Wednesday, 17 January 2018

KEEPING AWAY THE COBWEBS. (Weekly Art Project; Istanbul #3.)

 The Blue Mosque is so named because of the number of blue Iznik tiles that grace the walls of it's interior.  My distinct memory, is of being somewhat disappointed that there weren't MORE blue tiles!!  I did think that the Mosque was exquisite, but when led to believe one thing, only to find that the reality isn't QUITE what was imagined...that can be a bit of a let down!

So, in this Mosque, it isn't the tiles that I have remembered, it's the Ostrich egg!  A few of Istanbul's Mosques include ostrich eggs amidst their light fixtures as they are believed to deter spiders & consequently...cobwebs!  It must have worked, because I didn't see any evidence of spidery activity whilst I was there!

The other part of the Mosque that I distinctly remember, is the courtyard, with it's simple plastered domes. it's stripey bricks & the elegant pattern work painted in a single colour.  The medallions & lace-like patterns managed to be both intricate and simple & I thought they were beautiful.

 Looking at my photographs, I've also been disappointed to discover that the few taken of the tiles, that are actually in focus, are rather dark.  Nevertheless,  I use these to make some simple linear sketch 'notes' in my work book. 

Whilst doing this, I'm still thinking about the ostrich egg & the courtyard motifs.
How can I bring all of these components together to create something unique & new?

Whilst I am trying to create a design, there are other things going on in my household.  I have interruptions & frustrations & feel utterly discombobbled!  I do wonder whether I should just leave the WAP for the day & do it again when I can focus more.  My disciplinary self admonishes me with a reminder that I've made this commitment & MONDAY is the day I set aside to complete it, so it HAS to be done then!!  I sigh & plod on until I reach the point where I've got the bones of an idea, but not the fine points.

As you can see from the multiple line changes above...I just couldn't make up my mind!  It was time to just  start & hopefully something would click & it would all fall neatly into place once I got going!

I chose my fabrics, which thankfully required a minimal number!!.

 First of all I wanted to prepare my background.  This cute fabric has been in my stash for at least 20 years.  I have no idea what it was originally purchased for, but it is perfect for this project.  With a white background & repeated intertwining flowers & vines, it is reminiscent of the wall tiles of the Mosque's interior.  I divided the space with lines of machine sewn stitch to represent the wires from which the chandeliers hang.  Perhaps it would be better to sew more lines, but I stick with the initial 4.
 After layering up & cutting back, this was my result.

I had wanted to showcase the egg & my plan had been to decorate it with my variation of a tile flower design & some of the decorative patterning.

Whilst this isn't a COMPLETE disaster, it doesn't really say 'Turkish Mosque'.  Instead it looks like an easter egg decorated with a Scottish thistle in the style of a logo for a country club! 
Not quite what I had hoped for. 
I did like the effectiveness of the plain blue & the brilliant gold though, so that was one positive!

 I slept on it & awoke the next morning with less distractions & went down to my work room to start work on other art works.

However, the Easter Egg just kept staring at me & I knew that I couldn't leave my weekly project there.  Even if it did mean that I was about to break one of my self imposed rules.  At the end of the day, I want these projects to represent my memories & experiences, & what I had achieved the day before wasn't doing that for me.

I started asking myself the question...what if I turned it around?  Out came the paints & pen & I quickly whipped up a new interpretation from the preliminary drawings the day before.  This looked more promising.  I had just enough of that background fabric, so I set to work again.

My final result is this.

And ...yes...the first thing my daughter asked was whether it was a football!
But I know it's an egg & I'm relieved that the flower is no longer Scottish looking!!  Whilst it is still not a perfect outcome, it is much improved on the initial attempt.  These projects aren't about perfection, they are about exploring possibilities & stretching my concept & design skills!

