Author Archives: sallyscottsart

The Earth Project: Skirt #2

“ I am lying like a lizard on a sunbaked rock, surveying the scene before me. I have never seen a landscape like this before and find myself wondering if this might be how the earth first looked when it was originally formed? It is rocky and rugged and I imagine hot lava forcing its way from the centre of the earth to form the gargantuan boulders that now hunker down around me. I am quite certain that my geology is incorrect, but an artist is allowed to imagine.” An extract from my diary, Kokerboom Kloof, Richtersveld, 2011

In March 2018, when I began looking for imagery to inspire the second skirt of my Earth series, I came upon this picture and remembered that day that I sat on that rock, dreaming about Creation. Only looking at it again, that landscape looked pretty barren, devoid of life and water, which triggered some thoughts about what’s required for new life to begin, which led me to the next stage in the Life Cycle.

Kokerboom Kloof, Richtersveld, South Africa

So, if the first of my dance skirts N/om: The Power, represented the life force, the second, The Creator, represents the Life-giver. She is the explosive spark of creativity; of new life and new ideas; inspired by fertility and the ingredients that make new life possible.

As a season the skirt represents that important time between Winter and Spring, when compost is formed from the debris of the past, providing the rich foundation for life to form and the promise of things to come.

The structure of this skirt was inspired by the Flow; of lava, bringing soil to the earth;

Lava flow

blood, from which fertility and new life arises, air, that enables us to breathe and water that nourishes and sustains us all.

The waterfall

This skirt was also inspired, in both content and appearance, by San aprons and loincloths.

Loincloths and aprons worn by dancers at a wedding I attended in Botswana

One of the most interesting things that I learned during my research of the subject, is that the San believe that the female apron in saturated with supernatural potency (n/om) and is often worn in combination with the male loincloth during the Trance Dance, to boost the power of the shaman when trying to access the spiritual realm. This power is linked to a woman’s fertility, her monthly cycle, which in turn is linked to that of the moon. From their extensive research, Edward and Cathelijne Eastwood have identified several rock art sites in the Limpopo region of South Africa, that contain San paintings of both loincloths and aprons, decorated with spots and spirals, thought to represent the moon. That these images exist on the walls of these intensely sacred sites, suggests that they are of symbolic importance.

So in this skirt, I drew upon this African understanding of male/female potency, and allowed the central leather motif, similar in shape to a male loincloth, to flow over the deep red cloth beneath it, symbolic of the female apron. I appliquéd small shapes that represent male loincloths to the ‘rock face’ on the left of the skirt and female aprons on the right. The intention being that when the skirt is tied at the back, the two will come together, symbolizing the merging of energies that ensure the continuation of life.

The shells, beads and found objects that hang from either end of the skirt, are to make music during the dance.

 

‘The Creator’. The second skirt in my Earth series

I wanted this skirt to be warm, rich, deep and fertile, a positive force for good, so I intuitively reached for the red ochre dye in order to get the colour I felt would capture it. Interestingly, I subsequently learned that red ochre (Hematite, or Iron Oxide, that has accumulated over millennia from decomposing life forms), is the most ancient of ritual substances, symbolically seen as the blood of Mother Earth.  During a trip to Namibia in 2002, I met Himba women, whose bodies were coated in a mixture of red ochre and animal fat and whilst preparing for this project I learned that the same is applied to young San women as they leave their seclusion during their transition rites into womanhood. The mentor scrapes the red mixture off the young woman’s skin and “she may be required to place this mixture in each fireplace in the camp and to touch young men and their weapons to bring luck in hunting”. Edward and Cathelijne Eastwood. In the Eastern Cape, red ochre is used extensively in traditional Xhosa rituals and as far back as 1822, Xhosa speaking people were trading ivory for red ochre powder.

A Himba woman, coated in a mixture of red ochre and animal fat.

The intertwined snakes in the waistband of the skirt, are symbolic of healing, new life and regeneration. My friend, Nozipho, tells me that the appearance of snakes in a traditional African home, is a sign that conception has taken place and that the snakes will reappear when the child is born. “Don’t kill or shout at at them,” she says, “the voice must be soft, so that the respect grounds and calms you. The snakes will connect the two families (clans) together”.

