Big Teeth: The Storybook Opens

As an artist, it isn't often that everything comes together in a perfect configuration (ignoring for a moment the fact that perfection doesn't exist). So it is with my most recent project, Big Teeth (though it came pretty damn close!)

Just as I was stitching the third to last button hole through which to lace ribbon tying the pages of the book into its codex, I realised that I had cut the button holes on the wrong side of the page. Luckily this page flowed almost as well with the text the wrong way round; both sides fit in with their neighbouring pages almost seamlessly, though my mistake was disastrous enough and for a few minutes it looked like an all out temper tantrum was imminent.

I present to you the almost-exactly-as-I-envisioned-it soft sculpture fairy tale artist's book, Big Teeth:

















This book has been brewing in my head for years. When I originally wrote the first version of the text, I was around fifteen or sixteen, and envisioned the book in paper, collage style. I subsequently lost all copies of the text and had to re-write it (and hopefully improve on it slightly) from memory.

Now that I am a needlewoman, it seemed appropriate to weave references to cloth and textile techniques into the pockets of the book.

The text as I intended it to read:

Big Teeth

Please  have a heart, my dear
Mine's a glass slipper
At a stroke it'll fall apart
My pulse beats quicker
Than paws on soil of some sauteed savannah
So make haste, my sweet
See if the shoe fits before
Lions and tigers and bears
Pour out of the rafters

The narrative thread

Trust me, my love
A love like this looks better
From far, far, far away
Up close the most I'll offer
(A special offer to you,
My flavour of the day)
Is a quick kiss
Quicker kick in the teeth
And a hasty getaway
Over the hills and dales and
Away to never ever land.

By the path of pins and needles

So please let's hold the Cinderella
You see
There comes a time when the stretchmarks show
And the glass slipper
Off it slips
And burrows under
Laundry piles and candelabras 
And lions and tigers and bears
Descend from the rafters

Heavily embroidered

So trust me, my love, a love like this looks far better
From far far away
When it has quite such big teeth big cat full fat feelings
Caresses, distress and all the rest, it leaves me reeling
(Soon the lions and tigers and bears
Will descend from the ceiling)

Girl afrayed

You may very well say, my charming fella
"Whatever the weather we'll weather it together"
But don't make it oh so Cinderella
Said I don't see what's so brave about lions, 
But perhaps it'll help
Although I'm trying
 I'm big cat, small claws
Big cat wound up now
Tin can alley cat, canned meow
And despite my best intentions
I shall go to the ball
I shall have it all
But what then?

 
I am worn to a ravelling

Well, mistakes happen, and now Big Teeth is safely off to the gallery and, unless they follow this blog, visitors to the exhibition will be none the wiser! I do hope they interact with the book's pages, though...

Button Holes and Weekend Breaks

I have but six button holes to sew of Big Teeth left, and the deadline is on Wednesday (see, I really am the Tailor of Gloucester!), so I'm whisking the project away with me for a long weekend (Pip and I are off to the South West tomorrow; first Devon, then Bristol, then Bath, visiting friends and old university haunts and generally pretending we're in Jane Austen).

In the mean time, here are some phone snaps of Big Teeth in progress:





My dear friend Katrina came over yesterday for an arts and crafts date; she painted all day, and I stitched (and we squeezed in a little Adventure Time viewing; I think my outfit was very Princess Bubblegum inspired).






Today I put the finishing touches to the contents of the third pocket of the book; based on the tale of the Princess and the Pea, and ideas of spinning yarns and old wives' tales, it's stacked with many mattresses and proclaims that the story is "Heavily embroidered".



I will return with lots of photographs to share, both digital and Polaroids, and, I would imagine, pining for my old Dartington home!

Feel Better: An interview with artist Chelsea Dirck


I've followed Chelsea Dirck's work for years; as an angsty adolescent I was comforted by her confessional, diaristic drawings, and now that I am an adult (ha) I deeply appreciate her lo fi, compassionate, analogue art.

I feel like I have somewhat grown up with Chelsea's work (and seen her mature as an artist in turn), and it's possible that her creations have had as much influence on me as, say, Louise Bourgeois.

I hope that my enthusiasm for Chelsea's work translates in the questions I have posed in this interview, which Chelsea has so kindly and thoroughly answered here.

 A great deal of your work seems, at least from an outsider’s perspective, to be an attempt to ameliorate, to console oneself after/during a bad situation and make the best of things. Would you say this has always been/is a constant in your work? 



All of my work comes from a personal viewpoint and I guess, at some point (which could have been very early on) it became very much about trying to make myself and/or other people feel better in some way.I was just writing and drawing for myself and at the time I probably didn't realize that I was as sad or confused as I was. I was just writing about what I knew. 



