Thursday, 11 September 2014

Sun blast!

I had a sudden burst of 'Oh my Goodness, it's all so high tech' as I looked at NASA's sun burst images just now.

An intense, X-class solar flare occurred on Wednesday afternoon, originating from Active Region 2158. This is the second major flare in two days from AR2158, and could provide an intense aurora show Friday night if the associated coronal mass ejection is earth-bound. (NASA)

I come form a time of flares of the trousers not the sun - of sherbert filled flying saucers, and lego in the shape of a simple cube.

Looking at NASA images, sent by a facebook friend - wow!

I hope we get to see the aurora over the UK with our real, flesh and blood eyes tomorrow: )

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

latest at the Beetroot Tree

The Beetroot Tree gallery's latest exhibition by the Textile Study Group is a vibrant and sophisticated blend of textile pieces. 

Artists represented: Ruth Issett, Sian Martin, Penny Blackburn, Jenny Burnfield, Janina Evans, Sheila Mortlock, Kay Greenlees, Jean Draper, Rosemary Campbell, Sarah Burgess, Ann Wheeler, Mary Sleigh, Bobby Britnell, Shelley Rhodes, Angie Hughes, Dorothy Tucker and Alison King.

It was really hard to chose which of the amazing pieces to write about, so I decided on the following artists at random. 

Ruth Issett's work is stunningly colourful.

Layers of dyed and printed fabric are stitched and cut back to form natural foliage forms. 

I really liked the textural effect of cutting back to the fabric layer underneath combined with adjacent stitching of the same colour.

Her foliage series look to me like wheat fields in varying light: dawn, blazing autumnal afternoon and evening fading into night. 

Ruth Issett

I adore Jenny Blackburn's Serendipity series. I wanted to set up a deck chair and pour a glass of Pimms. I could almost hear the bees humming as they moved from flower to flower. 

The sheer detail in her work is awesome. Layer upon layer of texture take you on a journey into the garden.
Penny Blackburn
 She works by layering dyed and printed fabric and then using delicate machine embroidery to show the foreground structure. Details are picked out in metal thread stitched by hand. 

Sian Martin 

Sian Martin's pieces are inspired by the Japanese technique of Shibori, in which cloth is bound, stitched, folded, twisted and compressed before dying.

Sian uses fabric and paper stitched together to make new textile surfaces. In the piece on the right she has used free range eggs to create the form of the inner, fragile shapes. Sian uses recycled materials in her work to reflect her concern for the environment.

Penny Burnfield
Penny Burnfield's work is influenced by her fascination with history, both social and personal. She uses any material that best express her ideas. The 3D piece Starry Night is a woven structure that incorporates images by Van Gogh, the words of Don McLeans' famous song, scientific information on spiral galaxies and text about Henri Dutilleux's orchestral work of the same name. Dazzling.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Rescue Dog

Betty 1996 - 2011
Based on a true event 

A warm summer's evening
And time to take a stroll,
To catch the rays of setting sun,
And smile, as Betty sniffs grass verges.

But neighbours stop my heart mid-beat,
Pointing down the street
To a house on fire -
A dog trapped inside.

A crowd gathers on the green,
Watching firemen push the owner, weeping,
From the obscene,
Blackened door of his house.

We wait, each second an eternity,
While a man with breathing gear risks his life
To search for the furry soul who hides,
Frozen with fear among the burning embers.

Onlookers sigh as one,
Releasing breath held far too long,
As the man emerges,
Wreathed in dust and flame,
Holding the dog in his arms like a baby.

Lowered to the ground,
The dog's singed fur is bathed in human tears.

The smoke choked ears and nose lift a little.
A sturdy tail wags thump, thump, thump,
Upon the grass,

Starting my heart again.

Helen Ellwood 


Saturday, 8 March 2014

Alpaca Felt and Cheeky Pots

Of Heat and Chaos, the latest exhibition at the Beetroot Tree Gallery

I’ve never seen an alpaca, let alone sniffed one, but as I put my face close to one of Diana Worthy’s textiles, I’m transported to the heat of Spain and surrounded by the warm, comforting smell of her pet alpacas.

Diana uses the fleeces from her animals to create wall hangings in wild and wonderful designs - each reflecting some aspect of nature. This one is a flat fish.

She describes wet-felted alpaca wool as having “a living, moving quality, with a mind of its own.” Ideas and inspiration come to fruition as she works the fibres, allowing them to move of their own accord - to pucker or twirl, to feather or curl – giving rise to the finished design.

Many of the pieces use warm colours: showing fires on the hillsides of Andalucia, bonfires with alpacas looking on, and bright Spanish flowers.

Ben Brierley, ceramicist, is also featured. In a glass display case, under lock and key, sit a dish that shines like the back of a cowrie shell and three beautiful cups. They appear normal enough - they certainly don’t look as though they’re going to walk off when your back is turned. However, the free-range pieces on the floor, with their vertical spouts and little round feet, look almost naughty. 

They remind me of the scene inBeauty and the Beast when the teapots dance. Why aren't they contained like the non-animate cups? They look too boisterous to be left unguarded. 

The third artist showing work at Of Heat and Chaos is Jack Sawbridge. His wood and glass pieces are based on the aging, creaking joints of ballerinas. Each piece has a blown-glass blob lit from within, held by wooden structures that look like polished tree roots. One piece reminds me of a woman carrying a pile of shopping. She’s squeezing her lit-up glass so hard that it’s erupting over and under her arms. Other pieces have guitar strings, that can be tightened or loosened, attached to the wood or glass, representing tendons and ligaments.