As I look back over what I have written, shifting between inspiration and layers of meaning, I am reminded that the art making process cannot be pinned down, for it is as fluid as the river. This artwork, like compost itself, was born out of layers of life experience.

After finishing the skirt, I read these words of Clarissa Pinkola Estes:

“The river symbolizes a form of feminine largess that arouses, excites, makes passionate… It is the feminine life energy that animates the male principle and the male principle in turn animates action in the world… When a man gives his whole heart, he becomes an amazing force…he becomes fertile, he is invested with feminine powers in a masculine milieu. He carries the seeds for new life…”

…which  lead us to the next skirt in the series…

 

 

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Categories: Fibre Art, Inspiration, Projects | Tags: , , , , , , | 8 Comments

The Earth Project: Skirt #1

“ And you are the artist; you hold it all there at arm’s length and fashion it at will. You have direct access to an unlimited source of power. It is a wonderful and terrible feeling”. Lyall Watson

As I sat at my empty desk early in January 2018, all bright and ready to begin work on the first of five African dance skirts, (see my previous post), I felt a little intimidated by the task I had so ambitiously set for myself. The subject of the Nature/Humanity/ Life Cycle is complex and I had no real idea of how I was going to interpret it.

So I did what I always do when trying to make sense of my thoughts, I reached across to a big black sketch book and started to write and draw…which led to cutting and sticking and much digging in my archives, as the ideas started to flow. I found it helped to have a visual document of what was going on in my head, so that I could isolate images, shapes and symbols that would translate well into fabric.

That process took some time, but whilst I was fleshing out my ideas, I began gathering materials and dyeing random bits of cloth that I found in a stash of offcuts.

Bringing drawings to life

As with all my fibre artworks, nothing is ever straight forward and as the piles of materials began to grow, so did the confusion as to what was going to work. I spent much of my time sitting and looking and thinking, trying one thing, abandoning it and trying another. I got fit, jumping up and down on my table as I reached up to the pin board with scraps of cloth, only to take them all down again a few minutes later. And then I would sit and think again.

Such is the process when one doesn’t have a handbook to show you the way. One has to work on instinct and gut reactions, making errors and selecting what works by a process of elimination. And then, just when I thought I had the answers, things would change, new ideas would come and I had no idea where they came from. This is the art of letting go and succumbing to the process. It is the dance of trust between inspiration and artist.

  1. N/OM: THE POWER SKIRT

So today I bring you the first of the dance skirts, the one that led the way. She is both the beginning and end of the Life Cycle and represents the power aspect of the Goddess of Nature. She is the Life-force, (otherwise known as chi, n/om, prana), the powerful energy that flows through all living things, that has the ability to both create and destroy.  In Nature we see this power everywhere; in the eyes of an animal,

A page from my sketchbook, showing the power in the eyes of animals

the force of a storm

Electrical storm over Grahamstown.
Photo credit: Roddy Fox

or in the stillness of a sacred space.

The stillness of a sacred space.
Photo credit: Craig Scott

In an extract from my diary, written at this time, I read:

“A thunderstorm has just crashed overhead with thick, black clouds and booming sound and cracks of lightning that have taken out the electricity. I am reminded that this is exactly the power I am speaking of in this skirt. Awe inspiring, powerful, frightening, destructive, yet life giving and restorative. The rain returns and sounds heavy on the roof. My garden is happy. My dog is scared. And as another bolt of lightning cracks across the city, I am hugely respectful.”

As a season, this skirt represents the Winter, a time when growing things die back and bleakness reigns,

The cold of Winter

but just as the destruction seems forever, the life which simmers on beneath the surface bursts forth again with renewed energy in the creation of Spring.

