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my dolls need a song …

September 29, 2022

My home and studio are small and making music and recording in some sort of privacy for me and my family would be impossible unless I have audio recording equipment for my laptop and my electronic piano.  So, with that and an app for my phone, I am,  potentially able to layer short and vibrant sounds and patterns, to complement my films.

I would like to say that there is a happy ending to all this and there will ‘one day’. Not only do I have a box of ‘sound’ making tools I find myself relearning to play the piano and learning to play the ukulele. The piano has alwaysbeen in my home since my youngest child learned to play.  The ukulele happened to be unused in the eldest’s house and begged to be played rather than gather dust. 

So, while my films remain silent, I have come out of the doldrums, even if the world of music is not as I expected.  The piano playing is improving day be day, but the ukulele is a monster with whom I wrestle daily.  Perhaps, the challenge will give me subject matter for my blog, or the post writing might give me respite from the utter disharmony I have in my life at the moment.

Change of direction needed?

September 27, 2022

When I started making stop motion animated films it was a knee jerk reaction to the pandemic.  I could not go to college to study or work in the studio and showing art in real time and space was not going to be an option then and for the foreseeable future. I had to think of a way to show my work not only to my tutor but also to the outside community in a world where everyone would be presenting as well using every skill imaginable to get noticed.  I had to think of a way to show my work in the mass of talent without going out of my tiny studio.

In the few weeks before COVID19 I had managed to accumulate much dyed and printed fabric and learned some skills that proved to be vital.  When I discovered I could make dolls with wire and give them ‘felt’ flesh and dress them, it was not long before they lent themselves to me and a free app on my mobile phone and I began life as a film maker and graduated with a distinction which proved to be catalyst to the career, I find myself in. 

I was a complete novice when I began animation it was difficult, tedious and lots about problem solving and time consuming especially when trying not to lose the art in the mechanics.  Adding music and sound effects the was not considered deeply so I convinced myself the films were best silent. However, as time went on, I became bored and paralysed in a creative routine bubble.  Looking okay, but inside feeling as if I had lost the impetus to explore and experiment as I had done all my life and certainly during my studies. I had allowed myself to retire from the outside world.  Not noticing that I could push my art a further level,  adding sound might be an opportunity to add some vitality to me and the work. At first, I thought of household sounds and began collecting instruments and sounds., while this does remain an option it didn’t meet my needs; it was too linear and bland. I needed music, not music per se but rhythm, texture, tempo, and colour to reflect and complement the dolls …

Coming soon …

September 24, 2022

There has been a lull in my life, particularly in my blogging space. This is a shame as my blog and writing in general has been a vital part of my life since 2010. I was in a place where I was able to record the happenings in my life.  I celebrated the finds I made. I documented the ups and downs of previous and present experiences at work and at home. 

When I retired from full time employment in 2017, I didn’t cope well mentally or physically without purpose, or so it seemed.  I found it difficult to manage my life and balance time and space without work to do.  So, I busied myself with art projects and my home and garden not venturing far and not stimulating enough interest for posting to my blog. As a result, the input was infrequent.  Until I began my MA in textiles, when I found much to write about and share.  While much time was spent being creative, I was able to use my research material fruitfully on my blog. When COVID came I found myself in the doldrums still creating and active in the garden but not finding it any more interesting and it didn’t compare to that I saw on the social media.

I continued to make and dress the dolls and film making became my life and an opportunity to share and perhaps filled the space created by not blogging.  It was exciting and I now have found a community and studio space in Reading where I can experiment with filmmaking and explore the opportunities that are opening every day.  The lifting of the stringent COVID restrictions helped, but it seems that being able to show work in social media is immediate and very rewarding. I have become more active on the World Wide Web in a different way which is somewhat consoling. Especially as I begin one or two more ventures that I hope to share as they become more presentable. 

I will share I hope soon ….

Art work …

July 27, 2022

Everyday at dawn I take a circular walk from my home in Reading to Sonning lock, beside the Thames and the Kennet and Avon canal. It takes 2 hours and involves about 5k of the Thames Path that goes from London to Gloucester. Early in my retirement I did walk from London to Pangbourne in easy stages but haven’t ventured further as the route and the public transport links are not compatible.

