Highlands Away

Last week I recharged my batteries in the Scottish Highlands. This mostly involved drinking, eating (oh so much eating), idyllic walks, not being able to go outside without seeing about three sea eagles, and playing with my new toy; a Fuji Instax Mini 8 camera. The results are below. 

The Mini 8 is marketed mostly as a selfie capturing camera, and I can't wait to use it for portraits/fashion shoots I have planned, as it wasn't great at capturing the landscape. I also took two rolls of 35mm film, one with my Nikon SLR and one with my Lomography Fisheye. It was fun to shoot film again after just using my phone for so long, and I plan to continue doing so.


























Hi

Punctum Potion

This week's #secretsofselfpreservation / Apothéké potion links in very nicely with last week's "Selfies Are Self Care" potion.

In the accompanying blog post, I wrote about how selfies are a means of recording and capturing the moment; much as this entire project is. After all, as well as a self care tip each week, I am including a diaristic element of the week in the form of small objects in the potion bottle. So far these have included tea bags, Love Heart sweets, glitter, and plastic animals.

This week it's a miniature camera, because I have been sharing lots of photographs via my Instagram this week, and I have been following my instruction from last week to "Take more selfies".

Life is going surprisingly (or perhaps not so surprisingly) well at the moment. Therefore, I really want to stock up on good memories, both to help me over the next little inevitable hiccup, and also to cherish what I have. Photographs are a handy way of doing so, but I also want to get back to my visual diary and write more regularly in my written diary, too.

I have named the concoction "Punctum Potion". According to literary theorist and philosopher Roland Barthes, the "punctum" is the aspect (often a tiny detail) of a photograph which "pricks" us with personal feeling and associations; it jumps out at us, causing a sense of deja vu or nostalgia, causing us to fall in love with the photograph.

The small objects inside each potion bottle are punctum too; as I take out individual bottles as the project progresses, their contents recall where and what I was doing that week, how I was feeling. Of course, they do not have the accidental quality of punctum I would encounter in an art gallery or magazine, as I have selected each object because it elicits associations for me. However, I think if someone else were to unscrew the lid and tip the contents into their hand, they would discover a punctum, with a whole range of responses and associations as diverse as the people themselves.



Remember you can get involved too, via the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation, by writing about a simple way you plan to, or already do, take care of yourself. Alternatively, you can create your own embroidered (or written on paper) potion - just remember to include the hashtag #secretsofselfpreservation along with your snaps of it.

Visual Diary

The last couple of weeks I've been trying to put plans in place and get my life together a little bit. So Milk Thistle has suffered somewhat, but I'm happy to report that I'm back on the stitching and page seven (of 8) is underway.

Inspired by my online contemporaries and the ever-present desire to write, I began keeping a diary last month. Alongside my lilac written diary, I've started collating a visual diary (or art journal) too. It's a lovely way of recording special moments and it will hopefully be wonderful to look back over the course of the year and realise that, actually, it was pretty good.


This first page depicts mine and Pip's visit to Brighton to stay with friends... with added mallards. On our trip to the seaside we ate far too much rich food, played crazy golf and despaired over the price of vintage.


Soon after, I stayed with my parents and grandparents in the Highlands, visited Tobermory (the site of fictional Balamory), and stocked up on fancy chocolates for Pip. This trip was characterised by, once again, eating far too much rich food.


When I returned, we visited Lucy Sparrow's rather fantastic Corner Shop, which I blogged about here.

The next day, I had a wander around Epping Forest with my Mum, marvelling at how verdant and heady everything smelled.


The next day, inspired by this walk, Kat and I took a bunch of photographs in Walthamstow Forest, which you can see here.

At the end of the week, Pip and I went to two special screenings, the first being Stuart Murdoch's bittersweet twee musical God Help The Girl, the costumes and songs of which I enjoyed immensely, although the extent of the earnest, melancholy male gaze in it was almost painful to watch. Still, mostly good fun.