For centuries, through ritual, prayer and dance, people have attempted to access this power, usually for rain-making, health or fertility. In researching this subject, I was fascinated by the San, who liken this power to electricity, for when harnessed, it can be useful, but uncontrolled, it can be dangerous. The shaman’s task is to harness and control it for the good of the community. In their Trance dances, women sit in a circle around a fire, clapping rhythmically, whilst the men dance around the women, clapping and singing to activate the supernatural potency that resides in the songs and in the shamans themselves. It is said that when the potency ‘boils’ and rises up the shaman’s spines, they enter trance and move into an altered state of consciousness that allow access to the spirit world, and once there, they plead for help on a variety of issues on behalf of the community. On return to the earthly body, the shaman sleeps and on awakening shares this powerful emotional experience with the people, both verbally and visually, through the cave paintings that are thought to have been done during this quiet time of recall.

The San believe that certain animals (eg. eland) are filled with potency, so when they kill such an animal, “… the potency flowed via its blood to the paintings, where it was stored, and then from the paintings to the trancing shamans. Painted sites were thus storehouses of the potency that made contact with the spirit world possible; that guaranteed humankind’s existence by facilitating healing, rainmaking and animal control and that by flowing between nature and people, gathered up all aspects of life in a single spiritual unity.” David Lewis-Williams

For the San, the physical and spiritual realms are completely intertwined, and nowhere do we find more evidence of this than on the rock face within their shelters, where we see these stories unfold.

San paintings in a rock shelter in the Drakensberg

The imagery that I have used in this and subsequent skirts, speaks of the potent sacredness of this humanity/Nature intersection. The symbols I have used reference the San’s connection to the natural world, but in effect, relate to all humanity.

The colours, black, white and red are used in many traditional African cultures and symbolize: Death and destruction (Black), Life, purity and goodness (White), and blood, energy, fertility and the pulse of life (Red).

I have used broken ostrich eggshell in the waistband, another reference to the San, who value the ostrich for its eggs, that provide nourishment and containers for carrying water, and when broken, are made into beads for adornment.

The ostrich and its egg

The central motif may be interpreted as a ‘spine’ through which the supernatural power boils during the trance experience. It can also be seen as the axis mundi, the Tree of Life, as above, so below, the scaffolding that holds us upright. It also references the central pole (Ixhanti) of the Xhosa kraal, onto which the horns of sacrificed cattle are placed and at the base of which, the community lay their offerings to the ancestors.

N/om:The Power
The first in the series of dance skirts that depict the Cycle of Life

So now that my skirt is complete, I sit here absorbing what she has become, and I am amazed at the process that brought her here. She is strong, self assured and calm and it is in the calmness that I feel her power. She has laid the way for the others that are to follow, and I will be bringing you the next one shortly.

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The Making of an Artwork

I’ve been thinking recently about life experience, and what we choose to do with it. Some write books and others start businesses, but most of us use it without thinking about it. As an artist, I realise that all of my work has a direct link to my past. Either I am drawing landscapes that remind me of where I have been, or I’m sewing textile artworks, (a skill taught to me by my mother many years ago), that speak of the earth and the textures of Africa. The content of the artwork is inevitably inspired by my view of the world, which in turn has been moulded by the life I have lived and the environment that has surrounded me.

To rewind a bit, I was born into a large, pioneering family, and raised on a remote cattle ranch in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe. I was fortunate to have a mother, a gentle, artistic spirit, who opened my eyes to the beauty of the natural world, and a father, a larger- than- life adventurer, who encouraged me to explore it. This idyllic childhood, free of technology and distraction, developed my connection to the wilderness of our continent and taught me not only to appreciate its mystery, but to find the wilderness within me.

Growing up on our farm ‘Nyangui’, in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe

When, in my teens, we moved to Botswana, my passion for the land was sealed, for my father, an airline pilot by profession, regularly took us with him on trips into the Okavango Delta, a lush, marshy expanse of inland water that supports some of Africa’s most stunning wildlife.

A view of the Okavango Delta from the air

Beyond the edges of this delta lay the hot, dry Kalahari Desert, home to the few remaining San, a hardy, nomadic people, whose respect for the land inspired me. My brief encounter with these people was to have a lasting effect upon my work, for they convinced me at a tender age, that it is wise and possible to live harmoniously within our environment.

