The more horrifying this world becomes… the more art becomes abstract. Paul Klee
The morning internet meander, skipping through a series of website/blog/social media links; I’m stopped in my tracks reading this quote.
You see just prior I’d been shocked at the horror (and beauty) of the photos from today’s wild bushfires in Northern California on CNN. My heart ached for the loss of acres of natural and man made landscapes, and sadly, lives. I was taking it all in; choosing to feel it for as long as I could, before I noticed there was a click, a change of screen, and a seeking of serenity. A counter balance to the viewed horrors and increasing sense of heart pain.
This came in the form of researching some of the artists introduced to me yesterday via the recent post Finding the Forgotten Note from Slow Muse blog by Deborah Barlow. One of my favourites. Abstract artists like: Agnes Martin, Park Seo-bo, Martin Puryear, G. R. Santosh, Okada Kenzo and Zhan Wang currently featured at the Boston MFA (Museum of Fine Art) exhibition Seeking Stillness.
The curator’s statement:
Artists help us see and make sense of our world. Many, in this divisive moment, have engaged directly and powerfully with the social and political issues of our age. No less powerful or relevant, however, are the works that can lead us beyond the unsettled present: to places of respite, contemplation, transcendence, stillness.
So it has been in my own art practice this year as I have felt an increasing movement towards less and less; a minimal reductive abstract expression emerging, which brings me solace. Perhaps it is the inner seeking of a counter balance, a transformation into stillness, or just simple “relief ” sometimes, from the overwhelming disturbing ‘going ons’ felt and seen in our world at this time.
The putting down and resting of the paint brush last year, was subsequently followed by an exploration of ‘making’, which opened a number of new creative expressions here. One of which became a love of playing with the simplicity of pearls, in particular, blue pearls. I’m fascinated by their shape, colour, lustre, and of course, beauty. I prefer freshwater pearls as each one brings its own unique signature.
I purchase my pearls from a local bead shop, Trinkets, in Byron Bay. It’s one of those shops which is set back from a busy main street, with a somewhat dark narrow doorway. Entering, is like walking into a shop from an ancient bazaar, there is an explosion on the senses with floor to ceiling colour in beads and jewellery making materials from around the world. The pearls are right down the back, seemingly forgotten, in the current fashion of colour. Here I stand fossicking away in the corner, rummaging through bowls and strands of freshwater pearls, picking over each one to see if it meets my sense of beauty, collecting a few special ones, and then happily bringing them home to ponder and play.
I find myself creating designs that resonate with my natural aesthetic for minimalist simplicity. Of course there are the usual designs of balanced placement with a central pearl, accompanied by smaller seed pearls each side. However, being an abstract artist who’s into awareness, I couldn’t help but create designs that felt different and off-centre, helping move the mind and eye in a way that encourages internal inquiry… together with a sense of beauty.
I’ve particularly enjoyed selling the mbpblue abstract designs, and have had some lovely feedback from a customer in the United States, who said she consciously challenged herself to go with something different. Yeah… go girl… that’s the spirit!
The current range of blue pearls is small and select. They quietly sit in my online store being viewed and favoured by Etsy shoppers each day. Occasionally one is sold and I’m encouraged to pop back into the bazaar, rummage through the bowls, and wonder at the individuality of each freshwater pearl made from Mother Nature’s mastery. Moments are lost in the back corner of this little shop. Perhaps due to the simplicity and beauty of ‘pearl presence’.
It’s an online shopping platform for makers around the world to sell their unique handmade goods… and it’s huge!
Wikipedia says in 2014 Etsy had 54 million users registered as members, and a revenue of US$195.6 million.
(Seems pretty huge to me.)
In mid 2015 I became aware of a story I was running about my painting and the art world. I wasn’t creating art, I was creating suffering (for myself). I decided to put down the brush and do something different with my creativity. That’s when the indigo and textile journey started, which evolved into wondering about ways to share and sell this new artistic endeavour, which Etsy calls ‘making’.
I’d heard about Etsy over the years, and even had a previous attempt with some jewellery, but lost interest in the process. And yes… it is a process. There’s a lot to learn about setting up your shop, and I did go into a bit of a melt down in the beginning.
There is the mind numbing keyword SEO thingy to get right. The taking of professional photos for every product… thank god for iPhoto on my Mac and Snapseed on my iPhone. The branding and writing of engaging material for the product descriptions, including more of those high ranking keyword SEO thingyees. Eeeeek! I ended up using the brilliant services of Shelley Treml of Betsy Editor to get this mastered. Then there is the creating of clear shop policies on refunds, returns, shipping and packaging for both local and overseas markets. Deciphering the Australia Post pricing booklet on sending parcels overseas was a feat in itself, and even then I had to go into the post office two or three times to make sure I got it right. Some days I have to say… it did do my head in.