The second film was outstanding. I'm slightly biased, as Brief Encounter is my favourite flick ever, but this screening was very special; the film was presented in concert with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, and the soundtrack of Rachmaninov's Piano Concerto No. 2 (with which the film is so inextricably bound up) was painstakingly removed and then played live and seamlessly at the appropriate moments. It was so technically astute, in fact, that I often forgot the orchestra were there at all.

I've got some visual diary-ing to catch up on; I find it quite therapeutic and nostalgic; in this world of instant media it's refreshing to go a bit analogue. Do you art journal?

Verdant



Yesterday my Mum and I went for a walk through Epping Forest. It had been raining, fitfully and heavily, all day, and had just stopped when we went out.

The forest was still dripping, and I was struck by the very particular smell of the forest when it rains; mossy, and of ferns unfurling. Mum agreed, and said that the smell was verdant; imbued with green.

Inspired by this sensory experience, my old friend and fellow artist Kat and I wandered into Walthamstow Forest this morning equipped with a plethora of film cameras.

Here are the results which I can share with you straight away; Polaroids shot on my Spectra camera, with a variety of filters and costume changes.

The first three photographs are an extension of my self care rituals of rewarding oneself with stickers - this time I've covered Kat's face with merit stickers - badges of honour for surviving. This is a theme I'm planning on developing considerably in the near future... I'll keep you posted.




















Seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness


Now that I've started at the Royal School of Needlework, I'm always on the look-out for visual inspiration. I'm particularly drawn to natural forms, and so I took the opportunity to go on an early autumn walk with my family.

This star moss had intense green tendrils and was springy underfoot, buoyed up with the rain

Autumn is my favourite season, visually (if one discounts truly wintry days); mist and dew descends over the landscape, brightly lacquered leaves line the earth, and nature's harvest swells.

These incredibly sculptural bracket fungi were almost as large as chairs


I got the idea that I would stitch a wild mushroom for my silk shading (essentially photo-realistic painting with threads) module, and so I got out my camera and scanned the forest for interesting fungi.

This little cep mushroom was the specimen I felt most inclined to stitch


There had been a heavy rain just prior to our walk, and water droplets hung from all the plants, and polished the mushrooms.

Sumptuous beefsteak fungus

The tannins and reflections in the leaves below turned these water droplets caught in a spider's web into liquid gold and bronze

As autumn continues and turns into winter, I must make the time to take these walks, observing, recording, and enjoying the season...

"You'll turn into a pumpkin"

"You'll turn into a pumpkin" is still a phrase my mother is fond of saying to me when she fears I'm staying up too late. It's a reference, of course, to the fairytale Cinderella, in which the Fairy Godmother transforms a pumpkin into a carriage to transport Cinderella to the ball.

I too like to recycle and transform things in unexpected ways. Some old Polaroids I took during my A Level Photography course will make an appearance in my new artist's book, Big Teeth

The shoot was inspired in part by enigmatic symbolic/surrealist photographer Francesca Woodman, and in part by, you guessed it, Cinderella.

I've recently got back into taking Polaroids, and do seem to gravitate towards the colour gold (whether it's spray painting golden pumpkins or covering my face with gold reward stars); perhaps it's the warmth of Polaroid film which suits golden tones.
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I've just ordered some printable fabric, and plan on incorporating the Polaroids into the book as pockets which will hold embroidered handkerchiefs. For now though, it's back to stitching up the poem which runs through the book.

Secrets Are The Things We Grow: An interview with artist Lily Cuyler

That line from Some Velvet Morning pops into my head unbidden whenever I look at Lily's work. As Lily rather modestly writes herself, "i'm lily and i draw flowers" (how serendipitous that her name is that of one of the most beautiful flowers!) Of course, Lily doesn't just draw flowers; she makes heartbreakingly honest confessional drawings, lino cut patches of famous artists' and writers' quotations, motivational fortune tellers, altered and embroidered photographs, typewritten poetry, and more. And she's still in high school. Once again, I've stumbled across the work of a young but staggeringly talented artist, and it's reminded me to pull my finger out! Her art is definitely a big inspiration for Treasures For Your Troubles, with its themes of self care and the daily struggles of life.

Thank you Lily for taking the time to answer my questions so thoughtfully. I can't wait to see how your next project unfolds.