Bushmen (San) in the Tsodilo Hills 1970. Photo credit: Anthony Stidolph

Since then, I have lived in the ferociously hot veld of Limpopo, the humid, grassy hills of Kwazulu Natal, and more recently the arid, but beautiful Eastern Cape of South Africa. Each has brought with it its own unique brand of mystery and left its mark on my soul.

For those who follow this blog, you may be aware that I was fairly quiet last year and did not reveal much of what I was up to. This is because for the first nine months of 2018, I was incubating and giving birth to a major artwork that demanded every moment of my time and head space. But now, as I sit in this liminal space between what’s gone and what’s to come, I reflect upon my recent work and see that it too gives visual form to an accumulation of my life experiences.

The Challenge

 At the end of 2017, I received a commission to make some original artwork for the chalets of Lentaba Lodge, a luxury establishment that nestles in thick valley bush veld within the Lalibela Game Reserve, 40kms outside Grahamstown. Part of this commission included a brief to make 5 framed dance skirts, that were to be earthy and African in feel and have a story to tell.  Being a lover of Nature, textiles and all things African, this was a dream come true and turned out to be an exhilarating, but challenging project that pushed me to my limits.

The Concept for the Skirts

I was given free reign to make the skirts in whatever way I wished, but I realised that the theme for the skirts needed to be suitable for a game lodge and fulfil my needs as an artist. I reflected on my life and my relationship with the natural environment and settled on the idea of the skirts representing something that we can all relate to: the Cycle of Life, with special reference to the connection between Nature and Humanity. I decided that each skirt would represent an aspect of the cycle, with the one flowing fluidly into the next as the circle rotates.

The Inspiration

With my concept loosely in tact, I then began the exciting phase of researching the subject,  drawing largely from my experience of living in Africa, and shifting between images of nature, places I have been and stories of the indigenous people who have lived here.

Much of my inspiration came from the San, who, as I mentioned above, have fascinated me since childhood. I have always been greatly inspired by their minimal material culture, particularly their bead work, pouches, loincloths and aprons, and still own a beaded necklace and pouch made by the San that I bought in Botswana in the late 1960’s.

San pouch and clay beads

The San are recognised as being the earliest inhabitants on this continent, and were possibly the forbears of modern homo sapiens. The earliest signs of artistic expression, symbolic behavior and human culture have been found in caves and rock overhangs along the Eastern seaboard of South Africa. Much of what we know of San culture has been learned through their paintings and artefacts found at such sites and whilst there may still be some debate as to the exact meaning of the paintings, it is clear that these rock shelters were powerful, sacred spaces that represented the interface between the physical and spiritual worlds. It is for this reason, that for this series of skirts, I dug into my archives to find images of rock paintings that would inform and inspire my decision to make the rock face the backdrop to the story.

San paintings on a rock overhang on the Makgabeng Plateau, Limpopo

Having spent many years living in Kwazulu Natal, I also found myself drawn to the Zulu concept of Nomkhubulwane, the heavenly princess, the daughter of God, who as maiden, mother and crone, is believed to be the goddess who maintains the balance between the physical and spiritual realms. In Nature she appears in various forms, but most often as a rainbow that brings the promise of new life after the fury of a tropical thunderstorm. Often associated with sacred pools, she is seen as the creator, the life force and the one who brings fertility. Throughout the making of these skirts, I felt her strong feminine energy permeating the atmosphere.

Rainbow over the sacred pool on the Baviaans River. Photo credit: Roddy Fox

Water, the yin (feminine) energy of our planet, so vital for our survival on Earth, was foremost in my mind as I entered the flow of this project. It is through the pollution of our rivers and oceans that I see just how disconnected humanity has become from Nature. What I see in the world around us today, is a disrespect for the Mother that has born, protected and fed us. My hope is that through this series of artworks, the energy I invest, will go some way to restoring the balance.

I also hold firm to the African concept of Ubuntu, which is a philosophy of ‘Oneness’, that all life is interconnected and that a thread of goodness connects us all, from the smallest creature to the largest. This thread of Ubuntu, that has love and respect as core values, holds societies together and ensures the sustainability of the planet.

