Nature Notes 2018 – A Journal of Flora and Fauna in Textile, Paint and Stitch

grey wagtail mixed media

During my One Year of Stitches project, around late summer to autumn 2017, I found myself looking ahead to 2018 and thinking about a stitching project that would keep me engaged every day. Whilst stitching my Celtic Wheel of the Year piece, I’d often wished I’d constructed it in some sort of book form, rather than as a two dimensional artwork that would be framed. Being a long-term lover of Edith Holden’s The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady and Nature Notes, I started to wonder if I could create a modern-day textile version that would illustrate my Nature Notes for a whole year, and thought it might be a worthy challenge. I decided at this stage that I would hand bind it, so I cut out lots of pages from some plain calico fabric and made a start on January 1st 2018, documenting the whole year on my Instagram page.

nature notes january title page with snowdrops leaves fern bracken and ivy
January Title Page – Nature Notes

I am, like lots of people, spellbound by Nature and turn to it constantly for inspiration for art, writing or relaxation. I am very blessed to be living in the Forest of Dean. It is an area that is rich in wildlife and has a diverse range of habitats, so I’m rarely short of being able to find something inspiring.

In winter, the woods here have a peaceful serenity about them and offer shelter from storms and deep snow to all sorts of flora and fauna. The frosted boughs and branches of the trees seem to reach up and draw like dark ink upon the sky, while last autumn’s seed heads stand proudly, displaying their crystal ice coats. Everything waits patiently for the coming of spring, which lets life loose again with bright yellow celandine stars shining alongside the cheery faces of the primrose and speedwell. Migrant birds return gradually and bluebells bloom en masse, delicately daubing their own impressionist artworks throughout the Dean.  In the background, ferns are busy unfurling.  In summer, the woods are filled with life – butterflies, bees, dragonflies, birds, wild flowers, ferns and, later, the first glimpse of sloes,  hazelnuts, tiny acorns, elder, hawthorn and blackberries. The air is warm and smells green and fresh. Autumn brings a spectacular turn in the colour of the mantle of the broadleaf trees and an explosion of fungi and fruit. The scent now is primarily of the forest floor – that rich, musky, earthy smell… Before we know it, we are back into winter and able to catch sight of deer through the bowing bracken, while inky, bare trees allow brief glimpses into the lives of squirrels and resident or winter-visiting birds. There is so much life here, and this description covers just a tiny portion of the woodland. The Forest of Dean area has many habitats and a rich history, ripe with inspiration for a lifetime of work.

 

My Nature Notes project, as I said at the start of this post, documents the flora and fauna spotted during 2018, both at home here in the Forest and in London, the Lake District and Scotland. Basically, wherever I went and encountered nature, I recorded it in mixed media or textile on the calico pages. The year tracks from January through to the end of December and will have my accompanying nature notes attached on every opposite page. These need to be applied and stitched around to secure the page edges. There is a lot of ‘finishing’ work to do, such as constructing the endpapers and textile covers, and I plan to make a clamshell box to keep the journal in. This is totally new territory for me, so I envisage it will be a bit of a journey. Nature Notes was, in itself, a huge journey of discovery about many things, and I plan to document the rest of that here and share it with you. I hope you enjoy it.

VISITING WILD – A TEXTILE EXHIBITION

A couple of months ago, I had the pleasure of visiting the travelling exhibition ‘WILD’ by the Art Textiles: Made in Britain group. It was on show over the Easter period at the rather wonderful Bramble Patch quilting haven in Weedon, Northamptonshire. I defy you to visit there and leave without buying something or visiting the cafe – we had coffee and cake after viewing the exhibition and I left with some fabric and thread, as you do!

The Art Textiles: Made in Britain group consists of some of the top names in British textile art and aims to promote British textiles both here and abroad. A new themed exhibition is held every two years, and the WILD exhibit debuted at the Festival of Quilts in 2018.

I really enjoyed looking at all the colour, texture, stitchery and techniques on display and thought I’d share a selection of the pieces that stood out for me with you. I hope you enjoy them!

I loved the delicate, natural fragility Edwina Mackinnon’s work puts across.

I love the three-dimensionality of Cas Holmes’ seed head, and the way the tree installation pieces moved subtly with the slightest movement of air.

The colour, shape, texture and movement in Hilary Beattie’s botanical pieces sang out from the white walls of the exhibition space.

Sylvia Paul’s work had a big impact on me, so much so that I could have stood and looked at it for ages!  I loved the attention to detail on the animal A to Z, and the colour and texture created in the zebra study.

I loved the format and texture of this piece by Elizabeth Brimelow, representing walks around ‘White Nancy’ on the Cheshire plain.

I was fascinated by Stephanie Redfern’s ‘Nest’, made from wires, printed Khadi paper, milk bottle plastic, beads and thread.

Sandra Meech’s ‘Marking Time – Wylye Valley’ was so vibrant, colourful and textural.

If you’d like to know more about this exhibit or the group, you can visit their website at http://www.arttextilesmadeinbritain.co.uk

REKINDLING CREATIVITY – CREATIVE BLOCK AND HOW TO RELIGHT THE FIRE.

