Friday, 24 May 2013

Trophy Tears

When I was growing up, if I was being particularly whiney, my mum would occasionally say "I'm playing the world's smallest violin for you".

For this latest instalment of Treasures For Your Troubles, I wanted to create the world's smallest trophy, awarded for achieving precisely the opposite; for navigating the treacherous waters of life without breaking down into floods of tears (or is that mixing the water metaphors a little too much?)

For the embroidery's background, I dyed an antique linen handkerchief with onion skin, similarly to The Onion Cutters' Club.

This idea was actually suggested to me by Pip, who thought I should get the phrase engraved on to a real trophy (maybe one day, Pip). It's also a bit of a self-deprecating in-joke with myself; some days I really do feel it's a grand achievement that I've gotten through the day without bursting into tears. And now I have the world's smallest trophy and dozens of gold stars as reward!

Quite some time ago, appliquéd some felt tear drops on to spangly sparkly gold lurex material. It's a happy coincidence that this piece ties in with the colour scheme of Treasures For Your Troubles. If the project was ever exhibited, I would like to display the tears alongside the more recent works. I'm enjoying the way the naivety of these two pieces work together.

No rest for the wicked; I've got a number of summer exhibitions to submit to and/or create work for. First up, a bee crying (what else) honey over some melancholyflowers. My name is Kate Elisabeth Rolison, and I make art about crying!

Monday, 20 May 2013

Protect The Wild Flowers

I came across this image on Tumblr (via the lifestyle blog The Thinking Tank) and immediately felt compelled to turn it into a sketch for blackwork. As I found it on Tumblr I've had difficulty locating it on the blog that originally posted it, and so I'll never know if there's any more information about such a captivating, whimsical image (with such an important message).

I may not have rendered the children's faces perfectly in stitch, but I am mostly pretty happy with the results (and with my choice of ivy-embroidered handkerchief!)

I think of this as a companion piece to my Melancholyflowers:

Secrets Are The Things We Grow: An interview with artist Lily Cuyler

That line from Some Velvet Morning pops into my head unbidden whenever I look at Lily's work. As Lily rather modestly writes herself, "i'm lily and i draw flowers" (how serendipitous that her name is that of one of the most beautiful flowers!) Of course, Lily doesn't just draw flowers; she makes heartbreakingly honest confessional drawings, lino cut patches of famous artists' and writers' quotations, motivational fortune tellers, altered and embroidered photographs, typewritten poetry, and more. And she's still in high school. Once again, I've stumbled across the work of a young but staggeringly talented artist, and it's reminded me to pull my finger out! Her art is definitely a big inspiration for Treasures For Your Troubles, with its themes of self care and the daily struggles of life.

Thank you Lily for taking the time to answer my questions so thoughtfully. I can't wait to see how your next project unfolds.

How long have you been making art, and how did you get into it?

I started really realizing that I liked to make art two summers ago. I was more into collaging than anything else then. My mom is an artist, so there's always been creative energy around me. That's probably how I got into it, just thinking that it was a natural way of expressing yourself and spending hours away from everyone else just to finish this one project you're working on is completely normal. 

In your “Other People’s Secrets” project, you juxtapose (or compliment) presumably anonymous confessions with delicate floral-based illustrations. How did you make the call for submissions for this project? Was it difficult going through with it at points on an emotional and empathetic level? (I’m thinking in particular of the confessions about suicidal thoughts and self harm). Is your use of “twee”, delicate imagery an attempt to soften the sometimes shocking confessions, to prettify them? A sort of metaphorical bandaid? It seems to me that the imagery itself, with its muted colours and natural themes “whispers”, just as secrets themselves are told. How did you decide on the imagery for each piece? Did you select a number of confessions to illustrate, or illustrate all the secrets you were told?

