Skip to content

Tomorrow I will be an art student …. this girl’s dream come true.

September 22, 2019

On the day before I begin another stage of my journey; I have changed the name of my Blog.  My real name is Helen; but I have rarely used that in my working life.  Helen is a common name and there was often more than one Helen in any one department. So, I have adopted an alternative to make life easier.  When I started using social media, I used a pseudonym as a safety net; in case it went pear-shaped and I could duck out without egg on my face.  Ten years later I am still here and some of my friends preferring to use the name Nela.

I have chosen a name that a close friend calls me; and suits me as it is gender neutral since I have no hair I am often taken as a man.  So, Aitch is an an acronym that will serve me well for the next 2 years at the University of Creative Art.

My former identity has not changed.  I was considering taking my bike between home and railway stations.  However, there are lots of stairs and no lift at one station and unless anyone takes the trouble to see that I am a 70-year-old lady in disguise; I will not get help.  So, the jury is out regarding the bike; also, I won’t get there any quicker.  There are no cycle paths in Farnham and the one-way system takes me longer and is less than scenic. So, bike will perhaps be left at home.

I am hoping to find time to keep a journal of daily events thinking that each day will bring new and exciting experiences.

What if I …?

July 22, 2019

I have always wanted to go to art college; the idea way back in the memory has at last come to the fore.  My idea doesn’t come from any knowledge that I might have the ability.  So, these last few years I have tried to perhaps find the evidence or practice like fury.  One or both has worked and I am ready to go; but let me not fool myself.  It is not going to be easy or comfortable … and that was impossible to plan for.

I have tried and going to Contemporary art and craft exhibitions has helped; like the one we had recently in the centre of Reading called ‘Open for Art’.  It is an annual event and I exhibited last year in a very nice coffee shop with my embroidered coffee sacks ; this year I was committed elsewhere.

However, this gave me the opportunity to look around the exhibition more fully.  It was good to see the ways in which artists answered the question ‘what if I …’   and in my search, I delighted in those who did in my eyes.  One was a jeweller who made exquisite pieces from sweeties from the pick and mix, another used the sun to develop photographs and made art from found items in books from a second hand book shop there was much more.

My favouite above all was a jacket hung in a bespoke tailor in Reading.  I have been back day after day to look as close as I can, the owner of the shop asked to keep it in his window for an extended period.     The jacket was stitched and decorative items were added.  It is a work art telling the story of a particular jacket; bought for a particular occasion a wedding perhaps? Then, bought out time after time; numerous events; more weddings, funerals etc.  Every man must have one, the added pieces bring to life the forgotten memories, embroidered words spoken to or by the wearer of the jacket; at an interview or at the races.  So personal, intimate, a precious jewel; for me it answered the question what if the jacket could speak?

I am wondering what if I could write or draw with a needle and thread?   … and tell a story?

A new title?

July 21, 2019

I have decided to change the name of my blog.  Nothing has changed; that’s a joke! Life changes there is no escaping it; enough to say that I am still bald, getting on my bike and a ballsy bint.  However, I will be no longer retired; I am going to University to study for a Master’s Degree.  I had even thought of a ‘name’ After reading Aqua Viva by Clarice Lispector who aims to ‘capture the present’ in her confessional and unfiltered meditations on every form of life and time.  I thought what a great title that would be.

Then thinking even that doesn’t make sense capturing and recording the next two years … is as silly as saying ‘nothing has changed.   Capturing and recording no matter how sensible and ‘so worthwhile’ yes, it is necessary to validate my studies and justify the expense; at the end of the day it will be I hope the best years of my life and ‘capturing’ it will not make it last.  It will just bog me down.   Furthermore, not conducive to the study of contemporary arts and crafts. It seems my time will be better spent studying artists and craftspeople who have stepped out of the traditional and embraced the un-captured and unfettered. Sadly, I am in between a brick and a hard place … barely knowing much about old school and nothing about the ‘current’ so there is a reading list and exhibitions to see … the new name is on hold.   This book isn’t on the list but so relevant and helpful.

A spoonful of medicine …

April 25, 2019

This week (with a slight medication adjustment) I had a good week.  I am not sure that the meds made the good happen but it sure helped me see and feel it.

As I look forward to my holiday; I try not to get over excited; to find that the joy of going away is over too soon.  Instead, I have read and addressed a couple of new adventures.

