Monday, 9 December 2013

Lud's Church. A philosophical adventure.

Lud's Church became the focus for my first brief at University.

We nearly missed it.
My black and white interpretation of the journey to Lud's Church
Well, actually, we found it, but didn't know we had.
Max at Lud's Church
In July last year, I went for a short break with my son Max to the Peak District (Derbyshire, UK). We had arranged to meet up with our friends the Behrens from Berlin, to spend a few days in the environs of a youth hostel in Gradbach,
On arrival at this former flax mill in the middle of nowhere, tucked away in a verdant valley, we decided to explore the area before meeting up with our friends. A sign pointed to 'Lud's Church'; and so we set off, on a stifling hot July day at the start of summer 2013.
Max and I had no idea what Lud's Church was. After trekking along a riverside, over a stile and up a muddy bank, we asked the walkers we met how far it was.
"Oh, maybe half a mile," they said. "You can't miss it."
In our imaginations we saw a derelict church ruin, tucked in an open field, amid the woodland.
Onward we strolled, through dense woodland, past the mound of rocks where a young couple had paused to enjoy the view. After half an hour or so of walking, wiping sweat from our brows and swigging from a bottle of now warm water, we were still no wiser.
A break in the thick trees revealed boulders with strange steps leading down to an open cavern. We both reveled in the coolness of the stones; commenting on the refreshing draught.
Then it was back to the path.
Another 15 minutes later and we had both had enough. We had admitted defeat; we just could not locate Lud's Church. So we backtracked to head back to the youth hostel.
As we passed the strange cavern, Max noticed a faint carving of the words Lud's Church on a rock by the entrance. And sure enough, as we were able to confirm with the couple we had seen on the boulders who were now by the cavern, this was indeed the site we had set off to see.

We explored again with a renewed vigour. Heavy rainfall the night before meant getting down to the lower areas was not feasible, for me anyway. Max managed to balance on a plank of wood, clinging to the rock face, as he disappeared into the gulf. "It's huge," his voice echoed back. "Goes on even further."
On a drier day I would have explored further, but we were happy that we had actually experienced Lud's Church after all.

Now the philosophical bits:
Lud's Church:

1. We find it, but don't realise what it is, so carry on
2. We turn back, find the cavern, and still don't realise what it is so return to the hostel.
3. We turn back, find the cavern, realise it it Lud's Church
4. We don't find it at all ( walk past it, walk back.)
5. We don't find it at all (don't walk far enough)
6. We don't find it, but when we return to the hostel, someone tells us that the cavern was actually Lud's Church.

How would we have felt if we realised we had visited Lud's Church without realising it?

Some historical facts:
The rock cleft known as Lud's Church was used for Lollard meetings in the 14th Century, a secret place of worship for Wycliffe's Lollards, taking its name from Walter de Lud-Auk.
It also set the scene for a famous medieval poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

For our first university brief, we concentrated on 'drawing from memory' and 'mark making', using black and white mediums. I was drawn to concentrating on our visit to Lud's Church, and as I learned new techniques, my sketchbook developed as did my work towards a final piece.

In knitting I made tubes and inserted pieces; we learned how to make Suffolk puffs (don't ask); we have drawn with our eyes closed and sketched in Saltaire; and couched lines and chain-stitched on embroidery hoops.

I enjoyed the brief and it was rewarding to be given a B+.
A detail of my Lud's Church final piece

Generation gap? More like a cultural chasm.

Being old has its advantages. You tend to know more - stuff - than 18 year olds.

There are 14 of us in the college textile group - three of us are 50 plus; the rest are 18 to 20 years old. There have been quite a few occasions recently when the difference in age has revealed itself in amusing anecdotal examples.

Choosing yarns recently, Zanab said: "Gold!" Immediately the song started playing in my head, and I mentioned it to Katie, 18. She had never heard of it. Of course Jackie and Denise knew what I was on about, and we sang the chorus to the bemused youngsters.

We had a 'guess the word' session where we all had to create a powerpoint show with a 'secret' word we were given by Andrea, our lecturer. Jackie showed slides of sweets from the 1970s, 1960s clothing and toys like Scalextrix. I guessed correctly - nostalgia; half the class had never even heard the word.

(Nostalgia, it struck me, is really only reminiscent to anyone over, say, 40. We are bombarded with trips down memory lane; vintage shops abound with kitsch; biopics on TV of Kennedy and the return of Dallas; Dr Who being 50 years old; repeats of Top of the Pops from the 1970s - without Savile, Gary Glitter, Jonathan King and others; we have to be politically correct these days).

Other words which baffled some included 'eclectic', and the aforementioned 'kitsch'. There was one word which was actually new to me - ecochic. What is the world coming to...

I've been working on a separate powerpoint presentation with Chloe, also 18. In pairs, we are to stand in front of our peers and talk with slides about a designer. Chloe and I are doing Celia Birtwell and Ossie Clark. Going through it together, I relayed that Celia had been on Desert Island Discs last year. Chloe looked puzzled. I guess I'll be explaining what Desert Island Discs is when we give our presentation!