With my intention now clear, I turned to my interest in recycling, and eagerly set about gathering materials, dyeing cloth, and sorting through a mass of beads, bones, and rusty metal in preparation for work to begin. I had a story to tell and needed to tell it in a way that felt authentic.

Hand dyeing cloth in preparation for work to begin

A collection of beads, bones, metal and string. The ingredients for the artwork

What was so interesting to me was that in the beginning, I thought that I was in control, but it didn’t take long for me to realise that in fact I was the conduit and that the skirts were directing me.

In the posts that follow, I will be sharing the five artworks with you and including some of the stages of my creative process.

Please stay tuned and enjoy this journey with me…

 

 

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Picks from the Pinboard

Driving up the hill towards my house this morning, I noticed that the thick carpet of purple Jacaranda flowers covering the verges of the road, are starting to fade. As I turned the corner and pulled into my garage, I was thinking about my university days, and the saying that when the Jacaranda flowers came into bloom, if you hadn’t started studying for exams, you had left it too late. (It was the stuff of nightmares!) Which prompted me to ask myself, as I opened my front door, what date it is, for the signs are abundant that not only have the exams been written, the students have all left town. I’m wakened to the fact that December is here and I haven’t done a blog post since April! It’s definitely time to catch up!!

So here I am, preparing a post in which I will share some of the creativity that has been born in my studio over the past seven months. We’ve been busy, my students and I and it’s been a particularly productive year.

Today’s selection has come from the participants of my Drawing Classes, all adult beginners who are rapidly overtaking their teacher. I am immensely proud of them and eternally grateful for their support. Their regular appearance in my studio each week, is the pulse that keeps me alive and everything else functioning smoothly.

We’ve had a good time, as I’m sure you will see from their drawings!

If drawing is something that you would like to do, perhaps this is the time to sign up? We would welcome you to our group and I am happy to keep you a place. Classes will resume towards the end of January 2019.

In the meanwhile, I’m gathering images for my next post, which will feature some of the work that I have done this year. I have been extremely busy and have lots to share, so will attempt to get it all together before the Jacaranda flowers completely disappear…

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Singing Over the Bones

“Her cave is filled with the bones of all manner of desert creatures” Clarissa Pinkola Estes

In Clarissa Pinkola Estes modern classic, “Women Who Run With the Wolves”, she tells, among other things,  the story of La Loba, the old woman who spent her days scouring the countryside for the bones of dead, wild animals. She would gather them up and take them back to her cave, where she reassembled the skeletons and sang soulfully over them in order to flesh them out into the creatures they once were.

Earlier in the year, I had a big cleanup of my studio and discovered some wonderful treasures that I haven’t seen in years. When I opened one cardboard box that had long been lost beneath the table, I was surprised to see my collection of bones, gathered over many trips into the bush. I hauled them out and challenged my drawing students to bring them back to life.

A box of bones

Skeletons in my cupboard

So for the past three months the bones have been the focus of our adult drawing classes and with their sculptural forms and subtle shifts of light and shadow, they have proved a valuable theme to explore. My students, many of whom are still learning the basics, have really had to focus and polish their skills. Today I share with you a selection of their study drawings done during the first phase of this project:

I am delighted with this series of soulful drawings and in the next post, will share a few more images from the second phase of the project.

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From the Pin Board

As I wrap up my drawing classes for 2017, I am filled with gratitude for the way I earn my living, for to be able to teach people to draw and have the opportunity to light the creative flame in another persons soul, is a gift that few of us are blessed with. It is certainly one I never take for granted and I feel incredibly honoured that this wonderful group of students, who have now become my good friends, faithfully turn up  each week to share two hours with me. And they’re not all from Grahamstown, as one might expect. One lady drives an hour from the little Karoo town of Bedford and six others brave the 57 km pot-holed road from the coastal town of Port Alfred.

Ladies from the Friday morning class, all hard at work

The beauty of it all is that no matter what craziness life throws at me, the steady rhythm of weekly drawing classes and the regular appearance of these warm, friendly faces, helps to keep me balanced and moving in a forward direction.

Tuesday evening class.