I actually started asking people to send me anonymous confessions one day because I had drawn all these pictures, and they needed words on them, and I thought this would be kind of a nice and therapeutic way for people to get something off their chests. It was definitely difficult going through some of the secrets because they really touched me emotionally, especially the ones about contemplating suicide and self harm. My imagery definitely softens the blow of these intense human emotions. You can feel this way but have a pretty outside, the flowers can still be blooming. Some of my pieces have dead flowers, which to me represents being defeated, the beautiful colors have faded and died. I didn't illustrate all of the secrets I was given, some of them were very difficult to put into drawing-form. Some were too personal, some not secrets at all.

Are the photographs you use as backgrounds for embroidery your own? Are they picked at random, or do they have significance for each piece? How did you come to embroidery, and what do you like about it as a medium?

2 months on Flickr.

Most of the photographs for my embroidery are my own. I will actually take pictures on my roll of film imagining what kind of things I could embroider onto them. My photo embroideries are a chance for me to put more bluntly the things I need to get out of my system. Things that I feel are too intense or too long or too complicated to put on my simple drawings. The last photo embroidery I did, none of the pictures I took to use in this project developed, so I ended up using old film photos of my boyfriend's. Ones that didn't turn out quite right and just had a beautiful yellow color in them. I really like embroidering photos because whatever I do, even if I mess up significantly, it still looks okay. That fox, on one of my photos, did not start out as a fox. 
anti anxiety on Flickr.

Is there an element of art therapy to your practice? Is this something you have ever considered pursuing professionally? I say this ecause of the confessional, cathartic quality of your work, both in divulging other people’s secrets and your own, your use of inspirational and motivational quotations, and your gorgeous little hand drawn fortune tellers that come with sound and reassuring advice such as “Tell them you love them” and “Don’t be anxious”.

There is so much art therapy in what I do. It's therapy for me, specifically, and I am just coming to realize that it's also affecting other people in a therapeutic way. I get messages on Tumblr like "your art touched me tonight and helped me not self-harm." That makes me feel so good, both in the ways of knowing something I made helped someone, and knowing that someone else out there feels the same way I do. I definitely am committed to pursuing art professionally. I am almost done with my junior year of high school and I am looking at many art institutes to attend, it's the only thing that makes me happy and the only thing I feel like I'm really good at. If that ends up in an art therapy practice, then I'm happy with that. 

Sylvia Plath patch 
Own your own!

You touch gently on themes of mental illness in your work (and indeed, gentleness is what I think of when I look at your work, even when you use the word “fucking”). Is this something that particularly concerns you?

Mental illness concerns me to no end. About a year ago I was suffering from pretty severe depression, and I still get bouts of it from time to time. I have so many friends with mental illnesses that really affect their lives, and I think it's important to put these topics out in the open. I think it's important to connect with people on that level if they're needing help getting through something, anything. Flowers are the disguise to these pretty shitty feelings. 
The fear of suffering on Flickr.

Do you have many creative projects on the go at the moment, or plans of creating more in the future? Would you be willing to share a few of those with us?

There is always a project I'm working on. Right now I'm focusing on making a book of famous poets and their houses, which should be up on Etsy and Tumblr in a day or two. I'm really excited about it. When I get an idea for a project that I'm really excited about, sometimes I can't sleep until I at least start it. 

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Treasures For Your Troubles

Once again, I'm back to my old tricks of hipster bingo (typewriting on Polaroids). This time around though, my efforts are a bit more considered. I hadn't bought Polaroid film in years, but when the idea for my Treasures For Your Troubles project popped into my head, I knew I had to get my hands on some for a very special shoot.

The idea of covering myself in gold stars, mundane rewards for struggling or succeeding through life, struck me as an arresting image, and one which would work particularly well in the soft tones of Polaroids. I'd written a few lines of sing-song poetry on the theme, which I decided to type on the frames of the Polaroids with my cursive typewriter (how analogue can you get?!) If you want to get really pretentious, I could say this was something of a self-care or self-affirming ritual. Or I could say it was just an excuse to cover myself in glitter (though who needs an excuse?)

This project is a celebration of the human spirit in all its absurdity, mess, and glory, and I think the ink smudges (which I dreamily imagine could be tear stains) and blotchily developed photographs, in all their beautiful imperfection, demonstrate this.

More Treasures For Your Troubles to follow...