How long have you been making art, and how did you get into it?

I started really realizing that I liked to make art two summers ago. I was more into collaging than anything else then. My mom is an artist, so there's always been creative energy around me. That's probably how I got into it, just thinking that it was a natural way of expressing yourself and spending hours away from everyone else just to finish this one project you're working on is completely normal. 


In your “Other People’s Secrets” project, you juxtapose (or compliment) presumably anonymous confessions with delicate floral-based illustrations. How did you make the call for submissions for this project? Was it difficult going through with it at points on an emotional and empathetic level? (I’m thinking in particular of the confessions about suicidal thoughts and self harm). Is your use of “twee”, delicate imagery an attempt to soften the sometimes shocking confessions, to prettify them? A sort of metaphorical bandaid? It seems to me that the imagery itself, with its muted colours and natural themes “whispers”, just as secrets themselves are told. How did you decide on the imagery for each piece? Did you select a number of confessions to illustrate, or illustrate all the secrets you were told?


I actually started asking people to send me anonymous confessions one day because I had drawn all these pictures, and they needed words on them, and I thought this would be kind of a nice and therapeutic way for people to get something off their chests. It was definitely difficult going through some of the secrets because they really touched me emotionally, especially the ones about contemplating suicide and self harm. My imagery definitely softens the blow of these intense human emotions. You can feel this way but have a pretty outside, the flowers can still be blooming. Some of my pieces have dead flowers, which to me represents being defeated, the beautiful colors have faded and died. I didn't illustrate all of the secrets I was given, some of them were very difficult to put into drawing-form. Some were too personal, some not secrets at all.



Are the photographs you use as backgrounds for embroidery your own? Are they picked at random, or do they have significance for each piece? How did you come to embroidery, and what do you like about it as a medium?

2 months on Flickr.

Most of the photographs for my embroidery are my own. I will actually take pictures on my roll of film imagining what kind of things I could embroider onto them. My photo embroideries are a chance for me to put more bluntly the things I need to get out of my system. Things that I feel are too intense or too long or too complicated to put on my simple drawings. The last photo embroidery I did, none of the pictures I took to use in this project developed, so I ended up using old film photos of my boyfriend's. Ones that didn't turn out quite right and just had a beautiful yellow color in them. I really like embroidering photos because whatever I do, even if I mess up significantly, it still looks okay. That fox, on one of my photos, did not start out as a fox. 
anti anxiety on Flickr.

Is there an element of art therapy to your practice? Is this something you have ever considered pursuing professionally? I say this ecause of the confessional, cathartic quality of your work, both in divulging other people’s secrets and your own, your use of inspirational and motivational quotations, and your gorgeous little hand drawn fortune tellers that come with sound and reassuring advice such as “Tell them you love them” and “Don’t be anxious”.



There is so much art therapy in what I do. It's therapy for me, specifically, and I am just coming to realize that it's also affecting other people in a therapeutic way. I get messages on Tumblr like "your art touched me tonight and helped me not self-harm." That makes me feel so good, both in the ways of knowing something I made helped someone, and knowing that someone else out there feels the same way I do. I definitely am committed to pursuing art professionally. I am almost done with my junior year of high school and I am looking at many art institutes to attend, it's the only thing that makes me happy and the only thing I feel like I'm really good at. If that ends up in an art therapy practice, then I'm happy with that. 


Sylvia Plath patch 
Own your own!

You touch gently on themes of mental illness in your work (and indeed, gentleness is what I think of when I look at your work, even when you use the word “fucking”). Is this something that particularly concerns you?




Mental illness concerns me to no end. About a year ago I was suffering from pretty severe depression, and I still get bouts of it from time to time. I have so many friends with mental illnesses that really affect their lives, and I think it's important to put these topics out in the open. I think it's important to connect with people on that level if they're needing help getting through something, anything. Flowers are the disguise to these pretty shitty feelings. 
The fear of suffering on Flickr.

Do you have many creative projects on the go at the moment, or plans of creating more in the future? Would you be willing to share a few of those with us?

