Threaded Heart, emotions in charcoal

When Marsha sent me the info on her new workshop “Threaded Heart”,  co-produced with Dancer, Giselle Liu, I was lukewarm about it. I wrongly assumed it was in the genre of “Spiritual” which generally makes me uncomfortable. However it was a generous invitation to join the group and incorporated drawing and getting dirty; two of my favourite pastimes.

On the day, and late, I made my way up three, grubby, concrete flights in the Arts Club,W1. Passing eager young actors on their way to rehearsals I eventually opened the narrow swing door into “The Pigeon loft”,  a bright timber-clad studio with peeling paint. Despite the overcast sky, through the glass roof a comforting soft light came, falling on a group of youthful lithe figures: mainly dancers. If I was feeling slightly apprehensive before, now I was feeling insufficient physically too; but it was too late to flee.

After an introduction and short relaxation session, to wipe away jitters and travel stress, came the first exercise. While we sat cross-legged with eyes closed, Marsha distributed sticks of Charcoal and 10 sheets of A4 paper to all. We listened for an emotion to be called out to which we instinctively reacted, marking the paper. Emotions from anger to fear came tumbling out, duly expressed in charcoal. This turned out a remarkable sequence and when all were laid out on the floor, was impressive.

We were then asked to pick out the two that caught our immediate attention, “jumped out at you”. Not knowing what these signified till turned over, there were some interesting results. I happened to pick out joy and grief.

In the next exercise things became more physical. Each picked a handful of charcoal, in assorted shapes and sizes. The floor, laid out with huge sheets of joined cartridge paper, became a vast dance canvas.  Armed with our charcoal and a music score ranging from warlike to melancholy, we set off in unison on our unique emotional choreographies. 

The dancers moved their bodies sinuously into alternating poses of torture and despair, morphing  into sensuous erotic movements with strong, black, vigorous marks appearing on the canvass. I watched one dancers’ tight ball of utter sorrow unfold into a rolling wave, creating a pale misty cloud in charcoal.  An uplift in melody allowed her body to press tightly along the floor and a delicious cool grey curve appeared. All the while, I pranced about with my charcoal in generally discordant jerky movements, more intent on branding the paper with strange and varied smudges, lines and blotches. 

As the music progressed and I noted a feeling of calm and general wellbeing fold over me, broad dark curves and spidery squiggles  began to appear. I struck and stroked the floor with varying intensity while the music changed in tempo. This was grand, I’d stopped peeking at the dancers and was thoroughly enjoying myself.  

When all good things came to an end,  we were left with a canvas of gigantic proportions from which the energy rose like hot air off tarmac. Blackened head to foot and chatting gaily we tidied up and “wet-wiped’ ourselves fit for London transport. Strangely I was the only one who ripped off my corner of the floor to keep: Now, for the time being, hanging on my kitchen wall. 

A very good workshop indeed and a very pleasing result.  I hope many more workshops grow and evolve out of this one. Thank you Marsha and Giselle with all my threaded heart.

Denim Masterclass

  I was down to one pair of jeans: they were delegated DIY wear and covered in paint. So my ears pricked up one day listening to a man called Han Ates being interviewed on BBC4 On checking his website, Blackhorse lane Ateliers, I found 4 styles of Jean, each named after a London post code: all for men. 
I made a call to ask why. “Ahh”, they said, “we’re working on two new styles for women right now and if you sign on to one of our master Denim courses you can tailor your own with one of our patterns.” This was an opportunity too good to be missed. A two day course with delicious lunches thrown in? I signed up. The below link will give you a taste of the dedication and passion I encountered. 

 If you’re fed up with thrown together, high cost jeans, made for insects, then making your own, with the best quality materials, under expert tuition, is the way to go.  

 Day 1 

 The twelve others of the group came from areas as diverse as acting, fire fighting, apprentice tailor and Deli owner and a Dutch, minor fashion industrialist. All were passionate about taking the time to achieve a personalised item, emanating quality.  We learnt quickly against a backdrop of humming machines, the clip, clip of scissors and the colourful language on having to laboriously unpick seems.  Three meters of selvaged denim and a pattern of rigid cardboard pieces to mark around, immersed us immediately in the workshop vibe. Next came the fashioning and pinning of the front pockets, complete with coin pouch.  After the most delicious lamb kebab and almost too full to move, I managed to fit my beautifully crafted one piece fly (An Atelier speciality) and have the Jeans front ready by close of day. 

 Day 2 

 Forget those Japanese names, Big John,  Blue blue Japan, Momotaro; Blackhorse, made in London are the jeans to have. Today we moved on to the back Jean area and the chance to stamp our mark with the seaming and placing of the back pockets. Rivets, concealed rivets? single or double seam? Seam within the confines of the pocket area or spilling out of it? and the motif on the pocket itself? extra minimal with nothing at all or over-the-top with a fish?
This was also the time to make precise alterations to the bum and hip area to insure a tailored fit. At last my jeans were coming together and it was time to seam up the legs and crutch.
The rear, somehow being longer than the front, needed stretching and an immense amount of pinning to ensure even leg length. Folding in and stitching was tricky and when it came to the final outer seam I have to admit I smarmed up to a technician to do it for me. The technicians stepped in to help everyone with three key parts of the process.
The waist band is done with a tubular sleeve, in to which the denim strip is sucked through, coming out perfect at the other end. Meanwhile the rivet machine, capable of removing an untrained hand in a split second, was left to another technician to deftly apply the shiny copper elements. The belt tags after being placed and pinned by us were also sewn on with specialist equipment. Finally, we stitched the leg end seams and the thick leather emblem was applied to the waist band. 


 How would they fit? with mixed emotions I made my way to the loo and pulled them on. A big smile came back at me as I looked in the mirror, they somehow made me look thinner and felt like no jeans ever felt before. They were meant for me. Like old friends. Beautiful.
As I walked back to the group everyone was wearing their new jeans and wide smiles. All were happy, no one less so than the man, Han. My thanks to him and all his men.
A great weekend and a great result.

Our 3lm of  Selvaged Denim

Our tools

Cutting the pattern

The fly

hard at it

Front & back


Women Facing War: The Hub Gallery Kuwait

The brief called for artworks that portrayed hope and womens’ strength of courage during war, not images of violence.

I chose to do a narrative about nurture, unity, liberation & peace in a comic book format.

The style is deliberately simplistic. The colours are bright and punchy; the images articulated in black line but with the added depth and transparency of watercolour rather than flat Gauche or Acrylic.

At first the message seems quite trite, using the hackneyed symbol of a white dove, but each image has undercurrents that roll on, raising questions and morphing into other interpretations.

Unfortunately, due to censorship, the first image was omitted from the exhibition and the other three were split up and hung in an uneven vertical manner.

Using Format