Last summer I visited the 249th Royal Academy Summer Exhibition, the world’s largest open-submission that showcases work from both established and emerging artists. Whilst thoroughly enjoying the large collection of contemporary art in many different mediums, I decided that I would have a go the following year and put the date on my calendar.
The applications opened in January, but I then had to reconsider my plan to enter. 2018 would be the 250th anniversary of the show and in celebration of this, the brief was ‘Art Made Now’ and artists were encouraged to enter work made in 2017/2018. ‘The Bristol 2 Litre Engine’, my chosen piece of work to submit, had been made in 2014. I decided that it was worth a chance and completed the application, but I then stayed quiet and didn’t tell anyone about the submission.
On 15th March, the very much anticipated update to my submission status appeared – I had been shortlisted. I was requested to take the work to the Royal Academy of Art on 10th May for the second round of judging.
After recovering from the shock and excitement of being shortlisted, I thought it would be good to share the news. I won’t know the final decision until 26th May, but until then, I am going to enjoy this news and look forward to delivering ‘The Bristol 2 Litre Engine’ to the RA. It will be viewed and judged by the royal academicians, with Grayson Perry as the coordinator of the show.
My drawing of an elderly couple who sat opposite me on a London commute is continuing to push my art form to levels that I could never have imagined.
Nine years ago, my late husband and I were discussing the merits of studying art to degree level. Carl said that he could accept the cost and disruption to our family life if we could be sure that it would lead somewhere. I wasn’t sure if that would happen but persuaded him because I just wanted to do it.
I had never embroidered before I started my degree at Bath Spa and only used my sewing machine to make clothes. Now I sit at my machine wondering how all this happened. I am both excited and continually challenged because the drawing has been formidable. It has pushed the boundaries of stitch and my understanding of the art.
Every new part of the drawing has brought different challenges that I hadn’t quite expected. The difficulties creating colours from thread to match skin tones, making the carrier bag look translucent, capturing the reflections in the window and the aged hand gripping the bags tight. But now it is nearing completion with only a quarter of the drawing left to stitch before I pin it to loft boards and wash out the supporting, dissolvable fabric.
The completed drawing will be on show at Chelsea College of Art, 12th to 21st July 2018 as part of the Society of Designer Craftsmen show, ‘The Hand of the Maker’.
For a while, I have been considering options for my website. Whilst Squarespace has provided a professional looking format, I have decided to cancel the subscription due to cost and difficulties updating without my son’s help. My hesitation had happened for a reason – I knew that I would find swapping everything over from one site to another complicated, and I was right. Terminologies like domain transfer, SSL certificate and local mapping called ‘cache’ felt like a new and very strange language.
After a lot of help from my son and a friend, and some confusing conversations with the online help centres, the changes were made and the domain name julieheaton.com will now bring you to this blog rather than my Squarespace website.
Over the Easter Holiday I plan to develop this space to include an artist bio, current news, a gallery and a blog, but until this is completed I have added some images of previous projects.
More news and images to follow about my current free machine embroidered drawing ‘A Couple on the Tube’. The piece is very large and is keeping me busy because it needs to be ready to exhibit at Designer Crafts, Chelsea College of Art, July 2018 in association with The Society of Designer Craftsmen.
When showing or talking about my work people often say ‘you must have a very elaborate sewing machine…’ and I always reply with the same answer ‘I only need running stitch and the ability to drop the dog feed’. My very first and subsequent early drawings were made on my well loved and reliable Bernina 1090 sewing machine. The dog feed was lowered, embroidery foot attached and the stitched drawings started to emerge but as I became more ambitious, the scale increased and it became clear that I needed more space under the arm of the machine.
Choosing a new sewing machine was exciting but also slightly daunting – it was like a right arm and it had to fit with my creative requirements and budget. After visiting shops in Bristol exploring different makes and types of machines, I returned to the Bernina brand and found Quilt Direct online. I began having conversations with Katherine who appeared to know everything there was to know about Bernina machines and asked several questions about my work so that she could make sure that I purchased the correct machine.
In March 2016 I took delivery of my new machine – the Bernina 720. I now owned an ‘elaborate’ sewing machine but the reasons for the choice were simple – fantastic lighting, accurate digital control of the tension and large bobbins that could hold a lot more thread. Simple requirements but fundamental for my process.
After taking delivery of the new sewing machine, Katherine at Quilt Direct was very happy to provide any other support that was required and continues to be available if any help is required. A very intense and complicated process of working is now an absolute pleasure.
When I first started making drawings from thread I liked the fact that my errors became part of the work. The first finished piece called ‘We should smile more…’ contained errors that caused the drawing to fall apart in places giving it a soft, organic feel and creating movement.
