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September 21st, 2017

C F McEwan at Handmade at Kew

“Following the storming success since its launch in 2015, Handmade in Britain will return to Kew Gardens for the third edition of HANDMADE AT KEW in October 2017!

This four-day international contemporary craft event offers you the opportunity to meet and buy directly from over 200 extraordinary designer-makers working across all disciplines including: ceramics, jewellery, fashion and textiles, glass, paper, furniture, metalwork, sculpture and interior accessories.

It’s a really special chance to invest in beautiful, unique products at a show where you can buy, browse and commission directly from the maker; unearthing the stories, inspirations and processes behind the exquisite work of some of the world’s most talented craftspeople. Most of the work on show can’t be found on the high street so it really is a one-off opportunity to shop for unique products and gifts in very picturesque setting.

The event is housed in an elegant pavilion next to Kew Palace and tickets to the event include entry to both the event and Kew Gardens, allowing you to enjoy the Gardens and crafts to the full. It’s a truly a unique shopping experience and great day out for all the family!”

Tickets are on sale now for only £16 in advance, including full entry to Kew Gardens.

Find C F McEwan scarves in the Craft Central group stand at E17-E21.

Handmade at Kew 2017 digital flyer

September 12th, 2017

Thoughts on Mark Making

What do you do?  This question I know can make some of us hesitate, I’d rather talk of many other things; pets, recipes, the latest good telly, not to hide anything, just because it’s easier.  I scan the asker’s face and consider what details to share.  What I often say is, ‘textile design’ or that ‘I design and make scarves’.  Which is true, but perhaps like many professions it feels like the tip of the iceberg.  It’s a broad stroke of a sentence that still conceals the basics: I make marks, I collect marks with my camera, I’m obsessed with irregular shape and have ongoing curiosity to rearrange and repeat variations of a mark for ever more.  It can be hard to talk like this if you can’t see examples.  I think I’m writing this post to make up for my lack of mark making small talk.  So I’ll make the big talk here and give some attention to my occupation.

You might call it drawing and painting, I call it mark making, I’m not sure when that began, but it feels a more accurate description for me.  I’m often treating marks in isolation and certainly in the abstract.  Mark making conjures up the moment to moment of the creative activity, focusing in on the act itself rather than a final outcome.

During my textile degree I found myself in discussions about ‘quality of mark’.  Terms like this became my new world and vocabulary.  What is it about a mark or a group of marks that suggests ‘quality.’  Do not all marks have equity?  Do they not all just bring up the proverbial five year old comparison?  I haven’t read it myself, but noticed in a bookshop the title, ‘Why your five year old self could not have done that – modern art explained.’  Reading the cover made me smile, what would be the arguments put forward I wondered and would they convince anyone?  I decide to offer my own thoughts here, on the value of mark making.

Historic Marks

cave_of_forgotten_dreams-big Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Written and directed by Werner Herzog, History Films, 2010

If I ever feel my vision narrowing while creating new work, or wonder unhelpfully about what I’m trying to achieve, I think back to the eerie documentary by Werner Herzog about the oldest known cave paintings in the world.  Cave of Forgotten Dreams shows how humans have used mark making to communicate a mind blowing 32,000 years ago, on the walls of caves in Southern France.  I use the word eerie, because as I watched the film unfold, the marks in these paintings felt strangely familiar to me, gestures and use of layers I enjoy today.  I’m bolstered by the historic scaffolding my ancestors have built – I feel akin and connected but also humbled.  Finding myself declare – what more can I offer?  It’s all already here!  When my mind embarks down this road, I try to relax and just start.  Getting inside the act of mark making is always transcendent, absorbing and heartening.  It can be like a ritual, a practice to trust and return to regardless of expectation. 

Practicing Mark Making

If the act of picking up a paint brush or pen is frightening, then I recommend an approach that could compare to the musician’s practice of scales.  One can ‘practice’ a mark away from composition or context.  We can get to know our own language by using repetition and variation.  Repeat the same mark across a page.  For each new row, vary the mark by changing the scale, the texture, the tool, the pressure and the shape.  Keep going with new rows of marks until the whole page is filled and we start to exhaust our ideas of original mark making.  It is a mind clearing activity.  Forced to tune into the physical and concentrate on the ways of a pen or brush or pencil. 


Participatory Mark

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Image from Roanna Wells Instagram of The Tracing Process exhibition at Yorkshire Arts Space

The artist Roanna Wells recently led a collaborative exhibition called The Tracing Process at the Yorkshire Art Space.  It was all about the mark, inviting the audience to add their own repetitive brush stroke across the gallery wall.  The sum of these many parts created a set of unique hand made marks in an exquisite order.  The participatory nature of the exhibition made me wonder if the term mark making may have a different meaning or impact for the practitioner compared to the audience.  Is Wells offering the audience a new way of looking at making marks now they have played a part in their creation?  I’m sure the use of repetition and clear direction was encouraging and perhaps soothing to a first timer.

Physicality of the Mark

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Jackson Pollock at work, image by Life Magazine

‘Behind the scenes’ of mark making got me thinking about the biopic Pollock, based on the abstract artist Jackson Pollock.  Ed Harris plays the artist, sweating and heaving heavy tubs of paint across the floor, creating the famous drip paintings.  It is the close up depiction of making this work that helped me imagine the physical energy spent to create these seemingly chaotic paintings.  What exhausting work to attain such harmony and rhythm from his ‘throwing of paint’.  Attention has been much directed to the radical act of his dripping paint on the canvas floor.  Pollock himself said “It doesn’t make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.”  For me, understanding his technique does play a part in appreciating the outcome.  I know Pollock would prefer us to to focus on the painting itself, but I find the experience of his work is enhanced by holding on to the human effort involved.

