The Emancipator

The Emancipator

I’m sitting here trying to remember what it was I was thinking when I begun this piece.

To be honest I think I had just chosen the subject (narrowed down to the male red-headed vulture, from a selection of possible vultures as they’re all sadly threatened), and unusually had a motif of a gold brocade cloak in my mind. The meaning of the two combined came later.

I knew I wanted to work the vulture portrait separately so hooped up a bit of black felt and started with this very ugly fabric collage.

I was working to my watercolour sketch, based on a photograph from the species’ wikipedia page.

And there we go:

I was pretty pleased with him. On to the next stage.

This was a case of pinning and construction and seeing what would work. I decided the best thing would be to make a sample of the goldwork I intended to add to the cloak and work from that.

I basically bought all the gold braid, grecian, russian and brocade and came up with this motif, using little pearls.

Next though I decided I’d need to create a collar to make the two elements make sense together.

That problem solved, I committed to the cloak’s decoration.

The centre strip is ready made upholstery brocade, edged either side in Russian braid, then baby grecian in loops, and finally very fine pearl purl with pearls at the end.

Then I began to attach the head with the collar, fairly open so as not to obscure so much of the neck embroidery.

Handsome.

Last bit.

I say it every time, I am a glutton for punishment.

Once I’d couched the whole halo with black passing, creating some sort of Severus Snape raptor, it all needed plunging and tieing back.

Very much worth all the work.

There are many reasons for choosing the vulture as the subject in this portrait.

The sole member of the genus sarcogyps, the Indian black vulture or red headed vulture diverged 10-11 million years ago.

Hinduism favours vultures, as cows are not consumed, so when they die their carcasses are naturally disposed of by the vulture. However the routine use of antibiotics on cattle turns these carcasses into poison, causes instant renal failure in the vulture. The decline in vultures means that the carcass rots in the field, contaminating local water supply. The digestive system of a vulture is a true dead end for pathogens, but not so for other scavengers like rats, crows and dogs who can carry rabies, anthrax and plague. As these other species proliferate, they can pass these diseases to humans and poultry, huge causes of death in Indian populations, where there is an insufficient vaccine programme.

In Parsee culture fire, earth and water are sacred and so their ancient funerary customs centre on excarnation. They believe that to reach heaven, vultures serve as holy intermediaries between earth and sky. Their dead are placed on a tower where vultures liberate the soul by consuming the body.

But these vultures are so rare now that the bodies are not consumed quickly enough, and their slow decomposition poses a pathological threat to human life, meaning these ancient holy customs have had to cease.
Global population of vultures have halved every year since the 90s, and in India there has been a 90% decrease in the last 10 years.

The aesthetic choices in this portrait, emerged in the construction somewhat. I wanted to subvert the traditional idea of a scavenger. A dirty, disease ridden animal. By taking a somewhat glamorous livery and dressing the vulture in it, rather than intending to anthropomorphise the animal, I wanted to raise questions about what role they play in reality. The associations with death and morbidity I didn’t want to necessarily steer the viewer away from, but rather, like much of my work, draw attention to the role they play as caretakers, disposers, ushers in the cycle of life and death and the vital role they play in the ecosystem.

The difficulty in photographing a piece with so much black, means that whilst I have had prints made of this piece, I’ve only had 2 made, and hand gilded the halo as a special one-off edition.

The original is available too, of course.

They are available now in my shop and will not be reprinted!

Moonage Daydream

Moonage Daydream

I didn’t know how I was going to follow Benedict (as I like to call him), but I can’t worry about that or I’d never make anything new.

Honestly this was another very personal choice of subject though. I wanted to make a small brown alligator because I was told one showed up as a sort of personal guardian for me in a guided meditation healing session I had a while ago. True story.

So, the themes of personal pantheon, animal divinity, the intersection of the holiness of nature and her characters with the real ‘mythology’ of these species’ decline and end-stories. Emerging.

So I dived deep into the ancient mysteries of alligators and crocodiles. I had a great time.

The joy of texture.

I’m definitely comfortable in my current method of fabric collage as underpainting.

Obviously being a reptile it’s a gift to texture.

I was really into this blanket stitch over scrim to create the scaliness.

Each one of her big scales were padded velvet.

I started experimenting with folded sequins at this point, to define some lines.

