Project 2: Building a Response – Colour Palette

Project 2 aims to use the drawings created in Project 1 to build a response that can be further developed into a textile collection. The first part of this project focuses on identifying and presenting a colour palette.

I found it easiest to create colour chips at the same time as the simple stripe designs. I naturally want to work this way as I can keep records of the colours mixed (in a similar method to keeping a lab book during science experiments) and it also allowed me to see how the colour scheme was building up overall. The image below shows my working colour chips complete with codes for the colours mixed and small tests and experiments:

The first striped design I created was based on the collage of a passionflower (shown below) and used gouache to replicate the density of colour:

The striped design I created from the tea stained abstract print can be seen below.

In contrast to the striped designs above, I wanted to take the vibrant background from the dyed paper rubbing to create a more vivid stripe design. I chose to use watercolour to replicate the unpredictable patterning and mixing of colours.

After completing this striped design in watercolour I was intrigued to see whether the colours would look significantly different when painted in gouache. The resulting striped design seen below and has less transparent stripes though appeared very similar.

In these sketches I had pushed myself to use complementary colours as this isn’t often a feature of my work. I used the variety of greens present in layered print below to create a new striped designs with pops of red to add interest.

Based on Angie Lewin’s approach in Spey Path & Strandline I chose to look at small sections of this pastel drawing to create stripe designs to restrict the colour palette.

Although the section shown above contains a lot of red, I decided to omit it and experiment with the pastel tones of green and purple. In the first design I tried to leave white sections to suggest the highlights and kept the stripes roughly the same colour to emphasise the repetition of structure in a lavender plant. In the second design I chose to paint green stripes in large blocks to emphasise the bulk of the plant (and the lower half of the section) and created stripes of the different tones of purple I could see in each flower head. The repetition seemed fitting as the plant (and sketch) are punctuated by repeating vertical structures that hold the flowers.

The watercolour sketch below was done a week or so after the others as I had to wait for the plants to bloom. This felt advantageous as I was prepared to create the stripe design at the same time as the sketch. I intentionally left a lot of white space in this design and tried to mimic the rough proportion of the different colours. I felt that this created a sense of space in the prints and allowed the colours to appear their most vibrant.

When I looked back over the stripe designs that I had created I was struck that the one inspired by the tea stained sketch was very reminiscent of a barcode. I repainted that stripe design without the background colour to help emphasise this similarity.

This similarity to barcodes gave me an idea to translate my own NHS and hospital numbers into barcode form. As someone who currently has to spend a lot of time in hospitals, I am probably more aware of my numerical designations than most of the population. These numbers are used to find you on computer systems and you are also “tagged” with them whenever you have a procedure in surgical suites. There are also barcodes on every box of medication and at times this administratively necessary process of being allocated a number can give the impression of being a commodity being transferred.

Obviously it was prudent for me to encode my numbers for data protection purposes and so the image below shows my sketchbook pages where I reminded myself how to translate numbers into the relevant sections of barcode. The page on the right has my sketches of what these numbers would look like.

The next stage was to draw out the barcode and paint it. The first choice seemed to be black as this would draw the greatest parallel between stripes and barcodes. Black and white stripes are also associated with zebra stripes It happens that the awareness ribbon for Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome is zebra print so this had another layer of meaning to me. That said I wanted to see whether using colours from the colour scheme building from this project gave different moods. The first pattern in the second row has coloured each digit separately to show how each digit is represented by two lines of varying width in a barcode. The last one on that line allocates a different colour to each number and creates a completely different design depending on the repetition of the numbers. The stripe pattern on the far right on the top line and the middle bottom pattern both use line thickness to determine the colours used and give a more random look.

At this point I decided to go one step further and scanned each set of stripes and loaded them into Adobe Illustrator so that I could play around with the variety of designs that can be created depending on how the stripes are repeated. There were endless variations but a selection have been placed into my sketchbook for Project 2 and are shown below:

[All links accessed on 19/7/19]


Research: Angie Lewin

I have been a fan of Angie Lewin‘s prints for the last couple of years and recently discovered that she has also created a textile collection which can be found here.

I have a copy of her booklet Spey Path & Strandline in which she discusses how she creates watercolour sketches in preparation for creating her prints. Inspired by her watercolour sketch Spey Path Lichen and Seedheads (shown below), I decided to attempt my own watercolour from a still life composed of blooming poppies and feverfew.

