Monday 11 September 2023

Inganess ebb studies

I don't always feel the need to create studies, for painting or tapestry, but occasionally I feel they're needed if there are techniques I want to explore or any uncertainties I want to address before beginning the final artwork. There were many things I felt unsure about with "Inganess ebb" (as mentioned in my previous post I avoided starting this piece for a good two years) so my best way to push through the uncertainty was to make full use of studies.

As a happy surprise, not only have my studies been useful, they've also ended up as interesting, exploratory artworks in their own right. Now that I no longer need them for reference I'm happy to set them free into the world, rather just shoving them away in a sketchbook.

 "sky ripples, II" Inganess study

handwoven tapestry

size: 18cm square (inc. limewaxed box frame)

materials: cotton, linen, rayon and wool; woven on 8 warps per inch


"Sky ripples, II" is (unsurprisingly) my second sky study for "Inganess ebb." The rippled effect is much more subtle than in the first study, which I shared back in April (see here) and I also slightly changed how I wove it. This one is closer to what I ended up doing in my final tapestry. 

"Inganess hues", study *SOLD*

handwoven tapestry

size: 17.5 x 22.5cm (inc. limewaxed box frame)

materials: cotton, linen, rayon and wool; woven on 8 warps per inch.


"Inganess hues" is an overall colour study for "Inganess ebb." It helped to figure out the overall "feel" for the final tapestry, how I wanted to use textures and also confirmed that I needed to purchase a few new shades of green to achieve the effect I wanted for the seaweed ebb area. 

Even though the purpose of "Inganess hues" (and studies in general) was to give me a feel for my colour palette, my choices generally do change slightly as I work on the final artwork. For this reason I often warp up a separate narrow strip on the loom next to the large tapestry, usually 2 inches (5cm) wide, which allows me space to test colour gradations or blends to see how they look before committing to it on the final artwork.

The following two studies are a result of this paint palette strip and I absolutely love how they have turned out now that they're framed, especially photographed against the larger "Inganess ebb" tapestry. 

"sea", colour study *SOLD*

handwoven tapestry

size: approx. 21 x 7cm (inc. limewaxed box frame)

materials: cotton, linen, rayon and wool; woven on 8 warps per inch

"sky", colour study

handwoven tapestry

size: approx. 22 x 7cm (inc. limewaxed box frame)

materials: cotton, linen, rayon and wool; woven on 8 warps per inch

Now it's back to the drawing board. I've come to the end of my last body of research so I desperately need time outdoors to walk, think and draw and then time in my studio to think, draw, paint and develop! I've also coincidentally come to the end of my last sketchbook. A new sketchbook always feels fresh with possibilities so let's hope I put my new one to good use over the coming months.

Wednesday 6 September 2023

Inganess ebb

Myself with my artwork, "Inganess ebb"

Size: approx. 3ft square

Handwoven tapestry

Materials: cotton, linen, rayon, wool; woven on 8 warps per inch, cotton warp.

(currently nfs)


It's finished. Finally. This piece has been quite a battle, for various reasons, but I'm glad I pushed through to resolve it. 

This artwork is inspired by an oil pastel drawing from my sketchbook of Inganess beach, just outside Kirkwall on mainland Orkney. It was a Spring day of intense colours and I loved the vibrancy of the sea blues and turquoises against the almost luminous greens of the stones and seaweed in the ebb.


As always I keep my sketch close to hand when I'm weaving, both  for colour reference and capturing subtle nuances which can't easily be noted on the linear compositional sketch I have tied behind the loom whilst I'm working.

The main reason I delayed starting this tapestry for at least two years is because I couldn't decide how I wanted to translate and weave the sky. I really liked the vdirectional mark making I had created with the pastels but was aware it would read differently when scaled up. I felt it needed to be present in the final tapestry as the sky would look too blank without it but I didn't want it to read as zebra stripes either. After a few experimentations on smaller studies at the beginning of the year I eventually got there. It's a subtle, rippled cloud effect, gently grading in colour.


The other reason for the delay was knowing that it would be similarly complicated to weave as "Eynhallow, disappearing island" (the sketches for both pieces were created at roughly the same time.) It has taken a while to recover from that one! By the end of last year it was niggling me that this drawing was still languishing in my sketchbook, waiting to be developed further. I'm glad it's finally out my system!