I signed up for a 30day online ‘Set up Shop’ course with Jess Van Den of Create & Thrive, for a heads up on how the Etsy internet biz thing really worked. Again I went into melt down from daily instructive emails and a list of actions that needed to be taken. In the end I created a folder and just put all the emails into that, took a break, and came back with an attitude of ‘take your time – there’s no customers banging on the shop’s cyberspace doors just yet’. My 30day course took me about two months to complete and was invaluable. I would recommend it to anyone thinking of opening an Etsy shop. Jess’s Create & Thrive online business is full of inspiring information and podcasts for self-starters in the ‘making’ business.
I increased my engagement with social media on Facebook and Instagram to promote my designs, shop and branding. I joined groups on Facebook that aligned with my interests and found some generous help from fellow makers in the Etsy Resolution 2016 group. I have to say I am not a big user of FB but it is wonderful for connecting with like minds… or finding ‘your tribe’ as they say in social media lingo.
My shop, mbpblue, has been open for six months and I have had a steady flow of people stopping by to take a look. (My Etsy traffic statistics tell me this… a whole other world again). And I’m happy to say I’ve even had a few sales via both the Etsy shop and social media platforms.
I’ve come to enjoy the challenge of developing an online presence with the ‘making’ side of my creativity, and I’ve particularly enjoyed connecting with people from around the globe that give such positive and encouraging feedback. I’ve found the ‘making’ community to be generous to the core with support and sharing of information, and a strong culture of ‘joy’ and ‘play’ in their creativity. It has helped me reconnect to my roots of artistic expression and restore my faith in sharing my gifts with the world. I’ve even begun to hear the whispers of paintings pass through my awareness again.
ps… if you would like to visit my Etsy shop to browse the sustainable handprinted indigo textiles and minimalist pearl and stone jewellery designs, please click here.
The end of 2015 had me playing with a few creative projects including monoprinting with indigo (September) and sewing (October). One day the question arose: “I wonder if I could print with indigo onto fabric?” I didn’t mean indigo dyeing. I had seen the fashionable explosion of indigo textiles into the clothing and homewares stores in recent years, and had friends that were loving the creative experience of a dye pot.
No… in my usual Aquarian style… I wanted to do something different!
So what started as a curious question ended up as an R&D obsession. A lot of hours, days, weeks later, and the help of some wonderfully generous master textile artisans from around the world, I was able to discover an ancient Japanese organic process that allows the indigo to bind to the fabric without going through the usual oxygenating process of a dye pot. Yeah!
During my sewing foray in October I had picked up a few metres of various cotton fabrics. I decided to test the process, and to my amazement it worked. That was a happy happy day.
I cut up and hand frayed some fine cotton muslin, monoprinted three summer shawls using rainforest leaves from my garden, and finished them with detail hand stitching. The handmade process is slow, taking up to 30 days to air cure the fabric in warm weather to ensure the indigo pigment permanently binds to the fibres.
It’s slow art making at its best, and I can understand why indigo fabric printing has not become fashionable, unlike it’s big sister, the dye pot. Yet it meets my need to do something different from the crowd; to enter into a slow art practice, which i find ensures a slowing down of the mind while only an awareness of the creating exits; and it has gifted a beautiful ancient organic sustainable art practice into my hands… oh yes… and lots of cups of tea while I’m waiting for the fabric to cure.
ps… if you are interested to see more of these handmade indigo shawls they are now featured in my Etsy store – mbpblue.
Summer time brings the bush rose outside my bedroom window into full bloom. It’s a delight to awaken each morning and smell their fragrance. Yes… roses that do offer a sublime scent that goes straight into the brain and sends endorphins of pure pleasure through the body. Nothing like the perfect, yet devoid of scent, commercial roses found in most florists or roadside stalls today. Real roses thank you very much!
I’ve learnt over the years that bush roses are traditionally short lived once picked. Their petals flop and quickly fall, taking their scent with them. Knowing this, however, doesn’t inhibit me from loving the ritual of using my sharpest gardening shears, gathering as many as the bush will allow, and bringing them inside to fill my tiny little cabin with their beauty, perfume and grace. Bliss.
Last summer I began seeing visions of pale pink roses on a dark background. I found myself buying a small set of oils, a few canvas boards and began translating the visions into little paintings. There have only been five small artworks completed to date. A couple of prepped boards still await my return, and I have no idea when? It was like the Muse arrived one day, played with me and then left, just when the game was getting interesting.
Oh well… maybe she’ll come back to play again next summer.