There is always a project I'm working on. Right now I'm focusing on making a book of famous poets and their houses, which should be up on Etsy and Tumblr in a day or two. I'm really excited about it. When I get an idea for a project that I'm really excited about, sometimes I can't sleep until I at least start it. 



Treasures For Your Troubles

Once again, I'm back to my old tricks of hipster bingo (typewriting on Polaroids). This time around though, my efforts are a bit more considered. I hadn't bought Polaroid film in years, but when the idea for my Treasures For Your Troubles project popped into my head, I knew I had to get my hands on some for a very special shoot.

The idea of covering myself in gold stars, mundane rewards for struggling or succeeding through life, struck me as an arresting image, and one which would work particularly well in the soft tones of Polaroids. I'd written a few lines of sing-song poetry on the theme, which I decided to type on the frames of the Polaroids with my cursive typewriter (how analogue can you get?!) If you want to get really pretentious, I could say this was something of a self-care or self-affirming ritual. Or I could say it was just an excuse to cover myself in glitter (though who needs an excuse?)




This project is a celebration of the human spirit in all its absurdity, mess, and glory, and I think the ink smudges (which I dreamily imagine could be tear stains) and blotchily developed photographs, in all their beautiful imperfection, demonstrate this.

More Treasures For Your Troubles to follow...

At home in the universe


Every now and then, I need a little respite from making. I feel that being in nature is really important for the creative process, and helps me breathe. I've been kayaking a lot recently, which is a really novel and relaxing way to experience the city.

Now that spring is (finally) well and truly sprung, Pip and I took the opportunity to go on our most gothic date yet; a long overdue trip to the famous Highgate Cemetery, burial place of Karl Marx and many other thinkers, writers and celebrities.

The Cemetery really is "a haven of beauty and tranquility" as its website says; strolling around the graveyard one couldn't help but feel at peace, and sitting by the firefighters' memorial surrounded by birdsong and inquisitive, fearless robins was the perfect way to spend a sunny afternoon.

 The Cemetery is teeming with life; many graves are more like flower beds, covered with planted daffodils, primroses and pansies. I find the intersection of life and death inspiring and life-affirming; to know that we continue in the form of natural beauty when we die. A number of tombstones had been laced with ivy which had died back, leaving veinous patterns to add to their marble design.


Human design, too, was very inspiring here; there were many witty examples of gravestones the deceased or their families had chosen, from the tomb designed to look like a Penguin Book cover, to  pop artist Patrick Caulfield's sculptural grave, which reads, rather dryly, "DEAD".







When I was doing my A Levels, the topic of one of our Photography modules was "Links and Connections". I chose to look at the links between life and death, and, more specifically, at graveyards.

I also photographed a whale's spine decomposing on the beach of the tiny Highland hamlet my grandparents live in.

The vetebrae sticking up into the air put me in mind of the tombstones I was also photographing at various graveyards in the North West Highlands.

Visiting Highgate Cemetery reminded me of this, and it was a shame I didn't bring a better camera than my everyday digital one! I did, however, snap merrily away, and got many pictures of the profusion of flora and vegetation in the Cemetery, and the varied examples of design in the tombs, ranging from art nouveau to art deco, Sorry this post is so picture heavy; I did get slightly carried away:



I thought this was a particularly lovely epitaph.




Douglas Adams's grave, complete with an offering of pens to the writer

This woman had such a beautiful name; I wonder what her story was?


Blooms covering a "flowerbed grave"
...and luscious ferns


Patrick Caulfield's acerbic tombstone
Pat Kavanagh's art noveau-inspired gravestone


Jeremy Beadle's tomb was judged to be the one with the most books!


This woman is buried with her dog, Emperor




Somehow the erosion of statues like this one only adds to their romantic beauty


George Eliot's tomb




As it is perhaps the first week of tightsless weather this year, I couldn't resist dressing up for the day out in my new imitation-fifties frock (complete with petticoat), and genuine-fifties Polaroid sunglasses.



Now it's back to stitchin' for me; I will try to have my Melancholyflowers up on here this week; it's just that all that foliage is so fiddly (but I do love sewing it!)