Since reading Robin Tanner’s Double Harness I have read works about Dorothy Larcher and Phyllis Barron, Hilary Bourne, Ethel Mairet and Rita Beales; all good reads if you want to know about Arts and Crafts Movement 1900-1960s.

I have learned to how to warp and weave on an Inkle Loom. There is room for improvement but it is not likely to have any experimental possibilities.  However, I remain open for suggestions.

On the other hand, while relearning spinning, I do see some exciting opportunities with dying and weaving.  Meanwhile I have to practice; it is a very complex and sensitive craft. My wheel takes me to a special place but it cannot be rushed.  So, the Backstrap Loom will remain unlearned on the shelf.

I also helped my brother with a project he is undertaking. It meant getting out some old photographs that were taken by my mother in 1950s of a boat that my father had rebuilt.  Not a difficult task but the images were evocative and a little painful. Surprisingly, as I came across this photo the mood lifted. I wonder if she has enjoyed the journey so far with its up and downs.

So much to learn …

April 16, 2019












As my going to university gets closer so my mood ricochets; like a ride on a switch back; sounds nice, believe me, it ain’t.  I have the tablets and tools to cope with both extremes. Even, while the pain in either state is hardly distinguishable at first, I usually settle first with a cup of tea.  Not always good in the long-term but, good on the short when I can find a book or article that will blind me with science or, make me pour another cup of tea which always a good thing.

A book I enjoyed this week was called Double Harness by Robin Tanner.  While, it tells me the story of a schools Inspector and an etcher and illustrator during the early 20th century; it gives me a sound overview of the arts and crafts movement in the West Country.  I have a heap of influential names that I can dine out with for a while; those like Ernest Gimson, Hans Coper, Lucie Rie, Phyliss Barron and Dorothy Larcher.

It will be good to do some cross research and find some other inspiration that so that medication becomes less of a factor.

oh yes … then there are the ceramics

April 15, 2019

When I returned to ceramics after a break of 50 years it was for a number reasons.  I enjoyed watching the Pottery Throw Down and it looked like fun.  Especially as I was finding my own company since I had recently retired tedious at times; a little creative community for a morning each week seemed like a good idea.  While see myself making art and perhaps something lovely; for me it was the tools and craftsmanship that drew me.  Like tapestry weaving, with its loom, heddle, shed and shuttle, printmaking with the letterpress, press and engraving tools.  Therefore, learning the craftsmanship and then allowing my need to undo the rules and make art.

It was assumed by others that I had been inspired by Grayson Perry, perhaps, but not directly.  Although I had seen him once or twice on TV and his ‘show’ at the London Palladium.  He was to me more a celebrity of the upper echelons.  I even saw some of his work at an exhibition by the Serpentine, wonderful as it seemed, not for the likes of me a retired library assistant, a granny with a dodgy degree. So how can I reach such realms; Grayson Perry the Royal Academician and Turner Prize-winner was not my hero then or now.  However, his style and attitude does interest me enough to learn more and apply that to my own practice as a textile artist, printmaker and ceramicist.

Soon, I was building pots and moulding plates; becoming fine fabrics, surfaces, canvases to which to add print, text and stitch; works in the style of Perry while they do not compare with his wonders as seen in the Tomb of the unknown craftsman, like ‘I have never been to Africa’ and ‘Frivolous now’ they go along way and allow me to mix and match my other skills

How did Grayson Perry, self-acclaimed Essex trans potter make it into the wonderful world of art?  In his book Playing to the gallery he tells of the human being and the human mind being able to transform the most traumatic experiences to a positive.  Surely like John Craske and Hannah Ryggen I can relate to that.  There is still the artistry; where does that come from?  Glenn Adamson says we can all be taught a craft by experienced craftsman and goes on to say that not all craftsmen are artists.  This was always a apparent in the print room, in the weaving studio and now in the pottery; some are able to make a product but not a piece of art.

Grayson Perry, talks of a signature material; his being clay while he suggests we don’t read to much into his personal narrative; mine I think is wood as the daughter of a wooden boat builder this could be right and relates for me to the tools and not the fabric.

He goes on to discuss outsider art and those who haven’t been to art school with little knowledge of the art world those like John Craske.  He suggests Henry Darger 1892-1973 who after a traumatic childhood, was janitor in a hospital after he died many artworks were found in his tiny home and then sold for many 100s and 1000s of dollars.

