I am so pleased to have my work “Regeneration” included in Brenda Gael Smith’s new international traveling exhibition – a matter of time. It is great to be among the illustrious company that the other exhibitors are and to be part once again of one of Brenda’s professionally conceived and handled exhibitions.
The concept for my piece of work centres around banksias which, for anyone who knows a little about my work, will not be surprising. In October 2015 my husband and I stayed with our friends Judy and Ian Turner in their lovely house at Tura Beach in NSW. Apart form a stunning view of the beach and two headlands the property adjoins some bushland which had been burnt by the authorities to reduce the fire risk near the houses. I spent quite a bit of time roaming around there taking photographs of the wonderful burnt banksias and also doing some sketches. I loved the way the fire had exposed the trees’ “skeletons” and the silhouetted shapes of the banksias caught by the fire.
Some of the trees had started to sprout again with green shoots coming from the junctions between branch and trunk. This was news for me as I knew that banksias regenerated themselves from seeds released when the mature fruiting cones were exposed to fire but did not know that the trunks themselves could send out new green shoots. On researching this I found that banksias can regenerate from lignotubers which can come from the base of the plant or the trunk.
This experience led to me deciding to use the life cycle of the banksia as the theme for my submission for A Matter of Time. I had my sketches ready to use as the basis of my design which was a great start. I used them to draw up a full size image to use as the basis for my silk screen stencil.
I then used my full scale drawing to design and cut my stencil which I would use when silk screen printing the focal image of the work. I also researched the representation of fire and cut a stencil for this element as well. I envisaged that the fire would be a band which would run across the bottom of the piece. I used a large sheet of stencil paper which is a plastic coated paper which can be washed and reused. However, when I cut large stencils like this I just allow the paint left on it to dry before reusing it as they are generally a bit too delicate to subject to washing.
My original thought was to use the mid toned to pale colours plus grey that I had been using in my recent work ( a departure from the quite strong colours that had previously been seen in my work) and to this end I had printed a white piece of fabric with an allover grey banksia seed pod pattern. Therefore, it was on this fabric that I first silk screen printed my banksia bush image. It was clear as soon as I lifted the screen clear of the fabric that this was not going to work. The contrast was not high enough to give the image strength and it did not speak to me of the charred bush scene I had witnessed.
Consequently I decided to use black fabric as the background with the charred look of the banksia trees in my mind. Part of my plan had always been an allover banksia design printed using lino blocks or scratch foam as a background. I chose opaque red fabric printing ink because it suggested fire to me. I did try out an orangey colour but didn’t like that. In all, I printed 6 different background fabrics to find the print I thought worked best.
My thought was to use a neutral grey to print this design – I couldn’t use black as the banksias were in reality because it was the background and thought that grey would signify the lack of life. In the end I chose to added a darkish grey to the greyed blue which I used in my white based experiment. I thought that this might e a bit more interesting than a neutral grey.
I silk screen printed this design on several of my background prints to test how they worked. I think it may have been the colour combination , but when I had them pinned on my design wall and stood there contemplating them at various times, the grey/blue had a curious way of seeming to float in front of the background print as if suspended invisibly. Interesting! At this time I also experimented with printing the fire on some pieces, playing with the placement and also with the idea of whether to print it in front of or on top of the banksia bush stem.
I chose to use the background pattern depicting the mature banksia seed pods as it was a nice all over textural effect which was not too distracting form the main image of the burnt banksia bush and was also particularly relevant to the ideas I wished to convey in my quilt
I wanted to depict the two methods of regeneration of the banskia and so imagined seeds falling from the mature fruiting cones which had been subjected to fire and also new growth coming from the branch/trunk junction as I had seen at Tura Beach. I trialled a couple of ways to achieve this:- I made some monoprints and cut them out to use as appliques and used cut paper to try the effect of a solid colour applique. I rejected both these ideas immediately as too alien to the image that I already had . I decided to cut a couple of stencils for the banksia seeds using a reference book as an aid and a couple of stencils for the new growth. I used Shiva oil paint sticks with these stencils – gold for the seeds just because I thought it would show up well and copper for the new growth as the new growth of banksias is often a rusty colour. I trialled these on some of my expeimental fabrics before going ahead with them on my chosen fabric.
Free motion quilting completes the quilt. I used a bright red polyester machine embroidery thread to lift the red of the background print which was seeming a little dull to me and a mauvey blue to outline the banksia bush. Finally, I decided the quilt needed a little more lift colourwise so made the decision to print another line of fire partly over the first line of fire. I created another fire stencil and printed a second row of fire overlapping the first but this time using a yellow/orange. Because I was printing over already quilted fabric, the print is “imperfect” as it doesn’t cover all the fabric but sits on the top of the quilted surface in some places. I liked this effect as it had the crackly effect of fire. A facing completes the quilt. I hope you enjoy seeing it as part of the wonderful A Matter of Time exhibition. I am looking forward to seeing the collection. Thank you Brenda!
I’m looking forward to seeing the full complement of quilts at AQC in Melbourne this year. Thanks Brenda for all your hard work and the opportunity to be a part of this.