Alright, you lot

Who knew when I started this blog two years ago that I would’ve made a whole army of amigurumi creatures to conquer the world and gather dust on shelves everywhere. But I’ve been outgrowing fluffernutter for a while – there’s only so much you can say about crocheting cute animals. I guess I’ve got to a point where I’m ready to put my own name on what I make / draw / sculpt – and not need to dismiss it as ‘fluff’ or nonsense. So, faithful reader, I hope you’ll follow me to my new home -

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CASS Art: The White Chalk Technique

CASS Art run cheap and inspiring workshops – I went along to Maria Mari Murga’s session on Chalk Drawing in the Manner of the Masters. Maria studied at the Charles H. Cecil Studios in Florence, which teaches a tradional style of closely considered naturalistic, sight size drawing and painting. Maria now teaches at the London Artelier of Representational Art and also mentors artists on a one to one basis.

We worked from Maria’s drawing of a female nude, beginning by tracing the figure with charcoal – tracing it turns out is not ‘cheating’, the masters used to call it ‘cartoon’ drawing for their frescos, a way of transferring early sketches to a final piece.  We worked on canson paper which is grey and commonly used for pastels, it has a smooth and a rough side.

The next step was to fill in the shadows with 2B pencil sharpened to a long point, to give more precise lines. Flow of light is brighter at the top of the figure and darker as you descend. The ‘bedbug line’ is where the shadow meets a lighter area, it gets darker, like bedbugs in the studio scampering into the shadows when the light is turned on. Shape a putty rubber into a brush or stump for more precise rubbing out. Use a stump to blend to an even tone.

Finally we added the lights with white chalk and white pastel. Be careful to clean areas with a putty rubber before adding white as white and graphite mix to a bluish tone; similarly keep one end of your stump for blending lights and the other for darks.

I have done so many lightning quick figure sketches in life workshops, (poses of five minutes or sometimes as little as one minute), it felt like a real luxury to spend a considered amount of time on one drawing. Although ultimately it was merely a copy of Maria’s drawing, I feel it taught me a valuable new technique which I can absorb into my own drawing style.

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Experimental Textiles with Cas Holmes

I am still buzzing from another creative binge at West Dean – Experimental Textiles, Stitch, Cloth and Memory with Cas Holmes.

I’ve been aware for a while now that textiles can make a more evocative and interesting ground than paper. Jo Dixon’s course in Mixed Media: Print Paint Collage taught me some basic fabric dying techniques and use of gesso on calico – I wanted to carry this forward and explore experimental textiles further. I decided my focus for the weekend was going to be in transferring some of my figurative sketches into textiles and used my sketchbook drawings as a starting point.

The main techniques we tried were wax crayon rubbings of lace trim and doilies, fabric dyes, and transfer dyes. I especially loved making collagraph plates by machine embroidering on laminating plastic. Below you can see my initial sketch (from the Life Drawing with Adele Wagstaff course), the plate, and the print. I printed onto cotton with acrylic paint – this is a really immediate and straightforward process which will be easy to try further at home. The effect reminds me a lot of monoprinting in that you get some lovely lines from where you applied the acrylic to to the plate – I almost don’t want to work over this print to much for fear of losing the initial lines!

In the collagraph below I kept it simple by just using the stitched line, I overlaid two life drawings of the same pose from different angles here which gives an effect of movement – Cas recommended I look at Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase (click here).

The collagraph plate below is based on a drawing I did of a Rodin Statue ‘The Muse’ at the V&A; I stitched on a variety of other fabrics to give texture, including hessian and an old seam. I want to do more prints with this now I’m home.

With so many techniques going on it was a constant struggle to keep control of my workspace. I used the board behind my worktable as a visual reference, initially pinning up items I brought with me for inspiration, including: scraps of handmade lace which my friend rescued from the bin, Victorian portrait photographs I collect from vintage fairs, patchwork scraps, tea cards, a handkerchief, and lace table cloths given to me by my great uncle, embroidered with his aunt’s initials. As the weekend progressed I took these down and replaced them with collagraph prints, test pieces and bits and pieces of fabric given to me by other women on the course.