Since the beginning of covid I have confined myself to repeat this stretch day after day. 

It has become a beautiful routine through all weathers and physical and mental conditions.  I watch animals, birds, see the trees and plants change with the seasons and see the sun rise. Much of the walk is along busy roads so BBC 6 Music has been a trusty companion especially on the dark mornings.    I recently suffered a groin injury, and while I did take time out to ‘rest’ I was soon back out with sticks, but they now have been discarded as it healed.

The Thames path is well maintained and near the Silicon Valley aka Thames Valley Park it is has a corporate air with trimmed meadows and seating areas. All the factories and heavy industry have been cosmetically removed so there is a cosy sense of rural and royal Berkshire.

That is until I turn left or southwest when I walk along the Kennet and Avon Canal when the vista changes completely where previous and present industry is not so easy removed.  While the last gasometer was removed recently there is still much evidence of gas storage with huge pipes and buildings remaining, there are railway bridges that shudder and shake seemingly all day long as trains hurtle between Reading, London, north, south, and west. 

It seems like a different world yet to me strangely much more beautiful and comforting as it is here I turn east and towards home again.

This bridge and its artwork have inspired me to make a back drop for my own art. 

In the Studio …

July 2, 2022

Last week I took four dolls to the Jelly at Reading. At first glance they look like a random collection, and they are. But they are among the first dolls I made.  The first incarnation was very neanderthal, this set was less so, but their outfits were not yet sophisticated. I was using fabrics and yarns that had been dyed with an arbitrary collection of natural pigments and scraps of fabrics. 

When I began to research dyeing in the studio and dye lab at university, I had all the information, guidance, and equipment to learn the vital techniques. At home on the other hand my resources and space were curtailed I was careful not to use precious fabrics and used inadequate equipment. I have however a much-improved studio space and better output.  With much research and cash investment I have learned to manage my requirements to balance with more stories and stop motion film making. My dolls are no longer random or unloved, they are all valuable members of the family.   

Nonetheless these guys need some explanation. They don’t have names or gender and the colour of their ‘skin’ is determined by the dye and mordant I use, whether it is copper, iron or alum (mordant) with weld, woad, onion skins, rhubarb, eucalyptus, avocado, log wood, Brazil wood, nettles etc.

One is wearing an broderie anglaise mini skirt and skinny ribbed sweater dyed with indigo, the sparkly shift is dyed with log wood, the gauze dress is dyed with woad, and lastly the knitted dress is dyed with weld and for the stripes I used rose petals. 

On the day they performed with a musical jewel box, silk scarf and a string of beads. 

Soon, I will be able to record that sound of the ‘music’ in the box and ‘add’ it to the film in the postproduction stage.  Sound making is in the absolute beginner’s stage.  I am hoping my past learning experience will allow me to find a path that isn’t too hot on perfection and that I will find away with not too many happy accidents but more well measured delights. 

films can be seen @coathangerdolls on instagram

Lovin’ a bike don’t you?

June 25, 2022
Needs a padded saddle I think ….

My dad was a master craftsman with a growing family and other responsibilities he had limited resources and time to explore other creative and or business opportunities. He worked from dawn to dusk, six and a half days a week, in a boat yard where he repaired and cared for boats and their mooring in his charge. Whilst he built and renovated our houseboat, he converted a lifeboat for us to sail in at weekends and holidays.  He was always on the lookout for salvageable boat-building materials. In this regard I proved to be an able helper. One off my daily tasks was collecting firewood, it was a year-round job so I could ensure we had enough fuel for the fire during the winter.  The pickings were rich, (and I have discussed this more fully in previous posts) due to the extraordinary tides we encountered in the Southampton Water and the rivers surrounding.  The twice daily tides bought debris from ships and docks, and other boat yards to the creeks and water’s edge at Crableck where we lived, that could I gathered and sorted into the various requirements.  I was diligent and vigilant, even when looking at other interesting arrivals on the tide.  Useful wood was my priority but sometimes I found metal and soon learned to look out for brass, copper, and lead.  So, the wood like teak or mahogany might be used in further woodwork jobs or less precious burned on the fire. The metal on the other hand no matter how small and insignificant would be bagged up and taken to the scrap man in Southampton beside the Itchen River the next river along the Southampton Water and near the Docks.  When the bag was filled and ‘worth’ the journey my dad would take a costly bus ride and return with some cash and a little trinket for my mum.