Interview With Joetta Maue

I wrote this blog post on Joetta's practise back in late August, and now she has very thoughtfully and (hugely) thoroughly answered some questions on her work for me. Thank you so much Joetta! Your interview makes for an engrossing read.

Why and when did you begin embroidering?
I began embroidering about 5 years ago while in graduate school. I was working to finish a previous body of work that I had been doing for a long time and wanted to do one FINAL piece freeing me to move on.

At the time I was experimenting a lot with medium and being quite conceptual about my medium choice. This previous work was based on an experience of trauma and I liked that embroidery could be a metaphor for healing both in the literal suturing act of the stitch but also the quiet meditative act of the process. I assumed that this would be a one-off piece, I had never embroidered before, but I ended up totally loving the process and got addicted. From then on I kept making excuses to keep working in embroidery. My background is as a photographer and I have no formal training in embroidery at all.


Comforts, 2008, yarn; an example of Joetta's earlier textile art


Why do you work in embroidery rather than another medium? How do your photographic and textile practises fit together?
I love the history that embroidery brings to the table. It is often considered a female practice and my work is very much steeped in the female experience and the domestic space, so conceptually the medium brings a lot.

I am also attracted to the fact that it is essentially a "useless" craft; something done for purely decorative reasons(rather then a practice like quilting or knitting where you can make something utilitarian). The decorative nature of it places it in a category of leisure and pleasure that attracts me. To me being an artist is this; it is the privilege of being alone with your thoughts and then communicating them through your medium, leisure and pleasure. It also gives the embroidery the special place of being done simply for the joy of doing it.

Technically speaking I love how it is "hand made" and therefore the hand of the maker is so present in the work, i.e do they do neat careful stitches, or messy large stitches. I love how the hand made embraces the natural flaws that exist.

I utilise my photography as the inspiration and source for my image based work but when I was asked this once before this was my answer: I fell into embroidery as an artist. In graduate school I decided to make a piece with embroidered text, because I liked the idea of embroidery as a metaphor for healing.

Unexpectedly I fell in love with the process and medium; while trying to figure out the next direction for my studio practice and work I began to explore embroidery as a medium of expression.

The medium felt very natural to me as I grew up around fabric and crafts, through my mother and grandmother, and my work had always been made from an overtly feminine point of view.

As my new work began to grow and my love towards the process of embroidery deepened I began to enjoy the subversive quality of the medium, how what was expected from a hand made embroidered piece could be so easily manipulated and yet the viewer always comes to it with the same expectation. I began to utilise the expectation of embroidered works and domestically placed linens to further my concept of exploring the roles of the home and intimacy within the identity of the modern female.


This Is Bullshit, date unknown

I was particularly drawn to how traditionally embroidery was thought to be a very passive form of expression done simply for decorative purposes but through my hands I could use the medium to give a voice to women. Instead of subverting that voice by keeping idle hands busy and docile, I used my hands and the medium to celebrate the vulnerability and strength of the female experience.

As a photographer, I mostly spent my time thinking about what I wanted to capture, and then, since I work mostly through a form of documentation, having the patience and awareness to capture that moment as it arrived. My camera was always loaded and ready to still the moment of light and life that stopped my eye. Embroidery has completely transformed my studio practice. I now spend hours and hours in my studio slowly building my work upon a linen, surrounded by thread and piles of linens and fabrics, working in a very tactile way where as when I do photography my tactile senses are not as satisfied.

Even though photography is a very fast medium, taking only a 1/15 of a second to capture your image and less then 5 minutes to print it, and embroidery is a very slow and labor intensive practice, I do not find them as different as you may expect. They both require immense patience; in embroidery the patience is in the labour intensive practice and in photography it is the waiting for the light or the right expression. They both allow for a significant amount of quiet, contemplative time. As a photographer you spend hours in a dark quiet room all by yourself waiting for your paper or film to develop, going through the same simple repetitive steps to get your print, and in embroidery you repetitively make the stitch, working hour upon hour, lost in your thoughts and quiet as your work slowly builds.


