Archives for posts with tag: Birmingham
The canvases are resting on the floor as I haven't secured the wood yet. Need to do the words first.

The canvases are resting on the floor as I haven’t secured the wood yet. Need to do the words first.

It was an interesting day yesterday. Rectified canvas three by rearranging the bible verses bound around the wood so that there are much less of them and it’s more ordered for the composition. But in doing that I’ve realised that there needs to be something more than the scarlet thread to link the four canvases together… a key verse that is written across them all. It needs to be clear and readable but not so solid that it looks out of place. Have experimented on a separate canvas to see if I can get the effect I wanted and I think I’m there with it.

Canvas I've used to try out different techniques.

Canvas I’ve used to try out different techniques.

I just need the verse…. and the kids break up for the summer in two hours!!!! Good job they still go to bed at a reasonable time. Can see me in the shed most evenings until this is finished but stuck until I know what the verse is. I think it’s probably going to be Jeremiah 29 v 7 as I know the church has a passion for and is seeking the peace and prosperity of the greater Birmingham area and it’s a verse that has been mentioned quite a few times but I need to be sure. Excited that it’s nearly complete.

It’s in these moments of stillness that you reflect over the whole process and realise just what a privilege it is to be an artist and to be able to use simple things like canvas and pigment to form something that hopefully reflects God’s heart, even if just a little.

The white skyline needed attention!!

The white skyline needed attention!!

I was really glad to get into the shed today. I only have two days a week that I can potentially get into the shed with nothing else on my mind, and often only one of those actually happens because of other jobs and family commitments, so on a morning when I know I have those few precious hours to create I get quite excited. The previously white skyline was my mission this morning, to try and blend it from the cross into the skyline; to hint at buildings and to emphasise maybe those that are more familiar on the Birmingham horizon such as the Bull Ring car park bubble building as it is know as in our house, and the tall building next to the church.

Added layers blue, brown and white to the skyline to add definition

Added layers blue, brown and white to the skyline to add definition

It is quite scary sometimes working in layers because you find it hard to stop at the right time: layering¬†paint over and over, sometimes rubbing back into the paint and covering the whole thing with water with the hope that definition will eventually come and the whole thing looks aesthetic and balanced. The background, as it has dried, has become more dull and I was doubting my previous decision to stop on that. But as the water dripped down the canvas the colours became vibrant again so I know my decision was right. The brown was incredibly flat, a flatter finish than I’d anticipated, but the additional blue and white tones have done what I’ve wanted.

Mustard seeds slowly taking shape

Mustard seeds slowly taking shape

I still think I’ll add layers over this but for now I’ll let the paint dry and see what happens. The cross is far too neat and tidy so that will definitely need rectifying. I would like to add more text to the piece as well so that will be my next thinking through. On of the canvases I want do bind two words onto it, directly referring to Proverbs 3: 1-8 Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. I want to explore the word ‘bind’ a little more to see what materials to use for this idea visually. That’s the rest of this afternoon. To¬†add definition I also spent a little time on the mustard seeds. They are becoming a little more defined. I like their unfinished nature…..

Texture paste base onto which I will paint

Texture paste base onto which I will paint

It’s a beautiful day and it’s such a privilege to spend some of it in the shed. The pieces are taking shape now and are becoming much more visual than textural. After the texture paste arrived I’ve now finished filling in the cross, skyline and the seeds. The left hand canvas will need audience participation so hopefully I can do that either tonight or at the weekend, but the others just need careful layers of painting now. The logo has been placed on top of the street where Birmingham Vineyard currently stands, with The streets of Birmingham spread out to the left and to the right.