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Blue Poles by Jackson Pollock, 1952

I wonder if there is a natural break or distance between practitioner and audience that occurs once work is edited, framed, mounted into it’s ‘viewing’ rather than ‘making’ state.  I think we have come to expect it as consumers, judging the work in our clean gallery attire, a world away from the studio.  I think we assume we will see this level of presentation.  However, I also believe there is a power held in the act of making marks that dissipates by the time it reaches the gallery wall.  I think there is huge hunger for understanding how work is created, permitting us to be involved somehow.  Attending the Giacometti exhibition recently at the Tate Modern, I couldn’t help but observe the very attentive mood of the crowds gathering and lingering for the video of the artist at work in his studio.  The dual presence of his completed work and fly on the wall of work in progress is perhaps one way to tackle the distance. 

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Giacometti’s world through the photographs of Ernst Scheidegger

Hierarchy and the Unseen Mark

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Installation view of the red spirals of Cy Twombly’s “Bacchus” paintings displayed at the Gagosian Gallery in 2005.  CreditRob McKeever/Gagosian Gallery

Scale and intention I’m sure play a huge role in carrying the power of the mark over this cavernous space between maker and viewer.  Walk into a room of giant Twombly paintings and dare to question ‘why bother?’ before simply uttering ‘wow’.  Feel the weight of the marks towering above you.  His enormous works help us imagine an artist at large – a looming presence in the art world, impressed upon us by his verve to use such scale.  It makes me think about the idea of hierarchy of mark alongside the quality of mark.  What is is that makes some marks more visible and more important than others?

We cherish and marvel at the large pieces by the likes of Pollock, Twombly or Monet.  We celebrate their brave and gestural energy.  I propose we all have these bold marks within us and carry them out more routinely than we realise.  Imagine if there was invisible ink attached to every cleaning cloth in our home.  When darkness descends and a torch shone, consider the furious, chaotic and aggressive marks scrubbed over floors, cupboards and surfaces.  Imagine the window cleaner with paint instead of soap in her bucket, travailing the vast glass tower block.  What display there would be of bold, uninhibited mark making to be seen from afar.  In fact now I’m thinking about the mural making duo Gilleard and Garner who have created the UK’s tallest street art project in Leeds this year.

These are the marks I like to think about, actions carried out by all of us, the technical abilities we hold of which we are unaware.  What would be the impact for us if we could clearly see our own ‘works’?  Maybe that’s why people talk about the satisfaction found in cleaning, the manual labour of paint to canvas not so far away from the movements towards a squeaky clean kitchen.

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Athena Rising by Joy Gilleard and Hayley Garner (Nomad Clan), 2017

Learning Through Copying

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Olive Orchard, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889,Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

It’s not a surprise to me now looking back, that my early favourite artists were Post Impressionists – the time of innovative painting, a new personal freedom of making marks to capture a scene and mood, moving art on towards expressionism.  I wrote an essay about Cezanne’s trees and painted replicas of Van Gogh olive groves.  The act of studying pre-existing marks on canvas at an early age still remains vivid.  I was immersed in Van Gogh’s lyrical, jubilant upstroke.  “Swirling clouds in violet haze” writes Don McLean in his beautiful song Vincent.  I knew an olive tree through the eyes of Van Gogh before seeing one in real life.  

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Paul Cézanne (1839–1906), La Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue de Montbriand (Mont Sainte-Victoire, View from Montbriand) (1882–85), oil on canvas, 65.5 x 81.7 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY. Wikimedia Commons.

Of Cezanne, I loved how his strokes required a different sort of paint brush – square, to best copy his angular marks of natural forms.  These two masters distinct and teaching me the power of repetition and consistency of mark.  They showed me how emotion within whole vistas can be governed by the direction and scale of mark. 

Mark as the Meaning

antoni_tapies_embolcall_web Antoni Tàpies, Matèria rosada (Pink Material), 1991. Collection Fundació Antoni Tàpies, Barcelona.

In my twenties I was drawn towards Tapies and Rauschenberg.  Artists who made marks look like a hurried simplicity.  Loose and large and sometimes aggressive.  I like the way their marks become the composition rather than background texture or suggestion of form.  Tapies uses a mark as symbols and messages, playing with cross and line within space.  Rauschenberg is master of control in combining the hand made mark with found image and object.  His way of using paint most closely resembling for me what those window cleaning paintings might look like in real life.

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Canyon, Robert Rauschenberg, 1959

Marks into the Future

So what of mark making into future, how will it develop?  How does the digital mark enter our vocabulary of mark making?  I’ve always held onto a remark made by Grayson Perry during BBC The Reith Lectures in 2013.  He talked about what sort of work the likes of Michelangelo or Leonardo da Vinci would be creating if they were alive today.  Still painting the ceilings?  He reckoned not, more likely to be delving into 3d printing and virtual reality – pioneers of new technologies in their own time.  I tend to agree with Perry, with so many tools at our disposal, an innovator such as Da Vinci would want to use them all, and in doing so, create new qualities of marks.

