New year and new things to think about.

Earlier in January I went to see the Anni Albers exhibition at Tate Modern before going to West Dean for three days of tapestry weaving.

The exhibition was stunning and I have been thinking about it ever since. Anni Albers work is very quiet and yet has such spirit and integrity that the pieces radiate energy. Her attention to detail is inspiring in itself but then how she used her skill to produce work that had function as well as beauty, resulting in weavings which one wants to wrap oneself in, either literally or metaphorically. Not for comfort necessarily, but to give life.

My favourite was this one, early in the exhibition, woven in 1924 and made of cotton and silk.


I’ve been working out in my mind why I like this one so much - the edges are not straight, yet she could weave straight edges - there is so little colour in it, yet much is created in the interweaving of tones and combinations of threads. So skilful. The whole piece is honest and visually interesting, it drew me in and then in the detail was layer upon layer of variety and possibility.


Follow that….my own tapestry weaving cannot. But the exhibition gave me some confidence to keep going with what interests me, the colours that I want to use and not to be sidetracked by trying to explore too many possibilities. For now, I want to use neutral lines and silks and to explore the definition and sharpness that these materials give to the letter shapes I want to make.

Here are trials for two small tapestry weavings I’ve just begun (made well before going to Albers exhibition). They will have names and words on them and I’ll post them when they are completed.


Exploring translations from embroidery to weaving

I’ve been continuing to work with the Roman names, first embroidering them and then weaving some. I’m finding it interesting to see how one textile-based work translates into another.

They are quite small, the largest is the woven Eugenia at 80mm x 170mm, the smallest is the woven Sabima at 60mm x 150mm.

How do you want to be remembered?

A new exhibition opened a week ago at the Lettering Arts Centre in Snape Maltings, Suffolk. It commemorates 30 years of Memorials by Artists, founded by Harriet Frazer, working to support the creation of beautifully designed and created memorials.

You can see more details here:

Hazel Dolby and I put up pieces from the body of work we have been developing for the last 6 years, ‘Remembrance of people past’, working with the names of the unknown early Christian citizens of Rome whose names appear on fragments of their gravestones which can be seen collected and preserved in the churches of the city. Our theme is about life and death and remembrance and how even those we do not know are part of our collective memory.

Images of our work on the gallery wall:

1. Photographs of fragments from Rome

2. Small blocks, 16cmx7cm, made of different materials, recording Roman names.

3. Hazel’s large panel of paper, ink, dried flowers and tissue.

4. My large painted and sewn fabric panel. Text is ‘Life’, poetry by George Herbert together with

the Roman names.

Learning and writing

In July, it was my pleasure to have Oona Sullivan-Marcus come from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, come to study with me. She came with a specific aim in mind, to learn to write the Foundational Hand. To be able to write and enjoy the letter g was her particular focus - and she did indeed make some very pretty gs. 

So we looked carefully at the writing of the Ramsey Psalter, Harley MS 2904 in the British Library. Oona spent time analysing and copying the writing and looking especially at how the letters and the flow of the writing are influenced by the scribe's use of a quill. Oona decided to use quills herself and as the best way of consolidating and developing her learning, she decided to write a manuscript book for herself. She is using only a bottom guideline and writing without redoing, everything remains as a record of her progress.

Here's a double page opening of Oona's book to show her writing which is developing well:




Update on Redesigning the Medieval Book

The exhibition Redesigning the Medieval Book has just opened at UWE, Bower Ashton Library in Bristol from 19 April - 29th June. It is showing many more of the books that were made for the exhibition that couldn't be seen at the Bodleian in Oxford and an online catalogue has been made. It has the artist's statement which explain the inspiration and rationale behind the pieces of work. It can be seen at:






Designing English and Redesigning the Medieval Book

Thursday November 30th saw the opening of the fine new exhibition at the Bodleian Library in Oxford: Designing English - Early Literature on the Page. 

Alongside the main exhibition is a showcase of new works made by bookbinders, calligraphers and book artists for the competition: Redesigning the Medieval Book. Out of 56 entries, 30 were shortlisted and around 20 selected for show. Those that were not selected for display are represented in a digital presentation alongside the showcase. 

Below are images of the new works. All of them were inspired by the books and texts on display in the Designing English exhibition, some more obviously so than others.


On the left is the winning piece by Sue Dogget and the open book by Kathy Sedar, one of the runners up. 

On the left is the winning piece by Sue Dogget and the open book by Kathy Sedar, one of the runners up. 

Paul Johnson's innovative pop-up book was also a runner up. 

Paul Johnson's innovative pop-up book was also a runner up. 

Not all the entries were traditional books, here is a circular game and on the right is my triptych.    

Not all the entries were traditional books, here is a circular game and on the right is my triptych. 



Here are pictures of a small but complex piece of work that I've made for an exhibition organised by and to be held at the Bodleian Library from December: Redesigning the Medieval Book. It promises to be an imaginative and exciting exhibition with work by a variety of book artists, binders, printers, calligraphers, painters. 

My little triptych has been shortlisted which I'm delighted about. At the moment the selection group at the Bodleian is deciding which shortlisted works to accept for the exhibition as only a limited number can be displayed. 




