Deciding on my theme took much thought. 'Glass' and 'Family History' were the two I kept coming back to. Eventually I decided on the ancestry theme because there seems nothing more personal than my own family history and there is more of an urgency. I'm aware that as living relatives age, some of the information and stories I may capture could be lost forever. At the many exhibitions I've visited since starting this course, I've always been interested when an artist has stated their work been influenced by their home or roots, whether it is the traditional colours or techniques, such as Aboubakar Fofana's indigo dyed 'trees' that I loved at the Cotton: Global Threads study visit. I wanted to look in more detail ways to represent memories and family history visually.
One of the challenges of this theme is that most of the inspiration stems from documents, verbal stories and photographs. I'm very wary of getting too sentimental and sticking in too many happy sepia photos, particularly after reading the heated discussion that arose on the OCA blog following tutor James Hunting's post 'Why Nostalgia Makes Me Weep'. There is little in the way of actual objects for my theme and I don't yet imagine myself working in an abstract way like Sue Hiley Harris. In her Ancestor Bags Exhibition, she admits she has no time for pattern and decoration. Structures, symbols and geometry are what appeals.
Below is a coloured pencil drawing I've done of John Beetham Benson's wood cutting tool - one of the few artifacts I do have. I believe my great grandfather was a cabinet maker in a family business in Liverpool around 1900. The background is overlapping outlines of the shape in a black Zebra pen. Anne showed us that these can be quite effective to make shadows when used with water and a brush to blur the edges.
Anne had recently bought an old typewriter we could try out. It has been many years since I used one and great fun. How quick and easy it was to use too compared to a printer! I could just put my paper in and position it whichever angle I liked, though I was slightly confused by the zero being the same key as capital letter O! The font was identical to the letters in the name 'J.B. Benson' stamped on the tool and also similar to the names 'Robisorby Sheffield' and 'Ross Alexander Liverpool' which I could just make out with my magnifying glass. I've now discovered these were the manufacturer and tool dealer. These little details and the dents and marks on the tool feel like clues that help me to imagine the life lived.
It was not long after Remembrance Day so I decided (high risk of becoming nostalgic!) to dedicate a page to Arthur Francom, my Grandfather's brother who was killed in action in 1918. Most of the information I collected, I had already seen, but in making this page I've noticed details I'd not before considered, such as the date the battle began was Arthur's birthday, which is why I added the question 'How did you spend your 19th birthday?'. I wondered how he felt that morning. Had he been reading a letter from home and how much did he know about what was about to happen?
I typed an extract from a letter written to his relatives who had enquired about the circumstances and discovered I could paint over the text and it was still quite visible so used this to start the large poppy. My Grandfather had once told my dad that his older brother Arthur had volunteered and 'you couldn't tell him anything' and this information is also incorporated. The poppy collage is made up of painted areas and papers and the central part is crumpled baking parchment I had kept after experimenting with dyes. This lifts up to reveal uniformed Arthur's photograph. I tried my new gouache paints for the small poppies and various materials to get a red spatter to represent the spilled blood on the map of Lys where the fatal battle took place. Red ink flicked from a soft brush gave the best effect.
I've never got on well having general sketchbooks but so far, I've found I really like collecting information by theme. It's somewhere I can put, and find related notes and ideas, sketches, experiments and information. I can imagine having a collection of themed books rather than one sketchbook so is maybe this is an approach I can try for future.