My studio has been described as a ‘Red Tent’ space where women can relax and have fun, and although we gather primarily to draw, these sessions are about so much more than just drawing.  My students come from all walks of life, with one common desire to be creative, which means there is a very rich mix of diverse occupations and some truly amazing life stories, and during the course of conversation, one learns an incredible amount about subjects one might not have encountered in the normal flow of life. So these classes are interesting, but what I love most is the camaraderie and the support that is shown for one another. We have all become friends, there is no competition and everyone sets their own pace.

Ladies in the Thursday afternoon class, focussed and relaxed.

Most of my students arrive at my door for the first time with little or no drawing experience, but after going through the basic course, they are soon up and producing some really lovely work. I am delighted with the drawings that have come out of my studio this year and would like to share some of the fun and a selection of the work.

Click on the images below and enjoy:

Classes will resume in January 2018, so if you are keen to join us, please contact me for details.

As this is my last post for the year, I would like to take this opportunity to thank my students for all their support and wish everyone a safe and peaceful holiday season. I’ll see you in 2018!

 

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Art Journals

Many people have asked me what Art Journaling is and have wondered if it’s a form of scrapbooking? Well, yes and no. It is a way of collecting thoughts, ideas, visions and memories and putting them all together in a book, similar to what is done in scrapbooking, but art journaling is less commercial and is a more intuitive, individual and creative approach to visually documenting ones thoughts in a freestyle form, using images, paint, textures and words that when combined tell a fuller story.

‘Teatime Reflections’ by Sally Scott. This is a nostalgic reflection on days gone by, growing up on our farm in Zimbabwe. It includes a photo of the  ruin of our family home and the fireplace, in front of which, I once learned to sew and knit.

I have been journaling for many years and have explored a wide array of themes and subject matter. Before I start any new artwork, I make notes and sketch, writing my thoughts and ideas into my art journal, which is kept for this specific purpose. Whenever I have a moment of inspiration, I make a note of it in this book for future reference. It helps to remind me of my initial enthusiasm when my Muse takes leave and I am scratching around for ideas.

A page from my art journal

I also keep journals when I travel, big fat documents that record the details of my journey.They are filled with photos, drawings and writing and are a fabulous way to honour my journey, record inspiration and remind me of my reactions to things and all the fun I had.

Travel journal

I’m also in the process of making a visual document of our family history, something that can be passed down through the generations, that will give family members an illustrated understanding of where they have come from. It’s a major undertaking, but so worth the time and effort.

A family history journal. Artist: Sally Scott

In my reflective moments, I make pages that illustrate my thoughts about deeper emotional issues, and these often progress into fiber artworks, which are a tactile form of journaling. “Surrender”, “Towards Infinity”, “Bongwefela”, “Zimbabwe Ruins #2” and “Desert Beauty are all examples of this. “Zimbabwe Ruins” (below), is another good example of 3 dimensional journaling…

‘Zimbabwe Ruins’ by Sally Scott. This fibre art apron was made after a trip to Zimbabwe in 2004. It documents the chaotic situation and economic decline that I witnessed in that country.

It can also be fun to use story telling as means of exploring issues relating to human behaviour. I recently completed a page that was inspired by Aesop’s fable of Androcles and the Lion, where a slave who has escaped his master and is hiding out in a forest, comes face to face with a lion. Expecting the lion to attack, the man is surprised when the beast limps towards him, holding out his paw. On closer inspection Androcles discovers a thorn embedded in the lion’s foot, and without hesitation, carefully extracts the thorn. Through this simple action a deep, mutual trust is formed and they continue to help each other survive in the forest. Later they are both recaptured, and with the emperor in attendance, Androcles is thrown into the lion pit. As luck would have it, the hungry lion is none other than the one he had befriended in the forest and, recognizing a friend, the lion rubbed up against him like an affectionate, purring cat. The emperor, on hearing the story, pardoned Androcles and let the lion free into his native forest. The moral of the story is that gratitude is the sign of noble souls or the kindness and caring of one being to another will always be remembered.

A journal page dedicated to the theme of trust and vulnerability, inspired by ‘Androcles and the Lion’.