Zig-zag triptych 

Zig-zag triptych 

It is made of wooden boards hinged together with vellum strips so that it can stand in several different ways. Each board is 167mm high and 80mm wide.

Interchangeable vellum text pages slipped behind the vellum strips.

Interchangeable vellum text pages slipped behind the vellum strips.

I've made several groups of pages that can be put onto the triptych and there are many different possible combinations of text, symbols and shapes.

The texts I've used are some I've worked with many times over the years and incidentally fit together as a theme, appropriate for the exhibition brief. 

As a form, it is useable as a personal meditative and devotional aid. And recently, I visited the wonderful newly displayed treasure of St Cuthbert at Durham Cathedral Treasury having not seen for many years the artefacts found in his coffin. There I saw again the little portable altar that may have belonged to St Cuthbert - and had completely forgotten it was there. It was lovely to see it again in the light of having just made one myself. 



Here are a few of the pieces of embroidery I've been working on. They are names originally carved into stone in ancient Rome, recording people whose identity is long gone but who were real people living intricate and personal lives. Their loved ones carved their names in remembrance; we know nothing about them now but as I embroider their names, I use my imagination and make stories. 

Exhibition work

April 27th 2017

This week I've finished my piece of work for the next Letter Exchange exhibition 'Orchestra of Letters' which opens at The Lettering Arts Trust building at Snape Maltings in June. The exhibition coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of Snape Concert Hall. I chose words from Benjamin Britten's Death in Venice, Aschenbach's final speech which sums up the themes of the opera. Death in Venice was originally a novella by Thomas Mann and was made into a film in 1971. Myfanwy Piper wrote the libretto (her words are used by permission of Faber Music Ltd, London) and I saw a production at Snape in 2013 created by the Aldeburgh Festival in collaboration with Bregenz, Lyon and Prague and directed by Yoshi Oida. The staging of this production was devised specifically for the Snape Concert Hall which is a simple structure with plain brick walls. The mainly white, grey and black costumes and wooden decking between channels of water gave a clean simplicity and feeling of purity, echoing a theme of the story.


I wanted to hold on to these impressions as I made my piece of work. But that was so very difficult. Time and time again, I had to pare down my ideas and chosen elements so that the work didn't get too visually complicated. It's a long story of what went in then went out, how I had to simplify the layout, structure and technical details. I needed to keep going back to my original impression of the opera, its content and its visual impact on me, set alongside the clarity and simplicity of the music. 

Here are some of the trials that I did and subsequently rejected as being too far removed from my original impression. Useful trials of course, but it is always hard to let go of ideas that one can see potential for.

A page of trials from my notebook

A page of trials from my notebook

In the end, the elements that remained were to do with colour: the brick red of the walls, the hint of blue of the Venice water which came in the lighting of the opera, the white and grey of the costumes and the linear quality of the set and stage. I painted the text onto vellum and it is fixed by tabs that sit between the sides and linings of a box-tray, covered in dyed linen, the outside terracotta, the inside blue/green. Here is a picture of the finished piece - well, almost finished....

....because I decided to add lighting behind the vellum. Throughout this project I'd been in consultation with my brother Rob Kearley who was the revival director for Death in Venice in Snape (and other venues around the world too). He suggested the idea of lighting to me and at first I couldn't see how it would work. He kept gently pushing me though and this is how it looks with the lights on, the vellum becomes luminous and the blue shadow comes through. When the opera is revived in different places, large canvas panels are behind the set, lit with terracotta or blue. The Snape Hall remains crucial to this Opera North's production.



For 12 days in July I worked with Richard Middleton and we discussed our writing, looked carefully at what each of us was doing and how we making and using our tools. This continued the support and trust in each other's work that began during our time together studying at Roehampton thirty years ago and which we have continued over the years, latterly by Skype and email. Our aim was to make a real thing from beginning to end, in this case from a piece of firewood to a finished book. Practice has value if it is real, something that Edward Johnston firmly advocated when teaching his students. We knew it would not be perfect, nothing can be, but our aim was to make something that was as good as it could be, working intuitively with our quills, ink, paint, wood and paper and with little prior planning.

Here is the finished book, Richard made the wooden boards, cut the paper and wrote the text of some Psalms in Latin, I painted the titles and numbers and then bound the book.



The Calligraphy Society of Victoria's Summer School in Winter 2016

I am preparing to teach two workshops at the Summer School in Winter in Victoria from June 29th to July 3rd 2016. One will be about painted lettering when students will be learning how to paint letters with a pointed brush onto different surfaces using their own interpretation of historical letterforms. The other is about analysing, understanding and then writing a 10th century script, the Ramsey Psalter, with quills on vellum.  



Binding experiments

I was given an interesting book called 'Bookbinding, Limp Bindings from Tallin' by Monica Langwe Berg showing historical books and interpretations of their structures by binders working today in Estonia. So I've taken the historical structures as my starting point too and made some books of my own. 

This is a small leather pocket book, no glue, only the stitching holds it together. 

Another small pocket book with a leather cover. 

I've been trying methods of binding that use only cloth, not stuck to boards, for the covers and this is a start. Cloth frays and is generally soft and flexible which means that many binding methods are not suitable or durable. This is a soft cover and could be used for informal manuscript books.