The Provider

The Provider

This is a bit of an odd final project for this year. I mean that reflectively.

I started out with my fabric ‘underpainting’.

This portrait really revolved, initially, around an idea:

I designed this collar on organdie, in chain stitch with machine thread.

Almost a third of this isn’t even visible in the final piece but I like it just the same.

It was then time for me to return to upholstery fringe.

All the pieces in place, it was time to stitch everything down.

Then the work of actually embroidering the portrait began. This was perhaps where it started to get away from me.

It was important for me to challenge myself with keeping my hand loose to describe the fur. I have to admit at this stage I thought this was a very ugly mess.

But it was the eyes I found the most challenging, as if I’ve never said that before. I never felt as though I resolved this detail and as a result I believe this piece to be my weakest work for a long time.

At the same time it was also giving me ‘Laughing Cavalier’ vibes at this point.

I think I was happier with the eyes close up, but really I never fully rectified them.

I called the face a day. I think in the embroidering it had lost some of the essential ‘hyena-ness’ that I felt I had in the underpainting, and I wasn’t able to pull it back to that. It was my first time creating fur with embroidery and although there’s parts of it I’m happy with, I felt there was more merit in not overworking it and later analysing what went wrong and what I could learn from it, than ripping out or giving up.

Anyway, onto the ears.

And that was the portrait complete.

The last stage was the assemblage – I had to render the body fur – I decided to do this fairly simply with straight running stitch, there was enough going on in the rest of it.

Also to do was a little bit of embellishment on the collar with pearls and glass drops.

Then finally, the nimbus.

I wanted the halo in this one to be a bit different than previous ones and to stand for the magic and witchcraft the hyena is often associated with in the folklore of the people they exist near. I went for a fine green metallic thread with a slight geometric motif.

So what went wrong?

In part I think when I started this piece originally I was looking specifically at the brown hyena, as the most threatened species of hyena. In the early stages though, the more recognisable features of the spotted hyena crept in to the face shapes. Unfortunately I think the portrait ended up being a sort of hybrid and so lost the impact a bit for me.

I wanted this piece to subvert the accepted narrative in popular culture that the hyena is a dirty, stupid, cowardly thief.

Hyena live in highly organised maternal/matriarchal societies, where all their behaviour is about providing for their pack. Writing them off as nothing more than a crazy scavenger is to provide a space into which the human threats that are pushing them towards extinction can take greater hold. Perpetuating this narrative allows such persecution to feel more justified, more explicable.

Hyena are some of the most uniquely intelligent mammals in existence. Highly effective hunters in their own right, some species in the genera kill as much as 95% of their food rather than stealing it. Where they are scavenging, they’re driving off much larger predators, like lions, despite their cowardly reputation.

Hyena feature prominently in the folklore and mythology of the humans that live alongside them, going back tens of thousands of years. Negative associations around witchcraft and grave robbing has cast them as demons, witch-familiars, were-hyenas, vampires and jinns, and again these myths have created a space into which their body parts are coveted as talismans in love and fertility magic.

Western perceptions have been equally negative and far more ignorant. 
A hyena biologist attempted to sue Disney for defamation of character on the release of The Lion King, and another – who had organised the animators’ visit to a Field Station for Behavioural Research, where they would observe and sketch captive hyenas – suggested boycotting the film.

Ironically, hyena are at huge risk from being killed, usually poisoned, shot or snared by farmers who mistakenly believe that they have killed the cattle they are now scavenging, a ‘crime’ equally likely to have been committed by cheetah or the king of the jungle – the lion.

I made this piece almost as a companion piece to The Emancipator, as a comment on scavengers and their typical perception. Both animals are plagued by negative perceptions which lead to harmful beliefs and ultimately deadly threats. ‘Dressing’ both animals in their respective finery is a device to suggest an alternative narrative might be present, rather than an attempt to anthropomorphise on my part.

You can still see The Emancipator at Brush until the 24th, and I have one-off giclee prints available too, with 20% of sales going to Elephant Nature Park.

