Monday, 30 May 2011

Progress with Housing Office Curtin

Today is Bank Holiday Monday in the UK, but obviously not in Aus!  On Friday I sent an e-mail to the Housing Office at Curtin University, requesting assistance in finding suitable off-campus accommodation when I get there.  Today they responded, giving my an e-mail address for temporary accommodation the night I get there, and stating they can pick me up at 8am the following day to book appointments to find accommodation and ferry me around!  How that for support?!  I am really anxious not to be a naive tenant, so I need their advice so as not to be ripped off.

In the meantime today, I've been messing around with the Ayr sketchbook.  I got a bit obsessed with chimney pots when we were there, so today's art work has used the new techniques I'm learning at the V&A. 

This is brown ink, worked into using the side of a credit card and bleach.

Inks and bleach worked with twig.

Row of chimney pots, worked on pages of Ayr local newspaper, in indian ink with twig

I quite like this one.  Indian ink worked with twig

Row of chimneys in charcoal

Charcoal outlines, and fineline marker

Chimney shadows on roof on Ayr newspaper

Chimneys cut back into pastel ground.

Like I said, I was a bit obsessed with chimneys.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Organising my Study Abroad trip and occupying myself in the meantime!

I'm currently feeling quite anxious about the arrangements for my Study Abroad year in Perth.  I know it all gets finalised right at the last minute, and that this is normal, but it still gives me anxiety. 

I've submitted my application to Curtin University on 15 May.  It takes about 3 weeks to get your student number.  Nearly two weeks have passed, so I contacted the Herts Study Abroad office with my final results, and was told some people are starting to get their places confirmed.  When Curtin accept my application, various documentation needs to be supplied by me, to Herts, to Curtin, before I receive my student number.  So this will probably take a week, bringing us to 6 June.  Only then can I apply for my visa, because the visa application does not even get considered before you supply the student number.  (I've worked in admin, so I understand the rationale here).  The visa can take up to 3 weeks to process, bringing us to 27 June!  I'm hoping mine will be quicker, because I'm determined to supply all the information they ask for, and there is nothing in my background which might make me an undesirable person to enter the country.  And Curtin University advise arriving a week before International Induction which starts on 4 July - so I need to travel on 27 June!  No wonder I'm getting a bit twitchy!  Oh, and another thing - we are advised not to book travel until we receive the visa!  I have a little knot of anxiety in my stomach!

So, in the meantime I've been trying to stay calm by preparing everything I might need.  I've decided to travel light.  I don't do unnecessary carrying, so am planning to travel with only one suitcase, for my year abroad.  Anything that does not fit in the suitcase will have to be bought when I arrive.  However, one essential will be a new bag.  Key requirements are deep/secure enough to be pickpocket proof, and with a strap so I can wear over my head and across my body.  Also I want to use some of my print samples.  I've had a couple of quilted print samples in the exhibition cabinet at University of Herts this last semester.  I was told to remove them before the degree show, or they would be thrown out. So, a couple of days ago, when I was feeling like a neurotic heap about my visa, I decided to do some creative therapy and made it into a deep, narrow bag, c8" x 12" with a long strap.

This sample was created when I was working with a card of Newey's hooks and eyes, that I inherited from my Mother.  I then adapted the design to my Mum so the logo used our surname, Goodliff, and changed the Newey's slogan, to something ironic about our family - "Goodliff's cook vegetables thoroughly".  My Mum came from the generation that believed food needed to be cooked thoroughly in order to be safe and well cooked vegetables are deeply imprinted in my memory!  The quilt samples only needed to be small, so I've only got the name part of the print.  Thinking about my Mum and being creative successfully assauged the feeling of anxiety.

Friday, 27 May 2011

Feedback on my year's work

I've had my feedback on my year's work.  I've just completed second year part time, and have specialised in textile print.  I was very pleased to get a good mark.  I think it is very easy to get too hung up about getting one of the top grades, because what is important is how much learning you have done, and this is affected by where you started.  For me it is the feedback that is important.  And you only get 10 minutes for your feedback session.  And I got stuck in Oh!  Wow!  How fantastic!  and I start listening to the conversation in my head, rather than the conversation with the tutor! When really I should be asking, probing and listening (and remembering!) why I've got the grade, and what it is that conveys it.  I did manage to asked why I'd achieved the grade and all I can remember is "it's about the humanity in what you do" and "It's the quality of the drawing that supports the work".  Humanity in how I behave with the other students, about the wider aspects of what I talk about, the observations I make on life, or the subjects that I choose to draw?  Which qualities - the accuracy (I doubt it!), the media of drawing, the media of applied art, ... Or all of it.  I focussed on the moments of delight in the grade, rather than listening and analysing!