The diaristic tone of your drawings, celebrating both the good, but not flinching from the bad, the sheer honesty, is encouraging to me. From your LiveJournal days when you shared what seemed to be your innermost private thoughts, to cataloguing those thoughts in zines for public consumption, you seem very willing to lay bare your soul; do you feel this does help to make one “feel better”?

It can be very scary to "put it all out there," but I feel like it is important. It is what is most interesting to me about art and being an artist. I want to be as honest as I can and in that honesty connect with other people. I think that in creating the work it does make me feel better  in some sense. It is cathartic to sit down and make something out of nothing. 



Sharing is a word I often think of when viewing your work, and a mode of operating which seems essential to your practice; sharing hurt, whether personal or public grief (as with the “Feel Better” banners you made to commemorate and ameliorate in the aftermath of the Boston bombings), sharing new artists and music, sharing your gallery space in informal get-togethers, sharing a space similar to your living environment in gallery installations. This may be a trite question, but why is sharing so important to you?



I'm really happy to hear this, because it is exactly the word I want you to think of. Sharing is important to me for so many reasons.



I spent my formative years in a punk community with "do it yourself" ideals that formed the way I lived my life then and now. I think that being a part of punk made me very aware of my community. I was (and still am) always surrounded by very supportive people who encouraged me to make art. It feels very natural to turn around and share that art with those very same people. I don't think that art should exists merely to be bought and sold, to hang on a wall or exist in a museum. I believe that art, like most things, should be made to share with the people who love it or need it. I am a strong believer that if you are interested in something than it is likely many other people will be interested in it- you just have to show them. Similarly- if you feel something, it's likely that other people feel it too. 



Recently there seems to be more of a community feel to your work. Is public art and community engagement something you wish to develop?



To me the idea of community is an extension of the idea of sharing. I am interested in public art to the extent that it reaches a broader audience. I am currently working on "The Feel Good Project" with a friend at work. This project is an effort to use the company's resources to create public art projects that make people feel good. I like the idea of posting things online and how many people can relate and re-blog and add their own commentary, but it feels equally important to go out in to the community I am a part of and actually hand someone an object that they can keep

I've been thinking a lot about gifts. I think that is where I am headed with my work. Giving vs. Selling



When and why did you turn to fibre as a medium? How do you construct your quilts and banners? Do they start as drawings, scribbled words? Could you describe for us your creative process (in as little or as much detail as you like)?



I have always been really interested in fabric and sewing, but I never knew how to do it. I was just drawn to it for some reason so I started taking some classes while I was in school and ended up landing in the fibers department. I liked how at home I felt there. (I have since realized that a lot of my work references the idea of home and comfort, which fiber somehow naturally lends itself to). 



Most of my work starts in my notebook and then becomes something else (or just stays there forever). So, in the beginning I was doing a lot of drawings with the idea of turning them into embroideries. As time went on the embroideries (still coming from journals) turned into just text, much larger scale than anything else I had been making. I use a simple satin stitch (in and out like regular sewing, nothing fancy) to follow the shape of some text I've written across a large piece of  fabric. It takes forever. I like that about it. When I draw it is quick, there is this immediate satisfaction that sometimes I really need. Embroidery, on the other hand, allows me to slow down and spend a long time with just a few words. It makes the text somewhat like a mantra or something that I live with for as long as I am working on it and then, at the end, it has become monumental in some way. 


I have toyed around with painting large text, but it loses something. With the embroidery you are faced with the scale and it becomes much louder than a small drawing- but it is still soft. It is still quiet and sincere and honest.

(I have also made quilts and banners with appliqued text, but most of the time I am just using the simple satin stitch). 

How does music influence your creative output? Do you see your band, Fleabite, as another artistic medium, another string to your bow?

I don't really think about playing music like I think about making my visual art. I think that it is very similar for some people, but for me playing music has been much more about learning a new skill and connecting with friends in a new way. I don't actually write the music (my other band mates usually do) so it isn't as much of an artistic expression for me. It's just a fun way to spend my time. 



Do you set aside time to work on your observational drawing skills? I ask because a lot of your drawings pair wry or humorous text alongside rather mundane (and I don’t mean that in a negative sense) drawings of interiors or household objects. Do you feel this makes the work more grounded or relatable?

I don't really practice my drawing, but I should. I often draw mundane or household objects because that is what is in front of me. I can't make up something and draw it, I'm terrible at it. I have to look at something so if I feel like drawing I am usually limited to what is in front of me. The drawings with an object and text are usually a result of whatever I am thinking at that moment and whatever is sitting in front of me. To me, it is a record of the moment and the pair makes sense to me, for others it may be more confusing. So, I don't really know if it makes it more grounded, but for me I suppose it does.