Close up of canvas two

Close up of canvas two

The seed image has been based on a mustard seed, used widely in the bible as a symbol of faith. The smallness of the seed in contrast to the vastness of the eventual tree is quite staggering. The texture of the seed is quite mottled close up so the texture paste was a perfect base for this image. The symbolism of the mustard seed for me is birth, potential and hope, God breathing life into the city through small acts of kindness and the witness of individuals within their workplace. It speaks hope to me, that God can potentially use the little that I have to speak into the lives of those around me where I naturally stand. We studied in our house group only yesterday about our responsibility to do all things without grumbling but with rejoicing (Philippians 2:11-18). I am more than aware that I fail on so many levels, this being one of them. I am a renowned mumbler in our house when I’m disgruntled, cross or have a chore ahead of me that I despise. And yet if I choose to aline my will with His there is potential. If I chose to root myself in His truth and take everything thought captive, He can take all that I am without and make it so much more productive and helpful to both myself and those around me.

Sampler trying to work out which method works best

Sampler trying to work out which method works best

After stitching to the canvas I can see immediately that a single row of stitches really isn’t going to show up when the canvas is primed, so with that thought in mind today I have tried several different stitches over torn material. The material, now that is sorted. It’s all going to come from one piece, many pieces making one whole. Happy with that. And the stitching can still be different colours, but it’s the way the material will react to the primer I need to work out. If the stitching is thin, a single line, it will allow the material to lift off the canvas base and this could be a good effect but it could also be too overpowering and make the following layers more distorted…..

Sampler with gesso primer onto top to show how the material will lie when primed

Sampler with gesso primer onto top to show how the material will lie when primed.

and as I thought the one line of stitching does lift off the base too dramatically for the following layers to work but the medium zig zag stitch is good and will allow me the option to lift areas if I need to.

And so the stitching begins….. lots and lots of roads!

Stitching the roads begins...

Stitching the roads begins…

I like the look of it already and I’ve only just touched the surface…..

Transferring map onto canvas

Transferring map onto canvas

Started work on the Work and City Renewal section of the canvases. This was the clearest picture I had and it was present as soon as the commission was outlined. The church is to reach out: outside itself, outside the building, outside our comfort zone.

Before the canvas will be stretched over the frame I often stitch into the material and create a textural surface on which to work. This ‘going out’ was initially seen as a series of human shaped forms that were joined together and stretched out from a central point (the place of feeding and restoration, God, the church building, all these symbols work). But I wanted to ground it in the specific place where the church stands and works and wants to make their impact….. Birmingham. Using the road map grid as a means to show the outpouring of God’s grace through the people of this church just seemed more appropriate. The idea rather than the exact scale is important.

Canvases one and two

Canvases Two and Three

And so the process begins, transferring the map of Birmingham onto the second of the four canvases and then continuing these roads and lines into the canvases either side to express the outpouring of Holy Spirit and His transformational grace. The canvas is now in the process of being taken off the frame and stitched into again. Although the canvas will be primed and will lose a lot of the definition, it seemed important to do the stitching in colour. Andrew McNeil talked about us being like colours, hues in God’s palette, and although I think this symbolism will occur in the canvas elsewhere it seemed right to include this at the very beginning.

My Bible reading today drew me to 1 Chronicles 11: 10-11 which talks of David’s mighty men, these incredible men who dedicated their lives to serving and loving and protecting David, enabling him to become the King God intended him to be. It talks of them ‘linking arms’ with him and I found this to be a really powerful image, one of strength but also one of personal sacrifice.

Stitching the canvas

Stitching the canvas

I recently went ice skating with my daughter and for the first thirty minutes I was literally holding her up and supporting her as her confidence grew. And in that time I was limited in my speed and in my ability to stand whilst holding her. It came back to me suddenly as I was reading this that this is the church’s commission: reaching out beyond ourselves, slowing down our speed and falling into step with those around us to help them understand more of God’s grace and love. By walking alongside them, linking arms with them, Jesus can be revealed.

Gage and Tompsett

Gage and Tompsett

Wigley and Nicolle

Wigley and Nicolle

I often find my research leads me all over the place and, through this meandering, images come together and ideas start to sprout. I’ve been considering the skyline and looking at various artists including John Gage and Michael Tompsett who have both used the Birmingham skyline in their work.