I know I like drawing small objects, often old, well used, well handled, with emotional attachment for me.  The things that are familiar and valued because of their use, their function, the memories associated with them.  This might be why people like my rough-and-ready, sketchy drawing style.  Nothing I do is really well finished or polished unless I try really hard and even then my broad brush approach is quite apparent.    The way things are valued and used is very important to me and the patination of use and recognition of the value of small domestic objects is something I think I need to explore.  I think the above statement applies to people as well - how people are valued and used, and how we recognise and value the people who do the undervalued/menial roles in society as well.  I think recognition of the skills and talents of the little people is very important, and unfortunately overlooked. 

I may reflect on this further in my blog.

Final Year students degree show at Herts

I went to the Contemporary Applied Arts degree show yesterday.  It was very thought provoking.   I did a lot of standing and thinking at the show yesterday, so feel physically and mentally drained today.  I was trying to work out why some final year student's work was good (or not), and which work I like, and which I thought would get a good grade.  The work that I like, to the extent I can see why people buy it, is often the ceramic 3D work, and has simple clean lines.  There was some truly beautiful spherical, naturally coloured stoneware, and other white thrown ceramics with monochrome decals on the inside of the pots. Absolutely amazing beautiful work.  Other work that I like often has a good concept behind it but the work does not appeal to the extent that I would be inclined to buy a finished piece.  In this category were some hanging mirrors that were all about what is seen by different people of someone else and how perception varies because of what is visible and can/cannot be seen.  It was very busy, and I found this off-putting.  My own work is very busy, and yet I prefer simplicity in other people's work.  Other work was about modernising cameos to make them pertinent to today.  I liked the concept but am not sure whether I'd wear the finished object.  Is it about saleability or is it about thought behind the finished object, or a combination of these, or a combination of these plus other factors.

I spent some time wandering around, and took some photos of work, if possible with the student in front of their work.  However, I did take a few photos, when the creator was not around.  Later in the show, one of the students asked someone not to take photos of her work.  I can understand sensitivities about plagiarism when it is student's own work and especially final degree work, but there were no labels that I saw, stating "no photography".  I know that once work is in photo form, it is the photographer who owns the copyright, so I can understand students not wanting their work photographed, but how else do people like me get the chance to really reflect on the work and do the analysis (with absolutely no intention of plagiarising the work)?  And how else do you get free publicity?  I don't have all the answers here.

Davina Thomas with her glass "Shipping Forecast"

Friday, 20 May 2011

Contemporary Applied Arts exhibition at Parndon Mill, Harlow

We had a very interesting day setting up our exhibition at Parndon Mill yesterday.  All the second year full time students from the CAA course created an exhibition of their end-of-year pieces.  This comprised textiles, ceramics, jewellery, and glass.  It took much longer to stage than I expected - ie all day. 

I find attention to detail very difficult, but staging the exhibition was a good learning experience.  I was attaching the name labels and artists statements to the wall with white blu-tack.  From this I learned - get the name and artist statement on the same piece of paper, then you don't have to space them quite so carefully .  And put them all on the same paper, same size font, same size label and it is much easier to get consistency, which looks so much more professional.  Also make sure everyone has clean hands!  By the end, there were a few finger marks on the walls and some of the labels had got a bit dog-eared. 

I also learned I need to spend more time understanding what to put in my artist statement.  My work tends to be very busy and high colour, but is actually about family, relationships, and conveying emotion through the portrayal of objects.  How to say this in 50 words?  Further thought required.

My work tends to be bright and busy, and this canvas was created by overlaying silkscreen prints of shapes of various camping cups, mounted on a stretcher 30" x 38", then hand stitched with one of Jim's cups.

As this was my first exhibition, I should have taken more notice when the private view took place, regarding which pieces of work received more attention.  Was it because of the placement of the work within the room, or the quality of concept or finish, whether wall mounted or on the staging in the centre of the room?  Most of the work was not priced (certainly  in my case because I did not think it would sell, I lacked knowledge/ confidence to price appropriately, I was aware of the faults in the printing ... I could go on ...).  However, one ceramic set sold within 2 hours of show opening.  In my opinion this piece was best in show, and as a person who knows nothing about ceramics, I thought it was underpriced for a set of 5 beautiful smoke fired ceramic vessels.  They were beautiful objects.

Something that I thought was really encouraging, was that at the private view that evening, quite a few of the students had 2 or 3 generations of their family come to see their work.  Parents, grandparents and siblings.  As a mature student, I don't have parents or grandparents any more (my school friends and I are at that stage in life!) and my husband is currently cycling across the USA.  I thought it was really good for the other students to have other people sufficiently interested in them and their work to come quite long way from University of Herts to Parndon Mill Harlow.   This sort of observation renews my faith in human nature.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Print class at Herts

I had a lovely time at college on Thursday and Friday. 