Cas encouraged us to be brave and constantly deconstruct and reconstruct our work – tearing up pieces and mixing with samples from other textiles, pasting them together to create very different effects. I had brought some vintage dress patterns on very thin parchment paper, which worked perfectly for this; here I layered them with a print from some elaborate lace, scraps of hessian, buttons and lace from an old bra of mine (which I had previously used to print onto ceramics – read here). I like the idea of clothing, especially underwear, as an object imbued with the intimacy of being worn so close to the person’s body.

This led me to think about jig saws and quilting, how different shapes in the body could fit together to make a figure – I worked over this collagraph print (based on a drawing I did of a sculpture at the V&A) and added shapes of lace to fit the thighs, stomach and breasts, and pattern paper on top of this, then machine embroidered them down.

Textiles is such an inherently feminine medium, it would seem wrong to go into it without an awareness of feminist writings on the subject. So in preparation for the course I read ‘The Subversive Stitch’ by Roziska Parker which explores how historically ‘women’s work’ or needle work was used to oppress women by keeping them quiet and occupied, but also how women used it as a mode of expression – highly recommended! An idea I’d like to explore further is machine embroidering some of my life drawings of male nudes onto fine lace and feminine floral fabrics…

I’ve also been toying with the idea of scale – small samples of fabric can look gorgeous in a sketch book as reference, but I loved some of Cas’s larger hanging installations. Larger hangings which aren’t pinned down in conventional frames move with the breeze, in a way that recalls breath. I also love the idea that the ‘viewer’ of the art could also be invited to touch my work, in the way that women feel the cloth of a garment when clothes shopping – and engage with the work on another level. I would love to break down the barriers set up by galleries of ‘do not touch’.

I learnt so much from Cas as well as the group – check out websites of fellow student Milliande Demetrou. We naturally shared ideas and materials as we went along. One idea I am especially excited about is dying fabric with rust – see Milliande’s blog. I also want to explore the idea of damaged fabric: burns (from matches and also more deliberate marks from incense sticks), stains (wine / coffee) and wax (different colours) – taking the discarded and making meaning with it. So many ideas – so little time!

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Red Riding Hood Puppet

The ten week puppet making course at the Little Angel concluded before Christmas with a bit of a mad dash to get limbs, body and head together.

The image below shows the various stages of constructing the head. We started with a large egg shaped piece of polystyrene, first gauging a hole in the back to insert a wood dowling neck and securing it with the puppet maker’s (rather smelly) best friend: copydex. Next we carved the base shape of the face using both cheese graters and Stanley knives. Features were added with miliput (a two part epoxy putty which sets rock hard – so my clothes found out!), in my puppet’s case, a pair of impressive cheekbones. When this had set, we applied three layers of papier-mâché, alternating layers of newspaper and brown paper (so we could see how many layers we’d done). Finally, I painted her face with acrylics mixed with a little PVA glue. One thing I’ve learnt is that the best puppets have an expression fitting their character – so I went with a look of wide-eyed fear, which will hopefully complement the wolf shadow puppet (which I’m yet to make).

Red Riding Hood just needs her costume sewing now – her cloak will be red velvet and ribbons

It has been such a privilege to study puppet making at one of the world’s best puppet theatres. You can read about the history of the Little Angel in my earlier blog post. I’ve applied to volunteer running puppet making workshops for kids, so keep an eye out for further puppet making tales on my new blog . I’ve also signed up for a week long workshop in March learning to carve wooden marionettes with the legendary John Roberts of the Puppet Craft Company who has been making exquisite puppets for decades. Can’t wait!



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A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings

I went to see the enchanting Little Angel and Knee High production ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’ at the BAC, you can get an idea of just how special this production is from the trailer here. A grey seaside village is thrown into confusion by the arrival of a mysterious old man with enormous wings, blown down in a storm.