Lichtenstein - work in progress
Our brief for the second part of this year's term has been to create textile samples inspired by a particular artist. We all had to pick a name out of a bag - I got Roy Lichtenstein (and was not happy!) When all the names had been drawn, I commented (well, actually I ranted) to the lecturer that they were all men. "What about Bridget Riley?" I moaned. "Louise Bourgeois? Paula Rego? Frida Khalo?"
Sana piped up: "I've got a woman! Joan Miro!"

Monday, 7 October 2013

Going by the book.

September 2013

"This is your timetable for the first semester. I suggest you take notes."

I already had notebook and pen at the ready; having trained many years ago as a journalist, scribbling reminders using a pen and paper is second nature to me.

Virtually everyone else reached for their phones.

Two young women (are they women at 18 or still girls?) are so attached to their phones that I don't think I have yet to see them put them down. They appear to be permanently attached to a hand. In years to come, will generations evolve to having a third hand into which a phone can fit snugly?

(I bought a Blackberry earlier this year; it's pretty crap but it suits my purposes. And yes, it's an old-style Blackberry. My husband announced that I had bought a Tardis and gone back in time to buy a phone. My older son sniggers when I produce it for use - for the occasional text or email. Writing notes on it is anathema to me.)

Inspired by the project brief, I took to scribbling notes this weekend in one of my many little books. I think it was comedian Sarah Millican who I read having said that she had hundreds of notebooks - all blank, as she couldn't bear to write in them. These aren't just bog-standard supermarket spiral-bound books - each is unique, and chosen for its style, cover, bindings etc. Today you can get notebooks with little pockets in the back for bits and pieces! I have a Moleskin diary which I love and really don't know how I managed to cope without one in the past.

I must have in the region of 50 such notebooks. Some have sketches, notes, ideas, cuttings from magazines. Many are still blank and awaiting an inky introduction. I have even been known to tear the previous scribbled pages out of notebooks and start again; but even these pages are not discarded and are kept in a drawer, not forgotten, but not sorted either. I have little books in a box from the 1970s and 1980s - I would carry one around with me and write poems about my friends in them. Friends who I have long since lost touch with also wrote in my little books, so they are a nostalgic treasure from the past.

So now at university, I can wallow in my joy of note-taking and notebook-obsessiveness. The course hasn't even started and I already have three on the go - one for timetable and finances; one for sketches; and one for notes.

Oh, and just to finish - this is what one friend. Becky, wrote when I posted on Facebook that I had started my degree:

"Now you're going to be a student, label all the the things in the fridge that are yours, cook for yourself but no-one else, only tidy your own things, occasionally nick someone else's milk, marge, teabags, and go by the mantra of my ex-housemate 'I don't use the floor so I'm not cleaning it, I don't use the plates so I'm not cleaning them'."

Thursday, 19 September 2013


Three days in and it's been a whirl of ... well, not much really.
This was on the inside of my cupboard door
of my desk ....
Don't get me wrong - it's still extremely exciting, but formalities have to be plodded through before the fun (ahem, hard work) begins.

There are 14 of us on the course - 13 females and one male. I'm slowly putting names to faces and ice is beginning to break and melt among us. Three of us are 50 plus and the rest are all young enough to be my daughters! (And son).

I can't help thinking: Why are they talking to me? Don't they think I'm so old? I overheard one say she was going to her father's 50th birthday party this weekend. (I had mine last year. I got inexcusably drunk). But then Chloe gets on the train this morning, the stop after mine. I wasn't 100 per cent sure it was her, as I had only glanced at her the day before and didn't even know  her name. I asked her in the uni studio and yes, she had got on the same train so we chatted about where we lived, how we got to the station etc. And she is lovely! We ended up getting the train home and talked all the way (but I still kept thinking that she thought .... etc).

After a session of talks about art materials, student activities and more about the course, we finally got to show our summer projects. Only about half the group had done this, ostensibly due to their not receiving the brief until late on in the summer.

We were put, by lecturer Tami Stewart, into mini groups and she deliberately split up a group of four students from last year's foundation course, who have been superglued to each other so far.
So I got to show my mad over-the-top organic acrostic sketchbook monstrosity to Assam, Bethany, Lizzie and Saqia (sorry, may not be the correct spelling). We hadn't even compared work in a group, so my little corner got an exclusive view. Reaction? A few 'mmmms' and a little round of applause at the end.

Assam went next. I don't know Assam yet, but he (yes, he) is coming across as a lovely, sweet, sensitive, funny guy. His rambling project arrived in a large cardboard box, but before inviting us to view its contents, he serenaded us with delicately hand-embellished materials; a treasure trove of a sketchbook; and finally his 'project' - a mannequin torso with a stream of hand-cut paper shapes cascading from one shoulder down the spine.

Bethany had received the brief late but had created some wonderful artwork with the theme of fantasy. Saqia and Lizzie had brought their portfolios from their foundation course; each was unique and inspirational.

(The summer projects will be displayed in the cabinets at the Yorkshire Craft Centre very soon!)

