Our Lady Of The Flowers

Our Lady Of The Flowers

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This one started differently, and with a lot of stumpwork again.

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After it was confirmed that I would have my work on display at Onca Gallery for their Remembrance Day for Lost Species I wanted to make an Extinct Icon that specifically related to their theme for this year – Pollinators.

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I knew immediately that it had to be a fruit bat. The importance of bats as a species has been close to my heart since I took part in a conservation project in Malaysia in my early 20s.

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Bats are the bees of the tropical world, is something I’m fond of saying.

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Three of the most important crops they pollinate are cocoa, banana and agave, amongst over 500 others we in the west are used to enjoying.

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Bats are massively threatened by habitat loss – rainforests cut down for palm oil plantations being a big one.

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So I was inspired by religious iconography from the tropical world, usually the Virgin Mary surrounded by very colourful flora and fauna (think Our Lady of Guadalupe).

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I’ve not made detached slips so heavily beaded before and they were obviously a lot heavier than just embroidered ones.

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I knew this one would be smaller given the comparative scale of a bat’s skull so I switched to my hoop.

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The moon is a nod to the nocturnal habits of this species.

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As is the starry sky here.

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Assembly…

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To combat the heaviness of the slips they were both plunged to the reverse as well as sewn along the sides, creating sort of cups.

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In the United States bats provide an estimated $3.7bn in insect control, but in much of the rest of the world they are woefully under researched.
Many pollinating species of bats have already become extinct, like the Dark Flying Fox of Mauritius and Reunion, or the Guam Flying Fox, due to hunting from settlers, or habitat loss from mono culture farming like oil palm. But we just don’t know how many species may be threatened.

*** 25th November Masterclass is SOLD OUT!
BUT the good news is, due to popular demand I’m running another one on 2nd December! Only 3 spots left so move fast if you wanna make your own homage to the pollinators – details here!***

Saint Celia

Saint Celia

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This was my least enjoyable icon to make, only because I made decisions that involved a lot of tedium and repetition.

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It’s humorous as I write that though to think that this is possibly the Icon that most people seem to find most impressive, so I smile inwardly that it is in the spirit of the martyr that I toiled over Saint Celia to create something people find quite enthralling.

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As you can see, she started as they all have, the skull already taking many hours more with the lines of the horn. I then padded the 5 stars ready for the goldwork later.

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I initially outlined the halo in black beads but removed it later. This is the start of one torture self inflicted – those are 2mm sequins, each one hand sewn.

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I made it bearable for myself by alternating techniques: The sequins, the goldwork chipping on the stars, and those lovely inky oily bugle beads on the interior.

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I did agonise over those bugles until the end, worrying that the rainbow effect was too garish. Here I have also replaced the black beads with a gold bead outline.

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Bugle beads have their own torture using them like this. The better quality you buy, the more equal and regular there size. This is actually counter productive here as you reach the end of a line and realise you need an irregular length. Thank heaven for broken chips and poor quality control.

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Did I mention I also chose one of the smallest sizes of bright gold check to complete the chipping? Truly she inspired some sort of pilgrimage.

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We approached some sort of conclusion.

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Sigh.

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Finally, I crowned her in a little laurel wreath of alpine herbs, made variously of velvet and embroidered slips.

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I also surprised myself with these little flower sequins, thinking them to be quite tacky but actually they worked beautifully here and I think sets the whole piece off nicely.

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FINALLY finally, I added yet more gold, in a foil-lined bugle corona.

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The whole thing took me about 49 hours, nearly 15 more hours than other work in this series. Basically 15 hours + doing all the tedious tiny gold sparkles. I was very unsure about some of my choices and thought I’d put a lot of time into something pretty monotone. But I’ve learnt it’s often the way, that not until the final bead or stitch is placed, do I really see the whole piece and can change my point of view. I wanted to crown him (with those horns, Celia is a male I’m afraid) with small foliage I imagined might be like the alpine herbs he liked to eat, these stumpwork details tie everything together. The crown of stars is also known as the crown of immortality in religious iconography, and I like the idea that this reflects the Ibex’s unique position as being ‘resurrected’:

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/ / Saint Celia \ \

The Pyrenean Ibex was a type of Iberian wild mountain goat, most common in southern France and the northern Pyrenees. They were quite abundant until the 14th century, and by 1900 their numbers had dwindled to fewer than 100 due to hunting pressure, and competition with domestic farm animals.
The last individual, a female named Celia, was found dead in 2000, apparently killed by a fallen tree.
The Pyrenean ibex is the only species to become extinct twice. In 2003 scientists cloned a female, who survived for several minutes before dieing from lung defects.

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19″ x 12″

The Witch of St. Kilda

The Witch of St. Kilda

This piece was a lot of fun to do. Which was helpful because the story of the Great Auk’s demise is incredibly sad and has had me in tears more than once.

I spent quite a lot of time designing this piece mainly because I have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to white, clear, pearlescent beads and sequins. I wanted the colour palette to suggest the icy homes of this penguin-like bird, as well as lending a magical, ethereal feel.

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There was also a lot of scope for different techniques; goldwork:

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Lots of beading:

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Just in this crown we have (bottom to top) plastic pearls, glass cubes, diamante, iridescent seed beads, silver seed beads, pearl rhinestones, plastic teardrop, silver pearl purl and lovely big diamante rhinestones. I just used Guttermans polyester buttonhole thread for all of this.

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Everything in monotone is quite tricky to photograph.

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These are long vintage glass silver lined bugle beads.

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I bought a lot of opalite chips after completing the last piece, using semi precious chips. I knew these translucent, opalescent stones would be perfect.

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Then I used tiny pearlescent 2mm sequins to fill the centre circle.

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Finally I embroidered the beak in split stitch.