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With the ‘what would ‘Da Vinci do’ question lodged firmly in my mind, I’m looking to see how artists are now using new technologies and consider where I might join in.  Last week I went along to the MA Computational Arts degree show at Goldsmiths University, a course uniting the best of art and computing practice.  A whole range artists of artists are exhibiting their new work: dancers, architects, puppeteers, fine artists, photographers have entered the course with little or no programming experience and within the year are creating works that cross bridges between sound, taste, movement, robotics, algorithms, big data and user generated artworks.  I saw mark making created by computer, through ever changing algorithms to direct line and shape.  I read instant, personalised zines developed from searching dominant keywords in participant’s sent email.  I watched projected patchwork imagery developed from a collection of personal memories.  I had a go at digitally drawing my own jewellery to be realised through 3d printing, using algorithms determining how line and curve can interact in 3d space.  These were just a few of the twenty six artists taking part.        

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 23.16.18   ME|MORE|Y, Alix Martinez Martinez, Overlap Show 2017, Goldsmiths University

Transition of Marks

What happens to all our mark making exercises if they are not to be contained within traditional painting frameworks?  Sitting idly on computer hard drives, safe from ageing perhaps.  Or being pushed and pulled around into new outcomes both digital and physical.  How I manage my mark making, describes they way my own role moves through artist to designer.  I hope a mark can be carried through various processes and retain its essence.  My C F McEwan logo is itself a former brush stroke on paper, a carefree afternoon of mark making in the studio more than ten years ago.  Now scanned in, it’s been turned into a vector file to be stretched and squeezed into necessary sizes, stamped across web and print materials ever since.  It’s an easy reminder to self about where my roots are within art and design.  The hand writing in the logo belongs to my Dad, who’s own way of making marks as letters has always been very distinctive to me.  I asked him for five minutes of his handiwork one evening and here it is, cemented into my own textile journey.   

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September 8th, 2017

Designer Pop Up at The Lighthouse, Glasgow

The Lighthouse and Granny Would be Proud are uniting to bring The I.D. Store Pop Up to Glasgow this September 2017.

It will be an alternative to the high street, where creatives of all different backgrounds gather together to provide a unique cultural and shopping experience within Scotland’s most important design centres.

The I.D. Store will take over five floors of the Lighthouse and offer jewellery, interiors, fashion, children’s goods and vintage, all created by local independent designer makers.

C F McEwan scarves will be there!  Meet Clare and try some scarves on the 2nd Floor of the Lighthouse.

Saturday 16th September 10.30am  5pm

Sunday 17th September 12pm – 5pm

The Lighthouse, Mitchell Lane, Glasgow, Scotland


August 13th, 2017

Selvedge Fair Edinburgh 19th August 2017

The team behind the cult magazine Selvedge bring a curated collection of fifty merchants and makers to Edinburgh.  The exhibitors sell a range of rare vintage fabrics,  covetable haberdashery and skilfully handmade textile treasures.  Find C F McEwan scarves here!  Looking forward to joining in.  Dovecot Tapestry Studios, 10 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1LT, 11am – 5pm.

The venue
Having had a slightly nomadic life since its establishment by the 4th Marquess of Bute, in 1912 Dovecot Tapestry Studios moved into Edinburgh’s Infirmary Street Baths in 2006.  Built in the late 19th century in response to the cholera outbreak, this building’s restorative history reflects The Dovecot’s core principles of preserving traditional craft in a contemporary world.

Make a day of it
Enjoy a guided walk in the historic city centre with the September issue of Selvedge. Relax with a cup of tea or a delicious lunch in Leo’s Café.  Learn about the history of the Tapestry Studios on a free tour.

Drop in workshop
Throughout the day we will be running a drop- in workshop inspired by Fiona Rutherford’s mini tapestries. No need to book, simply turn up and drop-in. Tickets will be available at the door.

Getting there
Dovecot Studios are prominently located on Infirmary Street in Edinburgh’s Old Town, close to the National Museum of Scotland and are a 10 minute walk from Waverley Train Station, Edinburgh Castle and Holyrood Palace.

I am offering up to 8 free VIP tickets for free entry to this Selvedge Edinburgh Fair.  Get in touch by email to request (calre@cfmcewan.com), on a first come first served basis.  Otherwise, you can order your ticket here..

See you there!

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August 13th, 2017

Photo Walk: In Search of Shape to Mono Print

It’s been a few weeks for me since making time for a photo walk – walks that have quickly taken hold in my art life.  I walk all the time regardless of a camera.  Since moving up to Scotland a couple of months back, it’s a new routine, to walk and talk on the phone,  attempting to keep up with people I miss.  But now, making time just to walk with no other purpose than to gather images, feels luxurious, even care free.  I wrote about photo walks in a previous post last year and meant to return to the topic.  This time, I’m intending to be a little more focused.  I’ve set myself a mini challenge – to go in search of shape in my photo walk.  Finding regular or irregular shapes in my environment that will go on to inspire a range of original mono prints.

Why mono prints?  Because I love any excuse to return to this technique, always a key part of my practice and where I head in spite of any lost motivation.  Through mono printing, my spark returns.  I thought I’d carry out the challenge as a way of demonstrating how I source imagery for print making.

