Last night I was reminded of why it’s important to be open to serendipity and inspiration for new ideas, especially those unrelated or related only tangentially to what you’re doing.
Sometimes you nurture ideas for months before actually doing anything with them. To be honest, sometimes you hoard them secretly for years, just waiting for a technique, piece of fabric, mindset or other motivating factor to impel you to work them through. My notebooks are full of these sorts of things. Half-baked thoughts that will never go anywhere; projects that are too mainstream or not interesting enough. Of course, it’s also full of rough-cut gems. Some are more mercurial and can shift from one to the other with enough external influence, coal yielding either conflagration or diamonds. Something is bound to come.
What seems like only a few years ago now, but was, in truth, ten years this autumn, I finished up an undergrad degree in religious and medieval studies. A few years after that, I completed a master’s degree. Monasteries, monastic libraries , manuscripts, Cistercians, Franciscans and monastic life were recurrent themes of my studies.
Since then, I’ve had a love affair with medieval manuscripts and libraries and have spent far too much time and money on books about both. My recent interest in fabric books and bookbinding techniques is, obviously, directly linked to this academic background. The juxtaposition and interplay of images and words fascinates me, as it always has done. The way in which images were used, both as mnemonic devices and aids to reading comprehension is truly interesting, especially in light of watching Katherine use illustrated children’s’ books in the same way.
Anyway, one of the projects that has been percolating oh so slowly in my whirling dervish brain has been to do with the architecture of medieval monasteries, specifically early British Cistercian structures, which had a simplicity of line and an elegance from which I have a hard time tearing my eyes. A brief search on Flickr yielded stunning photos tagged with Rievaulx and Jervaulx, as well as the incomparable Fountains, all located in Yorkshire. The landscape of Yorkshire has always appealed to me as having lines and light similar to that of Newfoundland.
These and other images from websites, books and slides have been filtering through my subconscious for some time now. I did some sketches of archways and lighting at one point, in an attempt to coalesce thought into image, but no dice. Those sketches are two or three years old now.
So last night I was tidying my sewing table, working on another project and contemplating aerial photos and maps and their uses in images related to hiking, when I inadvertently laid a scrap cut from one project on top of a piece of paper/fabric/glue/dye stuff that I had made a while back and on whose potential I was busily ruminating. (The sparkly fabric was from some work I was doing at Christmas time and actually was destined for the garbage, but never made it quite that far.)
Seeing the combination made me stop and think. After a bit more playing, I came up with this:
I cut out another shape like that of the first window. They’re cotton fabric, stabilised, laid on top of a white, iridescent lamé. I also cut the rose for the top of the window. Still just playing around. I also think it needs some Gothic script (although which one I have not yet decided), but that’s a project for another day.
I next ironed fusible web (Wonder Under) to a few pieces of hand-painted grey fabric and cut rough stone shapes out of the result. Laying them out in the upper right-hand corner seemed to me to give the insinuation of a wall and, if continued, could become a ruined arch. I like the way the stones seem to float on the background without mortar, but at the same time seem to be supported by the wall construction.
At this point, I decided to stop the main piece and play with the stone wall construction for a bit, so as to get a better handle on how to best use it. I also wanted to see how the floating stones technique would look on light-coloured fabric verses dark.
I grabbed an eight-inch square of hand-painted sky and cut some more stones. When laying them, I tried to emulate the techniques used in drystone construction as much as possible, in which you vary the size and dimensions throughout to add stability to the structure.
A note here: when doing a portrayal of buildings, structures, or anything, for that matter, it really pays to do a bit of research into the construction techniques involved in making the real thing. It’ll truly help you to depict the object in question more realistically and with greater understanding.
And this is where I left off last night. It’s a preliminary study, without stitching or shading or many of the other components that will feature in the final pieces, but it has allowed my ideas to gel and gives me a leaping point from which to tackle creating three-dimensionality in this piece without losing the feeling of floating.
More stone studies to come in the days ahead, before I return to the original piece and, perhaps, venture into new works along the same theme.