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Gold Star

As a habitual pessimist and anxiety queen, I have recently begun keeping a record of one good thing from each day, to remind myself that actually, my life is pretty darn good.
I've also been indulging in an incredibly childish (and mildly embarrassing) practice; giving myself reward stickers.
A few months back, on the advice of friend, collaborator and fellow artist Hannah Hill, I started keeping a record of daily to-dos and achievements as a means of patting myself on the back (something I'm often not very good at) and as an impetus to get stuff done. I nicked Hannah's idea and added reward stickers, and as I noted at the time, self-imposed bribery to do things via a stickers-based reward system worked (un)surprisingly well. Yes, I am a child.
There's something about gold reward stars in particular that is incredibly crave-inducing; they must be engineered that way. Maybe its my innate and irritating perfectionism, mixed with nostalgia for primary school, I don't know.
Anyway, in homage to the humble gold star reward sticker, I wanted to make a series of work celebrating the minor achievements of us bumbling humans as we muddle our way through life, making it up as we go along and getting bumps and scrapes which (hopefully) only serve to make us a little bit stronger... I'm bumbling myself now.
I'm tentatively calling the project Treasures For Your Troubles, which is what the first embellished piece of the series spells out, in (what else) golden star sequins.


The next element of the project (which will be a multimedia undertaking) will be accomplished with the aid of my trusty old Polaroid Spectra camera, and some Impossible Project film which I was happy to find had arrived when I got in from work this evening. Now if only we'd have some good weather, I could get on with it! Just one of the (very minor) obstacles in life the project is all about overcoming.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Lunar Moth

You may have noticed by now, I have something of a predilection for moths.  As The Constellation Quilt is all about stars and the night sky, I couldn't help but stitch up a lunar moth as one of the quilt patches. And as Polly Kettle, the quilt's subject, is something of a femme fatale, I stitched a female lunar moth (the female of the species's colouring is more in line with the toning of the quilt, too!)

I don't know if anyone else has this experience, but this embroidery was one of those ones for me where I've been working on it so long I can't tell if it's any good or not anymore, and truth be told I think I'd still like to have a little play at perfecting it, and adding more realistic and subtle shading. Whether I actually will is another matter; I've got too many new ideas to plough on with, including more floral-themed blackwork and a project about gold reward stars...

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Interview with Lindsay Joy on her "Anxiety Series"

I did this interview with incredible fibre artist Lindsay Joy for a side project many months back, and since I've been chatting to Lindsay quite a lot on Tumblr recently, and following her work more closely, I thought I would share it here.

Lindsay is currently undertaking her Master of Fine Art at the University of Manitoba in Canada, and describes her practice as "scrambling attempts to feel better", which I'm sure all artists can relate to at one point or another!

Thank you so much for doing this honest, insightful interview, Lindsay, and thank you for letting me share it here.

What prompted the Anxiety Series? On your website you write that you realised “the most helpful therapy was the act of sharing”. Was your hope that your Anxiety Series would offer comfort and a sense of empathy to others suffering with anxiety and social phobia?

I have always been an anxious person, but two years ago I started realizing how much it was affecting my life. I started seeing a psychologist during the summer before my fourth year of college.  One of her suggestions was to make contemplative art as a way to calm down. At first, I tried the usual stuff - journal entries, a painting, earnest assignments that were embarrassing to show anyone but her. I didn’t feel like they were helping; I was just making what I thought I was supposed to. Traditional “contemplative art” also suggests wacky new age stuff which, as a skeptic, I am completely uninterested in.  I picked up embroidery again after my grandmother passed away, which happened right about the time my anxiety was at its worst. We found some antique hoops in her apartment, and I was antsy, away from home, dealing with grief and needing something to do with my hands. I made a small piece called Matriarch, reteaching myself how to stitch after not doing it for a long time. Once school started up again and it came time to really develop my art practice in my final year, I decided to use embroidery to explore my struggle with anxiety.