Sewing?… Me?…. you’ve got to be kidding! This craft was not a priority of learning in my childhood home. It even became a family joke that if you ever happened to find my beautiful and glamorous mother behind a sewing machine, she was usually standing up, because she never planned to be there for very long.
Therefore, to my surprise I found myself sewing during the month of October. It started with a delightful purchase of two vintage cotton sarongs, found buried in the back of a fabric shop whilst on holiday in Ubud, Bali, earlier this year. I had the idea I would use them as skirts for summer. However when I got home I began to feel this wave of inspiration to make some simple summer garments for myself. No patterns, zips or button holes… just square zen shapes with some detail stitching.
I borrowed a sewing machine from a friend, bought a few cottons, heading tape, embroidery threads, a good pair of fabric scissors, picked up a selection of cotton sheets and vintage fabrics from the local op shop, and away I went!
Not knowing the correct process for sewing a garment or how to use a pattern, I just approached it like starting a painting. I’d lay out the fabric on the floor and see how it spoke to me. What could I feel or imagine this piece of fabric wanted to be? I cut out simple shapes, pinned them together and tried them on. Can I get this on and off over my head? Does it fit over my body contours comfortably? Does it hang ok? Oh blast I can’t be bothered with facing on necklines, why don’t I just leave it raw and add a bit of contrast stitching?
The first couple of garments were tabard dresses with low slung self-ties for belts. Next a piece of natural linen became a mini pinafore dress with white cotton curtain gathering tape for straps. Wow… I was amazed. Even managed to do french seams to keep everything looking very tidy, thank you very much!
A beautiful piece of navy chambrey denim became a reversable day/evening wrap skirt, leaving the narrow white selfridge as detail on the front panel. At this point I did teach myself how to make a handstitched button hole, mastering blanket stitch via the wonders of You Tube. Thank God everyone wants to share their DIY skills via home video these days.
And on it went… a straight skirt with self-tie in a crazy vintage fabric, a super wide leg pant from old cotton sheets with paper bag top when tied with pale pink heading tape. (A bit like the old fisherman pants.) My out-of-date coral maxi silk skirt (hardly worn) was reconfigured into a short strappy summer evening dress with detail stitching at the back to gather it into correct width.
It was at this point I decided to become brave and make a patttern from an old wrap skirt. Whallah! Two summer A-line wrap skirts from the Balinese vintage cotton fabric – one long, one short. OMG I was becoming a dressmaking machine!… and having so much fun. 🙂
I couldn’t wait to get up out of bed in the morning and make another garment. I wasn’t interested in catch up tv or cuppas with the girlfriends. I was flying on the joy of unabandoned creativity, not having a clue what I was doing and loving, relishing, delighting in every minute of it.
The pieces of fabric began to run out so the garments were adjusted in size and shape to what was available, hence a couple of crop tops were next, followed buy another wrap skirt in the first piece of new fabric – calico – from Spotlight. To this I added a crazy Carmen Miranda-like applique, cut out from the last piece of vintage fabric.
And that was it… four weeks… twelve garments… all ready to greet the hot humid 2015 summer of sub-tropical Byron Bay.
Absolutely Fabulous darling!
Here are some of my favorites from the MBPblue Shy Summer Collection 🙂
Something changed in my art practice in September. I put down the paint brush and started playing with a cake (block) of natural indigo dye I had brought back from Bali in 2013. It had sat on a shelf in my studio haunting and mocking me for two years… “when are you going to stop being afraid and play with me!”
So after the clear out and burning of June, the pens and pencils and upscaling of July, and the cabin bound flu of August; Spring arrived and the indigo came down off the shelf.
I had no idea what to do with it. I read the indigo dyeing instructions that the kind Balinese man, Wyang, had given me needing paw paw pulp or banana skins for the dye vat and thought: “too hard!”. So I meekly shaved a bit of powder off the hard cake and mixed it with a bit of water. Grabbing a few leaves from the garden I began the simplest printing technique I know – monoprinting.
Within a matter of moments I had produced a string of little prints quietly drying on the studio floor and felt the childlike play spring to life. Ahhhhh…. that’s the feeling I remember. The lost in the moment, ‘no me’ joy of just creating, having no idea of where it goes or how it ends up… the creative expressing being all there is.
Within a few days I was at an artist friend’s studio gratefully using her printing press, experimenting with larger pieces of paper and lotus leaves. Oh God… this was even MORE fun!
September finished off with exploring the addition of colour, pens and pencils, and working back into the monoprints.
Here are a few of my favourites from this little forage into the simplicity of leaves, monoprinting and indigo, which I’m happy to say I no longer fear. 🙂