Sunday, 20 May 2018

POMEGRANATE SUZANI (Weekly Art Project #16; Istanbul)

My two weeks in Istanbul were a rich & fulfilling exploration of that incredible city, but I have one regret.  I didn't try on the Suzani  coat covered in pomegranate motifs similar to the photo above! 

I passed it several times in the Spice Market & it was...stunning!

There is a very good reason I didn't try it on....being considerably taller (& proportionally bigger) than both the average female tourist and the local Turkish women looking at clothes,  I guessed that it wouldn't fit me, so didn't even enter the shop.  Had I  looked into the future & seen how often I have since thought about that pomegranate coat & regretted that I hadn't  tried  it on, I may well have backtracked & been brave enough to enquire whether there were any bigger sizes!!!

Suzani is a beautiful embroidered textile tradition produced in a few regions in Turkey.  Usually embroidered onto a plain off-white cotton background, they feature colourful flower & vine motifs.  Pomegranates are also a popular motif.

The pomegranate is an ancient symbol of fertility, but it is also a fruit that grows well & is commonly available from vendors on the streets, who will squeeze that juice, rich in antioxidants into a little cup for the right price!

So what triggered these pomegranate related memories, you may be asking?
Well, this week, we picked the first & only pomegranate from the tree we planted 4 years ago! Yes, it is small & underdeveloped.'s still a pomegranate & we are very proud of it!!!!

Another first this week, was the purchase of a graphite crayon.  A friend had used one in a workshop & let me try it out. I immediately loved the smooth flow of line & pure pleasure of drawing with it, so determined to add one to my own mark-making arsenal!

I started my day, just drawing pomegranate shapes over & over again, each with a slight variation.

On short-listing my favourites, I then thought about a format for a Suzani inspired pattern & trialed each of the pomegranates, adding some colour, exploring both options and potential.  At the same time I was doing this, I was contemplating the technicalities of HOW I was going to achieve a Suzani effect.

I decided that I was going to produce this piece in two sections.  The first 'sandwich' of fabrics had the stitching lines applied, before ....

....I layered up the next 'sandwich' of fabrics & then stitched into them. Once ironed it was time for the cutting back to begin.  Here's how it went...

...and finally...

I've made the photo size larger, so that you can see the extra stitching on the pomegranate!  This piece took a LOT of time in the machine stitching.  As there were a lot of small & fiddley sections ,  the cutting back caused a blister or two as well!!!

I am very pleased with both the experiment & the result.
This will be my last weekly art project for a few months, so I felt it was a good place to finish on.  When I return, I will resume my trip down memory lane with Istanbul, as there are still some many inspirations I haven't yet explored here... although I am fully aware that my head will be brimming over with fresh inspiration from Iceland & Norway! I think it's fair to say that travel inspired weekly art projects are going to keep me going for a loooooooong time!
Till next time...thanks for following my art adventures!!

*Please respect that the photos in the post above are my own property.  If you wish to use them, please ask first.  Thank you.

Monday, 30 April 2018


During this past week, our usual routine was paused as we  stopped to remember & respect Anzac Day.  In our household we have developed an Anzac Day tradition of watching Russell Crowe's film, 'The Water Diviner'' as a means of reminding ourselves about war, it's consequences & in particular what happened in Gallipoli.

The film is painfully graphic in it's portrayal of the horror of war, but  balanced  with scenes of absolute beauty in the way he represents Instanbul during that time.  It is as if  the exotic paintings of the Orientalists have come to life on our screens.  It is also wonderful to gasp with recognition at some of the locations.

Therefore, it was with added pleasure that I approached my weekly art project this week as I, once again, recognised how fortunate I have been to visit this great city.  Being the last Monday in April & with all my April art projects having been inspired by the tiles in the Topkapi Palace, it was to these that I returned for inspiration this week. 

In particular, the tiles which are patterned with Arabic script.

I mean no disrespect when I use the word 'pattern' & 'script' in the same sentence.  To my way of thinking, the written form of language is no more than a series of symbols & marks that when put together in certain combinations form patterns that we then recognise as words!  That's if we are conversant in that particular language of course.  If we cannot read the written form of a language then it remains a meaningless pattern of symbols/marks.  This doesn't mean a lack of appreciation though!

I cannot read or speak Arabic, which means that when I look at Arabic script I don't see 'words', I see a beautiful combination of flowing lines.... and I am spellbound by it!

Throughout Topkapi Palace there are tiles of Arabic script over doorways, as filler inside motifs, in long rows amidst the patterned tiles...

... and as borders to floral panels.

Where to start in my own script study?

Gathering together the photos that showed Arabic script, I looked for particularly interesting combinations of line & curve & tried to copy them down.  The fact that my copying is not perfect highlighted why calligraphers take so many years to master their craft!