In hindsight, I might have been better to have stopped on Monday, when I was finding it so hard to focus.  I respect my 'disciplinary' self, & I recognise that the reason I was being so strict, is that if I didn't give myself time boundaries  I'd be chipping away at it all week, when I have other commitments that need that time. 
Having said that...perhaps I could allow myself to be a wee bit more flexible! ;-)

Monday, 8 January 2018

A BLUE MOSQUE (Weekly Art Project; Istanbul #2)

There is nothing quite like a balmy night in Istanbul, an outdoor table at one of the many delicious eateries, lights twinkling overhead, and a glance across the city to take in the magnificent Blue Mosque as the sun sets on another day.

There is also nothing quite like a rooftop terrace in one's Hotel!

What a vision.  This incredibly beautiful building draws zillions of visitors to it each year, whilst also managing to be an active Mosque.  Each Call To Prayer that crackled out from one of those minaret tannoys came right into our Hotel window, but we really didn't mind.  It was all part of the experience.

There was one disappointment though. 
The truth is.... the 'Blue Mosque' isn't actually blue! 
Sorry for any illusions I may have just shattered with that groundbreaking revelation!!  The Mosque of Sultan Ahmet 1 is known as the Blue Mosque because of the many blue coloured tiles lining the walls inside.  In my experience there were a number of other colours there too, but hey...more about that another time!!

This week, I chose to focus on that magnificent building with it's wonderful domes & soaring minarets. 
Whilst I'd been in Istanbul, I'd spent time sketching & one afternoon had whipped up this very quick sketch from the rooftop of our Hotel.  This is a sketch...NOT a great work of art.  As I've said before, sketching is visual note taking & isn't necessarily accurate or fully informed.  It contains the essential information, the important things to remember.

What I particularly like about a quick sketch like this, is the imperfections & the looseness, the carefree nature of the lines.

As I looked at it again in preparation for this week's project, I made a decision to not do any further sketches or explorations, but to use THIS sketch as the basis for my design.

Life is full of lot's of interesting, varied & random influences.  Two of the influences that have impacted on me this week have involved the colour blue. 

I was enthralled by the art work of Ian Berry, who currently has an installation in the Children's Art Museum of New York.  Ian uses denim jeans, in all their various tones, to create the most incredible artwork. 
The other blue related influence was from an article about Indigo growth & dye production.  This is the blue dye naturally produced by the plant of the same name & indigo dyed cloth is very popular in Japan.  I learned that indigo imbues the the cloth with antibacterial qualities, that it is flame retardant & odor resistant!

With these two influences buzzing around in my head, it was only natural that I use both discarded blue jeans & indigo dyed fabric in my project!  It was time to go to the stash!

I chose only 4 fabrics; 2 of each.

Denim is a thick fabric that is not easy to work with, especially in contemporary reverse applique! It is also a fabric that isn't easy to transfer a design onto using a lightbox!  Therefore, I decided to change my usual strategy & sew my design from the BACK of the base fabric, rather than transferring the design onto the topmost fabric layer.  This meant that I needed to trace the essential lines from my initial sketch onto tracing paper & then flip it over so that the design was a reverse  (a mirror image) of the original.

Once the design was transferred to the backing, I had to be extra vigilant about placing my layers of fabric in the correct order UNDERNEATH & back to front, with the 'right' side facing away from the backing... before I started sewing in the design!

I'd like to acknowledge that I didn't really have much of a plan at this point!  This is also unusual for me, & consequently I was feeling a tad nervous!

I sewed the outlines for the first 2 minarets & flipped it over to see how it looked.

So far so good!

I decided that I would keep all the minarets in the paler blue denim & the rest of the Mosque in the darker blue.  So once the stitching was complete for this was time to cut back!!

When it came to cutting back after stitching the Mosque lines, I turned the work over to realise I had a problem.  The thread blended in so well with the denim, that I really couldn't SEE it!  I used an air erasable pen to go over the lines, which was helpful enough to cut back the excess denim, but....arghhhhhh...what was I going to do to take this the next step further????

The only thing I could do, was stitch over the whole lot again, with a different colour. 
And I LIKED the outcome!!

I was so pleased with the golden yellow stitching, that I reduced the size of my stitch length & very carefully stitched in those fabulous arched windows.  If I was both a competent & confident machine embroiderer, it may have been easier to have completed them using machine embroidery.  But I'm not, so I didn't.