He reminds us that children make art, and unless it is recognised as he was then they sneak under the radar.

One wonders what hope there is to redeem my situation and further to find myself in a position to recognise art and craft in the art world with some knowledge.

John Craske … and my mum and dad !

April 14, 2019

I was still not clear that my needle work would be up to scratch and did some research;  My mother could embroider well, as a child she would have learned by rote every stitch and needle technique at school and at her mother’s knee.  While in post war life on a houseboat there no immediate need for delicately embroidered dressing table mats or antimacassars, her general needlework and mending was fine and beautiful but no less than my father’s hand sewn boat sails.

I tried my best and could muddle through with old singer, a yard or so of fabric and a Simplicity pattern and some run and fell.  Embroidery was not cool in the 1960s.

Fast forward to my work in the library and my becoming a printmaker and coming across work and books by and about artist such as William Morris and later, Enid Marx, and others making their mark in Art, Craft and Design at the Central School in early to mid-20th century.  When I could consider mixing stitch and print. I looked at contemporary textile artist such Alice Kettle and Cas Holmes and the way they ‘simply’ mixed media. I even tried some other needle techniques like Boro and Sashiko; traditional sewing using simple running stitch.  Finding a way to build on my printing skills without offending the likes of my mother and utilise my basic needlework to the full.

It was during this time when I read about someone who did just that and more beside while struggling with poor physical and mental health.

Threads, the delicate life of John Craske by Julia Blackburn.

A story about a fisherman born 1881; at 36 he became ill and for the rest of his life he moved in and out of what is described as a ‘stuporous state’.  At best he could walk around a little, but mostly he had little energy in his body.  He spoke softly and could work with his hands.  He wrote and painted pictures of the sea and fishing boats.  When he could no longer stand to paint he began stitch work, he lay on his bed propped with pillows with a cloth nailed to a frame in front of him.

Blackburn went to great lengths to find his pictures and there could be hundreds.  Some in exhibitions.  While Craske didn’t see his work on show it was exhibited in London and New York; among them his masterpiece the Evacuation of Dunkirk.  Others were found on walls in private houses, storerooms, cupboards and boxes.  She says he might have been famous but it seems he didn’t fit although some of his work was collected by people whose opinions mattered, such as Benjamin Britton, Peter Piers, John Betjeman, Billa Harrod and it seems for a while Albert Einstein was a friend and neighbour.  Sadly, as embroidery thread fades when exposed to light so, his memory faded.

The story goes on as Julia unravels John’s illness and how his wife and family cared for him as he went in and out of comas finding money to buy cloth and other artist’s materials as well as food and financial support when required and without question.

So, while the story is fascinating on all levels it is Craske’s work and how and why he did it, that is more interesting to me.  As someone who suffers from depression and complicated grief that is at times debilitating, this is 100 years later there is much more information, medication and care when required.  John had a supportive community and wife; a devout Christian who believed that god watched over her and her husband and would provide a small miracle if in real need and it seems he did.  But where did John Craskes’s artistry come from?

Hannah Ryggen was a scholar, she trained as a weaver. She was a strong healthy woman.  She and her husband until the war were able to maintain a comfortable lifestyle and even then, she was able to source the extra yarns and dyes as required.

Craske on the other hand was poor fisherman unable to work and provide for his family let alone buy art supplies.  Yet his work found its way to London and New York and into the homes of eminent collectors

In the book John’s wife, Laura tells how he did his first embroidery. It was when they moved into their own house.  Her mother was staying for a time as John was unwell and restless, seemingly unhappy that Laura was struggling to look after him and ‘pull him back from despair’. She suggests we try to make a picture.  Mother found a frame and a piece of calico bought for the Christmas pudding. They tack it to the frame and John drew a boat and began to fill it in with some wool until he reached the sky when there was no suitable thread.  So, Laura mixed some distemper and a little blue bag in a saucer and he painted it on with a brush.   The boat was call Bob Roy and it was his first picture as he settled into their first home.

John was described in a local paper ‘… never far beyond slate and pencil in art education … at eleven a Grimsby fisherman … yet now an artist of distinction …’

I have not seen John Craske’s work and it is my hope to find some conveniently placed for me in an exhibition.

As an artist from humble beginnings I can relate (a little) to Craske’s struggles yet his gifts go far beyond that of mine.

He was they say ‘a seafarer, gifted marine painter who made a daring combination of needle thread with other media.  A tough act to follow.