I love that both mediums leave me so much time to meditate upon the images that I create. Though the mediums seem quite dissimilar in practice, they actually share quite a bit.

After They Left, 2008, C-print; an example of Joetta's photographic practise


Why do you work on such a large scale?
I have always liked working on a larger scale- I like how one can enter the work and physically relate to it more this way. I also enjoy how one can experience the work in a different way from far away and then up close.

What leads you to choose a particular word to embroider in your text pieces?
My emotional space. Initially my text works were diaristic statements; as a life-long diary keeper I just started to embroider my statements instead of write them. Then I went through a process of writing cathartic statements, things I felt like I needed to say out loud and make tangible. Now I am interested in honoring experiences and moments. But in general they are statements that come to me in my daily life and I catch them and put them into a work.
Be Strong, 2009, one of Joetta's text pieces
Do the fabrics you use to sew on have any sentimental value?
They are all found fabrics. I have worked with inherited fabrics but since I sell my work I do not feel comfortable doing this anymore. But to me the fabrics still have sentimental value in the sense that someonemade them, someone took the time to embroider lovingly onto them, or add tatting to their edges, and they lived a life in someone's home. I love the stories they tell; are they pristine and preserved, are they stained and used, are they rotting and disregarded, are they unfinished... All stories can relate to our relationships and homes and I try to make the linens make sense with the final work that is stitched onto them.


Why do you choose to embroider on found, vintage linens?
As I have said before, they bring their own history of women's voices and hands as well as the history of the homes they have lived in. I feel like I am giving voice to this.


Some feminists would be disparaging about celebrating the domestic role, whereas you say you wish to connect with a domestic lineage. Do you think the domestic is solely the prerogative of women, or do you think a man could produce work like this?
I do not think that a man and could produce work exactly like this but do think a man could produce work about the same subject from a different point of view. When I exhibit my work it is often the male viewer that is most moved and touched by my work. Historically speaking the domestic is the domain of the woman and therefore my relationship to it as an identity, place, and role is different then a man's.


I do not know that I am "celebrating" the domestic "role"; I am more investigating what occurs within the confines of the home and the relationships, moments, and emotions that are held here.I am interested in the complicated roles that contemporary women must play.

I do get frustrated at how the roles of being a homemaker and mother are looked at as not enough and not feminist. To me the idea of feminism was to give women the option of choice, giving them the opportunity to do whatever they wish. It was not to force women to feel like they must do it all and succeed at it all and judge themselves on if they are being "feminist" enough. I also do not think that being feminist means that you cannot embrace and choose to be feminine. I do think that in general men and woman are different and think that celebrating our differences and embracing all of our sexuality is a good thing. I am a very strong and independent woman but I also love nurturing my son and honouring my husband and do not in any way think that these things need to be mutually exclusive.

The domestic space is not a space for only women but it is the space of the family and intimacy; this is what my work is about.I simply embrace the history of that space and the fact that my point of view comes from being a woman.

Eight Months, 2011


 Why do you choose to focus on yourself and your family as the subject of your work? Some might argue that this is rather introspective!
I have always worked autobiographically and have always been drawn to other artists that do this. I once heard a writer talk about writing and they said that "you have to write about what you know". What I know is my life and my experience so this is what I make art about. I like art that has a raw honesty to it so the only things that I can be truly honest about is me.

With that said I do no think my work is so specific; what I actually makework about is universal experiences of love, loss, joy, doubt, etc... I think that often the more personal you let yourself become the more accessible the work becomes.
And I would never take being
introspective as a criticism. I think that many could benefit from being a little more of this.

In addition I think art in general is a somewhat narcissistic act no matter what you make. You are making something to express your point of view on something and communicate it. Being this is part of being an artist.

Have you considered combining text and image together more often?I have. This is something I have been wanting to do more of for a long time. But I work very intuitively and so far the work has for the most part stayed separate- though it is always exhibited together.Generally my image based work is about one side of intimacy and love and my text work is about the other so often they need to exist as separate works that have a conversation within the gallery. But I imagine more combining of these will come as I continue to make work.

Waking With You, 2010, a piece in which Joetta combined text and image