a piece. He shared stories with me about why he wanted the tea cosy which then led to other stories about many other things.

I left his company with a million images, stories and panic about how I was going to turn all this information into, of all things, a tea cosy. I have been challenged before but this seemed like the boss of all challenges.

To my total relief because of the wealth of imagery I was presented with, I quickly began to form a plan for the piece in my minds eye. We had discussed the mans interest in maps and so I decided the basis for the piece could be formed like an old fashioned map, the kind that have sailboats, mermaids and monsters illustrated in their seas.

But rather than it be an accurate geographical map, I thought it could be a mind map, a map to chart his stories and his memories from the past. I picked key information from our conversation and decided to incorporate them into the piece. I wanted to scatter them across the landscape like noteworthy landmarks in a journey or expedition.

The other key component of the work was the idea that the piece could be laid out flat like a paper map and read that way but then after some nifty needle work and some integral construction the piece could be clipped into place and become a functional and decorative tea cosy. I liked the idea that at one point in time people thought the world was flat but with exploration they found that it was round; the tea cosy represents both forms. I am fascinated by how we, as humans, can feel absolutely assured of something and then with some heroism and the drive to explore we are constantly confronted, not just by one truth, but by many, many truths that challenge our ideas and perceptions about the world.

For the tea cosy I liked the transformation of a 2D object into a 3D object aided by the functional reason of its existence, the teapot creates the globe upon which the map can sit. The cosy starts as a piece of art to be observed, it then gets transformed into a functional item but in doing this, it further explores its artistic and creative qualities as it encourages you to view it in a new and challenging way. Art informs function and then the function informs the art.

I also explored 2D and 3D forms in the making of the map. The landscapes and family portraits were all embroidered flat and then I made 3D miniature representations symbolising different ideas or memories we had discussed in our meeting. I wanted the map to come alive, to jump off the fabric, to rise up to meet you with unexpected details and things to be continuously discovered. As I said before, I love working in miniature and this idea really allowed me to play and challenge myself in this area.

Tomorrow I will discuss with you the details of the piece and the techniques I used to bring this tea cosy together. 

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Three Bear Flair

On a sunny afternoon, I had the foresight to photograph these bear friends together. They are all dispersed into the four winds now, so I am glad I have the evidence that they once lived under the same roof.

I was talking to Gary about these photographs and he asked me what I liked about them. I mused for a long time but the thought finally came to me that I liked seeing the collection of work together. When I see them in a group I remember how the creation of each bear naturally led to the creation of the next. Each creative product, simply put, is the result of lots and lots of decisions to convey a certain theme all coming together to form a final idea and image.

When I would make the decision to use black wool, in my mind I would often think; but what if I made the exact same thing in white or blue or green or pink? If I made the design decision to make it in say, pink, what impact would that have on the idea I am trying to convey? Maybe black is the right decision for this idea but the same piece in pink may generate a whole other idea, a piece apart. I find this happens to me all the time and it is why I so rarely make only one of something.

As soon as I make a definite decision in the making of a piece, all the alternatives are sitting there, looking up at me and crying out to be used or explored in a different way.

So here are three examples of different design decisions made, each one leading neatly into the next. A bad bear with dark wool, questionable morals and jagged teeth lead to the idea of a different perspective. I want to make something that is about the positive, the warm and the inviting, things about me made in a bigger scale and in a brighter colour. This then leads to questions about size and making things smaller and more compact. Also, the two gone before were explored through masculine form, what would it look like to me when they are in feminine form? What do I want my femininity to represent? I do believe it would go on like this forever if life did not interrupt with commissions, external inspirations in many different guises and the small matter of earning a living.

When I see them all together I see a family, a context, a place where they are part of something bigger and they are relatable to each other.  But in the same view it also allows you to see the obvious differences between them, it highlights their individuality and their separate messages or themes. They contrast with each other and yet are familiar so you can feel comfortable exploring their world. A language is developed in which you can rest in and absorb their information without being constantly jarred by ever changing images that bear no relation to each other.