On my journal page, I illustrated the story, but added another dimension to the meaning. Sometimes it happens that in an effort to protect our vulnerability, we create defensive armour (thorns) that can unwittingly inflict wounds on another’s vulnerability, causing the victim to strike out and inflict a wound of their own. If one can step back in love and compassion and recognize where the pain is coming from, one can remove the thorn, and trust and vulnerability can return. In this story both parties were vulnerable, but it was their recognition of this that allowed them to trust each other, thus doing away with their need to protect themselves and enabling them to form a bond which ultimately was the strength that broke the chains of their captivity. It was their trust of each other that allowed them to be free. So, vulnerability is crucial, for without it we cannot trust and without Trust one cannot have freedom.

As you can see Art Journaling can appear in numerous forms and be a great source of enjoyment and therapy. If you are interested to learn more or to try your hand at it, please contact me, as I will have a new series of workshops available in 2018, in addition to my regular monthly journaling sessions that I hold in my Grahamstown studio. My final session for 2017 will be this Saturday 25th November. Call me if you would like to come.

 

 

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The Value of Tone

I read somewhere recently that in painting, tone is everything. If one gets the tonal values right, the other elements stand a good chance of coming together. It struck me in that moment, that tone is important in many aspects of human communication, be it the tone of our voice when we say something or the tone in our head when we read an email or message. One can say something one thinks is innocent, but if the tone of voice is off, the meaning of those words can change completely.

The challenge for us all in these times of mass communication and digital media, is to make our words come across in the way we intend them. The problem of course, is that even if one’s words are written with care and good intention, if the recipient of an email is in a bad space when reading those toneless words, they will impose their own tone and completely transform the meaning.

So I am not surprised to see that the race is on between rival digital tech companies to come up with human like emojis that are aimed at illustrating the tone of the words being sent out on social media. Perhaps this is partly why platforms like WhatsApp have become so much more popular than email. The pictures can say it all, short circuiting the need for us to impose our own bad/sad mood on the words of the sender. How clever we are becoming… for anything that helps promote understanding in this very conflicted world, does it for me.

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Survival – A Lesson from the Veld

I have recently been sorting through my aloe paintings, and one in particular stands out, for its universal message has a personal story attached…

When I was a young girl, we lived on a cattle ranch in Inyanga, which is situated in the Eastern Highlands of Zimbabwe, in a magnificent mountain range that borders with Mozambique.

There were seven children in our family and we roamed pretty wild and free, spending our days either helping with the farm or exploring the rivers, kopje’s and bush.

On top of the mountain, looking over our 14,000 acre Nyangui Ranch, 1975.

The hillsides of the farm were littered with mysterious ancient ruins and stone terraces that we loved to scramble over and explore, as we disappeared down tunnels, into unexpected enclosures, picking up shards of pottery, imagining who might have once lived there.

Exploring ancient ruins on our farm. 1975

It was a blissful existence for kids growing up without television and all the mod cons of today. We learned to appreciate Nature on both macro and micro scale and this laid a firm foundation for the creativity that was to follow.

Sisters catching tadpoles in one of the many rivers on the ranch

 

Playing in the stream, siblings Sally, Anthony and Penny, 1967

But then war came to that beautiful area and we were forced to move, leaving our playground behind. We all set off on our respective paths and life taught us some serious lessons.

On a nostalgic return trip to the old farm, many years later, I took my two young sons to visit a ruin that lay embedded in a commanding position at the top of a hill. The countryside was hot and dry, and in the grip of a ten-year drought. The rock hard ground was stripped bare of grass and the termites were eating the trees. A veld fire had recently removed whatever dry grass remained.

Nyangui Ranch in the drought. 1991

As we clambered up over the multiple layers of terraces, sweating and panting in the heat, we finally reached the ruin. Memories of my childhood came flooding back as I surveyed the landscape around and as I sat on a warm granite rock, I felt the earth’s energy seep through my body like a much needed blood transfusion. Oh, it was so good to be home!