From the sound of the wind in his feathers to the clattering of crabs invading the stage, the play vibrates with life; a banker puppet inflates as he is fed the banknotes of curious tourists who come to photograph the old man, kept under a net with the chickens. The banker inflates alongside inflation, until he bursts like the balloon he is made with. Watching the cast of puppets, I returned to a state of utter wonder rarely experienced since childhood, which persisted even on my bus journey home – the kebab shops and barbers of south London glowed like a set design, old women struggling home with their shopping could so easily be interpreted as puppets… ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’ is touring the UK currently – don’t miss your chance to see this magical production, click here to book tickets.


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These are the pieces I was most pleased with in 2012. Keep an eye out for my new blog in 2013. Fluffernutter has served me well over the years but its time for a new start and fresh focus…

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Little Red Riding Hood: Little Angel puppet making progress

Every Wednesday night for the last few weeks I’ve been heading off to the Little Angel Theatre in Islington to carve polystyrene limbs and mould features in miliput. Slowly but surely, my puppet is emerging.

We have used varying weights of foam for different parts of the puppet. The densest being the feet (above) and the lightest being the arms; I didn’t realise you can sand foam to get a rounded finish. Legs and the spine will be made from dowling and the head is normal polystyrene with miliput features; we’re using string for some joints and leather for others. I can’t wait for tomorrow’s session when we get to papier mache the head, hands and feet! Eventually, they’ll be painted.

Its been great to see everyone’s puppets develop so differently. Even in the early stages, hands and heads expressed completely different characters. I wasn’t sure who my puppet was when I started, it began as a male and then seemed to evolve into a woman. When making puppets I find it helps me to think of them in the context of a narrative, in order to achieve character and expression. I think my puppet is developing into Little Red Riding Hood…

A sinister and primordial tale of distrust and animal instincts, Red Riding Hood permeates our shared unconscious. It was told byFrench peasants in the 14th century as well as in Italy, where a number of versions exist, including La finta nonna (The False Grandmother).[4] It has also been called “The Story of Grandmother”. It is also possible that this early tale has roots in very similar Oriental tales (e.g. “Grandaunt Tiger”).[5] From busty halloween costumes to hollywood films, the symbolism of the story endures today. The mistrust of adult family figures, the imposter in the bed, the terror of being eaten alive and the rebirth of the girl cut from the wolf’s belly by the huntsmen… The story is rich in meaning and mystery. 

I think the iconic red cloak and basket will be a powerful image on stage. In addition to the table top rod puppet of Red Riding Hood, I also plan to make a large shadow puppet of the wolf. I need to get rummaging in charity shops for old red satin clothes I can cut up and give some thought as to how to make her basket…

Check out the blog of Joni Rae Carrack, fellow student, and talented professional puppeteer :

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Egon Schiele: beautiful filth

I was going to include Egon Schiele’s drawings in my last post about life drawing, but realised I had too much to say to fit in! Schiele has been one of my favourite artists since school, when I remember religiously copying his charcoal and watercolour drawings into my art sketchbook for ‘critical studies’. I read ‘The Pornographer of Vienna’ with curiosity. Whilst learning how to make puppets at the Little Angel Theatre, we were encouraged to refer to Schiele when trying to make expressive hands. I’ve found a new appreciation for his work when learning life drawing myself. 

Scheile is quoted as saying ‘Everything is dead whilst it lives’ and this shows in his work.  Sometimes ugly, often provocative, he is always compelling. It’s not uncommon for him to show male and female figures entwined with each other, or women from exaggeratedly sexual angles. It remains a mystery as to whether he had an incestuous relationship with his sister, but his drawings of her certainly show her as a sexual being. (Read more at The Filth and the Fury: a look at Austria’s most inspiring pervert.)

I love the expression of his work and the boldness and economy of his lines, with just a few eloquent strokes of charcoal he describes the figure in all its complexity. He said: ‘To restrict the artist is a crime. It is to murder germinating life.’

Schiele is an artist I will return to time and again for guidance and inspiration. You can find his complete works here.

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Drawing naked ladies

I recently returned to West Dean for an intense weekend of life drawing with tutor Adele Wagstaff. I chose this course as part of my Art Foundation Diploma as I thought studying the human figure would contribute to my puppet making, as well as being fascinating in itself.