My sketch can be seen in the photograph below surrounded by the colour swatches and stripe patterns I was creating simultaneously.

I particularly wanted to practice using watercolour for this piece but was interested to read that Angie Lewin says

I’ve always used watercolour combined with ink, gouache and pencil crayon to create studies… I’m often, possibly subconsciously, limiting the range of colours as I’m already thinking about the printmaking process ahead…”

Angie Lewin, Edinburgh, April 2018 (in Spey Path & Strandline)


Lewin, A. (2018) Spey Path & Strandline Edinburgh: The Scottish Gallery

Research: William Morris Textiles at Standen House

Although the course handbook encourages us to look at contemporary textile artists, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit Standen House and study the vast number of textiles created by William Morris this National Trust property contains.

The gallery below shows a selection of the wallpapers and textiles designed by William Morris. I was in awe of the designs and in particular of his ability to create repeating patterns with no obvious seams or breaks. Though this is arguably easier to do today with computer software, Morris’ ability to create these designs by hand was impressive.

The last example is a textile print called “Marigold” created in 1875. I was intrigued by the way that William Morris stylised the flower and how printing it in dark blue creates a very different interpretation of a marigold. Perhaps surprisingly, most of these designs are still available to purchase. The relevant links for the designs above are Trellis, Daisy and Marigold.

The fabrics below all feature embroidery to emphasise the details.

These are still available too and can be found at the following links: Woodland Tree, Jasmine Embroidery.

Standen House contains beautiful textiles that have been hand embroidered by three generations of the Beale family. The staff were able to show me samples embroidered by volunteers that mimic the drapes in rooms. The finished textiles were stunning and I was surprised to see that upon closer inspection, the stitches used were relatively simple.

The house is currently hosting an exhibition Morris & Co Inspired by Nature which showcases stunning embroideries using silk threads. I was intrigued by the idea of hand dyeing my own silk embroidery threads as I am relatively comfortable with dyeing and painting silk.

There was a wealth of inspiring items in the house and one of these was a selection of origami birds made from paper printed with William Morris designs. This gave me the idea of printing paper or textiles and creating shapes such as pills from them.

As an aside, even the candle sconces and the finger plates on the doors were beautifully designed!

Standen House is a treasure trove of examples from the Arts and Crafts period and I highly recommend a visit.

[All links accessed on 18/07/19]

Research: Artists inspired by medicines

Continuing from my previous research post, I have explored the work of some other artists inspired by medicines.

Anna Dumitriu

Anna Dumitriu makes bioart which ranges from running workshops that teach people how to extract DNA and use bacteria in artworks to her Plague Dress which is dyed with walnut husks (purported to be a plague cure) and embroideries impregnated with the DNA of the plague bacterium.

Image credit: Anna Dumitriu (2013)
Image Credit: Anna Dumitriu (2018) Plague Dress

Paddy Hartley

Paddy Hartley’s work Building Body was prompted by the use and abuse of steroids in the bodybuilding community. His project culminated in the creation of statues that Hartley refers to as “a series of satirical ceramic ‘trophies’ which are themselves as fragile as the ‘enhanced’ human form on which they are based.

 'Male'. Earthenware Terra Sigillata, wood. 1993
Image Credit: Paddy Hartley () Building Body

Lindsay Obermeyer

Lindsay Obermeyer’s work Dis/ease (1996-2007) plays on the idea that “[d]octors tend to focus their gaze on small aspects of the body, rather than look at the sum of its parts.” Her use of applying sequins or embroidery to text taken from Gray’s Anatomy either disguises or highlights the selective nature of medical specialisms. This idea particularly resonates with me as the condition I have is multi systemic which means that currently I am either being seen by or in the process of being referred to ten different specialists at seven different hospitals.

Her work Micro Patterns (2009-2018) “investigate(s) microscopic patterns, rendering visible biological forms in the highly saturated colors of MRI scans“.

Vertebral Body - 2011
Image Credit: Lindsay Obermeyer Vertebral Body – 2011 Gouache painting on paper, 8.5″ x 11″, photo credit: Larry Sanders

Her work (2018-) Patterns of Healing Obermeyer has chosen to turn her own condition into from something scary to something beautiful by turning her MRI scans into beaded embroidery on silk. Her 3D sculptures in Mikros (2008-2018) use needle felting which she points out contains the DNA of the animal whose wool she has used.