Today we visited the Bradford Textile Archive - a top floor treasure trove of materials, designs, annotations and samples from yesteryear. I was particularly taken by a box of contents which had once belonged to a George Stead - he had carefully noted in impeccable handwriting all his comments next to samples of pyjama material, filling in the entries in hand-bound books. I don't know anything about George, I'm not even sure when he was around, although one date could have referred to 1949.

One small thing - yesterday afternoon we gathered in the National Museum of Media to get together with the other BA students (studying graphic design, fashion, fine arts etc). However there was no mingling to be had as we were ushered into the Pictureville cinema to watch the new release Rush. I was extremely reluctant to have to waste two hours watching a film about Formula 1, and even asked to be excused, but was encouraged to attend.
Guess what - the film was brilliant. It was more about how we change as people, and overcoming adversity. It was uplifting and moving. I told my pragmatic friend Chrissie about this experience and she told me to pin a picture of a still from the film on my desk in the studio so that whenever in the future I was loathe to do something, reluctant or negative, I could look at the picture and be reminded that sometimes something you don't think you will like can turn out to be an amazing experience.

Now I just have to find a picture of James Hunt and Niki Lauda to stick over the minge graffiti on my cupboard door!

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

An Organic Acrostic. My summer project book.

Create a "very beautiful" and "very personal" handmade book using drawing, painting, stitch, collage and mixed media.
Use recycled/vintage papers and fabrics
Create layers of media
Work into pages with stitch
Cut away areas
Fold, add found objects, beads etc
Use both sides of the pages, create textures, enticing cover.

Choose from:

(Project books will be exhibited at the start of term.)

I opted for Organic as my theme. Fired with enthusiasm, I threw a few ideas in the air and plucked 'carbon' as the basis for my book. After a degree of informative research, this digressed into using the word 'organic' itself, and turning it into an acrostic.
O - origins
R - rainforest
G - green
A - anatomy
N - nutrition
I - Ichythsaur
C - carbon

It is very much a work in progress, with a few weeks to go for middle and finishing touches. I'm currently about 60% happy with it; yet again I think I may have gone off on an overly complicated tangent, and I'm also not sure how my approach adheres to what is expected. But what the hell!

Here are some pictures to illustrate my summer project book: An Organic Acrostic.

* Update. August 1 2017.
I never got the chance to show my book. Cursory glances were cast by the lecturers at some of our work; no feedback was given and I can't deny I felt somewhat despondent. Maybe it was a foreshadow of what was to come - four months into the course I was so disillusioned and unmotivated that I switched to the Visual Arts course, and in summer 2016 graduated with a 2.1 in Fine Art.

I cut four flaps to illustrate the layers of a rainforest.

Green. This was put together with random bits and pieces I have had lying around for ages!

Mary Anning (21 May 1799 – 9 March 1847) was a British fossil collector, dealer, and paleontologist. She discovered the remains of an ichythsaur at Lyme Regis in Dorset,

Four weeks to go ...

At the grand old(ish) age of 50, I am going to university.
Next month, I start a three-year full-time BA hons course in surface design and textile innovation.
So why now?
Well I did actually apply to university back in my youth. I wanted to read philosophy, but although I got the same A level grades as Prince Edward, he got in and I didn't. Never really been able to work that one out.
Then my life sort of drifted aimlessly until in 1983 I ended up training as a journalist. I spent nearly 20 years as a sub-editor and writer on various national provincial newspapers, and had two children in the course of my career.
After taking a career break to look after my youngest, I yearned for the opportunity to do something else with my life, and eventually found the perfect turning point - an art access course for adults at a nearby college.
For two days a week from 2003-2005 I learned about art history, printmaking, drawing and painting, life drawing and creative textiles. It was the latter which completely blew my mind. Our teacher, Karen, introduced us to traditional methods such as felt making and weaving, to the experimental - polyfusion, painted bondaweb, stitching on brusho painted brown paper, and much more.
It wasn't until 2007 that I got round to applying to do the BA hons course on textile design. I was accepted, but I had gone down a rather bumpy road of setting up my own arts retail business. (But that's another story. ) I didn't feel the time was right for me to undertake full-time study.
In 2008/9 I took over the children's after school art club at my son's primary school. From there, other work opportunities arose. Setting myself up as a creative practitioner and workshop facilitator, I went on to work under various art projects, with community groups and schools, with severely disabled adults, blind youngsters, an Asian women's group, a nursery, and even at a care home where a 90+ woman told me to: "shove your art up your arse."
I blame the economic climate for drying up most of the funding that was employing people like me to run one-off or regular workshops. Now, in August 2013, I only run occasional workshops at a local arts centre - bringing in an income of £40 a month!
So back in February/March I rethought university. I might as well apply, I thought - especially now that my sons were more or less self-sufficient at 14 and 19. The process was reasonably simple, as was applying for student finance, and I only had to ring the helplines two or three times!
In May I attended the university interview, laid examples of my wares before the lecturer, chatted for a while, and was offered an unconditional place. The following week I received confirmation from student finance that I would receive a grant and loan for the duration of my study.
So ... it's soon going to be all systems go, from empty days to hectic ones; from mindless hours on Facebook etc to motivational and stimulating study.