Sunday, 6 December 2015

Lots of change and a new business venture!

This poor blog has been much neglected of late! This is mostly because I have been really busy working on all sorts of lovely things. Today I want to share the one I am most excited about, Stories in Paper, a little company I have started to sell and exhibit my paper cuts and illustrations.

I have been making paper cuts for years on and off for group exhibitions, and making commissioned images for local businesses. However, as I had a two month slot in November and December exhibiting my art in a local cafe (the brilliant Coach House Cafe and Bistro run by Ford Park Community Centre) I decided to use this opportunity to make a bigger portfolio of work. Because the cafe is in lovely grounds with a park and kitchen garden I knew I wanted my work to be influenced by the surroundings. So I decided to develop a small series I had been working on of British birds decorated with intricate patterns.

I have been making these little birds for years. I started drawing meditative mandalas when I was going through a stressful time, and then began cutting these into my shadow puppets, like this tutorial. Now that I have read more into the history of paper cutting I realise they follow a tradition in the art form, and are very much like traditional Chinese and Eastern European paper cut images. (You can read more about my interest in paper cutting here.)

For me it is wonderful to be able to combine my love of natural forms with my passion for pattern. I have also been absolutely loving spending more time at my own desk making art, it fits so much better into my life now that I'm a mum. Although saying that, I do have to be careful that I don't end up staying up way too late - I get pretty absorbed into my work and time can fly! I've also started working as a picture framer again part-time so it feels like after two years of juggling things are finally fitting together a bit better!

If you would like to see more of these images please visit the website or follow the Facebook Page. I will be selling prints from my Etsy shop in the near future too, and you can sign up to the newsletter.

Who knows what will come of this little venture, but its making me very happy and for me that is enough at the moment!

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Why learning a new art form for fun can benefit your work as an artist

I haven't updated my blog for a really long time, oops! Partly that's because I spent a lot of time over the summer as a participant on a circus arts project in my town called The Community Spark Project. It was an Arts Council funded community outreach project which aims to engage people in the South Lakes to the performing circus arts by inviting people to attend active workshops in fire dance, fire fans, hoop dance, poi dance, face-painting and costume making and then create a light show together. It was run by the very talented Jen from Matrix Circus, and I was lucky enough to be asked to help design the costumes and facilitate the costume making workshops. However I was also a participant at the workshops learning poi and hoop, and ended up performing with fire fans in the shows at the end of the project. Yes, FIRE fans. So exciting.

I will happily admit I have never been a very physically gifted person. I left ballet in tears at five and never went back, was always hanging round the edge of the field in hockey praying that the ball wouldn't come my way, and dreaded every single sports day for weeks. But learning these basic circus skills has been quite a discovery for me. I've not only enjoyed doing something which involves coordination, timing and movement (all of which I would put at the bottom of my skills list really), but learning a new art form has really helped me to feel inspired about my own work again. I have been thinking about this a lot, so I've written a summary of my ideas:

It helps you to find the fun in your work again
As lucky as I feel to run my own business and get to make all sorts of art, sometimes it does feel like the more dependent you become on your creativity to provide your income, the further away you are from the joy and passion that brought you there. By engaging with another art form as a hobby it reminds you how much fun it can be to create something, and how that makes every job more enjoyable then when you do it feeling pressured, stressed out or tired. 

It helps you to remember what its like to learn something new
Starting to learn a new skill from scratch has helped me to realise that even though I'm more focused in my interests and passions now, I still have the capacity to learn and gain skills in all sorts of ways. The feeling of achievement when I mastered a move in poi was something I haven't felt in a long time. I think by learning something new you feel empowered to try more things, and when you succeed in small ways it all contributes towards building your confidence.

Learning new things reminds you of how much you're learnt already
I think perhaps another thing you realise through the process of learning a new skill is how far you've already come in your area of interest. When I was struggling to catch a hoop, or finding it difficult to remember a routine it reminded me of all the struggles big and small I've gone through in the last decade with my work as an artist. I still feel like I've got a LONG WAY to go, but too often I forget that I've made progress in lots of things that once seemed impossible. When I feel insecure or frustrated it reminds me of all the tears, failures and crises' of confidence I have been through before, and that I'm still making things despite these.

It helps you to forget about work and come back fresher
My life can feel a bit full sometimes juggling work and motherhood, so you'd think adding something else in the mix would just make things harder. Instead I've found that doing something completely different from my artwork has helped me to come back to my desk with more energy. Sometimes I would feel guilty walking out of the house and leaving unfinished work behind, but as soon as I picked up a prop and started dancing it all drifted away. The next day I found I was a little bit more enthusiastic about the project that's been haunting me for months. And even if this wasn't the case and I was really tired, worn out or fed up, stepping into my yard and having a little play with my poi for half an hour cheered me right up!