In my feedback from my tutor, she recommended I look at the packaging of the medications I am prescribed with the view of incorporating it into the presentation of my work. Lindsay Obermeyer has beaded some of the bottles that her medication is issued in to “(turn) them into miniature reliquaries”. I found her reasoning behind the creation of her ongoing work Medicine Man rather beautiful:

In today’s society, the doctor is at the top of the pyramid with his or her power over life and death.  The root for Bead is Bede which means prayer.  These little reliquaries once contained tablets taken to give me lmore time to enjoy my life.  They are in a sense an answer to my prayers.”

Lindsay Obermeyer
Medicine Man - 2016 to date
Image Credit: Lindsay Obermeyer (2016-) Medicine Man

Laura Splan

Laura Splan’s work Embodied Objects is a series of sculptures based on electromyogram (EMG) readings of electrical activity in muscles. The resulting sculptures are created by 3D printing them. In Viral Artifacts she creates doilies using computerised machine embroidery to create lace doilies that depict virus structures.

In Placebo she creates oversized knitted renderings of antipsychotics and antidepressants to “provide a different kind of comfort than their prescription counterparts“.

Prozac, Thorazine, Zoloft
Image Credit: Laura Span (2008) Prozac, Thorazine, Zoloft

Research: Artists inspired by medical conditions or anatomy

Faig Ahmed

Faig Ahmed‘s tapestries are inspired by the idea of DNA mutating. He creates “mutated” creations that tap into his fascination with genetic research amongst other sciences. As my condition is caused by a genetic defect, I find Ahmed’s interpretation of DNA alterations intriguing. The use of something that is highly ordered and creating chaos from order can certainly resonate with the experience of others like me who’s “genetic mutation” can completely disrupt their previously ordered life.

Image Credit: Faig Ahmed Wave Function

Lois Blackburn

Since 2007 Lois Blackburn‘s primary focus has been to work with people living with dementia as well as other minority groups. For the last seven years Lois had used quilting as the centre of her practice saying

It’s a form that allows a deep, powerful and meaningful collaboration between myself and other participants. It’s a form that allows many skills, many hands, many stories, to come together. Because of its associations with comfort and refuge, it has been ideal for us to bring into troubled environments.

Lois Blackburn
Work by Lois Blackburn
Fresh Air & Poverty by Lois Blackburn Photo Garry Lomas, taken at National Trust’s Lyme Park. Part of project ‘Stitching the Wars’, artist Lois Blackburn collaborating with older people in Derbyshire and writer Philip Davenport. Supported by ACE.

Amanda Bloom

Amanda Bloom’s work The Surgeon’s Knife describes the series as being about

the fracture to life when unseen cells mutate, leaving us vulnerable and exposed, under threat from our own bodies; we are cut open, soft and raw, under the butcher’s knife, then stitched back together, a new body. Healthy cells repair and ripen. Cut up and repaired – life resumes, altered.

Amanda Bloom, The Surgeon’s knife

I have often heard that surgeons try not to think of the patients as people when they operate as it makes it easier to cut into their flesh. In fact, the only time I ever felt that my surgeon was nervous before one of my procedures was when he realised that in all the previous procedures he’d done I had been able to feel everything as local anaesthetic and normal sedation don’t work on me. Perhaps in this I have been lucky though as I was never made to feel like I was on a butcher’s slab because I had a very good relationship with my surgeon which included a high level of trust.

Matthew Cox

Matthew Cox creates embroidered MRI and X-ray scans. Matthew Cox’s embroidered X-rays are an interesting juxtaposition of a monochrome image with the coloured embroidery. Perhaps it is just my interpretation however I can understand the feeling of invisibility or feeling washed out by the focus on what is happening inside your body whilst the world continues in full colour around you. I had never considered whether I would be able to obtain copies of the multitude of scans that have been taken over the years and is something I may enquire about at my next appointments.

Wading Knees
Image Credit: Matthew Cox (2011) Wading Knees Embroidered X-ray

Eileen Harrison

Eileen Harrison turned to textile arts when she developed a neurological condition. I particularly find her work inspiring as she also has a passion for poetry and weaves this into her textile art. I am intending to split my creative arts degree between textiles and creative writing and am always interested in the ways other artists combine seemingly different creative outputs. Her blog Thread of the Spirit also documents many notes on the supplies and techniques she uses.