I have created my own personal playground and I can play, create, say, sing and do what I like within it. The bears are the product of this experimental world and they become real and valuable expressions of the things I learn about myself as I play in this special place.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

A Large Personality on a Miniature Scale

YAWN and STRETCH! Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.
Well, I’m back. I would love to say that I was off in a distant land sunning myself or picking through treasures at a Parisian flea market but, alas, I was just at home. Even though my break wasn’t exotic, it was certainly lovely and needed. The sight and smell of an airport would have done me in, I think, so resting at home was just what the doctor ordered. I was so exhausted even my little toes were tired.

We raided the library for books and films and tried to give ourselves the permission to actually look at them (the DVDs) and read them (the books). I poured all my creative energy into baking- art you can eat. Yay! Home-made banana pancakes for breakfast, now that is good living. The May sunshine streamed down into our back garden yesterday. I pulled open our back door, sat down, put my feet up and finished my book. Gary cooked dinner and brought me a cold drink. I am a very lucky girl. It was the perfect end to a much needed break. That may just have been our complete Irish summer so I’m glad I took the time to enjoy it.

So without complaint, I return to the documenting of my art work. I have decided to take up where I left off before my holiday. Bears! Yes, more bears, they just keep coming out of the woodwork. This little bear is called Cameo. I say little bear because I was experimenting with scale when I made her. I do seem to have a fascination with scale that emerges not consciously but rather organically as I work. I think it happens very naturally when knitting because, as I described before, just by changing the needle size and the thickness of the wool the same pattern can be transformed in many different ways. Sometimes the experimentation is a disaster in this regard but the fun is watching something develop. A lot of the time I will end up laughing at some oversized floppy creation that has appeared as I knit NOT using the pattern guidelines. But when it does work out it can be kind of magical.

My interest in scale has always been present I think. I like to draw small things large and large things small. I love exaggerating details until the object I am drawing is nearly unrecognisable to its original form. In the opposite way, I love anything miniature. I think that started with my obsession with Sylvanian families when I was a little girl. Oh my goodness, how I loved my Sylvanian families. I played for hours with these tiny animals and their accessories. My mother minded one of our neighbour’s children when we were young. He accidently knocked my Sylvanian Windmill off the kitchen counter one day and broke the sails off the front of it. My mam glued it back into place but they never moved again. My heart was broken like my beloved toy. As you can tell, I never forgave him and I’m still not over it.

When I visited Bath last September, their museums were full of miniature portraiture and objects. I found it so inspiring; I came back full of ideas and reinvigorated about my craft. This bears name ‘Cameo’ is a nod to that type of Victorian and Edwardian decoration: miniature, petite and perfect.

After making Theobold and Oliver I wanted to make a more feminine bear. I didn’t want to make her pretty and pink though. I was never a very ‘pink’ girl growing up and was always drawn to an alternative world rather than a conventional one. Being ‘arty’, I did experiment a lot with my clothes and my make-up, especially after entering Art College. In doing that, I have found you do leave yourself open to people commenting on your unusual tastes. Sometimes it’s complimentary and sometimes it can be offensive. Being ‘different’ can be difficult but I found in the end it was easier to be myself, with the mean-spirited comments included, rather than trying to be what I thought other people wanted me to be and feeling like a fraud on the inside. I tried very hard to fit in when I was a teenager, like a lot of people, but for me, I found it nearly impossible to blend in and be like everybody else.

It’s hard to explain but it felt imperative that my individuality be expressed. The ‘trying to blend in’ was a massive effort and I was so worn out with making that effort that I was never very convincing anyway. I eventually gave up and gave in to my inner need and I have been that way ever since.

I embroidered “An Out There Kind of Bear” on to a heart shaped top for Cameo. I have never wanted to stand out or to be ‘different’ on purpose. I have only ever wanted to try to be myself as this has been the balm to most of my ailments. But I have found pursuing my individuality essentially makes you put the spot-light on the things that are special or specific about you. Cameo does not represent a purposeful prodding at convention but rather a self acceptance of individual differences. I am out-there not because I wear bright turquoise eye shadow or pierce my lip. I am out-there because I strive to be myself and sometimes that seems like the most radical act of all.    

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

A Growing Family

Oliver, whom I showed you yesterday, was a big hit when he was finished. People really seemed to like his warm demeanour and his inviting smile. As with a lot of my other work, I was very fortunate to get commissions for more bears after I had developed a range of my own design. Again I was in the business of customising my creations for children and adults alike.

