paints and pens, stuff i've made

more teacups…

gold roses tea cup

Gold Roses of the Sun…a one-line poem from Monochords by the Greek poet Yannis Ritsos; a teacup inspired by Islamic tiles, a tea-stained page from a book about Australian Literature…

Still making teacup illustrations. I have done 7 or 8, now. It’s impossible to paint teacup after teacup, and not get fancier and more ambitious as I go. I really can’t repeat a series of steps over and over, it bores me silly…I don’t know how other artists do it! For me, every teacup has to trump the one before; I have to accumulate what I’ve learned previously, and bring that to bear on the next illustration. Eventually I will hit a ceiling, where my teacups (or anything else I’m illustrating) become so baroque, so slick, ornate, and extravagant, that they are monstrous and kitschy, and the balloon I have been soaring in pops, sinking slowly back to earth again.

The Sea Dog’s Teacup, below, is maybe two or three cups away from that point at which my designs and ideas will collapse under their own weight. Still, it was fun while it lasted, and I loved, loved, loved drawing the seascape and albatross on the side of the cup…as well as the magic realism of the sailing ship inside it.

And just for fun, I’ve posted it on Society6, as well (everything I make, pretty much, is going to go on there from now on…sorry if it gets boring, but a girl’s gotta pay for her art materials and South American adventure somehow! ;)

Sea Dog's tea cup

craftiness, Inspirations, uber embroiderers

über embroiderers: Chloe Giordano

Chloe Giordano

I’m trying to keep up a sort of regular ‘feature’ on über embroiderers on The Smallest Forest: These are the big kids, the crème de la crème, the leet of needle and thread…that runts like me long to play with, but will never even exist in the same universe with. *stabs herself with a #24 chenille* Oh, crewel world!

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Chloe Giordano

Admiring Chloe Giordano’s fine handiwork this morning: delicate little animals rendered in minute embroidery stitches and subtle colors, miniature 3D forms that don’t sacrifice any detail or cut corners in the making. They are quite dazzling, in a calm and self-possessed way…the mark of a professional.

Chloe is an illustrator, like many of the über embroiderers I’ve featured here, and I continue to be intrigued by the slightly different ‘feel’ of embroidered works produced by artists who have come to the craft from some other area of the visual arts, using thread and stitches as though they were paints and pens. Their work seems to be less constrained by the rules that one tends to follow when trained strictly as an embroiderer. I like the freedom with which these visual artists manipulate thread, and the expressiveness that their stitches have. I’ve also noticed that they tend to stick to simple stitches…no fancy, exotic knotted and looped moves that stand out on the fabric.

In traditional embroidery it sometimes seems that the medium is the message and not a lot of imagination or creativity goes into the actual design (pay a visit to the craft pavilion at any Royal Show and you will see the judges flipping fairly boring embroidery designs over to inspect and fuss over the threadwork on the back). These contemporary approaches to the craft allow the subject to shine, and have stitching play a supporting role (not that any of this nitpicking matters, they are all beautiful, wonderful, and our lives could use more of both approaches!)

Here’s a portion of the brief FAQ on her blog page:

How did you learn to embroider/sew?

I’ve learned mostly from trial and error, usually I’ll draw out what I want to sew first and try to work out in the sketch how I would stitch to get the effect I want. I also try to look at work I admire and figure out how they did it – this especially helpful when I’m working on something 3D

How long does a piece take you?

Anything from a couple of days to 2-3 weeks. Usually the planning stage takes the most time, once I’ve got everything hammered out the actual sewing doesn’t take long.

What materials do you use?

I mostly sew on an off white calico, if its dyed I use powder dyes. Generally I used embroidery thread for text and sewing thread for everything else, but it’s not set in stone.

Where/what did you study?

I studied Illustration at the University of the West of England, in Bristol.

Have a look at Chloe’s Tumblr, and keep an eye on her (hopefully only momentarily empty) ETSY shop  for more work by this sensitive and soulful young artist.

Found via Mr X Stitch

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uber embroiderers: Jazmin Berakha

uber embroiderers: Jazmin Berakha

über embroiderers: Tilleke Schwarz

über embroiderers: Tilleke Schwarz

über embroiderers: Maricor/Maricar

über embroiderers: Maricor/Maricar

embroidery and textiles, paints and pens, stuff i've made

Mermaid (a handmade gift)

Be a Mermaid design

Taking UPPERCASE magazine’s advice to heart, I threw myself at some new projects on Monday: making Christmas presents for the people I work with (our informal Jacksons holiday party is in four days’ time).

Decided on a mermaid-themed present for the first project, because my manager collects mermaids (and doesn’t surf the internet, so I think this post is relatively safe to put up) and is pretty much a mermaid, herself.

I picked that ubiquitous craft and design saying: Always be yourself. Unless you can be a mermaid, etc… You’ll probably groan and argue that there are too many versions of this “Always be yourself” saying floating around, and that it’s shallow and twee. And I would agree with you. But I am pretty sure my recipient hasn’t heard it yet, and it fits her perfectly. So that’s what it’s going to be. I promised her a handmade gift; I never said it would be urbane.