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Quite a few years back I was invited to join an A Level art group on their trip to Paris with the role of artist in residence.  It was magic.  Fantastic staff and students from Chalfonts Community College who embraced the city like nothing else.  I thought I was trigger happy on the camera – I met my match with these students who quickly clocked up thousands of images each in a matter of days.  We careered around the city, swarming any local graffiti and artfully decaying walls and plonked down on dusty museum floors, sketching Rodin and Degas.  I mention this trip because I learnt a lot through the student’s eyes, watching them take pictures on the street, intrigued by what intrigued them.  One of their tasks was to find faces in the city – to find signs of life in the inanimate.  It’s a game you’ve probably seen played out online.  Last week The Guardian ran a photo feature about it, celebrating the photographer Justin Sutcliffe, turns out this game has a name – facial pareidolia.  The idea was also brought to screen by new Doctor Who actor, Jodie Whittaker in the film Adult Life Skills (lovely film), whose character sees faces everywhere.  Here’s my contribution to the game – from today’s photo walk on shape…  I warn you, if you start playing too, you wont stop.

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I found it really helpful to focus in on the singular theme of shape during the photo walk.  Normally I’d be capturing all sorts of texture, colour and shadow, which can feel overwhelming to absorb all at once.  Today was about an hour’s walk – I had intended only thirty minutes, but it’s addictive.  I walked through the town and into some local countryside.  I was a little pessimistic, feeling the familiar route would not offer much – and there was rain.  As always on a photo walk, the permission to concentrate solely on photography soon opened up plenty to see.  By focusing in further on the theme of shape, I stretched my comfort zone a little.  Texture is king to me, colour it’s consort, so to ignore both was tricky.  In the end I’d say it was freeing and helped me broaden out from my go-to photo walk subjects.   I can now add drains, vents and road signage to my visual interests.  My walk generated about eighty or so images which, through a quick edit, appeared to fall into four themes.

The Square and Rectangle

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The square and rectangle were the two most dominant shapes out there on my walk.  Whether that’s to do with my own conscious bias towards these shapes or a general theme of urban life, I can’t be sure.  I focused in on details, often within the architecture, escape routes and airways, at eye level or ground.  Curves cost more money to realise in construction so perhaps that’s why these right angles trickle down into smaller features of buildings.  If I did a similar photo walk in Barcelona I wonder if squares would appear so often with architect Gaudi at the helm, who believed “the straight line belongs to men, the curved one to God.”

The Curve

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The curves seem to be additions to a scene rather than part of the furniture.  Discarded objects, graffiti and fabric all loosely embed themselves into the environment.  Within this group I notice a greater variety of material, rubbish being the common denominator.  If I’d been more savvy I would have combined my walk with a litter pick – although breaking my ‘one purpose’ rule for a photo walk.  I start to envisage my next school project, fusing photography and conservation, a team of ten year olds armed with cameras and black sacks!

The Line

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I wonder if I’m stretching the boundary of the theme of shape with the inclusion of line.  Shape and line are often listed separately as formal considerations in art and design.  I’m using the term ‘line’ as a way of grouping these images together.  Line is helpful to extract when thinking about printmaking.  I’m seeking clear motifs to inform my print designs and these are a good source.

The Negative Space 

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Perhaps another personal preference here.  I’m always drawn to areas of light or dark.  I like the idea of shape consisting of space not form.  The space created sucking in the light and offering a true black.  Another great source of motif for printmaking.  Clear and distinct shapes to copy onto the printing surface.

Preparing to Print

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Before starting some mono printing, I prepare some textured backgrounds to print over.  It’s a way of creating another layer in the print work and quickly removes the dreaded blank canvas worry.  I’m using diluted black ink and play around with some mark making ideas using tools like brushes, rags, crumpled paper, stone and rope.  I try to reference some of the textures and shapes within the photo walk images.

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Mono Printing 

With my backgrounds prepared I sift through my photo walk images and select a handful to use as a focus in my mono printing.  I view the work from my laptop although I prefer to use printouts of the images out and have them nearer to hand.  For this session I’m using a glass panel as my printing surface, an ink roller and acrylic paint.

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Once there’s an even layer of paint on the glass, I can start to add texture and line to the surface using a variety of tools to scratch away the paint…

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The paper is layered over the top of the surface, even pressure applied and then slowly peeled back to reveal the mono print…`

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The resulting prints can be seen as starting points, a way of understanding the original photographs.  Like the practice of drawing, mono printing for me is about reducing an image to its bare bones.  Extracting key shapes, textures and colours.  With these ideas I can decide to be true to the composition and copy, or release the shapes and create new pattern and arrangement to lead into future designs or original artworks.  In a another blog post, I’ll focus on collaging these mono prints together to create a larger scale, resolved piece.  Along with a love of mono print, I really enjoy the combining, layering and patch working of prints together.  Next time I’ll share ways to manage this by hand and by using digital tools.

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July 3rd, 2017

The New Creative Sign Up

You may have heard me talk about The New Creative online course I am developing this year.  To kick start the course and offer some tasters of the modules involved, I am going to launch a free mini course this September called The Eight Hour Creative.

The mini course will provide short modules about photo walks, experimental drawing, sculpting, mono printing and Adobe Photoshop.  The Eight Hour Creative is designed to support each person to build their own collection of abstract imagery over eight hours – spread over a day, a weekend, a week or a month – you choose.  By following a series of techniques and ideas I wanted to offer a ‘way in’ to being visually creative.  This course aims to be both purposeful and accessible in terms of your time and resources.

