Exploring shadows and selfies……

Recently I was creatively ‘confronted’  by a word challenge that was part of a textile art group that I belong to.  The word was ‘selfie’, and the idea was to create an image about that particular word.  I wasn’t excited by the prospect and struggled to visualise  how I might creatively represent the ‘selfie’ in  a meaningful way for me. However although I struggled with the concept of  a ‘selfie’, shadows intrigue me…….shadows have intrigued me since my early twenties when I took a photo of a dandelion against the concrete pavement – not particularly exciting except that there were three shadows to the one dandelion.  It made me think about what shadows might suggest, i.e., shadows give information while leaving room for imagination….for example, I love this image that my kids took of me creating a shell/sand sculpture.  I cannot see the kids in the photo but I can see their shadow which informs me that they are working together to take the photo, they are talking and perhaps giggling because they know I don’t like having my photo taken…..they think I don’t know what they are up to!

So, one day as I was out walking and pondering how to tackle the word ” selfie’, the sun was casting my shadow and I began taking photos, I also began to consider how the concept of the ‘self’ could be represented through the ‘shadow’.

Shadows have been around since the beginning of time, and have many historical and cultural meanings, for example; death, hope, soul, evil….even Peter Pan who lost his shadow……As an Art Therapist I am very familiar with the term ‘shadow’ as representing the aspects of the self that we keep hidden, or don’t wish to reveal, or don’t wish to acknowledge.

However earlier this year I was reading a book by Thomas Moore(an ex priest and a psychotherapist), and came across this sentence which spoke wonderfully to me in relation to my interest in shadows; “We have a shadow self, not dark in the sense of evil or dangerous, but the shadow that follows us wherever we go, a companion figure that inspires, warns, and guides.” Such a positive view of the ‘shadow’ self.

Putting those words together with a shadow photo that compositionally worked I decided to create a ‘selfie shadow’ in textiles, with Thomas Moore’s words stitched around the image…..I love the image as it also speaks to me of choices, directions and roads less travelled….

What do ‘shadows’ or ‘selfies’ mean for you?

A “Stitched Up” surprise and completion…..

The ‘Stitched Up’ project continued to surprise me right up to posting the artworks to Newcastle, Australia, last week.  While working on pulling the artwork together I had many discussions with my husband about which images to include in the final piece – but I couldn’t leave any out.  The final artwork felt dense with imagery and story and  the surprise was that I felt compelled to create another image about the sisters – a more focussed and simple -yet still complex!- response to their time at the School.

The first artwork I titled “Layers, Labels and Paper Dolls – The Story” and the second one is titled “Layers, Labels and Paper Dolls – The Confusion”.   There are so many layers to the story of these girls, so many layers to the research, and many layers of fabric used in the construction of the artworks.  I took the title(label) that was given to the sisters by the original researcher, Jane Ison, of The Most Confusing research, and focussed on ‘Labels’ and ‘Confusion’. There certainly appears to be much confusion around the Young sisters, mostly due to inaccurate records being kept. Confusion around lack of clarity regarding arrests, around accurate birth dates, around accurate names and which of the sisters actually attended the school.

Paralleling the confusing research I wanted to explore the confusion that the sisters may have felt about the circumstances and challenges they faced in their young lives.  One of the definitions of ‘confusion’ that seemed appropriate to these girls was: “a situation in which people do not understand what is happening, what they should do or who someone or something is…” (Google) How do children/teenagers make sense of their world if they do not have responsible adults/ authorities to guide them?  In this sense they have been betrayed by the adults in their lives.

The second artwork came together relatively quickly and easily – and I loved the hand stitching! Not only many layers of fabric but many ways of ‘Stitched Up’!  It has been a most fascinating project……

In fact I even entertained brief thoughts about creating a series of artworks about the sisters……but at this point in time I cannot give those thoughts head space!


‘Stitched Up’ progress report….

The deadline for the ‘Stitched Up’ exhibition is drawing near and I have been busy pulling together all the images I’ve created.  Creating the images has been the easy task – pulling them together into a cohesive artwork has been more difficult.  Perhaps this parallels with the challenges of the original researcher encountered in unearthing the stories of the girls who attended the Newcastle Industrial School!