When I was making Oliver I had bought a tiny baby grow. I cut and chopped it to fit his body. I sewed a new hem and neck line and added the slogan with a felt patch I had embroidered. For this guy, I found a toy waistcoat and scarf pattern in one of my knitting books. I feel all these extra details can really help to build up a character for each individual bear.

I have found a strange but good thing when making these bears. Even a small adjustment in the weight of wool I am using or a new texture leads to each bear taking on a slightly different shape and size. They develop in their own way which strengthens their individual look.

I can add to these differences by where I position their ears, the thickness or thinness of their limbs and the buttons I choose for their eyes. Their expressions develop as I sew each stitch in place and before you know it you have a new bear before you.

When creating each new personality I try to think what I would like to infuse into his/her character. Sometimes I am trying to convey something I have learned and I have been moved to communicate it, like in the case of Oliver. With Theobold I wanted to show his boldness and I wanted to be bold myself by making something that was difficult and unsavoury in spirit. If I am making a toy for a child I think about playfulness, friendship and love. When I am making a bear for an adult I will think about comfort and a reconnection with innocence.

I have found by thinking about and concentrating on these things and also the person the piece is intended for, a kind of layman’s magic occurs. The expression of my intentions tends to appear on the bears face as I sew it and when people hold the bears and encounter them, they more often then not will declare the feelings I had been focusing on when making it. It is a wonderful process to behold and it says to me, you don’t always have to say how you are feeling, sometimes you can just show it.  

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

How NOT to be Cool in a Modern Era, a Personal Story of Letting Go

I would like you to meet Oliver. He is a benevolent bear: benevolent meaning humane, compassionate, kind-hearted and tender. Obviously the idea of making a ‘good’ bear had not left me after the completion of the terrible Theobold (see my post He is Not a Tame Bear for further details). But I have to say that the true idea behind his creation was sparked by a book Gary brought home from work one day. The book is called “Ways of Seeing” by John Berger. It was originally a four-part television series made for the BBC in 1972. John Berger then created this book with his producer Mike Dibb and also Sven Blomberg, Chris Fox and Richard Hollis.

I have decided I will share the book and series with you in a more in-depth way in my *Recommends* blog in the future. The book contains seven essays and for now, I would like to discuss the impact that one of the seven essays had on me. When I read back over the essay now it is not even the main theme of the piece that really sparked something in me; it was a point that the author made about glamour that really stuck in my head and changed the way I see things.

The essay I am writing about is about many things but publicity is at the heart of it with themes of modern technological advances, oil painting and the impact that ideological images have on us as they surround us and saturate our environments. It speaks about how the publicity machines sell us not products, but the dream of a future happier self with all the money, possessions and companionship that a person could want or need.

“Publicity persuades us of such a transformation by showing us people who have apparently been transformed and are, as a result, enviable. The state of being envied is what constitutes glamour. And publicity is the process of manufacturing glamour.”

The glamorising of this future self leaves us feeling dissatisfied with our present selves and so, we must start striving to buy and acquire all the products that the dream machine sell to us as the cure to our present dissatisfied and unsatisfactory state.

Berger also shares his belief that publicity preys on our fears and targets our anxieties, making its presence in our lives not a benign force but something that actively plays a role in our decision making and the development of our culture. This is quite a crude outline of all that is contained in the essay, the writing itself is beautifully interwoven with art history, political implications and thought provoking imagery. I highly recommend you check it out for yourself.

“Glamour cannot exist without personal social envy being a common and widespread emotion. The industrial society which has moved towards democracy and then stopped half way is the ideal society for generating such an emotion. The pursuit of individual happiness has been acknowledged as a universal right. Yet the existing social conditions make the individual feel powerless. He lives in the contradiction between what he is and what he would like to be. Either he then becomes fully conscious of the contradiction and its causes, and so joins the political struggle for a full democracy which entails, amongst other thing, the overthrow of capitalism; or else he lives, continually subject to an envy which, compounded with his sense of powerlessness, dissolves into recurrent day-dreams.”

There is one main paragraph in the essay that really influenced a thought pattern in my mind and which then led me to make this bear. Let me share it with you.

“Being envied is a solitary form of reassurance. It depends precisely upon not sharing your experience with those who envy you. You are observed with interest but you do not observe with interest - if you do, you will become less enviable. In this respect the envied are like bureaucrats; the more impersonal they are, the greater the illusion (for themselves and for others) of their power. The power of the glamorous resides in their supposed happiness: the power of the bureaucrat in his supposed authority. It is this which explains the absent, unfocused look of so many glamour images. They look out over the looks of envy which sustain them.”