During the war the scrap man was seconded into the war effort and the local community were expected to bring him metal, like fencing and gates and old worn kitchen utensils to melt down in a furnace to use in ship, aeroplane building and munitions.  Some people would bring other metal treasures which he would put to one side and sell. My dad would bring back a brass figurine or a copper jug which my mum would delight in polishing and showing on the mantlepiece. 

One time he came home with a bike for me.  I assume he rode it home and it was a long way and the bike far from comfortable.  It was at least 50 years old then and with solid rubber tyres and an ancient brake mechanism which required back pedalling! To cycle ail that way up and down the hills was no mean feat, but he was rewarded by my smile and enjoyment as I went on to ride that bike until I got another more comfortable to ride to secondary school and having a bike ever since.

Therefore, they feature much in my work and my sadness as my dolls will never ride a bike, that is until now. 

I discovered a neighbour who makes art out of scrap metal, I am not sure it is called that anymore. Nonetheless he uses waste metal from building reinforcement and his own motorbike making and repairing work with his welding skills to create art to sell art local art markets. I provided a ‘detailed’ drawing and a skeleton of a doll, and he was able to sculpt a bike with some moving parts that my dolls will be able to ride, with lots of artistic license of course. 

I am delighted with the outcome of this story, I delight in my dad’s ingenuity, thoughtfulness, and resolve as regards riding the bike home such a long and arduous journey with a precious return bus ticket in his pocket.

I love my dad and think of him daily.   

And Thank Darren and his Sticky Metal Art for his kind and cheerful attention to my dolls and their needs.  

At the shopping mall …

June 24, 2022

As you know each Thursday, I go to a studio in the town’s centre to make my stop motion films. The building has history and while it is not blindly obvious it is interesting and has its own rhythm.

It is a shopping mall, originally called the Butts Centre and built in the 1970s it became the ‘place’ to go shopping. There is a main street in Reading called Broad Street where the shops and department stores were found but it was then a busy thoroughfare, for cars and buses and open to the elements. The mall provided an integral multistorey carpark and undercover shopping space. It offered a different and modern shopping experience, shoppers could spend hours strolling and relaxing in the cafes.

The beside the mall, was a theatre, garden and local government offices and the infamous Inner Distribution Road, at the time like all major town redevelopments it caused divided opinions. However, over the 50 years, history has become forgotten and redevelopment has continued throughout the town and muddied the situation further. Meanwhile, the Mall was no longer invested in and become shabby and less desirable, the government workers were moved to another site, so buildings were empty and fallen into poor repair, the theatre became less attractive to visiting ‘stars.’

However, the Butts Centre has been modernised and has become the ‘Broad Street Mall’ and remains an inclusive and accessible centre for the local community and those like me a bus ride away.  There is a post office, a medical centre, beauty salon, advisory hubs for the elderly and those less able. There are smaller shops for hardware, hobbies, clothes, food, and gifts at affordable prices. There is a cinema and performance hub, Pound Land, Iceland, and TK MAXX, Cafes including Greggs, so everyone is welcome and catered for.  Nonetheless, rents remain very high, and shops are empty and will remain so until this recent recession is over. Meanwhile, the Jelly Reading, the charity that ‘champions’ creative art in Reading is renowned for its ability to transform vacant plots into art galleries, studios, and creative hubs where they run a variety of opportunities for emerging and established artists like myself at fair prices. 

For me it is a wonderful chance to make films in a warm community, I watch the visitors to the mall as they make their way to from the multistorey car park or the toilet to the shops, cafes, or cinema when they take a moment to look at the current display of stitch work by local mothers or me and the performing dolls.

Other artists use the space for painting, drawing, stitching, and knitting, one comes in the evening when the Mall is less busy to make music. Beside his day job he works tirelessly to raise awareness about the deterioration of the government buildings, theatre, and surrounding gardens.  While the buildings were not always regarded highly, they are a fine example of 1970s architecture and should be retained. They should be restored carefully and wisely employing  local crafts men and not demolished and rebuilt by ruthless property developers and hordes of migrant workers.