In the end I guess its all about living a life with balance. Like I say all the time, I feel so lucky to be a self employed artist. But when you're running your own business you can get trapped feeling like if you don't work every minute possible it will fail, and there is no time left for fun or hobbies. I fall in to the trap all the time, and all that happens is it leaves me feeling tired and depleted. But it seems that carving out that little bit of time to try something new is actually beneficial to your creativity - and I know this is a horrible word - but also your business. Or that's what I'll tell myself next time I run out of the door to go and play!

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Ways to use dolls to remember trips for children

All of a sudden it's the last week of the English school year, and now all my projects are finished for the summer I have lots of stories, images and ideas I'm planning to share on here. Today I'd like to talk about using dolls to remember trips for children, which is something I have been developing recently.

Since last November I have been one of the artists on the Overground project with Artspace which was an introduction to outdoor arts practice and the life and work of Kurt Schwitters. I was working with two classes of Year Two children at South Walney Infant School. As the children are only 6 and 7, I knew I would need to think of fun ways to document the trips we took as part of the project.

All of the work we made was based around the idea that little people lived in the woods surrounding Kurt Schwitters' studio the Merzbarn in Elterwater. I knew we would be going on a visit to the Merzbarn, but that this would seem very far away when we returned to the classroom. So I decided to make two characters who could represent both these imaginary little people and the children themselves.

I made the two dolls using wooden bendy doll bodies that I bought from Myriad Natural Toys and Crafts. These are great as they are easy to make and look very sweet, but their legs and arms can be positioned in different poses for photographs. I wrapped the arms and legs in embroidery thread, made clothing out of felt with embroidered details, added wool for the hair and finally drew on the eyes and mouths with colouring pencils and pens. I loved making these dolls. I worked on them in the evening while we watched films, adding tiny details like pockets and embroidered natural patterns to make them look like they lived in the woods. I felt that it was worth putting some time into them so I could use them for other projects in the future.

I wanted to make two dolls, one female and one male, so the children could identify with them easily. The girl doll developed into Mildred, a curious and brave little character. Her smaller brother Monty turned into a character who is slightly more naive and easily distracted, so Mildred can sometimes be a bit bossy to keep him focused on the task at hand.

I used Mildred and Monty from the beginning of the project, hiding Mildred in a little fairy house for the children to meet as I introduced them to the ideas behind the work and explained to them what we were going to make.

I then took photos of her on a visit to a lake one weekend, in this little story Mildred visits Coniston Water. 

When we went on the trip to visit Kurt Schwitters' studio the Merzbarn in Elterwater I took Mildred and Monty along in my pocket and photographed them throughout the day, doing all the activities the children had done on the trip.

So here's an extract from 'Monty and Mildren visit the Merzbarn'.

Mildred had climbed up higher to get a better view. 

'Look Monty!' cried Mildred, 'There's the Merzbarn! We found it!'. It had a sign that said "Merzbarn. Kurt Schwitters. 1948." 
Can you remember what the Merzbarn looked like from the outside?

They looked through the window. 
What did you see when you went inside? 
Inside it was dark, but they could see a huge photo against the wall, showing what the Merzbarn had looked like in the past.

They went inside and stood in front of the photo of the installation. 
What did you think when you looked at the photo? 
'It had interesting shapes didn't it?' said Mildred. 'Look I can see a tin can there'. 'Yes,' said Monty, but its a bit of a shame the real sculptures aren't still here'. 

They also found a candle in the room. They spent some time standing in front of it and thought about Kurt Schwitters working there in the barn, collecting objects and then pressing them into the wall.

I told the children this story back in school, using the photographs of Monty and Mildred's adventure to encourage them to think about the day and share their own memories. We also made a model of the Merz Barn out of cardboard, and put Monty and Mildred in the window looking inside.

I've found using these dolls a very effective way of reanimating a journey for younger children. They absolutely love the dolls and they seem to really fire up their imaginations, they were asking me questions like 'Are they really real?' and 'Where do they live?'. This is definitely something I'll use again with children of this age, and I can imagine all sorts of storytelling workshops we could do using the characters as a starting point. I'll also use it with my own daughter when she's a bit bigger to record days out and help her reimagine where we've been.

Here are a few things I learned along the way:

- Take the photos in secret, that way it doesn't spoil the surprise when you show them the photos and makes it all a bit magical and exciting.