As mentioned in a previous post on this exhibition, my original concept was to use the ‘paper doll’, a childhood toy, as a symbol of childhood; of fun, of playfulness, of imaginary worlds.  Yet the clothes to dress the ‘paper doll’ in this artwork symbolize either domestic service or the garments made by the girls for the ‘well to do’ and speak of the freedom of childhood perhaps not experienced.   A childhood that appears to have had many labels attached; poor, destitute, impoverished, vulnerable, convicts daughter, drunkards daughter, brothel owners daughter, inmate…to name a few.  It has been difficult for me to ascertain exactly what the Young sisters were arrested for,- was it because their mother was unable to care for them?  In fact the four Young sisters first came to the attention of the authorities on 31st July 1867, they “appeared on the list of children at risk” (Wikidot.com) According to the same research “no reports of the arrest of any of the sisters appear in the NSW Police Gazette” but “newspapers report the arrest of two sisters in Sydney” and these two sisters have been identified as two of the Young sisters.  They “had been arrested in Sydney by Sergeant Goldrick, who stated that they had come to him at the Central…and that they wished to give themselves up in order to be sent to Newcastle”.  They also stated they had no parents and had been sleeping at the racecourse.  In checking their story the truth was revealed that they had been ‘in service’ and had run away. The two sisters arrived at the Industrial School in January 1870.

From what I read they were apprenticed to domestic service a number of times but plans fell through each time.   It appears that the sisters I have chosen to focus on have had a somewhat different journey to other girls from the school.  The records suggest that the girls gave themselves over to the police and requested to be sent to the Newcastle Industrial School.  Was home life so tough that they were looking for something better??? One of the sisters married illegally – under age – without the consent of parents.  Was this another attempt to escape ….

Both sisters went on to marry, have children and live to old age.  Charlotte’s obituary records her as Charlotte Elizabeth – an interesting fact considering the confusion over whether it was Charlotte or Elizabeth who attended the school.  It also records that “she was unselfish, active in the Labour movement and a worker for the relief of the poor.”

A fascinating project that has kept me busy for many hours, stretched me out of my comfort zone and taught me a great deal.

On Holidays, and Travelling Art Quilts…..

Much has happened since I last wrote my last blog; my art quilt “An Ode to OZ Flora” was accepted as a finalist for the Australasian Quilt Convention challenge – “Made in Australia Flora and Fauna (see my blog from 11th Feb 2017 to read about the story behind the art quilt) and will become a travelling art quilt. We have also had a much anticipated(especially the children!) holiday to Australia.

The Australasian Quilting Convention premiered in Melbourne from the 20-23 April 2017 but unfortunately I wasn’t able to get to the exhibition. However I am hoping that at some stage I will get to see the Challenge exhibition in NZ; apparently it will travel to various venues across Australia and NZ and also includes a trip to Mexico at the beginning of next year.   If you haven’t clicked on to the AQC website and had a look at the 30 successful art quilt entries, they are worth checking out….and enjoy the variety of theme interpretation by the Textile Artists and Art Quilters . The theme could be interpreted using flora or fauna or  include both.  If you do check out the art quilts let me know what you think.

Much of our holiday was spent catching up with friends and family, however I did manage to find time to photograph inspiration for my solo exhibition in September this year.  I have been working towards this exhibition, titled “Natures Exuberance” but it  was a bonus to get a little inspiration injection to keep the creative juices going….

So the holidays are over and it is time to get back to work.  This term promises to be busy with continuing to work towards group exhibitions and my solo exhibition, teaching workshops, and generally getting down to business….

In my next blog I might share some of the inspiration collected from my holiday but I will finish off this blog with some glorious sunrise and sunset images that we enjoyed on our holiday….just to keep the holiday feeling going a bit longer…..














“Stitched Up”…. an exhibition…

At the moment I am working on a challenging but fascinating project for an exhibition called “Stitched Up – Bringing to Life the 193 Girls from the Newcastle Industrial School 1867 – 1871”.  As one of 25 invited international artists we get to chose a girl/girls from that time and give them a voice.  What does “stitched up” suggest to you?  In relation to these girls and this exhibition we are looking at the idea of ‘accusation and betrayal’.