Saving water …

June 21, 2022

As a child and even as I grew up and become a wife and mum … waiting and being patient was normal.  Everything took time, before you could consider making a pot of tea and put the kettle on, one had to ensure there was water and fetch it if require. Food was cooked from scratch; we didn’t have a fridge and the store cupboard was mostly bare.  If I wanted to make an item of clothing even if it was using something from the rag bag it needed fabric, thread, thought and preparation. The shops for materials were long bus ride away. I could go on for pages pointing out the difficulties of life before things become instant and of course it did.  It sounds like I am grumbling, and I am a little, but we didn’t complain it was normal, we had to wait and see, nothing was straightforward or guaranteed.

So, we shared resources, we borrowed, we saved for a rainy day and looked for a silver lining. This upbringing stood me in good stead.  Being resourceful and asking for help has been a lifeline, especially as a young parent but even now as a self-taught artist I have had to rely on others and the community for help and guidance.  My dolls represent this hard graft, and my struggles with 21st century technology and my harking back to days when we were less well of when ‘waiting and seeing’ was half the fun. 

Having said that as I try my hand and piano playing, first learned a life time away, my patience is going to another level.

Running fresh water

Is valued beyond diamonds

Let’s not forget

Is it appropriate for me to attend a Pride parade?

June 6, 2022

My dolls would like to celebrate LGBTQ Pride month during June, and they can, they are puppets and with my help they can do what they do best, in extraordinary clothes they dance and bring joy to any celebration. 

I am on the other hand, cautious to join and appear to ‘get on the band wagon’.  LGBTQ+ is a movement alongside BLM and ME Too where I do not necessarily fit.  I can only look in and possibly be an interested bystander. 

I am a privileged white heterosexual lady while I am not entirely comfortable with word ‘privileged’ it is true. While I have seen racism from both sides among my family and friends and on two occasions the harm was fatal. I have seen and heard about homophobia. I have experienced misogyny and sexual abuse but afraid to put my hand up and say ‘me to’

I am protected by the colour of my skin and the topography of my home in other words ‘I fit it’.

Me and my generation are protected and have used the protection or safety unwisely.  We were exposed to a media that was misshapen and harmful.  Television in particular was complicit in misinformation.  We watched and enjoyed the Black and White Minstrel show, a variety show where white singers and actors performed with blackened faces. This was aired every Saturday night for twenty years. This horrible impersonation was offensive and caused much distress to the black community. We continued to watch uncomplaining. We missed the irony of Warren Mitchell’s characterisation of Alf Garnet, a right-wing moron in ‘‘Til death us do part’ a situation comedy. Garnet become our voice and it was funny to call our wives and mothers a ‘silly mo’ or our black neighbours some unrepeatable names.

We become complacent about racism, sexism and the fight against homophobia, we allow it to be humorous or another person’s problem because it isn’t in our neighbourhood. We attach ourselves to a friendly black or a gay person who keeps ‘themself to themself’ or overlook the misogynistic comedian. 

I am aware of my short comings, they have nothing to do with lack of education, where I live or the BBC. The world is so much smaller, information is clear and available. It is no longer shrouded in comedy and irony and ‘I am alright Jack’ attitude. There are no excuses.

The LGBTQ+ (BLM and MeToo) is my community and I want to be a part of it.  The dolls and I are going to celebrate that and support their on going protest. 

I hope this makes sense and I don’t cause offense, my support is genuine and don’t intend to capitalise on the gay culture.

in my dreams …

May 28, 2022

Every week I go to The Jelly Reading to make a tiny film or two. I rent a space that is super light and free from domestic distractions. I work in the shop window and imagine myself like the Tailor of Gloucester in the story by Beatrice Potter.   

This week I worked with a backdrop I had stitched to ensemble a woodland scene and the dolls look a little as if they come from Bruegel painting. 

When I was experimenting with natural dyes and using vegetation and mud (earth pigments) the colours were much like those we see in his works of art.