The Indie-Black Friday, and Other Updates.

The Indie-Black Friday, and Other Updates.

It’s very rare that I write about anything on here other than my art and it’s creation, so I’ll ease into it with pictures from the recent inaugural exhibition of The Society For Embroidered Work, at The Clerkenwell Gallery in London.

My piece A Benediction From The Old World made his public debut, amongst the best contemporary textiles artists working today. The Private View was absolutely packed and it was a brilliant show all round, and a win in the sadly continuing battle to legitimise embroidered art as Art.

My latest piece The Emancipator also made his debut at Brush Gallery in Brighton this week, where it will appear as part of the Elephant group show until December 24th.

The show is in aid of the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, and 20% of all sales during the show goes to support the work they do there rescuing abused and neglected elephants.

I’m also selling one of my hand-gilded prints of this piece:

Click here to grab the last one! I’ve only had 2 prints made of this and won’t be reprinting.

I made a post on Instagram yesterday about Black Friday and the pressure we all feel to spend and ‘find deals’ this time of year. As a self employed, independent artist I feel the pressure just the same, and I certainly understand the attraction of a bargain.

But I am going to use this post, and this week on social media, to draw attention to all the work I have done this year to make my original artwork accessible to everyone. We all have a choice where we spend our money, and that has huge power. So I want to encourage anyone reading this to support living artists like me. I know it can feel like we are all constantly being barked at with advertisements, and I don’t want to add to the noise. But when you buy even just a single card from me, it literally helps me pay the bills and continue to raise awareness of the threats to the natural world, along with raising money for charities doing the real work to protect it.

So here goes!

New in my shop are these 3 greeting card designs from my portraits this year. You can buy them in a pack of 3, or individually. Nice satin card stock, blank for your message, envelope included obv!

I have several other prints in my shop, but very limited quantities!

This print of Benedict (as I call him), sold out in a couple of hours when I released the first batch on Instagram, so I have ordered a reprint and you can buy now to make sure you don’t miss out. Prints are a big investment for me as photographing my textured work is a job for professionals, but the quality of this is absolutely exceptional, and every stitch is visible.

Have a look in my shop!

I have 2 prints only of this piece ‘100,000,000’. I won’t be reprinting. I have hand gilded both prints with silver leaf, and as always, they are signed.

The Alchemist print, I think you can even tell on your screen the quality of the detail of these prints, you can even see the pile on the velvet! Only 1 left!

This print of Moonage Daydream came out super rich, and I hand gilded the teeth to match the technique I used in the original textile piece.

Only 1 left – I will not reprint this one!

And I still have a couple of hand finished prints from my Extinct Icons series left – again these are one-offs.

I also have super cheap posters from this series too.

Check ’em out friends!

The Textile Art Box design I released this year – The Peacock Spider – had some fun new techniques and materials to try, and is a really popular gift for someone, or yourself!

The Stag Beetle edition is still my most popular kit and I restocked recently in time for the holidays.

And I still have some Ghost Beetle kits left too – this design and the Spider are limited edition though, and once they’ve all sold I won’t release them again!

Every Mother Eagle Textile Art Box:

  • Contains everything you need to make the design
  • Includes shipping worldwide
  • Is for all abilities
  • Is plastic packaging free
  • Every box sold donates £2 to conservation charities!

And is 100% designed, written and assembled by me!

As a special offer at the moment for every kit bought I will throw in a greetings card and envelope for free! This offer will run until 18th December!

Finally, you can still support me without spending a single penny. Firstly, please sign up for a free 2 month trial on Skillshare and take my class! Check out the intro video now, in the class you’ll learn all the techniques I use in my kits, so it’s a great companion resource. There is no commitment and you can cancel anytime.

And of course, if you’re not already please follow me on my social media channels – mainly Instagram where you’ll always find the most up to date news and pics of my work.

Thanks for reading, and happy holidays to you all!

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.