I did, however, attempt machine embroidery, over the piece of plain indigo dyed fabric, which I layered on top of my design.  The squiggles of the machine embroidery perfectly replicate the squiggles representing plant life in my initial sketch!  Thankfully the thread colour wasn't too different from the fabric, so you can't see how bad my stitching is!!

This is how the back looked & I love it!!

The finished piece, however, looks like this!

You will notice that I added some gold paint?  My initial thought was to only paint the crescent at the top of the largest dome gold.  However, it wasn't quite enough, so I added the other crescents & then the window frames.  I am very pleased with how the addition of the paint lifts this piece & instantly draws the eye to it.  I'm also pleased that I gave myself permission to use my expensive stencilled indigo fabric in the background!  The geometric patterning suits the Mosque,  and also references the star shaped lights underwhich we saw the Blue Mosque that first night as we ate our dinner.

This week I've had to be a bit brave & try a few different processes & approach my technique from a ...literally... different direction.  It is such a risk to try something new, but SUCH a relief to be happy with the results!

*All photos in this blog post are taken by me & are my personal property.  Please ask, before using or copying.  Thank you.

Thursday, 4 January 2018

FIRST SITE (Weekly Art Project '18; Istanbul #1)

 'It's a dangerous business going out your door.  You step onto the road and if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might be swept off to."  JRR Tolkien

It was May 2011 & I was FINALLY in Istanbul, a place I'd had on my wish list for absolutely ages. I was almost paralytic with excitement!  Two whole weeks in this ancient, magical city was such a gift, an opportunity...AND I had my first digital camera!  The city was literally at our Hotel doorstep but where to start? Dodging touts trying to sell us souvenirs, postcards and guidebooks, and armed only with a map and a sense of anticipation, we ventured forth.

The pedestrianized area that in Constantine's day was known as the Hippodrome, stood before us and shooting skyward from it's centre, was an obelisk that looked somewhat out of place.  Carved from pink granite, the obelisk of Thutmose lll had once graced the Temple of Karnak in Luxor, Egypt, before Emperor Theodosius had other plans for it! 

I'd just been reading "Theodora" by Stella Duffy & she mentioned the owl on the obelisk.  It was the first thing I noticed & has consequently stayed with me over the years.

Therefore, on resuming my weekly art practice,  it was inevitable that it be my muse.  This year's theme for the WAP (weekly art project) is travel and, as you may have guessed, my first  destination was Istanbul! Whilst I have been looking forward to starting it, as with any discipline that requires regular practice, getting back into the routine after a break took a concerted effort!

Out came paper & pens.  I approached the blank page with a specific idea in mind, but soon after starting to make visual notes, my ideas changed.  You'll notice that I also made written notes of my thoughts as I drew .  This process is very helpful in developing an idea & helping it take the next leap towards a design.

My colour palette was compiled after I'd decided what my design would be & how I was going to produce it.  You'll notice they're grey!  Although the obelisk in question is made of PINK granite, & you can see why in the photo at the start of this blog,  that photo has been used from stock available on the internet & was clearly taken on a bright sunny day. The close up of the owl section of the obelisk is mine.  We were there on an overcast grey day...therefore, everything was grey!

In my 'travel memorabilia' stash, I'd come across the map of Istanbul we'd been given at the hotel.  Creased & written on, and with some sections so worn as to be undecipherable, I decided to print it onto fabric to create the background for my first Istanbul piece.

All my layers were put in order before I sat at the machine to stitch the design through the whole lot.  Then it was time to let the cutting back begin!

There was a brief halt, as I stitched the second outline in place.  I LOVE using variegated thread when I want the stitched line to be obvious,  it adds interest & movement to a piece.  For this second outline, I chose a variegated thread that had a grey to brown colour range.  It looked as effective as I had hoped it would!  Time to get the scissors ready again & cut back some more!

I was so excited to see it all come together.  Unusually for me, I then chose beading as my next step, as opposed to embroidery.