I mean I was really in love with my work at this point. Using all the colours and textures and embellishments – it felt like I’d given myself permission to choose a subject where I could indulge in all the sweets in the shop.

I used these fully round sequins here, like little bumps, which, when catching the light, gives this ‘crowned in starlight’ sort of effect which I was very happy with.

For the teeth I glued gilding flake to cotton and cut out the shapes I wanted, before stitching down.

Finally the eye: the worst bit.

I ripped out and re-did this bit so many times and I still wasn’t all that convinced by it. Eyes are hard.

And finally, her halo.

Maybe only 100 Chinese alligator individuals remain. Genetic evidence suggests she split from her American sister around 40 million years ago and, together, the alligators split from all other living creatures around the same time as the extinction of their close relatives, the dinosaurs.

In mythology the alligator is a liminal God creature. The great primal mother, and destroyer. The fierce light of the sun and the oblivion of eternal night. A gatekeeper between worlds.

“Lord of the fertile waters from which it hunts and mates, the crocodile emerges from the water to nest and bask, and like the sun shaking off the dark wetness of night, embodies the rebirth of the light and the ascendance and ferocity of the solar.”
From The Book of Symbols.

I have 2 giclee artist’s proofs available of this piece, with hand-gilded teeth, in my shop right now, along with other limited edition prints of this year’s work.

A Benediction From The Old World

A Benediction From The Old World

This piece marks a shift in my work. When he started to appear, i had a visceral feeling of *something*, like art imitating life, Benedict, as I call him, blessed me.

My watercolour sketch was very important in bringing this portrait forth, and worked as a way to make colour decisions that I didn’t need to do over when I got my threads out.

In actual fact, DMC (my main brand of colours) are frustratingly short on good gradients of blues, so I battled with a stripey face for a bit.

I mean, a good long while.

Started to pull it back with some details once the main colours were in.

That’ll do.

I started to build the rest of the composition, with the face as an anchor point for scale. This would be my largest piece to date I think.

And for my next trick…

This was the moment, actually. I got excited. Something unlocked that I hadn’t felt before.

Now the real work begins.

I really questioned my choices many times over the following many, many hours.

Drowning in fluffs.

It looks like I might be getting close, but I really wasn’t. ugggggggh.

I was using pliers at this point to pull the needle through the density.

Finally, here he is, the sun king. The monkey in a lion costume.

Time for a trim.

But that’s just the head!

Compared to the face, the rest came together relatively quickly.

This process was one of trimming and shaking and adjusting and stitching and repeating.

Finally, his holy nimbus.

The golden snub-nosed monkey is a primate living high in the snowy forested mountains of China. They have experienced a 50% population decline in the last 40 years, mainly due to habitat degradation. Their preferred food is lichen, growing in abundance on dead trees, but these are being removed for logging and agriculture. If their habitat continues to be removed, it will face extinction.

I completed this piece back in May, and it’s useful for me to re-read the caption I wrote for the Instagram post accompanying it:

I believe this piece is my best work. I was in the zone with it. I had fun with it (ok maybe not so much near the end of all that had tufted face floof) and as it was coming together I had a feeling like I had made some sort of creative breakthrough and I’d never really felt quite that way before.

This year was the start of a new way of life for me, where I was finally able to say ‘i am a full time artist now’ (yes even though I still work a side job 3 days a week – I now call this my arts funding ;)) and for the first time I didn’t begin the year with a clear idea of what my new body of work would be. Instead I allowed myself to just respond to some personal creative goals – the shark and the flamingo pieces. However, this time spent following my creativity was so valuable because it allowed me to test out what I am most in love with now.

So this piece IS the first in a new series that I’m going to work on for a bit. If you’ve been following me for awhile you’ll know that story telling and meaning is very important to me. But you could argue that the last couple years my work has been darker, reflecting my response to the decline of our environments. I wanted to simplify my narrative with this new direction. I wanted to return to something in my 2015 series ‘Ugly Gods’ of colourful, magical portraits. I want these subjects to evoke emotion but most of all strong engagement. Yes they are all disappearing but I want to celebrate their beauty and wonder and magic and I want the work to be about that.

Today is Endangered Species Day and I will always be shining a light on these rare and special creatures, but I want their light to shine on you, too, and inspire personal loving and mindful relationships with all the creatures we share this home with.