The finished piece measures 36 x 46 cm (14″ x 18″). It took me nearly two days to make the whole thing, but I dawdled a lot, and did other things, besides. The drawing/painting took up the whole Monday, but all the embroidery was done before lunchtime the following day.

I used a pre-stretched and pre-primed canvas. Made the letters and doodles in acrylics using brushes and a mapping pen. The font I used (just as a guide…freehanding, and then painting the letters, has changed it a lot) is Le bain au milieu de la fin d’apres-midi vers by T N 2. Used only yellow greens, turquoise, and blue paints and inks.

ink detail

All those greeny-blues and lime colors needed a little bit of red-violet for punch, so on a scrap of pink marbled fabric (our recent marbling show has left our home littered with bits of marbling everywhere) stretched in my smallest hoop, I painted in the dots and squiggles of a sea urchin.

painting urchin

While waiting for the paint to dry, I stitched a small starfish straight on the drawing’s canvas, just weaving back and forth between two laid threads that formed each arm.

stitching starfish

The urchin was ready to be embroidered. I used stranded cotton embroidery floss, working buttonhole circles, eyelet stitch (when I got tired of buttonholes), french knots, and backstitch.

stitching urchin

Not shown are the steps where I cut the urchin out and placed it over a thin circle of card with some pillow stuffing, gathering the edges of the urchin fabric at the back using running stitches and pulling tight (sort of the way I finished the back of this embroidery in a hoop…) I was too excited to see the thing made. I stitched a button to the center of the urchin…again, pulling tight to form a dimple in the puffy shape. I stitched the base of the urchin to the canvas.

And these are just close-ups of the embroidery on the finished piece:


starfish detail

paints and pens, stuff i've made



It’s childish and naive, but I keep coming back to this sort of image: a lush and stylised garden—as from a Persian or Moghul court miniature—with an ornately decorated building topped by a minaret in it. It was this children’s book, illustrated by Ed Young, that got to me at the tender and impressionable age of 6 or so. I have been wistfully recreating that garden scene ever since…

Here, for example,

Habagat Garden: title page

and here,

NaNoJouMo - 010

I love Islamic patterns and art. Always have. The genius of their craftsmen and artists.

Inspirations, uber embroiderers

More Jazmin Berakha brilliance!

New work on her blog! Jazmin Berakha’s style is slowly evolving over time…there’s a lot of her signature style in these embroideries, but she’s also introducing new things, like the use of black fabric instead of white, and representing hair as a peppering, a rainshowering of white stitches.

I love and respect her technically accomplished stitching, which is flawless as well as beautiful. She’s been featured as an über embroiderer on this blog before, but every time she does something new I have to gush about it.

See a third piece (and take the time to look at her past embroideries, too!) over on Jazmin’s blog.

bookbinding, paints and pens, stuff i've made


inspiralled detail

My soul is alight with your infinitude of stars. Your world has broken upon me like a flood. The flowers of your garden blossom in my body. The joy of life that is everywhere burns like an incense in my heart. And the breath of all things plays on my life as on a pipe of reeds.

—Rabindranath Tagore

starting line

It started with a piece of linen, divided into front, spine, and back journal cover panels using some thread and a running stitch. Onto this I let wet circles of ink puddle and pool, adding details as parts dried. When all was dry, I photographed the cloth, and filled the orbs with PicMonkey overlays of flower balls and spirographs. The next day the finished piece was uploaded to Spoonflower for printing, as my first pattern design ever, and something new to cover my hand-bound journals with.


Waiting for that first proof has me buzzing with excitement and/or apprehension.

Also, I have managed to surprise my disenchanted self, at this late stage. Last night I lay in bed and said, dazedly, “I actually got off my ass and did something I have been talking about doing for three years, and it only took two days!” Kris murmured back in the dark, “Shocking. What is the world coming to?”

aboard the M/V sonofagun, art + design, bookbinding, Inspirations, stuff i've made

Five beasts a week…


“There is a kind of lazy pleasure in useless and out-of-the-way erudition.”

Jorge Luis Borges, from The Book of Imaginary Beings


Kris is posting photos on his blog of each and every one of the hand-illustrated mythical beasts in his unique and personal bestiary, Teratologus.

I’m glad he’s finally doing this…there are over 200 beasts in it, and he has painted or drawn them all, as well as compiled as much information as he could about them (and not just from the internet, which is full of incredibly misleading, misinformed, copy-and-paste-from-each-other style research!) Because of the impossibility of reproducing this book with its full-color pages, it can only ever be shared this way. At least a few more people get to see these illustrations…until now it’s been a kind of household treasure that only a handful of friends have ever had the chance to browse.

It was a labor of love for him for at least 15 years…something that he did out of passion, with no other motives or promise of any sort of reward beyond the old-fashioned joys of research and scholarship, and the pleasure of imagining and illustrating each character.