When I first realized I had a problem with my anxiety, finding out that Social Anxiety Disorder is a real thing in the world (at least according to Wikipedia), I tried to tell a few people. It was a terrifying revelation, and for some reason sharing was helpful, because it meant it wasn’t my fault. THIS is what’s wrong with me, guys! THIS! I got some strange responses, though, probably because I didn’t tell the right people. I have a hard time negotiating personal relationships in that way. When I started making the anxiety pieces, it was like they were a surrogate for my own confession, and though I didn’t necessarily know the recipient and they didn’t know me, but I still got to tell someone how I felt. At first, I was actually surprised that other people could relate, especially people I knew.


Is there something about the juxtaposition or conflict between the cutesy or twee aesthetic of embroidery and the darker elements of your subject matter that you find appealing?

I’ve always found that juxtaposition intriguing. It makes my work feel less of a teen-angst expression and more self-aware. It’s also the fight in my own head, knowing that my thoughts are ridiculous but not being able to stop them. Reframing them with cutesy imagery, stitching and colours might create a sort of trap, drawing the person in from afar to view my detailed handwork, maybe expecting a laugh, but confronting them with the subject matter.


Why and when did you begin to embroider? What sparked your interest in embroidery?

I’ve always made things with my hands. My mother  knits, crochets, embroiders and quilts, to name a few. I was an only child, so she showed me a few things when I was bored growing up. I used it a few more times during my first and second year of art school, where I majored in fibre and tried a lot of techniques. I was drawn in by the way you could combine colour, texture and line, and the ease of image appropriation with the technique. With embroidery, it is easy to be direct. With a lot of other textile techniques, you are waiting for dyes or to thread your loom, and I can just start stitching something right away. I am impatient, although that’s probably an ironic statement. I love the history of hand stitching, which also has a history with mental health, often as a past-time in institutions. 

Has making the Anxiety Series been a way of reaching out to others in the community? Have you been contacted by other sufferers?

I haven’t really been contacted by severe sufferers, but more from people who could relate to some aspects of the work, not necessarily having full-blown anxiety.  

Was it difficult to put such an intimate and painful aspect of your personality on display? What was the public reaction to the Series?

It wasn’t difficult at first, because I began the series during school, and the fibre group was so small and intimate, that I didn’t feel afraid to do it. Once it started to reach a larger audience, I became a little nervous about it. During the graduating exhibition, I was too afraid to be near-enough to my grad piece for anyone to identify me as the maker. With the work, I sometimes have had better responses from strangers than people I was close to. I’ve received a lot of concerned, “But you shouldn’t feel that way,” comments from friends I had known for years, and bad advice for quick fixes. I incorporate some of that into my work, too. The hardest thing, now, is to explain when I meet new people who are interested in finding out what I do as an artist. I think they have some degree of skepticism, like, “How can you be anxious?  You are talking to me now!” or something. The funniest thing was a classmate called me up to ask about an assignment, right after she had seen me working on the phone piece. Halfway through the call, she said, “Oh no!  You hate talking on the phone!  I’m so sorry!” It’s a little weird having people know those things, sometimes.


Was the act of confession, together with what Joetta Maue calls the “quiet, meditative act” of embroidery, therapeutic?

It started out as the intention, although the anxiety is always there. A few people have assumed that since I’ve made the work, I’m anxiety-free, which is kind of weird. The work is definitely a temporary fix.  Thinking about what thread to use next and where to put the stitches sometimes helps when I’m thinking too much about useless things.  It keeps my mind occupied.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Thinking Through Pink

When we were kids, one of my brother's favourite colours was pink. I, on the other hand, loathed it; a rebellion against the ubiquity of the colour for little girls, and a loyalty to my tomboy nature (I was the girl always climbing trees and enthralled by creepy crawlies). Where did it all go wrong? Why do I now own at least seven pink dresses, and am happy to be snapped prancing around in a salmon candy-striper frock?

My parents tried all they could to evade gender stereotypes (my beloved bright yellow Tonka truck attests to that), but it seems I've waltzed right into one; I've turned out decidedly girly. And what do I blame this disturbing phenomenon on? Why, on the young modern feminist art movement, of course!