I have been considering the artistic processes of Maria Wigley and Florian Nicolle and their juxtaposition of text and image as a means of brainstorming the potential use of text within the skyline. All very inspiring and exciting.

But the research that has shaped the piece the most so far is the research into sackcloth and ashes. One of the methods I use in the majority of my work is to split the canvas, tear it, and then re-stitch it back together again. For me, and especially this piece, it helps the composition to have a strip of blank colour at the base of the work, but symbolically the importance is much greater. I use this technique to just put my hands up and acknowledge that every piece I lay before Him will never be perfect, cannot be perfect because I am not perfect. God has taught me so much through my flaws. Many of my landscapes consider the way we so often pick at ourselves and get frustrated over our imperfections rather than seeing ourselves as a whole. We focus on the negative rather than that we do well. Through these lessons God has helped me acknowledge and own that not only am I imperfect but that despite that He can still speak through me and the artwork we create together.

SackclothNehemiah, when starting to consider the task ahead of him, does not start by leaning on his own strength and capabilities but wears sackcloth and ashes and fasts for four months. As Simon Bateson said, he started in a place of prayer. Sackcloth was made out of coarse goat hair. It was incredibly uncomfortable and rough to wear. The modern equivalent is burlap (hessian) or jute which I plan to use over the canvas at the base of each piece, acknowledging that we start this task with Him, not leaning on ourselves. It starts in a place of prayer.

Studio frames ready

The wooden pieces have been put together and the frames are formed and ready to go. They look so insignificant in comparison to the vision, which I suppose is the point really. The raw materials always seem so ordinary, so unassuming. But layer by layer as the stitching, paint, text and image is added, the meaning and the significance and the unexpected begin to shine through. Who would think that pigment and wood and material could eventually symbolise so much, and yet we often think so little of ourselves and focus on our ordinariness. Yet God sees so much more in us and can do so much more through our willingness to walk with Him, talking to Him and searching out what is on His heart each day.

And so that is what I plan to do: to sit before Him with these canvases and ask Him what it is that He wants me to paint. He has given me a glimpse of the first few layers but not much beyond that, which is exciting and a little nerve racking, but it will ensure that I come before Him to see clearly.

Tomorrow we start.

Had a strange but boundary pushing day today, meeting up with Andrew McNeil at Birmingham Vineyard to talk about the four canvases…… on camera, and that is the boundary pushing bit! After collecting the separate frame pieces and canvas from Harris Moore I rolled up to Barford Street and met up with Andrew who, after a quick drink and chat, proceeded to interview me. It’s gobsmacking what utter drivel comes out of your mouth when you are first presented with questions, a lot of intelligent “errrr”ing and “mmmmmm”ing. Not the greatest start. And then, when the camera was actually rolling and the questions were posed, all of a sudden it all comes together and words from completely outside myself spill coherently from my mouth. Well, most of them!!! Mike, the cameraman, I’m sure will be more than adept to edit any ridiculousness.

If I am being totally honest, it is such an exciting project I have felt a little apprehensive about doing the canvases. To capture another’s vision is such an honour and privilege but it is also slightly nerve wracking. However, after the filming today and the nervousness I felt there, bring it on! It will feel like coming home.

The frames have been made and the canvas is ready. This is such a brilliant part of the process, to see these items in front of you. You get a real sense of the whole rather than just the individual canvas; and the smell of the wood and the new canvas is quite heady, earthy for me, a smell that I associate with new potential, energy and a desire to create.

I can pick them up Thursday. It will be then that we will see if the preparatory work will actually be realised or whether, which is usually the case, the ideas shift and change slightly to accommodate the materials.

Until Thursday…..

Listened again today to the first two Nehemiah talks at http://www.birminghamvineyard.com. The message is clear: God can transform the city around us step by step through each one of us, from the youngest the oldest. Each of us has a part to play if we place our lives in His hands. We can all be part of His masterpiece. Inspirational.