One of the observations that I'd made in my initial visual note taking process, was that the eye is a symbol of protection in Turkey.  The blue eye amulet is on everything from shopping bags to doorways.  Wanting to reference that connection & knowing that I still had a blue eye bead in my stash, I stitched it onto the egyptian eye, before tackling the owl eyes.  The beads I had for the owl were small & round, whereas the eyes of the obelisk owl were more almond shaped, like human eyes. Using small pieces of fabric, I added them along with the beads.

I knew that I wanted to add some stitch to the owl's body, but it wasn't until that big  amulet bead was in place that I thought about mirroring those blue tones with thread.  The results are charming!

I am delighted with this first little piece.  It cements in my mind, that first walk onto the Hippodrome, that glance up to see the owl  & think of Theodora in the same place so many years before doing the very same thing!

More recently, the Obelisk of Thutmose lll has been the scene of tragedy & terror, when a group of tourists were the victims of  a homicide bomber.  Sorrow & joy so often walk hand in hand.  This   piece will force me to remember them, as well as my own wonderful memories.

* Please note that the first photo of this blog is a stock photo uploaded from Google.  The rest of the photos are my own.  Please respect my copyright of them.
If you enjoy travel blogs then you can read more about our adventures in Istanbul at 

Monday, 18 December 2017


We have a variety of lavender bushes growing in the gardens around our house.  They grow well, are great for the bees & smell wonderful whenever we brush past them!  The one that grows at the edge of our front porch has an amusing characteristic that the other bushes don't share.  It droops it's developing flower head, as if it is just too heavy for the adjoining stem!

Set against a backdrop of large leafed succulents, tree foliage and a water tank, I thought this made an interesting composition possibility for #7 of my weekly art project.

I began with drawing with black pen, a little colour variation in green & purple in a series of rough 4cm square thumbnail sketches.  I recorded what I saw...and then played with those components.

Eventually I had a design I liked! to transfer this idea into fabric!

The fabric stash held some very exciting possibilities.  And so the sewing & cutting back began.

More cutting back & even more soon brought me to the realisation that I had somehow, accidently turned the background around the wrong way.  Oops.

Once it was all cutback, I was able to see what else it might need, as embellishment, to give it a lift.  It was clear that the purple I had used for the lavender head was too close in tone to the grey in the background, so I added some stitch.

That did the trick!  I was very pleased with my end result & I loved the colour combo!!  Using two different shades of green for the stems also adds energy & interest.  Only I would know about the mix up with the background & it still looks okay anyway. Phew!

Sunday, 17 December 2017


In one of our gardens we have a David Austin rose, which is deep red and has a true 'old fashioned' rose scent.  Sadly, the local possums like to eat it's beautiful buds, so I try & pick them before they become food.  Their calyxes are like a dancer's arms, so graceful & elegant.

Using two thicknesses of copic pens, I began by drawing line sketches.  Using flat colour, I highlighted the difference between the rose bud and the calyx.

It was the beautiful calyx lines that I fell in love with, so I traced each one, cut them separately, and had a little play with grouping & overlapping the lines.

It took a LONG time for me to find a combination that I was content with! 
Roses in  hand, I then rummaged through the fabric stash, auditioning fabrics alongside each other, finding the right combinations.

After working out which fabric would sit in which layer within my 'sandwich' of fabrics, I transferred the design and started sewing in the stitching lines.  In the process of getting my supplies for this little project together, I discovered that I was seriously short on red sewing thread! (Out came the shopping list!!)  In the end, I chose a variegated green thread, which shows up against the fabric, so I had to be careful my stitching was smooth!!

Then the cutting back began.  This is always like Christmas to me!  So much fun!  The first few cuts boded well!

A considerable amount of cutting back later & this is the final result.
Whilst I quite like the flowing nature of the lines, the background is perhaps a bit too busy & distracting.  There is something not 'right' with this piece.

Recreating it into greyscale, via the magic of computer photo tools, I can see that the tonal values of the focal shapes are too similar to those of the background.  They blend in rather than draw the audience's attention to them.

Perhaps if I had added some sort of shadow to break up that sameness, I've tried to illustrate above with my very poor computer mouse drawing skills,  it may have been a more successful composition.
This is the value of learn!