Tuesday 1 December 2020

One year on from King Island

One year ago I was packing my duffel bag full of not much (15kg limit) to head to King Island on my very first Artist Residency. Since my return, every day has been touched with the memories of this unique place, as I scroll through photos, draw designs, dye and stitch, trying to capture the essence of the place in my works. As the year closes, I reflect on the work that I’ve created – nearly a full exhibition’s worth. The challenge now is to find venues to exhibit in – I do hope I get to share my creations soon.

I currently have about forty works - mostly panels featuring dyed silk, satin, free-motion embroidery work and leather, as well as some paintings. I'm on the cusp of working out some special sculpture/installation pieces - I hope - they just haven't been able to make their way through my brain until other pieces were done. Here's a sneak peek of one of my favourites - moulded and painted leather on a dyed and stitched background. So much of this has been about capturing the sense of movement left behind on the shoreline, and I think I can see it here.

I would love to have the opportunity to participate in an experience like this again, and I treasure my King Island adventure memories

Thursday 8 October 2020

Painting Process

 A while ago I started this acrylic painting of a photo of kelp I took during my time on King Island in December last year. I have many such images, of almost abstract-quality due to the cropping of the image and the movement it contains within. They don’t lend themselves so well to expression in textile, but I do love them, so I thought I’d try and paint them. Slightly terrifying, having only done a very limited amount of painting before. However, I needed an activity to keep me busy whilst I kept an eye on the new kittens, and I could do this on the verandah with them, so I began. 

I quite liked the light, watercolour look of the first step, but knew that I wanted to create the depth of colour in the photographic image. All went well for a while, with pleasant afternoons spent listening to music, sipping bubbles, adoring the cats, and painting. 

As the layers started to build up, I started to become frustrated with how quickly the paint would dry, both on the canvas and on the palette, as I was wanting to create some soft, blended effects. I decided to invest in Golden Open acrylics, although concerned that the problem lay more in my ability than the paint. They are delicious, and especially with the transparent ones, I can see my next painting being built up in quite a different way – however, I need to finish this one first. 
After a lie down to prepare myself, I went down to the studio (it’s getting too hot on the verandah) and returned to the old acrylics to get the job done. A couple of hours later I was pleased with the way it had all come together – enough to share. There’s still a lot of work to do, but I feel like it’s in a much better place and on the road to completion. I’m looking forward to beginning some others with my new knowledge and paints!

The printed photo in my King Island photo collection.

Sunday 20 September 2020

Botanical drawing and memories of WOW

Last time I wrote, I was about to start my botanical drawing workshop. 3 weeks in and we’ve covered drawing in graphite, stippling in pen, and last week, watercolour. Graphite was cool, stippling was a struggle at first, but the watercolour killed me. SO precise. I just don’t think it suits this organic girl, lover of serendipity. However, I have gained quite a bit out of the experience, mainly about ‘seeing’, and processing the information that I see. It has related well to my painting experience too. This reached a point last week where I just wasn’t happy with what I was able to do with my el cheapo acrylics, and decided to upgrade to Golden Open Acrylics, which purported to offer more working time before drying for better blending. I was concerned that this might be a case of a poor workwoman blaming her tools, but am pleased to say that they have made a difference, and I will approach the painting this week with a little less fear and loathing.

My spirits have been far lighter lately, and work in StudioSvenja has been progressing. So much so that the engineering department (Matt) this weekend made 10 more frames for me! This should enable me to get most of the completed works together, and this week I started another triptych. Based largely on the colour and texture of rocks at Naracoopa on King Island interpreted through silk dyeing, these probably won’t have feature pieces on them as others do, but will celebrate the rocks themselves. Still a lot of machine embroidery to go. The offcuts were enough to make a rather lovely textured background for a feature work.

The pre-felted, needle-felted and wet felted piece was finished and dyed, with now little air bladders to make to attach. The colour turned out perfectly – a mixture of the Landscape Dyes ‘Lichen’ green and ‘Wallaby’ brown.

It was scary starting to wet felt all these fronds!

I'm getting a lot of reminders in my Facebook feed of WOW at the moment, and I am not-so-secretly glad that I am not actually missing out on the event this year. Even so, I am cognisant of missing the fun, catching up with old friends and new, and celebrating the crazy. Some years, we would already have seen the Preview show by now! These be strange times indeed.....