When the page was full of small studies, I coloured in all the enclosed spaces with turquoise.  I find this page truly inspiring just as it is! However, to create an A4 sized WAP I needed to make a few design decisions. This proved to take an extraordinarily long time.  In all honesty, I wondered whether I'd actually complete a project this week!

It was proving so hard that I resorted to 'shaking things up' a bit!  I got out the tracing paper & copied down my favourites.  Because the paper is see through, I could layer them on top of each other, move them around & upside down in that search for something to grab my 'uh-huh' attention!

At last....after approximately 5 hours in the workroom, I had something I was willing to work from!  I chose to have two outline colours.  Therefore, I layerd my fabrics up from the base to the one that would be the 'underneath' outline.  Using variegated thread I sewed the lines in.

Then on went the top outline fabric & again, I moved the sewing machine needle around the carefully drawn lines of my  outline.

Then it was time to let the cutting back begin....

With only 4 colours in this design, the cutting back didn't take too long.  I was very pleased with how this looked.  However there was just one more touch I wanted to make.

By adding a touch of white to the diamonds using small beads, I feel that both layers of script are now more connected.

I'm very pleased with the outcome, but before I finished for the day, I gave my newly completed WAP the 'Layout app' treatment.  These are the results!

   This vertical repeat pattern has great potential as a border.  In fact...I'm tempted to play with it further towards that end.

This design involves flipping the image & repeat patterning.  Again, a very effective outcome.  I particularly like the interest those background lines add to this option.  It is also interesting how a slightly darker area of lighting creates more interesting areas of depth.  I am sure that there are better & more sophisticated ways of creating patterns from single designs, but I have been having enourmous fun with this app & it has opened up many more options as to how a single design motif could be used within textile art making.

Well, that's April done & dusted.  May WAPs  may be somewhat fragmented as I am about to go travelling again. So...until next time...happy creating!

Please respect that all of the photos above belong to me. Please do not use them without my permission.  Thank you.            JH

Monday, 23 April 2018

TREE TILES (WAP #14; Istanbul)

This month I have been focusing specifically on some of the key flora patterns found amidst the decorated tiles in the Harem compound of Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.  Having looked at a couple of flowers & a few leaves, it seemed a natural progression to consider trees for this week's art project.

I have long had a soft spot for trees & the way they are represented, in a visual format, throughout the time that different communities have resided here on planet earth! I even have a dedicated sketch book for keeping my favourites in.  Therefore it will be no surprise that I went absolutely ga-ga over the cyprus tree tiles photographed above!  Tall & elegant, constructed from simple shapes & restricted colours, yet so effective! Their beauty is in keeping with the saying; "less is more"!

Naturally they were the first of my tree tile photos that I wanted to take a closer look at, but I had a problem.... I am only working with an A4 size limit!  What could I hope to achieve with such a minimal amount of space using a technique which doesn't lend itself to very small components, when inspired by such a long thin muse?????

I started with pen & usual... & decided that instead of getting all caught up in the whole of the tree, I would just focus on two sections to explore how the original artisans created this effective design.

After a couple of pen sketches, where I looked at the very top of the tree & the base where it joins the trunk, I decided to save a bit of time (ahem...always a teensy bit of an issue!!) by folding my A4 in half lengthwise & drawing a design possibility directly onto what would effectively become my pattern.  I drew onto only half, because I was going to trace that half onto the other side, open it up , and...voila....a beautifully symmetrical mirror image design!

Once I had something I was relatively pleased with, I chose my fabrics, cut them, ironed them, layered them up, copied the design onto my top layer & then stitched the design through the lot of them.

Because I was using just the one colour to form my outlines this time, and because a few of those lines could easily merge with others close by, I chose to use the stitching as an outline in itself.  This was highlighted by the use of a contrasting variegated thread.  I LOVE threads of variegated colour!  They provide movement, light & interest.  I was relieved to see that my sewing was pretty neat this time... just as well, as the down side of having a contrast is that mistakes are more noticeable!!

It was time to let the cutting back begin.  Here's how it went...

.... and then finally it was time to cut back to the background.

I am quite pleased with how this little piece turned out.  I did realise at this late stage that something was missing, which is why I added the embroidered spiral fronds.  The design needed something in that spot & as it was too late to stitch & cut back anything else, embroidery was the obvious choice.  The spirals repeat the shape at the base where the leaves meet the trunk. Using a repeated pattern like that leads to a more harmonious whole.

I have really enjoyed this month's art projects, & this delight has led me to consider whether I might make a big 'Istanbul' art piece after this series of WAP explorations.  We'll have to wait & see!  In the meantime....I played with my phone app again & this is what I came up with...

