Talking Heads


I had one of those nights when you wake at some unearthly hour and can’t get back to sleep again because your mind is racing. The weight of the world was not weighing me down and I had no personal worries in particular, (touching wood frantically here) but what was keeping me awake was dye painting!

A while back – quite a while back as it happens – I started to make a couple of abstract figurative pieces that I didn’t finish. The execution didn’t go as planned and they didn’t feel right, although I loved the idea and shapes of the bodies. I think the problem was that I was trying to be too clever and was overthinking them.

In the piece below, I mounted an old quilt onto mdf, stretching it tight and stapling it at the back. I then began to lightly gesso over the quilt to hide the piecing a little bit, but still allow snippets to show through. The stitching that was hand done gave some lovely textural marks. I then added extra fabrics on top and some paint layers. The bit I liked were the heads (it was called Talking Heads) and I began to paint eyes in the empty sockets.  Sometimes you need to revisit an idea!

(NB In case you were wondering about the…..”please put a donation”  at the top, it was part of an exhibition at the NEC where myself and wonderous artist Laura Kemshall painted live for charity. We raised nearly £2,000 so it more than served it’s purpose. I didn’t like it though and left it at the NEC when we cleared up and I imagine it found it’s way into a skip!!)


My sketchbook shows some work that triggered both of the piece – I think I’d been on a gallery visit somewhere and was inspired, but the who and whats and whens are lost in time I’m afraid!

talking heads

The pieced material version is below, and you can also see it’s not finished. This is strip pieced foundation piecing onto white cloth. It was not only time consuming but quite a feat to get the piecing to jump out of sync inside the heads so it didn’t match with the stipes in the background. Again I loved the greens and oranges but went off the greys which were hand printed materials – text, screening, stamping etc.

I found the above unfinished piecing yesterday at the bottom of an old box and I had no idea it was there but it’s triggered the re-emergence of a similar idea. The oranges and greens which I love so much are more vibrant when dyed onto cloth than they are when painted and the feel of the fabric doesn’t alter and become hard. I like mark making with thickened dyes but had forgotten how to do it, so purchased a set of videos from Laura to refresh my memory again. It’s very simple to follow and if you’d like to find out more, then here’s a link to her website.    (I suggest typing “dye painting” into the search bar to find the options).

So as soon as I’ve restocked with such chemicals as soda ash and manutex I shall be starting again with this idea but in a fresh way. They heads will still feature in some way but the figures will tie in to the gallery collection for the 2025 exhibition. I’ll be using these souce images for colours, patterns, and shapes as further inspiration for background patterning.

Just after Christmas I made a small piece which has the colours I like in it. It’s pieced (bargello technique) but the top is painted with acrylics. I used a credit card and it was enormous fun….so I may well be drawing on this influence too!

piecing with acrylics

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