If you like the sound of a mixed media approach, interested in abstraction, texture, colour and shape, then this is for you!

To get a feeling for some of the content, have a watch of my Photo Walk Introduction video.  I use the idea of the Photo Walk as a starting point for creating original and personal imagery.  A great warm up exercise for a new creative project.

To access the free mini course, sign up to The New Creative and you will receive automatic access when it’s ready and available in September this year.


June 29th, 2017

Materials as Textiles: creating imagery from foil, concrete and paper

Materials have been a catalyst in all my work from day one.  Whenever that was.  Maybe it was watching my mum mix up flour, salt and water and turn it into salt dough (play dough that went in the oven!).  New matter created with these basic ingredients.  It was as easy as that.  Now I could be master of my own creative universe, what else could I transform?  And so it continued many experiments later into A Level choices of science and art.  For me, these two subjects asked the same question – what happens when…?  My scientific education was always a little more laden with sheer fact over discovery and things became a bit static for me there, all that memory testing.  So I ventured down the art road, hauling my science bag of tricks along with me.

I’ve always looked to artists working with non decorative materials.  Anotonio Tapies, Eva Hesse, and Robert Rauschenberg are my heroes.  Their use of plaster, rope, plastic, latex, glass, sheeting, cardboard, wood, sand and grit all signalled the power of art resting in the material itself.  Their materials do the work while they, the artist play the supreme role of editing: gathering and arranging substances to be best seen and felt.

The scientist in me did want to intervene a little more, explore cause and effect, observe, transform and look again at materials.  I learnt how to make paper, how to boil onion skins to make dye, I made paintings with mud and photocopied broken glass to make patterns.  I froze objects in water to watch them thaw and ran car tyres over my ‘road’ textiles to make a ‘real’ mark.  I read The Secret Life of Bees and promptly wanted to cover everything in honey – inspired by its imagery of the black Mary statue who was bathed in honey as worship.  I still have the screen print on a swatch of cotton in my sketchbook, richly preserved in a honey layer – nine years on.

Starting C F McEwan was, I told myself, the respectable face for all this random experimenting.  I was becoming overwhelmed by my imagery and was probably looking to give it a home.  Five years later, combined with photography and some brilliant digital print technology, there are collections of scarf designs containing all this imagery, locked up in the print.

From these scarf collections I’m choosing to explore three pieces for this blog post, sharing some of the original imagery.  Each design has a different material as their starting point – foil, concrete and paper.  There are so many more materials from the archives to share with you, but maybe I’ll save those for another post, lest this one gets a little long!

Foil

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This design is called Pi.  Naming a design can sometimes feel a bit arbitrary.  They are all abstract, I don’t always feel like it.  But this one was different.  Within the imagery sat a little sculpted piece of foil in a shape that reminded me of the symbol for Pi – π or Π, which stands for the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter.  I can thank my brother for that.  Putting Pi on my radar forever as he strove to memorise Pi to sixty decimal places.  Out done by my dad and little cousin, who later on, aimed for 100 decimal places – coz everything’s a competition.

Why foil?  I’ve always liked using low tech, easy to find materials and foil has some terrific visual and tactile properties.  I feel guilty using it in the kitchen, now I’m an ernest clip-lock Tupperware fan, but in the studio…well it would have a whole new purpose.  I ransacked the kitchen drawer and started with some simple folding.

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This is a small piece of folded foil, photographed on white paper in daylight.  It’s a good place to start.  I often begin my photography of objects on white paper.  It allows me to see clearly, watch for shadows, find the interesting edges.  But it still very much looks like foil and I wanted to transform the subject further.  Sheets of foil allow for some instant movement between the 2d and 3d.  I could use the foil as a surface and an object.

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Here’s the same piece of folded foil, now sitting on a foil surface.  Light fills and reflects off the sheeting, creating a darker and more dramatic foil object on top.  This shot is still using daylight.  I wanted to explore the lighting further, so I tried out some side lighting with an old disco light.  I love how foil holds the memory of every action, every crease and fold.  Light gets trapped in the crevices and creates great shapes and areas of light and dark.  Here’s the shape that inspired the Pi name…

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I begin sculpting with single objects, photographing one piece at a time.  Next comes some repetition.  How would these objects look in a group?  Here’s a few swatches of foil before and after some sculpting.

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As I created each new little shape, I varied the quality of the edge, moving between rolling and folding actions to create some strong contrast in shape and reflection.  I realise the word sculpting may sound a bit fanciful, when I was doing nothing more than what a person does with an empty crisp packet in the pub – pre fidget spinners.  Fair enough.  I try to call to mind that artist (who was it?!) who talked about the best sculpture being that piece of paper you fold and place underneath a wobbly table.  Its beauty residing in an elegant and efficient solution – and perhaps, also in the eye of the beholder!  But I find this idea freeing, look closely enough and the starting points are all around us.

Pi, along with other textured scarf designs, form part of the Light collection which you can see more of here.

Concrete

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It is without doubt, the paintings of Spanish artist Antonio Tapies, which led to my interest in concrete.  Yep, painting and concrete, or more accurately, ‘concrete on canvas’, being a typical caption next to his work.  He scored marks using sticks in drying cement and embedded materials like rope and cloth into the surface, composing with the raw materials.  It would take me another 15 years since first seeing his work before having a go, but the idea of concrete stayed, stored in my mental folder of must-trys.  When I was considering themes for the Spring Summer 16 collection, concrete rose to the surface again, probably sparked by the industrial interiors trend emerging.  I liked the idea of mixing silk scarves with the story of concrete.