I love reading historical novels, especially ones that give voice to a woman or women of a different era.  I find it a fascinating way to learn about the history of the time, it makes history come alive for me.  So when I was invited to be part of this exhibition I was immediately drawn to the idea of giving a girl from the 1870’s a voice.  It was a challenge to decide who to chose but I have chosen the Young sisters, two of four sisters who spent time at the Newcastle Industrial School.

So often I get asked how long did that take, or how long does it take to create an art work? I have several answers to that question: how long is a piece of string?, twenty years – because it has taken me twenty years to get to this point in my art career, or I go into a more detailed description of what goes on before I even start a piece of work…..Recently I was reading a book by Bethan Ash, an Art Quilter, and she sums up very succinctly in one sentence – “The final piece of work exhibited in a gallery is really only a small part of the artists labour.” (Pg 88 Vibrant Quilt Collage, Bethan Ash).  Before I have even started this exhibition project:  I have spent hours researching what was happening, and what life was like in Newcastle, and in Australia around 1870, I have researched Industrial Schools of the time and what was happening with regard to children at risk, I have researched clothing worn by girls at the time, I have researched what domestic servants clothing was worn at the time, and researched a particular toy that I wished to use as a symbol to represent the girls I had chosen.

I remember loving dolls in my childhood, they represent my early childhood, I loved to make clothes for them.  As a child I also loved ‘paper dolls’ and I wondered if they could be used to represent the girls and idea of stitched up.  I discovered in my research that ‘paper dolls were first officially printed in the early 1800’s, however they weren’t always paper, sometimes they were fabric or wood.  I also discovered they represent childhood for many people……Stay tuned, it is my plan to document the process…..

‘Dancing Kangaroo Paws’ returns home…..

“Dancing Kangaroo Paws” returned home today from being exhibited in the 2016 World Quilt XX New England, USA. What an adventure my art quilt has been on, traversing the States; from World Quilt New England, to Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza, to QuiltFest Oasis Palm Springs, to the Pacific International Quilt Festival and finally to World Quilt Florida.  Some interesting information gathered from reading the Program booklet that came with my artwork:  there were 255 quilts accepted into the twentieth annual World Quilt Competition from 9 countries- it would be interesting to know how many initial entries there were before being juried in.

It is always good to get feedback from the judges, this year the judges were Frieda Anderson and Pat Harrison.  I have long admired Frieda Anderson’s work so it is extra special to have her and Pat Harrison’s comments on my work.  To have one’s work judged and critiqued is one way to get some feedback on what is working (such as composition, techniques used, technical skills, etc)  and what needs improvement.   However as the form states at the bottom – ” The quilt you have submitted is the work of your talents, and you are the final judge of your own quilt.” I love that statement and I remember commenting on it when “‘Leafy’ Sea Dragon” returned home from touring the States.   At the end of the day I have to ask myself – “what did I learn from making this quilt?”, “was I able to do visual justice to my concept or could I have done something differently?”, “can I improve on my technical skills?”…..

I have just hung “Dancing Kangaroo Paws” up in my studio and I feel the thrill of having it home after having it present my ‘voice’ to the ‘world’! Welcome home and just in time for my presentation ‘Art Quilt Journey’ at the Tauranga Patchwork and Quilting Guild meeting on Tuesday 21st and Friday 24th.

My latest art quilt…..An Ode to Australian Flora

The latest art quilt, “An Ode to Oz Flora”, is a visual poem expressing and reflecting on my love of Australian native flowers.  It is designed as an ‘inspiration board’ and is a compilation of a number of designs that I have developed from photos taken and drawings created over the years while living in Australia.  While I am enjoying very much the flora of New Zealand this art quilt shows me that I am still deeply connected to Australian flora. 

The floral images are stylised and portray the uniqueness and delicacy of the Australian natives.   The art quilt is a combination of raw edge applique, free motion embroidery and quilting. The background is made up of commercially purchased fabric and hand treated fabrics by Mallee Textiles(NZ).  I have used three of the gorgeous hand treated fabrics that I chose as my prize with the Merit Award for my Peace Lily mini quilt last year.  They were so delightful to work with.  The dusty pink/bronze background fabric is one of those from Mallee Fabrics and it shows off the black kangaroo paws and white flannel flowers beautifully.