Wednesday 2 September 2020

TEXTILE - published work

Today I received the latest issue of TEXTILE Fibre Forum magazine – the first to include my article as a now regular contributor – yay! It also features an article on the World of WearableArt 2019, including my work Odette & Odile, as well as those of three other Australian designers. Other great articles cover a myriad of topics including the effect of the pandemic on creating and exhibiting artwork for artists.

It's becoming clear to me that many other artists are suffering in a variety of ways through the pandemic - even those of us who thought there would be no impact to their already insular lives. I initially thought I had been downcast because of my change in artistic direction.  I've also been lucky enough to become mother to two beautiful Maine Coon sister kittens during this time, so the option of burying my face in a furry belly has, at times, been taken.
I’m excited to be starting something new this weekend – a workshop on botanical drawing through the Botanical Artists’ Society of Queensland.  This is a course which runs for 4 weeks, and I’m looking forward to being in a learning environment again. Although I have amazing resources here, there’s something to be said for being in at least a small group setting, sharing enthusiasm and knowledge. Who knows what this may inspire.
Things have been looking up a bit more at StudioSvenja, as I started to gather my near completed works  – what a difference it makes to start to see them together as a cohesive group – and felt a bit of satisfaction about how it was all looking. A nice change from the doom and gloom aspect of recent times. 

A sneak peek of inspiration, experiments, drawings, and near completed works on the corkboard.

Another fresh perspective has been introduced by the 3D pen. I couldn’t face the thought of free motion embroidering all the seaweed pieces I wanted, and thought this could be the answer. It adds a great new dimension, but alas, takes just as long, although at least I am not chained to the sewing machine. 

Needlefelting has also raised its head, as I work on my series of bird carcasses (sounds lovely, I know, but really, they are). I’ve finally put brush to canvas too, and started a painting of one of my cropped-in kelp photos from King Island – I’ve been loathe to do so, in case I fall hopelessly in love with painting and want to walk away from my beloved textiles! It’s hard work, but I am hopeful that it will be successful, and that I will simultaneously sustain the passion for fibre.This is one of my 'bridging' works in progress - textile texture with paint.

The other drawcard to painting is that it means spending time with the kittens on the front verandah...

Saturday 15 August 2020


With our annual textile adventure (this year an Evocative Arts Workshop in South Australia with German tutor Dagmar Binder) binned along with everyone else's plans for 2020, we decided to do a little home state travel, and head to our beloved Caloundra, with coffee machine, suitcase full of wool, and gym gear in tow. This is the stunning view from our beachside apartment.

To be honest, there hasn't been a great deal of workshop activity, but here is evidence of the small amount that has occurred, accompanied by bubbles, of course.

The rest of these images are from our walks on the beach and rocks, sunrises, and sunsets. Ahhhh, this is the life!

Saturday 8 August 2020

Unexpected validation and a nudibranch.

On the eve of my annual creative retreat, I received a truly wonderful email. It ended with ‘Your work touches my heart’. For a girl sometimes still searching for a true sense of purpose – well, mission accomplished. Years ago I wrote that all I wanted to do was make amazing work that would touch people in some way – that was all that I really desired. To know I have done that gives me a certain sense of accomplishment and fulfillment. Reading those words have made me very happy, and have given me a lovely boost. This is the work which gained the praise. Now nicknamed 'Weedy', he is shortly to be kicking off Spring in Gallery 86, Penguin, Tasmania. I'm super pleased to see his life extended beyond the paperonskin exhibition he was created for.

I had another exciting moment this week, when unwrapping a piece of glass jewellery I had bought from glassmad, I found the artists had included a bonus gift – a beautiful tiny glass pink nudibranch! Just wow. It was so exciting to find, and really, could a glass nudibranch come to a better home than here?! Such lovely generosity – warms the cockles of your heart. I have photographed it here looking most at home near a rockpool in Caloundra, my home for the next week for the revised annual SvenJen adventure!! Stay tuned for hilarity!!