I've been printing with a theme, taken from my husband's camping kit.  I've been working with this theme all semester, and I've come to understand what my work is all about.  For me, it is all about family, emotion, relationships, and colour, and how this is portrayed in art work.  My practical assessment this semester showed how I've drawn the cups in various media, then printed them as shapes, lines, and textures in various forms.  I've come to associate Jim's camping cups with my Mother, and how the countless cups of tea she made him, and the cigarettes he bought her (much to my disapproval!) symbolised the relationship between them.  My Mum adored my husband and the ability to juxtapose these disparate items, using the turquoise of her Players No 6 banner, and her favourite orange has been uplifting in a strange sort of way.

My latest piece is developing an aspect of this theme.  I've  been working with multiple layers of colour - very bright with some wonderful colour blends.  This time, I've restricted the colour range to blue-green-yellow to see how many different colour blends I can achieve.  By moving from ultramarine-turquoise-green-lemon yellow-golden yellow, and overlaying them, just how many tonal variations can I achieve?  Then I'm going to cut up the piece into 14" squares, work into individual pieces in different ways with hand and machine stitch, and mount them on 12" frames, to see how they look as multiple variations on a theme.

I've just been told my assessment results for this year.  For my theory module - Design & Decorative Arts post 1950, I achieved 72%, with which I am delighted.  I worked hard for this module, found the lectures fascinating, and attended a 1950 design day at the V&A and went to the Warner Textile Archive for a lecture on Warners Fabrics of the 30s, 40s and 50s.  I very much enjoyed the research and thoroughly enjoyed myself, even if the background reading took forever!  And for my practical module, "Defining Identity", I also achieved 72% - which for a student finishing 2nd year part time, (equivalent to end for 1st year full time) is astonishing.  Makes me feel a bit of a hostage to fortune though.  Can I keep this up?  But I have to say, I feel alive like I've not done for ages.  I feel blessed to have all these opportunities, and I'm going to really get stuck into it all and make the most of it.

I have learned lots of new study techniques and the reflective journalling has been most helpful.  Particularly writing down the eratic thoughts that go through my head, when ideas about family relationships, and realisation of how disparate objects and events link together inside my head.  And it is the discipline of writing it down in my sketchbook that formalises it, and reinforces it when I go back through my work to see how far/whether I have travelled with the idea.  And all this stuff takes a lot of work.  It's no good just playing at it - I have to work hard and in the middle of "doing" whether it be drawing, printing stitching or whatever, when I've achieved the state of creative serenity, realisation of something fundamental comes to me.  And trying too hard stunts it too.

V&A Museum - Drawing Inspiration class

On Monday, I started a 6 week series of classes at the Victoria & Albert Museum. It is designed to discover the huge variety of drawing as a medium across time and culture, and to develop a range of skills. 

I had a lovely time.  The first class utilised items in the new Ceramics Gallery and we trialled different drawing methods with pencil, charcoal and pen and ink.  I discovered a new technique - cutting back into charcoal.  We were shown how to create a fast background in charcoal then use an eraser (or cheap white bread) to cut back into the charcoal, which when used on bold shapes, gave strong clear definition.  I was working on an aboriginal ceramic piece and the image gave the strength and character of what I was viewing very well. 

It was very inspirational as a potential screen print. My drawn screen prints to date have been positive images, but this would work really well as a negative image. Definitely one to work up further in later classes. 

Also, I've recently been to Ayr and was inspired to start a sketchbook from some photos I took there.  The new pen and ink, and charcoal techniques could be utilised to good effect in this sketchbook, maybe focussing on just these new techniques.  A lot of the Ayr photos were of rusty items on the seafront.  What about using sepia tones, pastels, brown ink, bleach .... Lots of possibilities.  So little time! 

On Tuesday, went to class to see our end of year assessment.  There is some truly amazing work on display.  I was quite pleased with my work, and now have to wait to get the results.  This is some of my work in progress - print being embellished with stitch.

I received my academic reference for my Study Abroad application at Curtin University, and was very, very flattered by it.  I took all my application papers across to the Study Abroad office, in time for the deadline.  It takes c3 weeks for Curtin to decide whether they want me(!), then I get my Student number which I need to quote on the Visa Application.  Then it takes about 3 weeks for the Visa to be approved.  Then, and only then, is it sensible to book my ticket to Aus, and I think I need to be travelling on 27 June to get there in time to get accommodation sorted before International Induction starts on 4 July. 

Stay calm.  It's too soon to panic!

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Where is my husband?

When I first mooted the idea of a Study Abroad opportunity, my husband Jim was very supportive.  He is a lifelong athlete, always looking for an opportunity to do things that are out of the ordinary.  Jim has represented Britain at triathlon, and has crossed the USA on a pushbike. 