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Here’s my equipment, plastic lining a small wooden frame and an even layer of cement mix.  I added water and stirred, the cement very quickly becoming gloopy and lumpy.  I also layered clingfilm, cellotape and paper into the lining to create textures in the drying cement.  Below is a concrete tile that shows the surface that was in contact with the plastic sheeting and the cling film – you can see the many creases.  Where I’ve tried to remove the cling film, some of the concrete has chipped away creating holes within the tile.

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With all these textures and uneven surfaces of the tiles, I thought I’d try some projection back onto the concrete surface.  Here is a series of four tiles stacked up with some digital projection of various imagery.  I love the gaps appearing between the tiles which seem to fall away into darkness – offering a new way of composing with the tiles as a group, focusing on the negative spaces.

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I got out my trusty disco light to capture the surface of the concrete, using a side angle of light to accentuate the details.  This provided some new sources of colour, great for developing some scarf designs later.  The scarf design featured in this section, I would go on to call Disco.

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I broke up the concrete tiles into fragments and photographed them in daylight and on a light box.  I enjoyed arranging the pieces and started to look at the cross sections of the fragments.  I use a lot of macro photography for close up work, ideal for these textures.  Filling the camera frame with the surface detail means a small piece of concrete can evoke a whole landscape.

You can see the rest of the Concrete scarf collection here.

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Paper

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Paper, paper, paper, I’m obsessed with it.  One of my early textile lessons at art college was to spend an hour creating as many new constructions or surface textures as possible – just using plain white paper and perhaps some scissors and cello tape to help us.  I loved it.  If this was textiles – I was hooked.  I recommend this as any creative warm up activity.  The simple act of moving 2d to 3d would become my ongoing inquiry.  Paper is perfect for this exploration.  Many years later, while brainstorming some workshop ideas for a year 12 class, I found an origami method on youtube.  I wanted students to explore that move from working 2d to 3d.  This mini video demonstrates how to make the box design.  I explored a little mark making activity first with black pen and then went on to make the box.

For my Spring Summer 15 collection, I focused on paper, I called it my Out of the Fold collection.  Everyone of the six or so designs were created using paper as a starting point.  You can see the rest of the collection here.  For the photo shoot, I returned to the origami box, this time scaling up the boxes in size to between 50-75cm in length.  I varied the folding angles and made a series of irregular origami boxes to use a backdrop.

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This scarf design, called Wall Cast was developed directly from this same origami box design.  Back in my studio, while working on the paper collection, I folded fifty or so a4 sheets of paper into this box shape.  I blu tac-ed them to the wall and lined them up in a group.  I began to partly dismantle the folds and liked the ordered chaos ensuing.  Here’s one of my only grainy pictures of that initial activity.

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This became my wall of paper boxes, now simply paper folds, full of shadow and line.  I needed some colour and went back to my digital projector to cast light and imagery onto the paper folds.  The projection of imagery was interrupted by the various angles of paper and this in turn created an interesting new surface to capture.  I photographed a series of different images projected onto paper folds – including the foil imagery.  Here are a few examples from that series that were all combined to develop the Wall Cast scarf design.

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That’s the three materials covered, foil, concrete and paper, forever to belong within my textile practice.  I share these starting points with you as much to remind myself as well as inspire others to have a go.  We are never far away from resources rich in potential.  Even a paper clip can be deconstructed and photographed, probably looking futuristic and terrifying in the process!  A good camera, thoughtful lighting and some experimental camera angles, this is my recipe for creating abstract imagery and moving materials into textiles.


June 14th, 2017

Summer Events in Scotland

THE LIGHTHOUSE, GLASGOW, JULY 15TH – 16TH

The Lighthouse is Scotland’s Centre for Design and Architecture.  This July, The Lighthouse and Granny Would Be Proud are coming together to launch The I.D. Pop-up Department Store.

Find C F McEwan scarves joining in the pop up – an alternative marketplace for the Glasgow High Street, where creatives of all different backgrounds gather to provide that unique cultural and shopping experience within one of Scotland’s most important design centres.  11 Mitchell Lane, Glasgow, G1 3NU

SELVEDGE FAIR, EDINBURGH, 19TH AUGUST

The team behind the cult magazine Selvedge bring a curated collection of fifty merchants and makers to Edinburgh.  The exhibitors sell a range of rare vintage fabrics,  covetable haberdashery and skilfully handmade textile treasures.  Find C F McEwan scarves here!  Looking forward to joining in.  Dovecot Tapestry Studios, 10 Infirmary Street, Edinburgh, EH1 1LT, 11am – 5pm.

 


May 25th, 2017

Sensing Space – Interiors of Cambodia

It’s five months since my return from Cambodia and there remains a handful of memories of particular strength.  What connects these memories quickly emerges – they are all about the use of interior space.  Space which had been intruded, abandoned, emptied out or full of presence, of light and shape.  Themes I might explore in my 2d, small scale work back home, but here, these themes are to be simply felt.  Visually arresting for sure but also provoking a range of emotion and in doing so, strengthening my recall.