I am happy to announce to you readers here first, that I have just 2 gorgeous signed archival giclee prints of this piece available in my shop now, worldwide shipping available.

The original will also be making his debut appearance at the Society For Embroidered Work’s inaugural exhibition in London this November.

The Alchemist

The Alchemist

Here we are then.

This piece was a complete indulgent confection. I wanted to make a flamingo for ages, but their non critically endangered status was preventing me. I realised this was silly, and also is anything truly non threatened in 2019? Something to think about. But here’s what I did anyway.

At this point I’m fully committed to portraiture again. Over the last few years I’ve developed a bit of a tool kit and felt a great pull to the sort of work I was making in 2015 with the Ugly Gods series.

I wanted to revel in glorious juicy colours and textures and sparkly bits. Maybe I was feeling a little burn out of the constant investigation into the harrowing stories of the war we’re all waging on the earth and her inhabitants. Still, like I say, I could achieve both.

I was using this gorgeous piece of space dyed cotton velvet as my base, and underpainted with felt. On this I started on the head with surface embroidery, defining the basic shapes.

Fun!

Quite honestly, pretty much my whole goal was to use all the most gorgeous pink beads and sequins that somehow don’t feature in crumbling brown spider tree habitats.

Interestingly I found this commitment to ‘just having fun with it’ very challenging. What kind of monster am I?

Head done, I moved on to the beak with a similar process.

Honestly the best colours.

The eye!

I think the most difficult thing for me was using these beads and sequins just *because I want to*, not because they actually describe a texture that’s really there.

Halo, because all nature is divine.

Finishing touch with these ridiculous translucent holographic feathers.

Framed, mounted, no glass.

Contact me for inquiries!

Learn from me for FREE!

Hello friends.

I have some exciting news to share! I’ve just uploaded my first online video class to Skillshare.com

I’ve been working on this project for a few months, and it’s been a lot of work, but I’m pretty happy with the results for my first go – seeing myself on film is not my favourite thing!

My class – Embellishment in Textile Design: A How-To Guide takes you through all the steps and techniques I use when creating my designs and in my fine art practice. It’s over 75 minutes of me sharing my favourite tools and materials to use, giving you a tour of my personal embellishment stash, and demonstrating all the essential techniques, from creating a padded shape, to six ways to use beads and sequins.

Plus there’s a blooper reel at the end. The whole thing is worth it to see my cat, judging my mistakes.

The class is also a perfect companion to my Textile Art Boxes. If you were thinking of buying one, but weren’t sure if you’d have the skills, this video will give you that extra support. Or, if you already have a lot of materials so didn’t want to buy a kit with things you already have, this video offers you a fun project where you can learn some tips and skills to use your own embellishments to their best effect.

Maybe you’re already making embroidery designs, and looking to add something extra – then this is for you too.

But for FREE, you say?

Ok, ok…I know this might be reading like a cheesy ad, I’m trying to avoid that but the truth is, I’ve been a student on Skillshare for a good long while now. Like any membership service I was really sceptical that if I joined, I’d have to jump through rings of fire to cancel if I didn’t like it. But it really is so easy, there are no commitments. I honestly hate hassle so I wouldn’t encourage you to try this if I hadn’t also myself, and really believed in it.

Skillshare is a site with thousands and thousands of premium video tutorials for creatively minded people. Everything from watercolour techniques to Photoshop for beginners. Everyone gets a one month free trial BUT if you sign up with my link, you get 2 months free! There’s a really good app too, and you can download classes to watch offline. I managed about 25 different classes in a month just by using my morning commute, and learnt about composition, creating narrative in drawing, character design and even productivity planning, amongst many others.

Convinced yet? Here’s my personal petition – if you sign up and/or watch my class, then you’ll be supporting me in a real way. I’ll get paid. The more people that just decide to check it out (for free, with no commitment remember), will be helping me get established as a trusted teacher, and helps to support my income. Meaning I can continue to be an artist! Making art! Spreading messages of conservation and wildlife love! And it won’t cost you a penny.

I can’t think of many other ways where your engagement with my work online alone actually puts food on my table. That’s pretty cool.

Let me know what you think! I look forward to seeing you in class.