Making it Personal!

One of the things which students often struggle with is finding that personal theme with real meaning. Katie Taylor has tried out several  themes over two courses at level 1. For her latest assignment 5, she chose to go with the theme of fat after finding some stunning photos of fat cells. For her, as for many of us, the issue of weight is very personal and she was insistent  that her work had to be so to have real meaning as textile art.

Drawing developed from photo of fat cell

Katie developed from the photos a series of drawings using different tones of pinks  but decided in the end to go for a fleshy pink tone which suggested that real, living visceral quality of human tissue. Notice how the drawing has a really solid, weighty feeling to it, emphasised by the use of big, bold lines and broad, confident strokes of colour. From the start she was sure she wanted to make this piece in a knitted format, her technique of choice. Not a piece to be worn, but to be displayed as an art piece. Her sample pieces clearly show the development of these ideas as she trials different yarns and colours to find the best way of carrying forward what she wants to say.

Samples which actively trial ideas

Notice how the green background idea was gradually dismissed (too many connotations of decay in that colour) in favour of the grey and the fleshy pink instead of the deeper, brighter one, as these suggest flesh and fat more realistically.

The final piece is a very large, shapeless jumper, deliberately so – which demonstrates again how form is used to actively carry forward abstract ideas. The appliqued tape measure adds a strong vertical line to what are otherwise a lot of very rounded shapes – so it works visually as well as emphasizing the weight theme. This is a very carefully thought about and controlled piece of work, finely balanced and made with a great deal of integrity to both materials and the concerns of the artist.

Making it big, upfront and personal

Textiles 1 student Sheila Wilkes was another student finishing her course with strong ideas about the final project. She had toyed with other themes, including Asian art and mythology but was adamant that she didn’t want to make work which was “merely pretty”. As a social worker  her concerns evolve around caring for people. It was almost as if she couldn’t quite hold this back at the final hurdel – approaching assignment 5, she developed some very original work around the theme of the human mind – hurting and healing.

Developing designs stage in sketchbooks

Sheila played with various colour choices but stuck in the end to green for the Calm  head and dark red for the Stressed one as she felt these best conveyed the feelings she was after. Sheila did a lot of research before beginning the practical work, looking at flower remedies and homeopathic/ healing connotations of certain herbs and flowers. Her Calm head has these appliqued as free forms over the paper mache forms. To work the heads as primary paper mache was a brave choice and this 3D aspect is something she’s keen to explore further in future work.

Two heads – in this case, definately better than one

Look at that angry red colour in the right hand Stressed head(click on the photo to see larger as always). The veins virtually pulsate out of the head, denoted by the tight, tight wrapping of torn fabric strips, constricting the mind and raising the blood pressure. This tightness is further emphasised by her use of tightly crunched up balls of paper machine, also appliqued down onto the surface. Have a look at one of these in close-up below and feel just how knotted up this is.

Just feel that sense of tightness

Both these students managed to make work with real meaning, because they’ve felt it – deeply and meant it. This is really exciting work visually, but its also work that leaves you full of questions and thoughts – which for me, means it does work as art and is definitely beyond the “merely pretty”.


  1. SueG 23 February 2012 at 12:58 pm

    Enjoyed reading this, finding meaning ful themes can be tricky.
    Loved looking at Katies blog, it gives a sense of fun that can be had with textiles too. Loved the graffiti knitting head teachers chair- have forwarded the link to my niece whos a teaching assistant and textil-y person. Also love your ‘truck monsters’- what a great idea!

  2. Miriam Ward 23 February 2012 at 3:56 pm

    A great post – as a Textiles 1 Student I swing between having ideas that just wont go away until I have developed them into a piece, and ideas that seem so stubborn to be developed! I particularly liked the journey for the cell jumper piece, and really identified with the sampling and discarding of ideas and colours – thank you for this piece!

  3. liz saunders 23 February 2012 at 4:15 pm

    i found your item :making it personal: inspiring i am studying painting but your piece has certainly made me think of how i can develop some of my art work.thank you

  4. Charl429 23 February 2012 at 4:59 pm

    Great work from both students. Inspiring.

    Those heads in particular are amazing.

    Sheila Wilkes, if you’re reading this I’d love to share my response to your heads… It’s too personal to share openly here but if you’d contact me on the student site (I am Charl429) with some way of contacting you?

    Well done anyway, brilliant.

  5. Trisha 24 February 2012 at 11:27 am

    SueG – yes, Katie’s blog (apart from showing some brilliant work) says a lot about how artists can often function at several levels – producing work which handles serious issues and some which is just fun. Often concentrating on something more lighthearted for a while allows the other to simmer away unconsciously in the background.
    Miriam – those ideas that won’t go away are often a really useful tool, telling us what are real concerns are, which we’re not always aware of consciously.
    Liz – I’m not a painting tutor (although my first degree was history of art) but I imagine some of the issues to be the same in both painting and textiles?
    Charl – Sheila’s work obviously resonated with you deeply, which is a real accolade to the quality of her work.

  6. Katie Taylor 29 February 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Thank you to all who have commented on my work. Studying with OCA has given me the stucture to finally explore my ideas properly with the freedom to develop my ideas into conceptual pieces. I find it a very cathartic process working through ideas in this way.

    Teaching at the after school club gives me the opportunity to hopefully inspire another generation.


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