As noted above in the artwork description, this piece is currently not for sale. Last year I decided to mark my last two big tapestries, "Eynhallow, disappearing island" and "Echoes of the shore", as not for sale in order to start building up a body of tapestry artwork to represent myself here at the gallery. Mum is no longer here and going forward I don't want to run a gallery where there's a lot of her work and very little of my own.

Mum opened the gallery in 1996 with 10 -15 years worth of tapestry artworks. She sold at least three big pieces in that first summer and quickly realised she wouldn't be able to create quick enough to replace what was sold whilst also running a gallery. In order to not have a partially empty gallery she decided to hold onto the remaining pieces, some of which belonged to the family in the first place so were never intended to sell. This left her with a strong, cohesive body of work on permanent display for people to see when visiting the gallery. Anything else she produced from then on was sold.

My artistic practice has been different in that I've always sold my work as I produced it, even when I was still studying at art school. This has been good financially, however I've often felt my work and display space lacks impact and cohesion, largely to due it being made up from bits and pieces left over from larger bodies of work which have sold and disappeared. Quite often by mid to late summer I don't have many original artworks left for sale and I don't have the time to produce many new things whilst running the gallery. The vast majority of my work is produced over the winter months when the gallery is closed.

My solution and aim going forward is to produce one bigger piece a year, which I will hold onto either indefinitely or for a few years until I have enough work to start letting some go again, alongside smaller pieces which I can sell throughout the year. I'm hoping this will create a better balance between mine and my Mum's work within the gallery and also having a solid body of work to show people as well as work to sell.

Speaking of smaller pieces to sell, I have a few more studies relating to "Inganess ebb" which will be for sale soon now that they are no longer needed for reference. They will pop up on our social media or the gallery's website in the next week or so (and eventually here!)

Friday 18 August 2023

rippling up that sky

I've got "finishing fever", the end is in sight. What started as tentatively thinking "I could be finished by the end of August" has turned into "I *WILL* be finished by the end of August." To be honest I'm pretty fed up with this tapestry, it's been on the loom far longer than intended, and I want to shove it over the finishing line so I can work on new ideas. If I can't get near it during the day while the gallery is open then I'll have to put in the hours elsewhere. Either way, I'm determined to get this finished in the next couple of weeks.

The first colour mix for the sky felt crucial as it needed to set off the horizon and create a sense of distance and after many "not-quite-right" attempts in early July I abandoned the tapestry to work on some sketching and painting instead. The change of pace and scenery must have done me the world of good as when I returned I immediately found the "right" blend. Once I figured out how I wanted to treat the sky section I've been making good progress. Other the first inch or so above the horizon the majority of the sky has been woven in the last two weeks.

The day I discovered I colour matched my work-in-progress.

Subtle colour gradation + subtle ripples = a lot of bobbins in very close shades.

Playing with fun camera angles. I love how shooting from below brings out the texture of the doubled up weft in the foreground.

Subtle sky ripples.

Hopefully my next post will be a "ta-da, finished!" reveal.

Sunday 2 July 2023

half way update

Progress has been slow for the last two months as the gallery gets busier with visitors. It's a double edged sword: being open to the public is what allows me to make a living from what I do, however it also means I get very little creative work done as I'm busy speaking to visitors, manning the gallery all day. Every year I have to frustratingly accept that most of my creative work happens over winter when the gallery is shut and I have time and peace to concentrate.

Any progress in the last month has taken place first thing in the morning. I started coming to work earlier so that I can have at least one hour to myself before the day starts. Half of that time is usually spent just staring at the tapestry, trying to refamiliarise myself with what I was doing the previous day as it is complicated with many subtle colour blends. It's slow, fractured progress but better than no progress at all.

I am somewhat regretting starting such a complicated artwork when I don't have much time to dedicate to it at present. I think this is the reason I've delayed starting this tapestry for a couple of years, I knew it was going to be complicated! Now that I have finally reached the horizon (hurray!) I think I'll temporarily ignore this piece and spend some time with my sketchbook and paints as I haven't painted in ages. My brain could benefit from a change of scenery.