Life isn’t perfect and my drawings weren’t either, and I liked this comparison. However, as my drawings became bigger and more detailed I found myself correcting the mistakes, and then doubt about this practice started to creep in. My chosen method of working, that included the keeping of imperfections, allowed me to throw away any inhibitions and preconceived ideas about how the finished piece could or should look. Making the corrections felt wrong because I had lost a key element that had been the cornerstone of my technique.
Whilst Henri Moore said that ‘great art is not perfect’ (1966), the process of correcting errors in art has always happened. The Old Masters used tools such as mirrors and lenses (Hockney, 2001) to reproduce exquisite and accurate detail, and canvases often had overpainted work beneath the finished image (BBC, 2016 and 2017) and It could be argued that this was part of the story and invoked conversation. However, when I look at contemporary embroiderers’ work, I always view it as perfect. If there are any corrections, they aren’t obvious and this is making me question whether or not they are well judged.
St Amelie by Paul Delaroche and George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham by Rubens – both were discussed on recent TV programs where experts discovered corrections and overpainted areas.
Currently, corrections are part of my making because the drawings are too intricate and detailed to discard and start again. However, the process for making these corrections is quite daunting and has an element of risk involved. Is the mistake that obvious? Will I successfully manage to remove the error and will the correction blend into the existing stitching? If it doesn’t blend in, does that matter?
These images show how I try to make the corrections. In the first picture, I have cut out a part of her brown coat because it looked flat and didn’t work. This has had a new piece of solufleece inserted from the back, pulled tight and stitched into place. The second image shows what the back looks like when areas of stitch have been reworked.
This can be a parallel with my life – I really find it tricky when I get things wrong and will go over and over the issues in my mind. Making errors and then deciding if they need correcting seems to be something we all have to do, perhaps how we manage this says a lot about who we are.
BBC (2016) Fake or Fortune. BBC1 Documentary. Series 5: 2. 60 minutes.
BBC (2017) Lost Masterpieces BBC4 Documentary. Series 2: 1. 60 minutes.
Hockney, D. (2001) Secret Knowledge. Rediscovering the lost techniques of the Old Masters. London: Thames and Hudson Ltd
Moore, H. (1966) Writings and Converstaions. Available online. Google books.
Last year when shiftWorks showed at the NCCD in Sleaford, a member of Seam collective was invited to run a workshop on making a shift dress in a day. On Saturday 15th July this year, I ran the workshop on the top floor in a large, sunny room with 6 participants.
The ladies had all come with various requirements for the day; a gentle reminder of some sewing basics like following a pattern, personal development in dressmaking skills, and learning how to adjust and fit patterns in a relaxed, but supportive environment.
The day got off to very quick start with the plan that the paper patterns would be cut out, appropriate adjustments made and fabrics prepared ready to start sewing after lunch. For 4 ladies, the adjustments were quite simple, but for two participants, we had to do more detailed pattern adjusting and whilst we managed that in the morning, we didn’t have enough time to make a proper toil before moving onto the dress. The decision was made to concentrate on the fitting and pattern adjustment, make a toil from the fabric brought to the class, and then construct the new, altered shift dress after the workshop.
At 12.30, we stopped for lunch and enjoyed our pre ordered food in the open planned cafe on the ground floor of the NCCD surrounded by inspiring contemporary craft displayed in the shop.
During the afternoon we started to construct the dresses working at a fast pace but within people’s capacity, referring to prepared samples and demonstrations as required.
The afternoon passed by very quickly and at 4pm, the time we were due to end, the sewing machines were still stitching but the dresses were taking shape and the last moments of the day were being fully utilised with zips going in and final fittings being discussed.
The day had had some challenges, but it had been fun from start to end. I feel very privileged to have had this opportunity to meet a lovely group of ladies and teach at the National Centre for Craft and Design.
To make my stitched drawings I use rayon embroidery thread and now have a collection of approximately 100 colours. However, this vast collection of colours are still not perfect for my needs and just like an artist who may use paint, pencils or pastels, I have to manipulate my threads so that I can achieve a realistic finish that will cause a discussion about the work.
After carefully studying the colours in the image, I choose 2 different threads, one for the top and one for the bottom. With my selected colours on the machine, I then play with the tension so that I can alter how much of the bottom thread comes through to the surface, allowing the correct tone. Whilst colours may appear solid, they never are and a much better result is achieved through this process.
Before I use the colour on the work, I test the mix of threads with altered tensions on a spare piece of dissolvable fabric stretched in a hoop.
I will never get true to life colours with threads but with this technique, I can get as close as I need to to make the image work.