Tumblr is awash with young feminists "reclaiming their girlhood"; as Beth Siveyer, founder of Girls Get Busy, writes in the fourteenth issue of the zine, "I can be strong and feminine, and it doesn't matter what people think (...) I'm 24 years old and I'm finally ready to be pretty in pink."

Image of Girls Get Busy #14 - 3 for £3

When I was discussing this with my Mum the other day, she commented that she'd recently had to buy some gardening gloves for a group of young people she would be working with. The gloves came in two colours; pink, and blue. In the end she had to go with the blue gloves, because, she conceded, the boys in the group simply wouldn't wear pink gloves. I'm inclined to think that this would not be because of an aversion to the colour, but an aversion to what the colour represented; an aversion to perceived femininity. Why is femininity so reviled? Why is "stop being such a girl" such a terrible insult? 

I would hazard a guess that it's because, historically, women have been the second sex, subjugated and weakened by a patriarchal society determined to keep men on top. This has lead to the impression that women themselves are intrinsically weaker, and so "feminine" behaviour is a sign of weakness. One need only take a glance at the Everyday Sexism Twitter feed, a deeply depressing but vital read, to realise that we are a long way from gender equality, and that a culture of "keeping women down" is still a very real and present danger (and I don't use that word lightly).

But, as Beth Siveyer writes, femininity can be a source of power. So too can pink. It is an audacious colour, a passionate colour, a sexual colour. A colour as varied as women themselves.

DENIM Feminine Is Not Anti-Feminist Patch featuring Rarity- My Little Pony
"Feminine Is Not Anti-Feminist" patch, by albinwonderland on  Etsy

However, pink can also be nauseating. Case in point, that ubiquity I mentioned; now more than ever, it seems there's almost no other choice for little girls than pink clothing, accessories, toys... the list goes on. As this article notes, "All the other colours of the rainbow will be washed away in an unending saccharine sea."

The backlash to this trend has resulted in the Pink Stinks campaign, focusing on combating the "dangerously narrow definition of what it means to be a girl" and the ways in which "pinkification" of girls leads to sexism and gender stereotyping, and an obsession with consumerism and body image.

 In my opinion, this is most certainly a laudable cause, though the name of the campaign does sound like an assault on the colour itself, rather than its use as a reductive marketing tool. A member of the modern feminist movement makes the suggestion (via Tumblr, of course) that the Pink Stinks campaign changes its name to Rethink Pink. Though this is a subtle change, I think it is a wonderful one; one can remain critical and aware whilst embracing the colour, that, for better or worse, has come to symbolise femininity.

It was not ever thus; indeed, in the early 1900s in the United States, a trade publication proclaimed that "The generally accepted rule is pink for the boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl." It is interesting that here, pink is associated with strength, just as I posited that pink can be a powerful and audacious colour. However, strength is associated with masculinity and delicacy and daintiness is associated with femininity; why can't one be both strong and dainty? This combined strength and delicacy is what I feel I emanate when I choose to wear pink.

By a happy coincidence, one of my very favourite artist's thoughts on the matter chime precisely with my own. In an interview, Lily van der Stokker speaks about "the strength of pink curlicues"; there is strength in this apparently "weak" feminine softness.

Lily  van der Stokker, I am an artwork, 2004

But is it softness? For all its sweetness (indeed, because of its sweetness) van der Stokker's use of pink is nauseating, even abrasive. Pink can be harsh, abject, confrontational. It demands to be seen. Van der Stokker is certainly not ashamed of the femininity that pink implies, even if it horrifies the fine art bubble; she unabashedly proclaims girlyness to the world. 

A show of strength indeed.

I too, am happy to proclaim my femininity to the world, and to prove that it does not make me weak but in fact stronger. Since becoming more involved in the young feminist art movement, a number of my embroideries have started to explore themes of feminine strength, defiance of  gender roles and societal expectations, and incorporate pink into their colour scheme as a symbol of this.

I will continue to wear pink with pride and as a reminder of my feminine fortitude; I too am ready to be pretty in pink.