How does the use of a space and the resulting shapes create these responses?  I doubt I’ll answer this in a hurry, but I am fascinated by the power these spaces can emit.  What I noticed about my own response was a swiftness to connect to artworks stored away in my head, sculptural, visual works that may have provoked similar sensations, regardless of environment.  Large scale works by artists like Kapoor, Whiteread and Turrell.  And this becomes my self directed task, to share these spaces and attempt to draw lines between art and life.

Light and Shade

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High up in the Bokor Mountains sits a collection of French Colonial buildings from the 1920’s.  One of these is the Old Casino, now a hallowed-out shell of a building with mountain winds free to move through the glassless windows.  With no way to reflect the sunlight, these spaces begin to describe the void, daring the visitor to enter the darkness within.  Yes, my imagination ignited.

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The interior is stripped bare, no furnishings to suggest a luxurious casino from the past.  But plenty to remind as a last hide out for the Khmer Rouge.  The cold concrete surfaces seem to suck in all moisture and air.  People are free to wander among the rooms, hallways, multiple staircases and dead-ends.  Without visual markings to define each space, the visitor is left muddled, left to get lost and found among the rooms.  I move internally between a sense of repulsion and awe.  The emptiness and history is unsettling but the aesthetic beautiful, perfect even.  Watching the sunlight fold and fill sharply onto the floor, elegant geometry at play, light forming shape.  In the shady interior the sunlight beams angles of momentary warmth.  My notion to escape this building is interrupted by these slices of executed light.  Back in the UK, I visit the exhibition of The Radical Eye: Modernist Photography collection by Sir Elton John at the Tate Modern.  I find my mind wandering back to Bakor mountain as I view the work.  Within the collection are reminders how light and shade have always been used as compositional tools.  The photograms and angles of László Moholy-Nagy, architectural focus of Werner Mantz and atmospheric still life of Jaromir Funke.

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Solidity

With the concrete exposed, the building’s bones revealed and unadorned by past fashions, I think of works by Rachel Whiteread.  Impressed upon by these volumes of concrete in the building, my eye seeks to invert the solid surroundings, turn them inside out, become disorientated by merges of volume and negative space.  It feels similar to the uncanny of Whiteread’s house and stairs, the familiar and the alien at meeting point.  I become aware of a certain grief, nausea or ache of something long gone.  This place saw opulence, violence and lastly abandonment.  A range of experience fixed in the walls.  My feelings perhaps heightened by the altitude, the windswept walking and general fatigue.  I roam to the top floor, seeking the more optimistic sunshine.  There are no plaques or audio guides to navigate and ground the visitor.  So we are left to project our own demons or dreams, beware your frame of mind entering this place.  The effect here would be lessened in a grey, muted climate.  It is the very physical movement between light and dark, the high contrasts that makes you dizzy.  I blame too much Hitchcock and episodes of The Prisoner for my own fate here.

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Occupation

Occupation not by people, but by trees.  Cambodia’s number one place of interest – the Angkor temples.  The site is immense, set within forest land over 400 square km, temples are scattered throughout, all built between the 9th and 15th century during the Khmer Empire.  Each temple is a record of design, craft and belief.  Like many, top of my list of temples to visit were the tree filled Ta Prohm and Ta Som, made famous by films like Tomb Raider.  Visitors line up and move slowly through the structures of creaking roots, trunks and stone combined.  Time and climate have fused the textures here into one, as if always in co-existence.  It is now too risky for the safety of the temple to have the trees removed, so here they remain.

 

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After the fall of the Khmer Empire in the 15th century, the temples were abandoned for centuries, leaving the trees free to invade, forever upsetting the order of inside and outside.  What is this visceral reaction to a tree-engulfed wall?  It seems to provoke such drama and unease, too easy to say creepy.  I combine these feelings with those left at Bakor, what I know to be true is subverted, re-arranged in front of me.  My security of how things should be is shaken.  I feel naive here among the ancient temple and trees, insignificant in probably a healthy, very human way, whilst up against epic themes of nature and time passing.  Here I am witness to time having past a great deal, way beyond my own meagre lifespan.  Maybe its that.  These unexpected shapes of tree and stone reminding me of my own mortality, to be quashed eventually just like these tree roots strangling the brickwork in its path.

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Which artists come to mind among the trees?  I think of artists working with land and nature, someone like Goldsworthy.  I came across an image of Hanging Tree from his past exhibition at the Yorkshire Sculpture park.  A stone wall built around a fallen tree.  In opposition to Ta Prohm, the wall appears to act as protector/holder of the tree.  Goldsworthy often uses the tree form as a starting point in his work – to weave and surround with willow or direct further stone paths through forest.  Although with much artifice, Goldsworthy’s touch can remain light, and I think at its best when materials are free to suggest their own shapes and line.  When his work is brought inside like Clay Room or Oak Room it takes on a new power, elevating the familiar and humble to something rarefied as in Ta Prohm.

Presence

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I return to memories of Bakor mountain for this theme of presence.  Another seemingly abandoned space, this time, the old Catholic Church along the road from the old casino.  Although stripped of most furniture and decoration familiar to most Catholic Churches, a few symbolic touches remain.  Amid the quiet are the figures of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.  Who would not be saddened by their broken, absent faces, in sharp relief against the whitewashed wall.  Their presence remaining strong, however threatened by graffiti and debris.