It seems most artists and writers go through times when they feel blocked, or worse, burnt out. These are trying times, when nothing flows and inspiration seems absent. It feels as if, inside, there’s a vacuum where artistry used to be. A blank space. A black hole. Or a huge, unscalable wall. And the longer it’s there, the bigger it seems to get. I know something of this, having spent the last four months feeling ‘blocked’ and unable to really produce anything much at all. I have tinkered at the edges of things. I have worried that I might have lost my way, my touch, my ability. I’ve considered other avenues. I’ve questioned my approach. I’ve questioned my ability. I’ve even questioned writing this blog post. Let’s face it, it would be so much easier to write about less personal things like exhibitions I’ve been to etc., but this is important. I know I am not alone in how I have been feeling. This is probably an occupational hazard, after all. I still find myself longing to create and feel massively frustrated that I haven’t been able to. Now though, I feel that enough time has passed and been lost, and I need to reclaim and rekindle my creative side. I’ll share ‘how’ I’m doing this with you, by analysing the block and working out a strategy to fix it.

CAUSES OF CREATIVE BLOCK

In asking myself the question, ‘What has caused me to feel blocked?’, I find the answer buried in two things. Firstly, life events – sometimes, the things that happen in everyday life can hit you hard and knock you back. I think the sudden death of my dear, beloved dog last year upset me more than I had realised. I think grief goes deeper than we sometimes think, and it’s not always easy to brush it off and be brave. I’ve also had a busy year with family and lots of changes on the horizon. My attention has been ‘elsewhere’, which is just what happens sometimes. It’s just ‘Life’… The trouble with attention being ‘elsewhere’ is that production effectively stops. This is dangerous in the sense that ‘practice’ stops, and this has led to the second cause of my creative block which is that other old enemy, Self Doubt. Yes. You probably know it!

I am a firm believer that practice really is the most important work. I wanted to say ‘Practice makes perfect’, but focusing on making things ‘perfect’ is another route to creative block – more on this later. I find, without daily practice, that my creative muscles stiffen and seize up, which in turn, prevents any sort of flow. Things that were easy become alien. Doubt slithers in and starts to consume any semblance of confidence, and it’s all downhill from there. Self doubt breeds fear. Fear hits confidence harder again, and then, my friends, you are stuck fast. That’s pretty much where I have been since February this year, and thank goodness for the frogspawn that graced my wildlife pond around that time, as I have at least had their development to post on my Instagram feed!

HOW I’M TACKLING CREATIVE BLOCK

1. Accountability – Every two weeks, my accountability buddy Andy and I meet online to discuss progress against goals we’ve set ourselves, and to update those goals to help us move forward. Andy has been very helpful, patient and understanding these last few months, and I am very grateful to him. Being accountable to someone else is a great way to focus on what you really need to be doing, and to not let yourself or that someone down. Thank you, Andy…

2. Being accountable to myself – Part of the problem with creative block and self doubt is that it leaves you wondering if you are ‘good enough’. It’s important to recognise that you are, and I think I am getting there on this one. I’ve spent some time recently looking back at my work from the last couple of years, and I can honestly say now that I am pleased with and surprised by some of it. I didn’t know I could produce some of the pieces, which gets me thinking, ‘What else can I produce?’ The truth is I don’t know, but the crux is, if I don’t get back to my art practice, I’ll never know. So, how do I hold myself accountable? By organising my priorities and writing a list every morning with at least three achievable goals for the day – no drifting. This list is reviewed every evening before bedtime so I can see exactly what I have or haven’t achieved, how and why. Making goals achievable is important, and any goal not achieved is jotted down on the list for the next day. It is in my interest to achieve these goals, so they don’t pile up and become overwhelming.

3. Timer – I have found setting a timer for some tasks really helps me to get them done. For example, I recently drew up designs for some brooches. This was something I’d had in mind for two months, but couldn’t seem to find the time to do it. I kept ‘letting’ life get in the way. That is no one else’s fault but mine. So, I set the timer for half an hour to see how far I could get with a design in that time. The result was much further than I had assumed, so I did it again, and again, and before long, I had made definite progress with 8 designs, which I have now started to stitch. Those first stitches… Well, I can honestly say they terrified me. What an admission to make, but that is how it felt. I continued, then ripped it all out, dissatisfied with how it looked. Crucially, though, I started again, with a timer, and trying to banish any sense of looking for perfection from my mind, I kept stitching. So far, so good. The timer allows me to do just one thing for a certain amount of time and I find I can get so much more done in that time with the timer going than without it.

4. Perfection – Set all ideas of this aside. Just do the practice, and keep ‘doing’. This is where I failed earlier this year – I let life events get in the way of my practice, and it felt impossible to get going again. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as ‘perfection’ and produce what feels good and right to you at the time. What you produce may not be exactly what you had in mind, but keeping those creative muscles going builds familiarity with your materials and retains your confidence in yourself and your ability. It takes time to learn and become proficient at anything. The key is practice. It really does produce results…

5. Simplify – Reduce the burden on your creative brain and don’t try to do too much or too many things – this is a huge problem of mine!

WHAT I REALLY BELIEVE

Putting it simply, I believe I can find my way past this period of creative block by easing myself back into the practice of what I love and long to do. Using the timer has helped me massively, by restricting and defining blocks of time for certain things. It has allowed me to focus in, to concentrate on one thing, by blocking out everything else I might feel I should be doing. Half an hour or an hour is not a lot of time, but it’s enough to allow that focus to grow. As that focus grows sharper, my confidence will grow and my practice will extend and, I hope, begin to bloom again. I will share the results with you here as new pieces of work emerge.