Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Across the Pennines for an interview with Mr Finch

At the moment, my Year 8 classes are making three-dimensional moths and butterflies out of wire and fabric. The talented Mr Finch is their main artistic inspiration and as we discussed his work in preparation for their artist study, I found that the pupils were bursting with questions to ask him. To save Mr Finch from being bombarded with 62 separate emails (!), I collated their thoughts and we were delighted that he was able to take the time to answer them all. Thank you Mr Finch! You can read their questions and his replies below.
Did you like Art at school and were you good at it?
I did like Art at school ...actually I loved it. I had a really fab teacher who gave us a lot of freedom. If you have a great teacher, then it makes the world of difference and often you don't realise just how good your teacher was until you are older.
What inspired you to be an artist?
I never wanted to be anything else.  It was never a conscious decision to become an artist. I just always felt the strong urge to be creative. I knew that the only way that I could be truly happy was to do it as much art I could and hopefully one day make a living out of it. I am very lucky to be doing it as my job, but it is still a job and I have to work very hard at it.  But it is the best thing in the world.
What is your favourite thing about nature?
I love how nature is an endless source of inspiration, it is everywhere you just have to look. I live in the city and I still see midnight foxes and secret magpies building nests into the roof from where I live. There is always something new to see or learn and there are always new species being found every year.
Why did you go into Textiles?
I moved into Textiles deliberately, as for years I had tried many different mediums from leather work to paper craft and I just wanted to see what would happen. It then just seemed like the best fit and now it seems like I had been searching for ages for a way to interpret my ideas. Textiles suits me the best out of everything I have tried.
If you weren't a Textile artist, what would you be?
I would like to be involved in the world of insects in some way. Not sure in which way though! I am always quite jealous of when you see those museums full of wooden drawers and cases filled with beetles and butterflies. I’d like to work somewhere like that. Maybe I would try conservation and do some field work out in a tropical jungle...
Why do you like nature so much?
I love nature for so many reasons. I love how symbolic animals and birds are. I particularly like the stories and folklore that surround them.
What is your favourite insect?
This is hard but if I had to pick a single insect it would be the Orchid Mantis. It is a really sinister insect but one that I find incredibly beautiful. Apparently it hides in a flower and is the most amazing shade of pink.
More images of this fascinating creature can be seen here
When you make your butterflies and moths, do you have a design or do you freestyle?
Yes, I do use a pattern especially for the butterflies and moths. I’ve made then freestyle in the past but they can come out a bit too big and clumsy looking so I try to limit this and stay within a certain size and shape. The spider and beetles however are mostly cut freehand.
How long does it take to make your insects and creations?
I can usually make a couple of insects in one day, however larger work can take days. The really large work like the swan and huge moths took a couple of weeks to make. They are made in exactly the same way as the smaller items just bigger and a ton more stuffing!
What is your favourite creature that you have made so far?
I really like to make insects, plus the spiders and moths are really fun to make. I find them satisfying to create and they often have really distinctive personalities quite early on.
Why do you use vintage materials in your work?
Using vintage and old fabrics is something I have always done and will always continue to do. I love turning something old or something that is only destined to be thrown away into something new and beautiful. Initially I worked with old clothes because I had no money to use anything else. Even if I became super rich I would still use the same fabrics. Old things and fabrics have had lives and maybe had adventures. You are sewing in a story, it’s this thought process that I love and which is so important and central to my work.
Are any of your pieces in collections worldwide and if so, in which countries?
I'm lucky in that my work is all over the world from Japan and U.S.A to France and Africa. I have people who collect my work and have heard that Emma Watson collects my beetles.
Have you ever had ‘artists block’?
I have yes but it is not something I suffer from much or have often. Everybody has a different cure for being 'blocked' and how to get out of it. I don't think it is as simple as one cure unblocks everyone. Trying to see as many new things as possible and drenching my brain in nature programmes or books tends to do the job for me though.
How much do you sell your work for?!
My works starts from £45 for a butterfly and goes up from there. Large wall hares and foxes start from £450. I’ve added old jewellery in the past which has pushed the price a lot higher but don't do this much though.
Please note that all images of Mr Finch’s art work are copyright of Mr Finch and can be viewed on his website or blog

Saturday, 9 March 2013

Fabric Transfer Paint Tutorial

1. Apply Berol Fabric Transfer Paint (or an alternative brand) onto thin paper such as newsprint or cheap printer paper. Start off by experimenting with the paint application itself. You can apply the transfer paint with a sponge for large block areas of colour or use a paintbrush for areas of detail. You could even use a calligraphy dip pen for fine lines.