- Its best to get other adults to look after the children somewhere else while you take the photos. This gives you time to hunt around a bit and find good places to set up little scenes for your story. At the Merzbarn I sneaked off and took the photos while the children ate lunch.

- Take along some tiny props like a little wicker basket, some cups, a miniature picnic blanket. These can really help to make the story more interesting, for example your doll characters can have a picnic lunch, or collect tiny things on their walk.

 - When taking photos try to use a variety of different shots, framing and picture compositions as these will make the photos more interesting as a collection when you present them to the children.

- Take some time to sit and write a little story, including any fun or special moments the children experienced.

- Include atmospheric experiences like the weather or the sounds and smells the dolls encounter, as these will trigger the children's memories of the day. Bringing smells like wild garlic in to use as you tell the story is even better.

- Include questions in the story, giving the children the opportunity to think about the visit themselves and add their own experiences and interpretations of the day.

- Be brave! You might feel a bit silly, especially when strangers will look at you with a curious expression on their faces. But it will be so worth it when you are sitting with the children and see their faces of delight as you all share the story together!

Wednesday, 3 June 2015

On my desk today - Animation bits and bobs

Hello there! I thought on this sunny Wednesday I'd join in with What's On Your Workdesk Wednesday, a fun way of seeing what other creative people are up to which you can learn more about here.

The last few days all I have done is work on the animations I have been commissioned to make, helping small children visualise and understand how the products we consumed are produced. If you're interested there's lots more about this project on my illustration blog Ellie's Making Stories.

My husband has taken a few days off so while he and our daughter go out and play I have cut and drawn and glued, and cut and drawn and glued, and repeat. As usual I have overcomplicated everything, so as much as I love this project my progress is very slow.

I'm using cut paper and coloured pencils because the images need to be bright and clear. I'm really hoping when its finished it all will come together with a bit of a spark, as I've got to the stage now where I've looked at it all so much I've got no idea if its any good at all!

So now I'm managed to procrastinate with blogging I guess I should pick up the scissors and get going again. I hope you all have a successful day in your own creative pursuits!

I'm contributing this post to What's On Your Workdesk Wednesday (WOYWW), a brilliant opportunity for creative people to have a peak at each others work spaces. To learn more follow the link above or take a look at Stamping Ground.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Making Martha

Hello there! If you've read my blog before you'll know that recently I've been having lots of fun making small dolls using wooden bendy rope doll bodies (I got mine from here).

I've found that they are a great addition to storytelling with young children, so I've been photographing them on all sorts of adventures that I then show to classes as a slideshow with an accompanying story.

I have an extremely talented friend called Kate who runs her own knitwear company creating beautiful hand designed and made scarves, tops and cushions using natural fibers. You can look at her wonderful wears here at Oubas Knitwear. She had told be that she loved reading about Mildred's tiny journeys, so for her birthday I made her a little friend to keep her company in her studio - Martha!

Because Kate in a knitwear designer and maker I knew Martha needed to be wearing a knitted item of her own, so I made her a tiny snood using embroidery thread and blunt sewing needles.

I made her hat using the same method as my Felted hats for tiny people tutorial. 

I found her a little basket which I put a note in, and she carried some dried flowers and bluebells ready to go to her new home!

I'm pleased to say she was a very well received gift! If you like these little dolls keep checking in on here as I'll be sharing some more little person adventures soon, and even giving one away on my Facebook page Ellie Arts in the near future!

Friday, 29 May 2015

Animal habitat paper theatres

If you've read my blog before you'll know I love paper theatres and dioramas!  They are so much fun to make, the materials are cheap and the possibilities are endless. I also really like making things with families that can be admired as a piece of art or taken home and played with again and again.

For the materials you need 4 sheets of A5 card, an assortment of coloured A5 paper and card, a glue stick, scissors, pens and colouring pencils.

Rather then repeat a previous tutorial, you can find the step by step instructions for making the theatre book here. The only differences are that these were A5 in size, I didn't use any tracing paper and I left the back as a whole piece. Put together it looked like this:

I made a simple background of a big orange sun.

Next I designed my layers of foliage for my tiger's jungle. If you cut shapes out of the middle of the card so it looks like a frame round the edge, these should have more cut out with each layer so you can see through to the image at the back. If you decide to make horizontal layers the shortest layer should be at the front, getting bigger and bigger towards the back. I did a combination of the two.

I then drew my tiger with colouring pencils and pen, and glued him on to one of the layers of grass.

I tested everything worked by laying it out together.

I put a bit of glue along the edges of each layer and slid them in to the frame. Then I admired it from various angles as you do!

Here a few examples from workshops I've led that show how different and beautiful they can be!