The process of making this quilt was interesting in that I needed to work on two blank “canvas'” at the same time. Perhaps it was the result of six weeks of school holidays crowding out time for creativity and therefor given the chance it literally spilled out onto two canvas’.  The second art quilt is very different – it is based on the mandala structure and it uses many of the same floral designs from the first art quilt but in a different way.   I am constantly amazed at how the same design can be pushed in new and different directions.

 The second quilt (draped over the ironing in this image) is waiting to be free motion quilted and having a little more free motion embroidery embellishment added.   This image speaks more of the way native Australian flowers are small and delicate.

“Peace by Piece” Art Quilt has been shipped…..

Firstly Happy New Year to you all….may it be a healthy and creatively enjoyable new year….. my latest art quilt,”Peace by Piece”, has left the shores of NZ to be exhibited at the Blessington Quilting Academy in Brisbane, on 11/12th Feb 2017.

This art quilt design is the continuation of the Peace Lily theme which began with the small quilt entered in the Aotearoa Floral Challenge.  The title is a little play on the ‘piecing’ terminology of quiltmaking but as artists, as quilters, maybe piece by piece we can make a difference.  Change the world one quilt at a time! I enjoyed every bit of the process in this quilt; working out the symmetry, the colours, what flowers and foliage to use; pushing the peace lily design; and finally the quilting. There is a small amount of hand colouring in the peace lilies.

The “‘Leafy’ Sea Dragon’, art quilt story continues…..

The”‘Leafy’ Sea Dragon” art quilt story continues……  At the end of last year I was approached by the Australian Patchwork and Quilting magazine to see if I was interested in a write-up about my img_20161123_153041-600-x-450work, specifically my art quilts, to be featured in the AP&Q magazine.    The article, which focused predominantly on the “‘Leafy’ Sea Dragon’ art quilt, was published in the ‘Annual Machine Quilting Collectors Edition’, Vol 26 No 3 (July/August ?).  img_20161123_153150-600-x-450I have only just received a copy, apparently I was sent one when it was published but it is out there in the universe somewhere….in other words it never arrived and I have kindly been sent another one.  It is a priviledge to be published and I felt honoured to be asked.


It is interesting to read what I wrote 12 months ago, so much has transpired in that time.  However I am still creating thread paintings and art quilts……recently I was reading a Lindsay Taylors book on her Textile Art journey(gorgeous work by this UK artist) and one thing that stood out for me was her comment on “the highs and lows of being a textile artist”.  I would echo her sentiments and add there is also a lot of hard slog in between the highs and lows!

My latest art quilt…..

img_20160924_130815-450-x-600Recently I was fortunate to win a Merit Award for a mini Art Quilt, and also at the recent Auckland Festival of Quilts I was able to redeem my prize; a voucher for some gorgeous hand made fabric from Mallee Textiles, thanks Catherine McDonald.  img_20161107_083722-600-x-450Although I liked the initial mini art quilt I knew the design needed to be developed further and that is what I have been working on.

Beginning with a single Peace Lily image I created another sample(small art quilt on left below), using raw edge applique, free machine quilting and a small amount of hand colouring. Satisfied with where this design was going I created a panel of three Peace Lilies, and changed a few details to fit a larger design.



However not content with this design I have pushed it in another direction completely and am excited by where it is taking me!  Here is the original drawing and the auditioning of fabric colours.  The process is a mix of part drawing the design and allowing the design to emerge, which always takes time.  It is ‘play time’, and to an observer this might appear a waste of time, however it is incredibly important and actually requires a lot of creative energy.  At the same time I have been reading about structure in design, there is much about my design process that is intuitive but I also recognise the importance of stepping back and considering my design objectively.  Structure in an artwork is important in that it helps to create unity; it is the bones, the skeleton, the underlying framework of the image.  The above image is a linear structure whereas the new work is circular, a mandala.img_20161109_141802-450-x-600

I never cease to be amazed how the subconscious works it way into consciousness through creativity; it is partly because of my training and work as an art therapist and because I experience it so often in my own work and others.  Recently on my walks I have been taking photos of a ‘weed flower’ and what appeals to me, apart from the white flower, is the circular structure of the flower head.  At the same time the circular structure is emerging in my latest art quilt design!  The mandala shape or structure is serving both a personal and aesthetic need at present for me.img_20161111_061444-450-x-600