Throughout the weekend we were set many five minute poses. The model, Jane was incredible, never wavering or faltering, she set us challenging and eloquent poses. I surprised to hear that she wasn’t a dancer, as many of her poses had the poise and expression of dance, whilst other poses were inspired by yoga asanas. Adele taught us how to use sight scale measurement and comparative scale to deconstruct a pose, and though painstakingly slow, it is a very useful technique to fall back on when tackling tricky angles and foreshortening.

Adele set us the challenge of using as many different materials as we could find, ranging from pens and brushes dipped in ink, to sticks of varying lengths and feathers, leaves, bark… I found it really useful to use a long stick I found in the grounds, as this forced me to loosen up. At the beginning of the course I was quite afraid of charcoal, but by the end I was a true convert. A left hander, I usually write and draw with my hand on the paper in a hook. Adele recognised this and advised me to use the whole of my wrist for fuller movement and hold the charcoal (or stick!)  further towards the end. Where possible we worked on A1 or A2 which further encouraged us to be bold.


My favourite technique of the weekend was covering the whole page in charcoal and then removing light areas with a rubber. My background of working in woodcuts and lino cuts means I’m at home with working with tone so I enjoyed this; I looked at Kathe Kollwitz’s charcoals for inspiration.

The final pose of the weekend was by far the most difficult, for Jane and for us. She reclined, twisting her limbs and draping her head lower than the rest of her body. She didn’t seem to get dizzy at all and held the pose for an hour and a half! I chose to use the reductive charcoal approach, using comparative scale to help me decode the tangle of limbs. The result is I think is unintentionally sexual and almost graphic in effect. I plan to develop my drawings from the course into other media, perhaps machine embroidering them or using them as a basis for litho printing or monoprinting.

You can read Adele’s account of the course on her blog.

If you’d like to dip your toe in the water, but aren’t ready for a full weekend of drawing naked ladies, you could try one of London Drawing‘s weekly drop in classes at the Battersea Arts Centre. Its only £9 for three hours and you pay on the door, you can also buy paper and charcoal there so you can just turn up and draw. They’re great with beginners too.

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Little Angel Theatre: Puppet making course

In 1960, the Islington site of the Little Angel Theatre was nothing more than a derelict church hall, bombed in the war and left to be reclaimed by plants and wildlife. South African puppeteer John Wright transformed it into London’s only puppet theatre. Today you’ll find it a thriving little gem of a place, the heart of puppet making in the UK. You’d never know it was tucked away under the foliage of Dagmar Passage unless you were looking for it.

Week one of the adult puppet makers course: we are welcomed in from the rain by tutor Catherine Thomas and her assistant. After a cup of tea and introductions, we’re given the backstage tour. Marionettes hang from the rafters behind the layers of sets; everywhere you turn you spot another character: old men in tweed coats, dignified angels, melancholy clowns, a stork with a giant beak. It felt like coming home.

The theatre itself is painted black but retains the character of a chapel, rows of pews slope down to the stage. Seating just 100, it is an intimate space. A particular privilege is to be allowed into the work shop where the team are currently making puppets for the Christmas production of Pinocchio. Alongside normal tools are wooden replicas to furnish Jepetto’s workshop.

Tucked away in the corner is Lyndie Wright’s workspace (above), brimming with tools, designs and half made limbs. On the floor is a basket for the theatre’s cat Larry.

The rain continues to drum on the roof and we settle down to design our puppets. Looking at existing puppets helps: above is a sketch of the White Rabbit from a recent production of Alice in Wonderland. As beginners we’ll not be making wooden marionettes but table top rod puppets, with heads and hands carved from polystyrene, fingers from pipe cleaners, dowling limbs, foam torsos and leather joints. (The art of long stringed marionette  puppetry is sadly dying out as they’re much harder to control as opposed to the immediacy of rod puppets).

Catherine recommended we look at fine artists for inspiration. The simplicity and expression of Modigliani’s faces make them perfect for puppets:

…whilst Egon Schiele’s gaunt figures are ideal for studying joints and expressive hands:

Luckily we have a week to work on our designs before the next session!

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