2. After you have let the paint dry on the paper, you will need to investigate how the colours transfer on to different fabrics. Man-made fabrics with a sheen take the colour best, although you can use natural, light weight fabrics too. Cut up the colours into small shapes and place paint side down on to a piece of fabric.
3. Sandwich the fabric and paper shapes between a piece of greaseproof paper, place inside the heat press (which needs to be switched on 10 minutes before use) and close the lid. If you do not have access to a heat press, you can dry iron over the top of the greaseproof paper. In order to dry iron, you will need to remove the water from the iron and switch the steam setting off. Take care not to move the paper whilst ironing otherwise you will end up with a ghost print next to your image.
4. The longer you leave the greaseproof paper sandwich under the heat, the more vibrant the colours will be. You will need to take care not to burn delicate fabrics by leaving them under the heat for too long. Natural fabrics will need longer under the heat and the colours will be less vibrant. It is advisable to experiment with temperature settings to achieve desirable results. It should be noted that the heating process also seals the paint on to the surface of the fabric. Let the paper and fabric cool down before inspecting your work!
5. Once you are happy with the colour tests you are ready to create a fabric transfer design. In this project, students took buildings as their inspiration. Students painted a range of colours (some were mixed together to create a wider colour palette) onto paper before carefully cutting and collaging them on to a thin paper background. Note that students used glue sticks sparingly when collaging, as the glue itself reacts with the heat and can leave blotchy effects on the fabric. 

Students in this particular project were producing fabric swatches for a design brief but other applications for this technique could range from tote bags to t-shirt designs. The fabric transfer paint technique is really good fun and produces great results. The main advantage of it is that you can quickly transfer imagery onto fabric in a low tech way using easily accessible equipment that can be found around the home.

I have been exploring this technique further with Kiran Lee on her 'Table Top Textiles' course at Hot Bed Press ready to use with Key Stage 3 students. Watch this space!

Monday, 4 March 2013

Sally Falkner’s Creature Workshop

It is always a pleasure to return to Nottinghamshire, especially when I am visiting the beautiful Hope and Elvis studio run by Louise Presley. The purpose of my trip on Saturday 2nd February was to take part in a workshop with the lovely Sally Falkner. Sally is an interesting character, not only is she an artist but she also practises as a therapist and social worker. These experiences really shine through in the tiny, nostalgic creatures that she makes. Each one of Sally’s creatures has its own intriguing story to tell. This is partly due to the vintage cloth that they are made from and partly from the real life narratives that Sally weaves into her work.

Sally states that she uses the “traditional toy making method of winding wire onto a frame.” Initially she models a wire frame for the creature. This is then followed by wrapping the ‘body’ with wool and later cloth to add form. The head is made from old blankets which are stitched together, stuffed and joined to the body. The ears help to keep the structure of the body in place and add character. The creatures evolve through the making process and are led by Sally’s experiences and also her current treasured finds from car boot sales or charity shops.

As a lover of our feathered friends, I had set my heart on making a bird like creature under the guidance of Sally. I found the experience of creating without producing initial drawings quite interesting, as it allowed me to play more freely with the materials on offer. I was really surprised that my creature started to take on the form of a goose as I had imagined that I would create a smaller and more delicate bird. I was also drawn to the muted colours of old lace and doilies instead of the bright, patterned cloths that I would normally use. 

I have to confess that I have yet to complete my creature. I have progressed to making an apron from a vintage tablecloth for the goose. I am particularly pleased with the crocheted ‘frill’ at the bottom of the apron. I made this by adapting a crochet rose pattern given to me by Jo Johnson at French Knots Craft Studio. I am hoping to finish off my creature with a hat and shoes before giving her away to my mum who seemed quite taken with her!

I was impressed with all the different creatures that people made and the fantastic accessorising that went on. Two of my favourites can be seen below. I love the land girl feel of the creature on the suitcase and the gorgeous hand knitted cardigan of the character on the bed made by Anne of Angel Eden. I think that it is fair to say that everyone invested their own stories and personalities into their creatures.

Thanks Sally and Louise for an enjoyable and busy crafting day!

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Upcycled Jam Jar Tutorial

-Several clean jam jars with labels and sticky residue removed

-Spray paint (I used Plasti-kote Fast Dry enamel in Sky Blue & Hot Pink from B&Q)

-Plastic toys – new or discarded!

-Strong adhesive  (Araldite works best)

-Plastic carrier bags – cheap thin ones are the most suitable

-Protective sheeting or newspaper

-Good ventilation!

-Apron to protect clothing

1. Eat lots of delicious jam or chutney.

2. Soak empty jars in hot soapy water to remove labels. Use nivea and a J cloth to remove the sticky residue (tip from my grandma!). If you do not remove the stickiness you will be left with a rough surface when you apply the spray paint.

3. Glue plastic toy to the jam jar lid using a strong adhesive such as araldite.
4. When dry, put a plastic carrier bag over the glass part of the jam jar and screw the lid shut.

5. Put on an apron and cover your work surface with newspaper or protective sheeting.

6. In a well ventilated area, spray the lid with an even layer of spray paint. You may need to apply several coats to larger toys. It is advisable to wait for each layer to dry before applying new coats of spray paint.
7. When the lid is completely dry remove the plastic carrier bag and fill. I filled mine with ribbon and wires that were cluttering up a drawer. 
8. Screw on lid and admire your handiwork! 
I would like to say that I do not take any credit for this idea. I spotted Torie Jayne’s Bunny Jars last autumn on Pinterest and pinned them to my Studio Envy board for future use. I was pleased to find another use for the many Bonne Maman jam jars that I had collected for my wedding table flower arrangements!
Wedding photography by Kelly Clarke of Imagesplash