I went to London for a week to attend a Digital Textile Printing short course at the London College of Fashion.

After an introduction and discussion about textiles, pattern, fashion and interiors, we were given a couple of tasks to work on for the remainder of the day. The first task was to create a mood board and then use this to create a colour palette of 8 colours.

For my mood board I took inspiration from a project proposal written recently that was built around a Japanese term ‘ten-chi-jin’, meaning ‘heaven-earth-human’. I used a combination of my own images from a project where I have been working with black and white photographic prints and gold leaf, and images of exhibitions I have been to recently and a few images found online. I felt really inspired by the Dreamers Awake exhibition of female artists with surrealist influences that I visited at the Whitechapel Bermondsey a couple of days prior to starting the course.

From the mood board, I decided to select just 3 main colours to represent the heaven, earth and human elements. I then used lighter tones of these three colours to create a palette of 8 colours in total. For heaven I selected the colour i felt closest to gold (as it can not be metallic), inspired by my recent work with gold leaf. It was also close in colour to some of the naturally dyed silks I had made. For the earth I want to refer to natural drawing materials of charcoal and graphite. For the human element I selected red with the lighter tones suggesting a fleshiness. Red relates to blood and is also the colour associated with the root chakra which is a grounding force. The red and paler tones felt bodily and feminine.

This exercise was a really great way to condense my ideas into a visual format. I was very surprised by the colours I ended up choosing. Recently, the majority of my work has been monochrome. Red is not a colour I would normally be drawn to aesthetically, in my work or in more general terms. It was really interesting to see how approaching this mini project in a different way, resulted in making choices that I don’t believe that I would have arrived at otherwise.

Before the course, I had scanned some sketches and prints to use, along with a selection of photographs I wanted to work with. During the week of the course I was staying in Holland Park which has a lovely Japanese style garden. I made several visits to the Japanese garden to sit, watch, sketch and make photographs to use during the course. A few years back, I spent 18 months living in Japan and often refer to Japanese aesthetics and philosophy within my work.

Over the next couple of days we were taught various techniques in Photoshop to create repeat print patterns. I worked out that I had been using Photoshop for over 15 years(!) so it was really refreshing to discover some new techniques. Here are some of the patterns I created:

Our final task of the week was to create a design for a 69x69cm scarf which would be printed on Crepe de Chine silk. I used a combination of the photographs, sketches and repeat patterns that I had made. Here is my final design alongside a detail of the repeat pattern I created using a simple line sketch of my hand:

On the final day, we met at the printers to learn about the printing and finishing process. It was really interesting to get a clear understanding of the full process and to see the the printing in action. Along with the scarf I also got some extra photographs printed onto silk so that I could play with the materials more back in the studio.

I felt that it was a really good move to undertake a course structured for fashion. One the the greatest benefits was that the approach was so different to my normal working process. Undertaking a new strategy enable me to work outside of my comfort zone, particularly visible in the use of colour. I have been working in predominantly monochromatic for the past couple of years. Recently I have been thinking about colour experience more due to undertaking yoga training, working on the chakras and auras, yet this course was a real push to go ahead and work more with colours I would normally not think to use. It was interesting that even when starting with a fashion-based brief, I still came out with a piece that sits in with my work conceptually and doesn’t feel removed from my practice. It will definitely impact the way I approach ideas in the future.


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Here are the results of my first set on bundled silks. Each silk was dyed using natural materials gathered at different locations including seaweed from the coastline (top left hand corner), dirt, weeds and rusted metal found in the car park outside my studio (top 2nd from right), wildflowers from the small green space pockets in the city (bottom 2nd from left). By folding the fabric in on itself repeatedly, I seem to have managed to avoid any obvious patterns forming within the print. I really like the subtleness in the colour tones and the way that, (particularly in the top 2nd from left and the bottom left) there are traces of mould that grew on the plants as they fermented inside the warm jars.

I also forgot to mention in my last post that I invited a group of MA students to my studio in June to talk about transitioning from University to professional practice. It was really great to be able to share my experiences with the group and I had a good time to talk about my experience of this bursary activity so far. Although I wasn’t able to show the finished silks, I was able to share the new processes that I had learnt and how this feeds into my existing practice. I also gave them some advice on the application process – how to select opportunities and weight up the benefits and costs. I also made a clear point that however exciting the studio can appear in terms of having space and freedom to create, the reality is that a hefty amount of admin work is required to make it possible. They were a really great bunch of students so I’m looking forward to seeing their final show in September.