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The Great Auk was a flightless bird, similar to a penguin. It bred on rocky, isolated islands, foraging for food in Atlantic waters. It ranged from northern Spain to Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Faroe islands, Norway, Ireland and great Britain. Great Auk pairs mated for life, and estimated to have a maximum population in the millions.

The species had great significance for Native American cultures as far back as the Neolithic age, both as a food source and symbolically.

Overhunting, and mainly massive European exploitation and demand for the birds down, skin, and eggs led to it’s demise, and was finally and cruelly obliterated by 1852.
The story of the Great Auk is one of the saddest, in fact researching this piece and even writing this now brings me to tears. I won’t repeat them here, but there are several truly appalling tales of man’s cruelty and thoughtlessness dealt to this harmless and trusting animal on Wikipedia, including the story behind this piece’s title.

12″ x 19″

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I hope you enjoyed this post, thank you for following my work! As always you can follow me on Instagram for (usually) daily pictures of my work in progress and all the latest updates on exhibitions, classes and workshops.

Extinct Icons: The Divine Beest

Extinct Icons: The Divine Beest

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By this point I had increased my stores of beads and sequins quite considerably, mostly due to the kindness of strangers donating their unwanted bits and pieces.

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The elongated, more simple skull and horns of this animal gave me a lot of opportunity to continue with my embellishment experiment.

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I accidentally started embroidering on the wrong side of my cotton drill. Which is annoying because the diagonal weave on the right side provides lovely guide lines for shading.

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I didn’t give it much thought at the time, but the photograph of the skull that I used to trace my design from provided little texture, meaning the skull was particularly ‘clean’. However in the overall composition this balanced really well as the horns were so embellished.

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Holographic gold sequins. Sigh.

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This photo is a little shaky but for this piece I wanted to exaggerate the Hartebeest’s spiritual significance in North African culture with, amongst other things, the choice of semi precious lapis and turquoise stones. 

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As usual, I made it up as I went along, alternating blue and turquoise, inspired by an ancient Egyptian palette.

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I used red accents very sparingly. Although this was fun, it was harder than it looks, trying to keep each section unique, and the lines relatively even.

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Once the horns were done, I just had the halo to complete.

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For this I chose gold passing.

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Ugh, the pain of tying back your ends.

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Finally I used flat black sequins to create a motif around the gold halo, in a nod to the aesthetic of the sacred cow Goddess in ancient Egypt Mehret Wehret and Hathor.

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The Bubal Hartebeest was a social animal, formerly native to the land north of the Saharan desert. It’s main predator was the also extinct Barbary Lion.
It was an animal of significance in ancient Egyptian culture. Remains of Bubal Hartebeest have been found in archaeological sites as well as hieroglyphs (the sacred form of writing) representing the animal. Possibly a sacrificial animal, it is also mentioned in the Old Testament.
It’s numbers sharply declined in the 19th century after the French conquest of Algeria, when entire herds were massacred at once by colonial military. The last captive animal died in the Paris zoo in 1925

Extinct Icons: Saint Sultan

Extinct Icons: Saint Sultan

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The clocks have just gone back (forward?) so although it isn’t, I’m going to say Happy New Year, as my first post of 2017. Hello followers, new and old.

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Probably just after I had completed my Wildcat piece last year, certainly my most popular piece going by Instagram, I was already full of an idea for this year’s project. Partly because of my introduction to ONCA gallery in Brighton, their work and interest in my Ritual Burial’s pieces, spurred me on to make more conservationist themed work. You may have read my blog post for them, for Remembrance Day for Lost Species 2016, and in writing that piece, certainly it made me look at the meaning of last year’s work in a slightly different way. I researched the ‘status’ of each native British species featured in that project, to discover all but two were either extinct in this country, or threatened.

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Aesthetically, and technically, I was also ready for something new. The materials I use have often inspired my work, and I was really keen to use more embellishment rather than focus so much on Stumpwork, which was thoroughly explored last year. Gold and metal thread work, beads, sequins, and a general mixture of all these was something I really wanted to play with.

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The idea for my 2017 project came to me as it usually does fully formed in my mind, at least visually. The photographs by Paul Koudounaris of martyrs and saints in Catholic churches, adorned and decorated with gold and jewels were a big inspiration, and I have always liked a skull or two in my work. But the idea of this: of martyrs, persecuted in their lifetime for their beliefs or actions, now revered and regaled in death, with more symbolic value than literal (even if it’s just a toe bone that’s left) made me think how we treat animals, specifically extinct ones.

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When you google ‘extinct species’ you get loads of ‘top ten’ style lists, with mini-paragraph length eulogies and sad face emojis. There are thousands and thousands of species mankind have eliminated from the face of the planet, but the same ‘heroes’ come up again and again: Thylacine, Barbary Lion, and maybe the most famous of all, the Dodo. These are the poster children of the extinct hall of fame. Species that evolved over millennia, wiped out in the briefest expression of humanity’s ignorance.

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So, like those martyrs, persecuted in their lifetimes, I am interested in completing that cycle, and illuminating them as saints. These ‘Extinct Icons’ are the figureheads of the epidemic of mass extinction in our modern age.

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The first in this series: Saint Sultan.

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The Barbary lion was considered one of the biggest lion subspecies. They had dark, long-haired manes that extended over the shoulder and down to the belly. It is said that they developed the colours and size of their manes due to ambient temperatures, their nutrition, and their level of testosterone.
The last known wild Barbary lion was shot in the Moroccan part of the Atlas Mountains in 1942. These lions used to be offered to royal families of Morocco and Ethiopia and were known as the “royal” lions. It is said that some of these “royal” lions survived until the late 1960’s, until a respiratory disease just about wiped them all out.

Sultan was the name of a Barbary lion kept at London zoo, in 1896.

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