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The familiar sense of stillness within a church is thrown out here.  The interior has seen much action, a hold up during battles, its wounds seen in bullet-holed walls.  Today, the scene feels at once barren and frenetic.  Spirit and man circling the church, neither feeling finished as the wind continues to blow.  There are many clues to detect the past and present life of this church, too enticing to ignore.  Who supplies the bright-white altar cloth and burns the incense?  Who wounds Mary, writes on the walls or eats their lunch off this stone floor?  For all its isolation up on the mountain, it has its caretakers.  It’s brighter than many a church I’ve entered, daylight pouring in from windows, now free of any adornment or obstruction.  Where the old casino remained dark inside, here there is so much light.  I feel a need to connect with the holy figures here, thankful for them in this worn out space, but forced to reflect back their pain.  What remains feels a space both for sorrow and hope.

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Connections to other artworks is more tricky, I’m drawn more to film rather than sculpture or photography to explore this sense of presence.  Artists who might use long, still shots, textural composition and natural sound and I think of Russian film maker Andrei Tarkovsky, who talked about ‘sculpting in time’.  ‘By using long takes and few cuts in his films, he aimed to give the viewers a sense of time passing, time lost, and the relationship of one moment in time to another.’  I found Poetic Harmony a very helpful video essay about Tarkovsky and a good starting point for his work.

 

Filled

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Of my most vivid memories of Cambodia, this theme remains top.  My cycle through the salt fields of Kampot, right on the south coast of the country was a favourite day during my travels.  That afternoon cemented once again my textile roots, where colour, shape and texture all combine along dusty roads of an extremely flat landscape.  The terracotta sandy paths burnt into my mind, along with the contrasting grey salt fields and rusty coloured huts on the road to the sea.  I never got to the sea, I was too slow before nightfall, distracted with photographs, meeting locals and exploring every hut in reach.

The odd gap in the wall of the huts meant I could peer inside.  I saw mini landscapes of salt, mound after mound, from floor to ceiling.  Piles of salt shaded from the sun, ready to be transported to factories for iodising.  Along came that peculiar sensation in response to the disrupted space.  These were interiors filled with one task, not at all domestic, no spaces or corners exposed to give shape to the room.  How I ‘know’ a room was challenged again.  The icy whites of the salt mounds made me think of snow peaks, a miniature mountain range held up by bamboo and iron.

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I consider an artist who creates similar sensations with shape.  I immediately think of Kapoor, sculpting with colour and material to make shapes you know and don’t know at once.  Scale and perspective used as tools to fool and amaze the viewer of their position in a space.

Reframed

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The wind plays its role again, in my last theme, taking place back up on Bakor mountain.  This time it’s the old villa where huge panoramic once-windows dominate the ground floor.  It’s also an empty, abandoned shell, but this villa feels different to the church and casino.  Rather than a focus on the interior, the position of wide windows steer the eye to the horizon.  It’s the outside seen from within that is the film to watch here.  The space is re-framed by these windows.  I stand and watch my nature films play out, long grasses blowing in the wind, live TV of hurried movement out there, but still and quiet in here.  This carefully selected view feels now elevated, merely by the suggestion of the interior frame.

 

 

I think of the light artist James Turrell, so practised at guiding and managing our view.  I think of his Sky Spaces, ‘a specifically proportioned chamber with an aperture in the ceiling open to the sky.’  Or his mammoth undertaking of the Roden Crater – a large-scale artwork created within a volcanic cinder cone by light and space, a controlled environment for the experiencing and contemplation of light.’  Turrell says “My desire is to set up a situation to which I take you and let you see. It becomes your experience.”  There’s no meddling with the content of what one might see, but carefully designed space to support the act of seeing – to affect the quality of our experience of seeing.

Through writing this I’ve been considering if there is a way to connect my experiences of these interiors.  I don’t think it’s just about being in Cambodia.  There are opportunities to explore provocative space wherever we are.  I think it helps if the space is new to us, jolting us into being more aware.  Cambodia was new for me, every day I was guaranteed to be surrounded by something new.  That was my mission of travel, so it was inevitable I would collect sensations.  When home, I think art plays its ultimate role – heightening our awareness wherever we seek it.  Although sounding uncomfortable, I think it’s about the act of being displaced.  Some might say art is about being transported, but I feel ‘displaced’ is closer to the bone – more realistic.  The power of my response seems to lie in that dual presence of what I know and what I do not know – something disrupted, maybe it’s about drama.  I always liked the elegant solution by artist Christo who ‘changed up’ familiar surroundings or ways of knowing a place.  A gift to those who live nearby the artworks.  He and his team famously wrapped up in cloth, landmarks like the Reichstag in Germany and the Pont Neuf in Paris.  One of my favourites is The Valley Curtain in Colarado, where Christo altered the landscape on a huge scale with a piece of cloth.  He altered the view for all those driving through the valley and in doing so, forever altered the experience for those on the road.

 


May 15th, 2017

West Dean Arts and Craft Festival

Fast approaching is the West Dean Craft Festival on 2nd – 4th June 2017.

West Dean is the beautiful college in West Sussex, recognised for conservation and creative arts.  The festival includes a vibrant mix of demonstrations, workshops, marketplace and print fair.

Meet Clare from C F McEwan and shop for scarves at the Print Fair hosted by the team from MADE during the festival.

10am – 5pm (last entry 4.30pm)Sign up for events during the festival here.