Friday 21 April 2023

new beginnings

I've had an idea for a tapestry sitting on the back burner for a couple of years. For one reason or another it has been pushed aside in favour of other ideas, but I finally got around to projecting my drawing to scale by the end of last summer. Then it got abandoned, again, as I didn't feel in the right head space to start it. By January I decided it had too much potential to leave languishing in my sketchbook and that if I didn't commit now then I'd never make it.

I always like to have a rough idea of how I'm going to treat a surface, whether it's woven or painted, even if I change my mind as I'm working and I think this was the main reason for the delay. When stuck like this I often turn to smaller studies. I don't always find this to be a necessary step in my creative process, again for painting and tapestry, but they can be useful for experimenting with different techniques, surfaces and colour blends before venturing onto the "real thing."

Often these studies become lovely individual artworks in their own right. Below are two studies which I no longer need for reference so I'm happy to release them into the world. They're also listed for sale on the gallery's website under Jo Original Artwork.

"rockpool edge"

size: 18cm sq. (inc. limewaxed wooden box frame.)

materials: cotton, linen, rayon and wool; woven on 8 warps per inch.

"sky ripples"

 size: 17cm (h) x 18cm (w) (inc. limewaxed wooden box frame.)

materials: cotton, linen, rayon and wool; woven on 8 warps per inch.


In March I started the "real thing" which will be 3ft square when completed. The beginning is a watery rock pool. I love that almost luminous shade of green in seaweed and rocks that can be found around rockpools on the shore.

I've taken a break from weaving for the last couple of weeks as I was feeling burned out and having increasing bother with aches and pains (oh the joys of recurring repetitive strain injury.) Instead of feeling frustrated by it I've used my time to catch up on admin and other things which invariably fall by the wayside when I'm tunnel-visioned with creative work. Hopefully I'll get back to weaving next week with renewed energy.

Thursday 13 April 2023

catch up: artwork of 2022

It's been a while, so long that it has become difficult to know where to start.

Updating this blog has become a bit of a chore and it can be difficult making time for it, especially since Google/Blogger took away the subscribe by e-mail function which adds an extra step of admin at my end for notifying followers. Saying that, I do want to get back into the habit of using this blog and will endeavour to update it more than once a year, but if you're keen to see regular updates of my work it's best to follow the gallery's social media pages. I'm "Hoxa Tapestry Gallery" on all platforms.

And now for a photo dump of pieces I created last year. After finishing my "echoes of the shore" tapestry I spent the summer researching and sketching which resulted in some large drawings and monotypes, some of which I forgot to photograph entirely before they set off to new homes.

Left: "Mirrored sky, Skaill beach"

Right: "Midsummer reflections II, Skaill beach"

Both artworks are oil monotypes with chalk pastel on paper.

Top left: "Bu Sands, Burray." Oil monotype and chalk pastel on paper. 

Top right: "Blue horizon, Birsay." Oil monotype and chalk pastel on paper.

Bottom: "Seapink haze, Brough of Birsay." Oil pastel on paper.

After my Mum passed away in August last year I spent the first few weeks walking the Hoxa shoreline, seeking comfort in the familiarity of the landscape and sketching down on the rocks overlooking Scapa Flow below our gallery and house I grew up in. Orkney had stunning skies and light in August so I spent a lot of time in my sketchbook with pencils and watercolours, observing the combination and quality of light, expanse of sea and sky against the low, unbroken landscape. All my sketches were loose and immediate, capturing the effects of the constantly moving light.

"Fleeting light, Scapa Flow"

Size: approx. 1ft/30cm square

Handwoven tapestry. Materials: cotton, linen, rayon, wool; woven on 8 warps per inch.


"Fleeting light, Scapa Flow" was inspired by one of my watercolours and was the first artwork I created after Mum's passing. I finished it in October and submitted it to the Pier Arts Centre's Annual Christmas Open Exhibition in Stromness, Orkney where it sold. My Dad helped with my outdoors photoshoot by being my glamorous hand model on the Hoxa shoreline. He did well to hold onto the artwork whilst being buffeted by strong wind!

As well as "Fleeting light, Scapa Flow" I created three smaller tapestries over the winter period.

 "Attry weather"

Handwoven tapestry. Materials: cotton, linen, rayon, wool; woven on 8 warps per inch.