In my desire to share my youthful memories, I attempted to ignite some enthusiasm into my sons, who both looked somewhat confused as to what all the excitement was about. I was beginning to wonder myself what the purpose of this visit had been. I mean this was my childhood and these were my memories, so how I was hoping that my boys would get it I really don’t know, when their reality was based in the city and the lush green hills of Natal.

My two young sons visit the ancient ruins for the first time. 1991

Then, as I wandered around with my camera, I came upon two small aloes, side by side, both scorched from the fire, parched from the drought, but doggedly standing their ground. I was riveted by this image of survival, and in that instant, I knew why I had needed to be there.

I took that photo with me into the turmoil of my life and kept it as a clear reminder that no matter how great the heat, the thirst and the flames, when one is well rooted and grounded, one can survive pretty much anything. With a belief in one’s ability to survive, one can emerge stronger from the experience, with spirit and light intact.

‘Nyangui Aloes’ by Sally Scott
Medium: Chalk Pastel

Last year I translated that photograph into a chalk pastel painting and was reminded once again that Nature is the great teacher and Creativity, the therapist. Or is it the other way round?  Whichever way I look at it they seem to work in tandem and I am very grateful for both.

 

Categories: Background, Drawing, Inspiration, Landscapes | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Bags of Fun

With two festivals behind me and a month to recover, I am now feeling sufficiently revitalised to reflect on my July activities. July is always a busy time of the year for those of us involved in the National Arts Festival, but this year, apart from having an exhibition at The Highlander, I also took time out to travel to Port Elizabeth to teach my Bohemian Bag Workshop at the Siyadala- We Create National Quilt Festival, a biennial feast of all things quilt and textile related. It’s been a long time since I last taught at a national quilt festival, but it didn’t take long to get caught up in the excitement of women with a fabric passion (obsession), having fun!

The work on display at the main exhibition was breathtakingly exquisite, revealing hundreds of hours of painstaking work in each of the many creations. Although my textile work tends to break all the rules, I never fail to be impressed by those whose work keeps within the bounds of convention. When I stand in front of a king size bed quilt, frosted over with a million or more tiny, perfectly shaped and spaced stitches, I know that this is something to be impressed by, for it would be completely beyond my capability. If I were to have the pattern in front of me and see the work that lay ahead, I would give up before I even began. This is not to say I am not capable of hard work, it’s just that when I begin one of my large fibre wall hangings, I have no idea of what work lies ahead, which is why I keep on going. Each stitch, colour or seductive piece of cloth, beckons me forward with the potential of what it could become. I have no idea where I am going, but relinquish the need to know and enjoy the process of discovery. By the time the work is finished with me, I have given it hundreds of my hours, along with sweat and blood.

This perhaps is where the two approaches meet, for both types of fibre fanatics have a desire to make something beautiful and a willingness to devote time and hard work to see its completion. It’s how we go about it that makes us different. Generally traditional quilt makers are committed to working by the rules, which is why their work, so exquisite and precise, receives awards for its excellence. In many ways I think it’s more difficult to be rewarded for kicking dust and forging one’s own path. There are many more pitfalls in unchartered territory, so to hit the right balance and produce a work of art when one doesn’t have a rule book, is really quite an achievement. The art quilts on display were an example of this and the award winners deserved the accolades they received.

My workshop was one of those that didn’t have a kit, nor did it abide by any rules, and I was happy that it attracted those who were keen to play and explore new ways to express their personalities. The Bohemian Bag Workshop offers a perfect opportunity for participants to test their creative impulses in a space that is supportive of their efforts. The project is relatively small and manageable, so happily not overwhelming.

The 14 women who attended my class came very well prepared and it wasn’t long before surfaces were strewn with colourful cloth and there was a hum of happy machines. I have selected a few images from the two day workshop to give you a taste of the scene. You will see from the images that I have every reason to be happy with the outcome. It was a fabulous experience to work with this group and the fruits of their labour speak for themselves.

If you are interested in attending my next two-day workshop, to be held in my studio in Grahamstown, the dates for this event are Saturday 9th and 16th September 2017. I’d love to see you there!

Categories: Fibre Art, Workshops | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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