Wednesday 24 June 2020

Lost Days

Hah! On reading the beginning of my last blog, I find it humorous to note that “I am really enjoying working on my first body of work”. My, how times change. I guess everything stopped ‘flowing in the right direction’, because the last few weeks have been quite the struggle. I lost all drive – everything became too hard. Even if I had a good idea I couldn’t be bothered to do it. Basically, I’ve been in a funk. However, I seem to find myself now on the other side of that emotional storm, which was possibly influenced by the bizarre state of the world at the moment. I’ve been kind to myself, and have kept chipping away, and lo! joy in creating is once again found! So here’s what I’ve been up to:
 Free motion embroidery on organza, which I then burn out over a candle, and dye to become a lovely green lichen. Until I break my good embroidery hoop, as well as my rubbish one, the lightbulb blows in my machine, and the knee-press finally drops out.....
When you need to do some work but don't have the enthusiasm, do a piece where you don't have to do something new and you know you'll like the result. Stitching this leather ready to be laboriously painted was quite therapeutic, and I am pleased with the result. Also, now I have something to paint, and I have discovered that I very much like painting. Indeed, I keep asking myself why all these things I'm making aren't paintings.....
 Maybe because I can't get these beautiful random dye patterns with painting! This is unique to the fabric/dye process. This dyed and embroidered silk is to be a simple rock background for a textured leather piece.
 I'm trying to emulate this beautiful crayfish shell, inside and out, so tried painting and texturing Tyvek. This piece is currently in stasis - a phase they all seem to go through. I think it's so I can be exposed to them day after day and just have the image simmering away in the back of my mind until I know what to do with it.
On the days when I just couldn't make it into the studio, I spent time writing - articles, applications for residencies (responses pending) and applying for the York Botanic Art Prize - a similar process to applying for a residency! As things started to turn around, I was boosted by my proposal for the York prize being accepted. It's a new venture, and it is great to see a whole range of media being encouraged, as well as an innovative approach being taken to botanical art. The subject must be a native flora of Western Australia, so I searched long and hard to find a correlation between a seaweed I had photographed on King Island, and one in WA. Finally, I found Ecklonia, which I am moulding in leather, currently soaking in dye.

Interestingly, one thing that helped me during my lost days was looking at what I had written about this project with enthusiasm. It reminded my that my love for nature was my driving force, and was all that I needed to be reinvigorated.

Friday 8 May 2020

Creating a body of work

I’m really enjoying working on my first real ‘body of work’. Having found the overarching theme that ties it all together, I exult in watching it come together little by little, watching connections form, living the experience. There are many different pieces in creation at one time, in many techniques, and they all reflect on, and inform, each other. Amazingly, despite not having work commitments, days can easily disappear quickly, so often just one little task or some preparatory work gets completed, but it’s the constant daily flow in the right direction that really creates the feeling of immersion. 
I say my first, although I had two exhibitions - Morphology I (2009) and II (2011)  - ‘exploring the fascinating surfaces and forms of fungus and lichen through contemporary textile practices’, featuring felting, dyeing, shibori and free-motion embroidery. Yet this feels quite different. Partly no doubt, because it’s a decade of experience on, it’s solo, and it’s based specifically on my five-week artist residency experience on King Island. It’s my main focus, my number one priority, it’s what I think about night and day.

It’s also very different for me to no longer be working on body-based sculptural pieces. I tried very hard to do this with Morphology, but just couldn’t manage it. It simply would not work back then; now it’s coming together almost effortlessly. It’s really different to living with just the one idea for many months, as I have for my previous wearable art works. I’m living with hundreds of ideas and techniques at the same time, and surprisingly, working within the bounds of natural colour. So many firsts. Below is a rack of backgrounds I am working on - all on solid felt backing.
Another is the use of synthetic material. Normally an anathema to me, for this series I was looking to use materials I already had, as well as those I could find second hand.  Bags of bridal fabric scraps bought years ago had been pillaged for the beautiful lace, silk, and tulle, with polyester satin begrudgingly stored in hope of future use somehow. These came into their own, teamed with Polysol dyes, for creating large background covers. Being polyester, I felt no compunction in painting over them, piecing them together – making the most of them in general.  The dyes have also been a challenge to work with, as they don’t appear true in the pot. To summate – they are murky buggers that remain a bit of a mystery until they come out!
The beauty of this though, is that I finally get to work through this stash of both artificial fabric and the dyes for them. Another way I have found of dealing with synthetics materials in a non-wearable environment is being able to paint in watercolour, as laundering is no longer a consideration.
It’s also really nice to be revisiting the free-motion embroidery techniques which initially brought me into the textile art world, learned in workshops from Ken Smith and Carol Wilkes. I really value the notes and samples I have from these times – from inspiration, to technique notes and machine settings.
 I always remember thinking in high school “if only I could concentrate on one thing, just one discipline”. University disappointed me in this way, but finally, given full free reign, and the years on me to care little about other possible restraints, it’s a joy to be immersed in this work.