In one piece Jack has tensioned the strings so that when you pluck them, the note drops down like a sigh.

I love the warmth and humour of this exhibition. I’m not alone in the feeling that, once the gallery doors are shut at night, the wet-felt alpaca flatfish will smile and blow bubbles, the ceramic vessels will potter about wildly, and the light and wood pieces will flex and turn, giving off musical notes and squeaks. In the morning, the shapes will look almost the same as the day before. Almost.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Hare today, Hare tomorrow

On Monday, I confused my friends by telling them I was taking my hare to the gallery. "Why is Helen taking her hair to the art gallery?" they wondered. : ) They heard the word 'hair'.

Harry the Hare, or 'a rabbit for blokes' as the gallery director called him, is my latest paper-mache creation.

Over the years, I've tried many methods of making the armature (skeleton). I've tried:
chicken wire - strong and quick, but hard work (with my disability),
balloons - slow and yields weird shapes not really suitable for animals,
rolled up newspaper in the style of Dan the Monster Man and
cardboard and wire in the style of Jonni Good

Harry has a Jonni Good style armature. I used wire in the ears and the spine to allow some movement in the final piece.

All was going well ... I left Harry sitting on the boiler one night, waiting for his back legs and hips to dry.

 Oh dear, when I saw him in the morning, he'd sagged. His back legs had splayed and his spine had buckled. The mache mixture I used was old and hadn't set. So much for short cuts.

Since time was pressing, I used modroc to hold him together, and soon he was looking good as new.

Once I was happy with his shape, I coated him in newspaper and PVA.

His top layer was done with acrylic medium and burnt umber paint. Normally, if I have no time limit, I coat my creatures in paper clay (see later blogs about how I make this). However, the date for admission to the exhibition at the Beetroot Tree Gallery was sooner than I realised.

The acrylic coat worked well.
It's water resistant and easy to 'comb' into fur with a toothbrush.

Now, Harry and his friend Scaredy Cat (made last summer) await their public. I'm looking forward to the preview on Sunday evening. I just hope both creatures behave themselves.

Monday, 13 January 2014

the circle continues...

The writer circle continues with Ruth de Haas.

Ruth is a fellow member of Scribes, a writing group based in Derby and also a fellow Swanwicker (Swanwick Writers' Summer School)

Ruth de Haas (nee Connelly) was born and raised in Southampton and read Ancient History at Balliol College, Oxford. Since then she has held a variety of jobs including selling vacuum cleaners in John Lewis and writing questions for the Weakest Link. In 2006 she moved to Derby to join the Rolls-Royce graduate scheme (aero engines, not cars), where she met a handsome rock climber in the pub one night and hasn't looked back. She now lives with her husband (that rock climber) in an excitingly crumbling Edwardian house, and works as a project manager when she isn't writing novels and blog posts. She has completed one fantasy novel, The Heartland of the Winter, a coming-of-age story which explores the impact of a harsh climate on the individual and society. It's currently under submission with publishers, awaiting that three-book deal. In the meantime, she's working on another novel, Forever 27, a magic realist tale of sex and death and drugs and magic and rock 'n' roll, inspired by the '27 club' of famous musicians who have died at that age. Her hobbies include yoga, listening to loud music, and following the (mis)fortunes of the England cricket team.

Monday, 6 January 2014

I've been asked to take part in a blog chain in which I have to answer four questions and send those questions to someone else:

What am I working on?
I've just self published the second book in my fantasy trilogy ‘Taranor’ and am busy getting on with the third. I’m also tidying up a stage play to be assessed for production this year and waiting to hear from an agent who is reading my autobiographical adventure novel.

How does my work differ from others?
This is quite a tricky question.  All true-life adventure writers concern themselves with exotic places, illness and risk.  My castaway tale is no different in that respect. What made my experience truly epic was the thread of emotional turmoil that runs through the narrative like a stick of rock. I spent my days trying to stay alive whilst wondering if I might be pregnant (not such a good place to form an embryo) and struggling to cope with the recent loss of my mother. This makes the story more than a travel novel: it involves an emotional journey as well as a physical one.
With my fantasy writing, I like to bring in some meaty issues alongside the Faeries and Goblins. The Taranor series explores themes of racism, poverty and the misuse of power.

Why do I write what I write?
 In the early 90’s, I developed a chronic, incurable neuro-muscular disorder and consequently lost my job. For the last twenty odd years this painful condition has placed severe limits on my day-to-day activity, my ability to travel, and my social life. I began to write my castaway adventure in an attempt to escape my pain. It worked. Writing has since become a passion. I love the process of creating characters and living many lives. In my imagination I can go anywhere and be anyone. My body may be in trouble, but in my mind I am free.

How does my writing process work?
I carry a notebook everywhere I go, and jot down ideas whenever they come to me.  Once I know where I'm going with a story, I write the first few drafts in long hand, or, if I can’t manage that, I use a Dictaphone.  Then, when I have something worth saving, I speak into my computer using Dragon voice software.
Editing and proofing is more difficult, since it involves the use of the keyboard.  To get round this, I often print out a whole chapter, correct it with a brightly coloured pen (I love stationery) and then speak the corrections into the computer. I would recommend this whether you have chronic pain or not. I find I can pick up more errors when I see the words on a page.

The fantasy trilogy is co-authored with John Raybould.  We plot the story together, but write separately. We meet up regularly to keep our story lines in synch.

Thanks to Keith Havers for inviting me to do this. Keith is a witty and refreshing author, specialising in writing for women's magazines and for children.