When I read this small grouping of words it seemed to me that they were lit up on the page, highlighting its message and it called out like an invitation to a new world. It said to me, in such a clear and straight forward manner, a truth that I felt in my guts.

As I read the paragraph for the third time I replaced the word ‘glamour’ with the word ‘cool’. I felt from my own life experience the absence of being the ‘cool kid’. Art College was an amazing experience for me but there is an aspect of it that I never really participated in. I feel I struggled in a social sense, I never felt like I had the coolest clothes, the best taste in music or that I had any edge. I have never been a drinker or a drug taker and I have found it hard to go with the flow. I was a hard worker, an enthusiastic learner and I also had high and low moods that needed constant attendance. I have always been a person of extremes but I think my extremes are definitely of the un-cool variety, there is very little glamour with them.

The idea this paragraph presented to me was that ‘glamour’ or ‘cool’ was something that was constructed to aid a very specific goal that actually bore no relation to my well being and more than likely would be unable to deliver on any of its thin promises.

It said to me that being ‘cool’ or ‘glamorous’ was a tactic created to bring power and control to a certain group of people and if you were willing to learn the ways of it and take action, you too could have the power of cool and glamour on your side. It is not something you are born with, it is not something special about you, it is just the manipulation of factors with a more or less guaranteed outcome that has been observed and harnessed for the purposes of selling perfume, lipstick and really expensive cars.

I felt the actions I would need to take in order to obtain this kind of glamour were the opposite of most of the things I was striving for in my life. The line “You are observed with interest but you do not observe with interest” jumped off the page. I thought how sad it would be to appear disinterested in everyone and everything in order to maintain a fa├žade of superiority. You could not let anyone get to know you because if they begin to relate to you, you become less fictionalised and therefore more real, with problems, imperfect skin and ailing relations like everybody else. The glamour story sells us about a world where none of those things occur anymore. Super models don’t have split ends and aunts with breast cancer. They wear bikinis all year round and their only care is where the next martini is coming from, they don’t have emotional needs and they definitely don’t nag.

I feel I have been striving for perfection my whole life. I have a long held belief that I am unsatisfactory. I do believe the constant stream of overtly sexualised images of women, long shimmering legs, flat stomachs and prancing smiling girls has impacted on this expectation of myself. You don’t have to agree with me, it is my belief. I think women are constantly sold the idea of physical happiness through a specific body type that will equal life happiness and life fulfilment. I believed for a long time in my teens and early twenties that being thin would solve all my problems. I swallowed the lie and chased the dream.

After a lot of work on myself I have come to realise that that old story is just that, a story and that dream will never be fulfilled. Not that I can’t lose weight, no, that the losing of weight will answer the question of life happiness. It is a hard dream to let go of, it is all encompassing and simple. One answer to a million questions; Brilliant! But I have known too many beautiful, kind and intelligent women who have suffered with eating disorders and have been distressed by image problems to have much faith in that dream any more.

So let me come to Oliver. Oliver has a loving, warm smile on his face. On his t-shirt I have embroidered the slogan “Too Warm to be Cool”. This just about sums me up. I have tried to be kind, understanding and compassionate for most of my life. I have great interests in many things and I love sharing these interests with other people. My enthusiasm bubbles over when I see a good film or I read an excellent book. The thought of having to keep that to myself, to hide my excitement about life when I find it, to have to “…look out over the looks of envy which sustain them” in order to be thought to be ‘cool’ or ‘glamorous’ is just not worth it to me.

The day I read that essay is the day I let go of chasing the idea of COOL. Now that really is Brilliant! I don’t mean to imply that now I am magically fixed so that I don’t care how I look or how I am perceived. I think I have just let go of the one big answer and have started to pursue the millions of individual answers to life’s questions. What makes me happy? How do I accept myself as I am? What will I make? What do I want to say? The list goes on and on as does the work to answer these questions. I do know that I have warm blushed cheeks, a warm heart and warm ideas. I have set coolness and its cold ways aside. I could learn to be cool and it might come in handy along the way. But for today I will bask in the warmth of a perfectly imperfect self.