...sooooo much fun!! Until next week...happy creating!

Please respect that all photos in this blog post are my own.  Therefore, please don't use without permission.  Thank you.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

LEAF DESIGNS (WAP #13; Istanbul)

   Leaves have been on my mind quite a lot lately.  Partly because;
 - we have had bizarre weather which has included strong winds & consequently a MASS of leaf litter wrapping itself around our home like extra insulation. 
-partly because I have been thinking about a cloak art piece I made a few years ago inspired by leaves, so I got it out to relook & rethink about it.
 -and partly because this week I'm was scheduled to look at the leaf designs on the Turkish tiles & use that focus to inspired my own unique design.

Out came a handful of photos, my sketch book, pens & coloured pencils.  I like leaves, I like their shapes & colours in real life as much as I enjoy seeing how other artisans create leaf designs.  Looking at the photos of tiles & trying to draw them was a pleasurable way to spend two hours.

Yes, that really IS how long I spent on those few sketches above!

As I'd done a symmetrical pattern the last two weeks with the tulip & carnation designs, I thought I'd be consistant & do the same with my leaf design as well.  It took me quite a while to create a design I was happy with, but I must admit I was very disappointed not to be able to incorporate more of those leafy designs.  Out came the drawers loaded with fabric & after...ahem...quite a chosen few were on the ironing board & ready to be layered up, stitched through and then cut back.

Here's how the cutting back went...

And then finally...

I absolutely love this colour combination, however, I would have liked a bit more variance in tonal value between the two greeny colours.  If I were to do it again, I'd make a couple of other changes too, I'd not have the outer branches in the pale bluey mauve & I would allow myself to NOT be consistant & make this piece asymmetrical instead of symmetrical.  In this case I think that particular decision hampered my design making.

That being said, this isn't toooooo bad...even if it looks like an egg.

As I often do with outcomes that I'm not totally in love with, I played around with this design using an app on my phone.  Keeping with repeat patterns, look what I came up with...


What fun.  Then when I put them together, this was the exciting outcome!  Wow! 

Sooooooo much fun!!! 

I have absolutely no idea what I'll be focusing on in next week's WAP, but it will definitely still have me returning to the stunning city of Istanbul, source of endless inspiration!  Until then...happy creating!

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

TULIP DESIGNS (WAP #12; Istanbul)

 Whilst working on my art project this week, I became quite engrossed in the audiobook I was listening to. (Entry Island by Peter May).  It is one of those cross-generational stories where a character of our present time is trying to solve a mystery that hails from several generations before.  In this case a beautifully crafted signet ring that had been handed down served as the catalyst in finding the answers.  This ring was the only keepsake from the ancestor's past.

Whilst, in itself, this story has absolutely nothing to do with the tulip tiles adorning Topkapi Palace in Istanbul... the source of inspiration for this weeks art project...  it does highlight the value of a single hand crafted object; initially made as an adornment, but is then transformed through time to become a receptacle of historic & personal meaning.

Much like another story I heard from a friend this week...which does actually include Istanbul!   My friend received a piece of tile in the post, sent from another friend's niece, who picked up this fragment of tile in the very street my friend's mother was born Istanbul... many years ago!  To anyone else that small token would be considered broken rubbish, but to my friend, it is a treasure imbued with significance & meaning. 

And someone made it in the first place.

Who knows where our creative efforts will lead us, our clients & our descendants!  Will my weekly art projects mean something to someone other than me one day?  Who knows, but for now...we have today!
 All very interesting to contemplate as one is labouring away at visual notetaking, recording as many variations of tulips as possible, from the photos one has!

Of course, if I had also included my books & the internet as a tulip-hunting sources, I may well have been drawing for days!

 There were a few design options, but I chose to go with a similar style to the one I created last week with the carnations.  I chose my fabrics, ironed them, layered them up & then sewed in my design.  This time I used a variegated thread, eager to see what (if any) difference it made to how the finished piece would look.

Then it was time to let the cutting back begin!  Here is how it went...

 As you can see, I did encounter some annoying puckering along the way!  I think this was due to the smaller size of stitch I was using. 

At this point I was somewhat disappointed with how flat the design looked.  It definitely needed a pick-me-up!  I was also aware that the effectiveness of the variegated thread was lost in the blue outlines.  The third thing I was disappointed with was the lower kind of looked...well, boring!

It was time to do some serious embellishment!
With a few beads & some embroidery, this looks much better.  I love my big red tulips with their white dots & although I might make a few changes were I to do this again, I'm quite pleased with the end result.

The Turkish tiles are such a rich source of inspiration, I think I'll keep looking at them some more next week as well.

Until then...happy creating!