One of the way Harrison combines the two is to stitch words into her works such as those shown in the image below which are stitched into a nurses cape. Eileen Harrison says

 I so love having the nurse’s cape; that it is one worn by a nurse from the hospital I was both patient in and worked in makes it very special to me and I stitch into it with love.”

Eileen Harrison (2018)
Image Credit: Eileen Harrison (2018) The [nurses] cape with more lettering and glimpse of imagery including a Celtic Cross. Exhibited at the Willow Gallery

Gemma Horobin

Gemma Horobin creates artworks called Vexed Textiles which she uses as a way of translating her own experiences and sensations of migraines into textile art.

Michael James

Michael James creates studio quilts and according to his artist statement he uses pattern “as a metaphor for the complex systems that work through our world: physical systems, emotional systems, psychological systems, etc”. He talks about how many of these complex systems have and implicit order and likes to investigate how disrupting that order can give rise to chaos. “This constant tension between order and disorder is a unifying thread that runs through my work”.

In his 2003 The Nature of Things, Michael James uses cotton and dyes along with machine sewing to create an arresting work that appears to contain a narrative. It gives me the impression of despair or terror and the lack of explanation makes the work more intriguing. Similarly there is a 1999 work called Birthmark which uses the image as a starting point but the other sections of the quilt are less clear in their significance.

His collection Taxonomies seem to explore a variety of textures and colours inspired by the titles such as The Idea of Matter (2010). There appear to be photo transfers included in the works and possibly contact dyeing from plant material in works such as After Nature (209).

Sofie Layton & Giovanni Biglino

Sofie Layton worked with bioengineer Giovanni Biglino on The Heart of the Matter in 2017. The project involved speaking to patients from Great Ormond Street Hospital, the Bristol Heart Institute and the Adult Congenital & Paediatric Heart Unit of the Freeman Hospital in Newcastle, “to look at the heart emotionally and metaphorically in workshops with scientists, artists, students, and nurses.” The artworks inspired by these conversations were created using 3D printing, topographical maps, digital animation and “abstracted stories are given form in printed textiles, sound installations and sculpture.”

In Sofie Layton’s work Under the Microscope: In Isolation, she created a sensory installation to explore the immune system and the experiences of a young patient undergoing gene therapy.

In Isolation is a sound and visual installation which requires the audience to “scrub up” and enter an isolation tent, created in batik and screen printed Haboti silk that represents the internal landscape of the body, with microscopic imagery of the immune system and images of viruses and bacteria that attack it.

Sofie Layton Under the Microscope: In Isolation

I like the idea of using luxurious materials such as silk as an “isolation tent” as much of the textiles employed in the medical environments are primarily practical and repetitious. One of the projects we are looking at in Purple Iris is to provide people who spend a lot of time in hospital with “hospital gowns” that meet the clinical needs of the nursing staff but allow the patient to avoid the dehumanising feeling of the generic NHS hospital gowns (think paranoia of the open back, tight necklines etc)

Mary Jane Sneyd

Mary Jane Sneyd is a self taught textile artist who also works part time as a cancer researcher. She creates portraiture and nude textile artworks “and more recently has incorporated some social commentary based on the human form.”

Image Credit: Mary Jane Sneyd Pop, aged 101 made from commercial cotton fabric, batik using fused fabric collage, each piece zigzagged with transparent thread, echo quilted with walking foot

One final artist who upcycles, ecodyes and it inspired by maths and nature:

Kim Winter

Kim Winter’s background is in biochemistry and she later developed an interest in textiles and created Flextiles. She is inspired by the natural world and uses natural dyes as well as incorporating found objects.

[All links accessed on 5/07/19]

Project 1: Developing Visual Research

The first part of this section is to create 8-10 drawings based on our chosen still-life.

The still-life I created was based on the theme of medicinal plants as outlined in this post. A photograph of the included plants and materials can be seen below

Inspired by early taxonomy sketches I used pen and ink to create this sketch of a dandelion and its leaf. The colour was added by rubbing the flower or leaf onto the paper.

I was intrigued by the variety of tones and shades of green in an Aloe Vera leaf and so tried to use watercolour and neocolour to recreate this mottled effect.

I was intrigued to experiment with neocolour rubbings of sage leaves and overdyed the sheet with procion dyes in colours inspired by the bright pops of colour in the still life.