We were sitting in bed discussing Curtin University, when he asked me how I was planning to get there.  I said I was planning to fly!  He casually asked if I would mind if he cycled there?  To cut a long story short, we agreed he would fly to Washington, cycle west to Los Angeles, fly to Sydney and cycle to Perth.  He is keeping a journal -

Jim would time his journey to arrive in Perth about 8 weeks after I arrived.  This is in order for me to integrate with other students and settle in.  Part of the Study Abroad experience for me is to do things alone, such as finding accommodation and making new friends.  University of Herts is sending about 7 students to Perth, and although I want to be part of this group, it is very important to me to integrate with Australian students, and not be solely part of an ex-pat group.  So Jim needs to arrive later than me.  He is currently departing Washington DC.

Study Abroad opportunity

Soon after I started college, I discovered that University of Hertfordshire offered student exchange opportunities.  I was astonished to discover I could study all over the world, for reduced fees (!), in a variety of subjects, for either a semester or a year.  As a part-timer, it would be in my 3rd year (out of 5).  It would mean I would have to study full time while abroad, but I could return to part-time study afterwards. 

I explored all sorts of options.  I don't speak a foreign language and I think it is really rude to go to another country and expect them to speak English, so I focussed on courses in english speaking countries.  I had already been to Sydney, Australia and wanted to return to travel more.  I was interested in textiles and print, and there are comparatively few courses that specialise in this field.  Fortunately this reduced the number of courses I had to investigate - could you imagine how many courses business students have to choose from?  So fairly quickly, I identified Curtin University, Perth which has a Textile degree with double major option in Anthropology.  I'm interested in people, social history, memory, art and culture, so this looked like the one for me. 

So, I applied to UH to be a Study Abroad student, and Herts have accepted me as a student to recommend to Curtin.  I submit my application and academic references to Curtin on Tuesday 10 May.  I hope they want me!

Starting college

I have found the Contemporary Applied Art course at Herts to be a joy from day one.  I have had the opportunity to explore basic elements of ceramics, glass, textiles, papermaking, jewellery, and crochet amongst others.  I have spent the last 25 years exploring art and textiles - mostly embroidery and patchwork, but over the last year I have discovered print.  I love colour and have studied a lot of colour theory related to stitch and patchwork, but overprinting layers of colour brings a whole new aspect to consider. 

Also, going back to college after .... years (!), meant I was back to academic study.  This has been an eye-opener, and I have so enjoyed it.  I have always enjoyed following a syllabus, and working in the classroom environment, usually with practical subjects.  But the opportunity to learn new things that I would probably not have chosen myself, has been enlightening.  Our first theory module was PostModernism - definitely not one I would have chosen.  But having listened and read, I now see Post Modernism in all sorts of things.  For example, driving to college in my first year, I was listening to Joseph & the Technicoloured Dreamcoat on the CD in the car.  I listened to the song sung by the Pharoah - played by an Elvis character, poking fun at the lack of understanding of the plagues, which are subsequently explained by Joseph.  Postmodernism may use humour to make its point - as ably demonstrated by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

So how did I get here?

Today Saturday 7 May 2011 is the first working day for 30 years, when I have not had a job.  I have worked for nearly 30 years for a transport company in London. 

But 7 years ago I decided I needed some life changes and made some plans.  I was fed up at work and wanted to do something more creative.  So the 5 year plan was created to enable me to give up work - pay off the mortgage, get some money behind us, get my art portfolio together, and take a career break to go to college to do an art degree.  I'd wanted to do this ever since I left school, but as for many people, life got in the way. 

As a shift worker, getting the art portfolio together was a bit difficult.  I wanted to do a Portfolio preparation class but these are usually evening classes, and my irreglar shift pattern precluded it.  So I did some applied art classes at weekends  and summer schools at Missenden Abbey in Buckinghamshire, and City Lit in Central London (brilliant adult learning colleges).  I did distance learning to do my C&G Creative Sketchbooks via Linda & Laura Kemshall's DesignMatters school, and I was all set to apply for my degree. 

Then the 5 year plan had to change.  I had identified my course at University of Hertfordshire, and was about to apply for a 3 year career break at my company.  Unfortunately at this stage my Dad, who lived alone, was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He deteriorated quickly with some demanding behaviour patterns.  I knew I could not devote enough time to a full time degree to hit the required deadlines of study, if I had care responsibilities for Dad.  So I applied to my company to go part-time, working weekends, late turns only.  I then applied to UH to study part time, and was accepted.

A year after his diagnosis, my Dad had a fall on ice and broke his hip.  This was the beginning of a fast decline, and he died, 4 months after I started my course.  It was a merciful release for all of us.