Size: 23cm square


"Attry" is an Orkney word which describes wild, cold, rainy weather and it felt rather appropriate for this piece. At the time of weaving (late October/early November) Orkney had settled into winter weather with plenty of inky, rainy skies, wild winds and "white horses" on Scapa Flow. 

"Attry weather" joined "Fleeting light, Scapa Flow" on my outdoor photoshoot with Dad. We took it to its place of inspiration, Hoxa Head, looking south to mainland Scotland.

"Stormy hues"

Handwoven tapestry. Materials; cotton, linen, rayon, wool; woven on 8 warps per inch.

Size: 23cm x 7cm


I was my own glamorous hand model on this occasion, photographing this tiny artwork inspired by the view from the gallery's front door, overlooking Scapa Flow.

"Dister, Windwick"

size 18cm sq. (inc. painted wooden box frame)

materials: cotton, linen, rayon, wool; woven on 10 warps per inch.


"Dister" is an Orkney weather word for a passing shower and Windwick is a location on the east coast of South Ronaldsay, Orkney. The inspiration for this piece was capturing the fleeting moment of intense tonal contrast and colour on the horizon before a shower passes and clears. I photographed the tapestry alongside the original acyrlic paint and oil pastel drawing from my sketchbook and some of the yarns used in the tapestry.

Usually my tapestries are woven on 8 warps per inch however for this piece I decided to work slightly finer at 10 warps per inch. Although I was happy with the previous smaller tapestries completed in October/November, I felt they could have benefitted from, or have been easier to weave, on a finer warp. The complication of working at a small scale is that you sometimes need to work finer in order to achieve the same level of detail and fluidity in shapes and blending as larger pieces. Basically, it's not necessarily easier or quicker to work smaller!

It has been interesting to look back at my work from last year within one post and reflect on my practice. So often I have a tendency to overthink and agonise whether my ideas and artwork are strong or relevant enough (analysis paralysis is very real) but last winter I just went with my gut and simply responded to the weather in my environment as that's what interested me most. I wasn't in the headspace for undertaking anything big, especially after finishing a large scale piece early on in the year, so it was fun to spend a few months making smaller, more immediate pieces which allowed me to play and experiment with techniques and ideas.

Speaking of undertaking big things, I have started something this year. Watch this space.... (or check out the gallery's social media if you're impatient!) 

Tuesday 26 April 2022

echoes of the shore

This is my latest completed tapestry, "echoes of the shore." I started working on it in December last year, following on from "shoreline circles" last October. 

 echoes of the shore

size: approx. 5ft square

materials: cotton, linen, rayon and wool, woven on 8 warps per inch on cotton warp.

"Echoes of the shore" is a collection of memories from walks along local beaches, mostly the Sand O' Wright beach in Hoxa, exploring repeated shapes and patterns which echo one another: limpet shells, pebbles, circular marks found on pebbles, sand blisters and scattered edges of waves before they disperse over wet sand. The tapestry is based on and developed from a small watercolour painting in my sketchbook. In the photograph below you can see the sketchbook painting along with the pebble which inspired the main concentric circles in the painting and tapestry. It's tiny but packs a visual punch.

On first impression the colours in this tapestry look predominantly grey but there are actually lots of shimmering blues and warm sandy colours running all the way through it. The tonal background allows for subtle shifts in colour and surface texture. 

As a naturally very colour-driven person, creating something so "grey" at such a large scale felt potentially boring(!) but that's what the piece needed to be to feel right and to create the effects I wanted. Also wet sand is, after all, wet sand! I found myself longing to reach the blue, tufted circles for a burst of something different. 

I think there's an expectation to feel elated after finishing something large which has taken months to complete (in this case 3-4 months weaving, not including research and development) but I just feel zapped, both physically and mentally. I am pleased to be done as the idea is out my system and into the physical world, but as usual I need some distance before I can look at the work again with more objective eyes. On the whole it was a fun piece to work on; I enjoyed experimenting with varying tufting depths and weft thickness and it was a good exercise in weaving circles.

As I completely neglected to post any work in progress photographs here earlier in the year I'll add them now at the end.

January 2022

February 2022

March 2022

April 2022
After catching up with general business admin I'm back to the beginning of the creative cycle again:  walking, thinking, sketching and painting. I can never decide whether it's daunting or exciting to start afresh. Hopefully exciting!