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June

I took some walks locally, collecting natural materials along the way from specific locations; plants growing within the walls by the seafront, wildflowers in the city centre, weeds and rusted metal from outside the studio. I wanted to test different fabrics so prepared a range of different silks and muslin ready for bundle dyeing. In creating the bundles, I used a different folding technique, folding the fabric in on itself until it was no longer possible to fold in the edges. I then placed them into jars to leave on the window sill. This should create a solar oven to allow the dyes to embed into the fabric. The bundles in the solar ovens were left for 30 days. After this, they were unwrapped, the excess materials brushed off. On opening the jars, each bundle had its own earthy yet sickly sweet heady smell that changed as the bundled was untied and unfolded. During this process, my hands became stained grey and took on another metallic scent. The fabrics were then left to dry before placing in a dark warm cupboard where they will rest for another 30 days.


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Last night I attended my first workshop for my professional development bursary activity, bundle dyeing with local flowers and plant materials run by Babs Behan of Botanical Inks in association with Selvedge.

A large element of my practice involves walking through places to examine the rhythms and flows of the natural environments and of my own bodily movements through the space. Collecting objects, mostly natural materials, whilst I walk is a really important part of my practice. Collecting like this as a process is something I have been doing since long before I began to incorporate found objects within my work which I began doing a couple of years ago. My first experiments in using found objects were still very much located in my photographic practice, scanning the objects to explore them as micro and macro spaces, abstracting the forms by using them to create photograms in the darkroom. More recently I have been making lumen prints, placing plant materials on photographic paper under glass and leaving them for days or weeks to expose in sunlight. The substances within the plants and the reaction to the heat building up over time affected the photographic paper in really interesting ways creating organic patterns. I was drawn to the bundle dyeing workshop as a way to extract colour from natural materials in a way that is more environmentally conscious than working with photographic materials.

Bundle dying is a contemporary dye technique whereby natural materials are placed onto fabric which is then folded or rolled into a tight package. Steam is then used to transfer the colours from the plant into the fabric.

Babs demonstrated the process, explaining the different stages of preparing the fabric with mordant, selecting plant materials to use, folding techniques and steaming. The silk I dyed during the workshop was left to dry in my bathroom overnight and is now hung in my wardrobe. I will leave it here for around four weeks in order of the dyes to really embed themselves to encourage a stronger light-fastness. After this time I will be able to press the silk and wash away the remaining plant materials that are stuck to its surface.

Babs is so passionate about keeping her working process as ethical as possible, from the selection of fabric to the harvesting of plants and the final steaming processes. There are so many variables to the process and that, added to the variants that occur with using natural materials, the end results are highly unpredictable. I often work with processes where I give over my control of the final result to a process so for me, the method sits in well with my current practice.

Unexpectedly to me, the bundle dyeing method felt closely related to the photographic process. Placing objects on to a surface in order to record their impression in an abstracted way was similar to my previous work with photograms and lumen prints, just with very different results. For the workshop we used a hot steam bath in order to be able to produce results in a short time period, however, Babs recommends a cold approach, placing the bundle in a glass jar and allowing natural sunlight to create the heat energy required over a longer period of time. Sunlight is a key element of my practice and so I am looking forward to start trying this technique from my studio.

We had a wide range of fresh and dried flowers, food waste such as onion skins, powdered dye extracts including chlorophyll and weld, and dried mixtures with healing properties including camomile and mugwort. Babs shared her very conscious approach to selecting which plant materials to work with which we learnt was similar to an Indian tradition of Ayurvastra, a branch of the ancient Ayurveda system that I am familiar with from my yoga practice. This considers the healing properties of the plants used and also the symbolic associations we place on particular plants.

What I was also interested to learn was how much the dyes can speak of the environment from which the plant came from. The resulting colour can be affected by not only the physical make-up of the plant but also the soil it inhabited, the season in which it was harvested and the weather during the plant’s period of growth. I think this element will be the starting point for my own experiments following on from this workshop.

Botanical Inks run by Babs Behan is based in Bristol. http://www.botanicalinks.com/


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