I was drawn to the way that the red pot of the chilli plant complimented the dark green leaves and as red and green are complimentary colours I tried a pastel drawing on red pastel paper.

I wanted to experiment with the contrast of red and green as these are not colours I usually would put together. I used a Gelli printing plate and for the first layer I covered the plate in red acrylic and used leaves as a mask to create the red background. The second layer was created by covering the plate in green acrylic and using the leaves in different positions as a new pattern of masks. When the paper was removed the second time, the leaves were lifted and, rather than clean the plate, I tried to replace the print in the same place so that the pattern from the leaves was printed. It can be seen that I didn’t register the plate to get the print perfectly lined up but I like the interest created by the negative spaces left. I used pastels to outline and blend the background so that the veining was more evident.

I used an old store card to create multi-toned lines in acrylic and the corner was used to create the spots inspired by the centre of a passionflower. The print has been made on a tea stained amitriptyline patient leaflet. I chose this leaflet as amitriptyline is often used to treat depression as passionflower is said to help and I tea stained it as a reference to the few cups of tea it takes me to wake up properly in the morning as drowsiness is a side effect.

I have been aware over this course that I haven’t worked on a particularly large scale and so when I acquired a long ream of brown paper as packaging I decided to use it to sketch the peppermint plant in pastels and tinted charcoal. As the paper was perforated at regular intervals I was able to easily fold sections of the paper upwards as I worked. The final sketch has ended larger than A1 but as I was only ever working on a manageable section at a time, there wasn’t the physical restriction on size according to my reach.

For my final piece at this point (I intend to do a few more sketches once the echinacea plant and some of the others have bloomed) I decided to attempt a collage. I have never been a big fan of doing collage however those I undertook in Exercise 3.4 have made me more openminded towards using collage as a starting point. I chose to make a collage of a passionflower and used a Gelli printing plate and acrylic paint to create the materials. Much of the printing was done onto newsprint and I used a dilute, pale green acrylic onto the amitriptyline patient information leaflets as this allowed the text to still show through. Using collage also allowed me to work on a larger scale as the finished size is approximately A2 but I was able to break up the image into manageable sections.

[All links accessed on 11/07/19]

Research: Artists inspired by medicines – Susie Freeman and Pharmacopoeia

The first artist, Susie Freeman, who is inspired by medicines was recommended to me by my tutor in my feedback from assignment four.

According to her artist statement on the Rowley Gallery website, Susie Freeman’s work involves “trapping tiny objects in a delicate web of filament.” Whilst much of her work investigates what we would normally throw away, she collaborates with a family doctor Liz Lee and also David Critchley on a project called Pharmacopoeia which focus on medical issues. In their artwork WOW1 – What Was Once Imagined, “the 52 arrows around the edge … constitute the weekly intake for [a patient with cardiovascular disease]”. I am fascinated by the use of the coloured pill strips as they are reminiscent of mosaic tiles or blocks in quilting. As an NHS patient, you don’t have access to a year’s worth of your medication however I hadn’t thought of “playing” with my medications before taking them or with the empty strips after.

The artist Susie Freeman standing in the middle of a large circular piece with pills in the shapes of plants and flowers
Image Credit:  Joana França (2015)

In their work Femme Vitale, they have created a sculptural figure representing someone with Metabolic Syndrome. Here the tablets have been inserted into knitted pockets to form separate cloths which have then been combined to form a dress-like structure.

Femme Vitale Medical Museon
Image Credit:  Pharmacopoeia (2015)

Their work Daily Dose, is another that uses the medicines to form art that is wearable. As I have taken a beginner’s course in silver jewellery making this year, I have been wondering whether there was a way to weave this into my textile work.

A necklace of pills
Image Credit:  Pharmacopoeia (2011)

Raw Materials uses the leaves, roots and flowers that form the basis of many medicines.

One of their works, Cradle to Grave, has its own website (which can be found here) and was created for The British Museum Wellcome Gallery.

On Susie Freeman’s own website (which can be found here) there are further examples of her work. I have found her work as part of the project Resistance is Rising to be of particular interest as she has used laboratory reports from blood tests amongst other notes in her work. She has also incorporated notes into textiles which are subsequently used to make garments as below:

Image Credit:  Susie Freeman [Accessed on 4/7/2019]

[All links accessed on 4/7/2019]