Thursday, 5 March 2015

Big Painting Challenge vs. The Sewing Bee

There's been good natured grumbling in our house that all the TV lately is either interior shows (still love Grand Designs), sewing or painting programmes. If you're like me then you'll watch anything art related just because there's usually so little on mainstream TV. So it's been The Sewing Bee and now The Big Painting Challenge.

I'd so been looking forward to the Big Painting Challenge starting. Do you remember Watercolour Challenge that used to be on ages ago? In that show, the candidates had a few hours to do a watercolour of a set scene, then a winner was chosen and it was all very friendly and a good time was had by all. The Big Painting Challenge is similar, apart from the good time. So far there have been two episodes and the poor contestants have been slated and crushed!

What I like about The Sewing Bee is that even when someone's made something and the sleeve's held on with a pin, the hem's all wonky and the zip's hanging out, May and Patrick manage to find something good to say about some aspect of the garment. They're constructive in their criticism and supportive of the entrants. In spite of the panic stations and from time to time the occasional tear, it all looks like everyone's having a lovely time and that it's a fun experience to be part of.

I'm not sure the same can be said of the Big Painting Challenge. It's the first series and so far only 2 episodes have been aired, but based on that, the judges seem bent on embarrassing the contestants. I'm not sure on what basis the entrants were selected, but they're all amateurs who enjoy painting. They're not making a living from it, though some might like to, they're painting because it's fun.

Making art is such a personal thing. By making a painting you're laying yourself bare. I feel so sorry for the candidates, they're putting all their efforts in, really doing their best and then the judges tell them they should have had the guts to throw it away and start again. Really? Is that fair? Look, we've all had disasters that'd be better off in the bin, but to tell someone so on national TV. Is that not public humiliation? Watching the contestants getting crushed, their sense of pleasure in creating something destroyed, well, it's just not nice. OK, so maybe some of the works being done on the show aren't all that great. Perhaps they wouldn't cut it on the professional art scene. But they don't deserve to be slated so badly. The judges must offer specific constructive criticism. Yes, say what's not quite working, but explain carefully why, suggest practical and creative solutions to improve. Simply to say you should have started again is not going to help anyone achieve their potential.

Maybe I'll be proved wrong as the series progresses but so far it seems as though the judges have very set expectations of what they want to see. They seem to have forgotten that there are no rights or wrongs in art. A painter, amateur or professional can work however they want and tackle a subject however they like.

It's a TV show at the end of the day and it's success will depend a lot on the chemistry of the hosts and the judges and whether we care about the contestants. When I watch I want to see people being challenged, but enjoying that challenge, and as a viewer I want to be uplifted and encouraged to try it myself. I watch the Sewing Bee and I want to rush into the studio and find a pattern and some fabric. I watch the Bake Off and I'm tempted to see if I have the ingredients for a cake or cookies. I watch the Big Painting Challenge and I just wonder to myself if the contestants knew what they were letting themselves in for, would they have applied?

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

Finish Me! Art Journal - Tip Time

By now I hope all Finish Me! Art Journals will have found their way to their new homes and so I thought it would be time for some more tips, techniques and processes to try.

I know my inclusion of pages with text bound in upside down or top to bottom has caused a little consternation. There's method in my madness. I hope that you will consider all the papers in the book as raw materials. So text, rather than being words to be read is instead marks or pattern on a background. The colour and scale of the mark might vary, as might the linear direction it travels in. With that in mind, any pages with text on will make excellent backgrounds for all sorts of activities. Here's one thing you might like to try:

I've chosen to work on these two pages in my book. They both have quite small text on fairly neutral coloured backgrounds. On one page the text runs one way, the other is at right angles, no matter. Like I suggested in a previous post, I'm turning the book so it gives me a tall vertical format.

Try adding even more text. This is where you can start to bring some of your own ideas and personality to the book. I've recently been revisiting some work themed around poppies so I'm going with a phrase that's related to that work "what dreams may come?". You might go with thoughts, song lyrics, a poem, something descriptive, a journal entry...

I'm writing with a Sharpie for a bold, black permanent mark. My handwriting is much larger than the printed background text so I'm getting a nice contrast between the two.

Next step is to add a motif. I'm going with a seed head, but yours could be anything that's relevant to you or your book. I've found out an old photo back from the time that pre-dates digital photos when even rubbish pictures got printed. It's a boring photo, but it's going to work well for this.

I draw my motif on the back and cut it out with scissors. I'm letting serendipity take over here and am not planning which bit of the photo I'l get within the motif shape.

I've cut it carefully so I'm left with the background intact and a voided poppy shape. That might come in for another day.

Next it's time to glue it down. I like matte acrylic gel medium for this, but you could use whatever glue you like. I prefer the gel medium because it sticks everything down really well and also is a good base for painting on top of.

As you're working in your book you'll no doubt notice the different qualities that the papers have. Some are very smooth, some are much softer and more absorbent. I'm adding a thin layer of gel medium all over these pages to seal them and stop them being so absorbent. This means I'll be able to paint a wash over the top without the page drinking loads of paint and it seeping through to the back.

I'm using colour to introduce some contrast between the poppy cutout and the handwritten text background. A wash of transparent watercolour works nicely for this.

As you can see, often with art journaling the secret of making pages is to layer techniques and media. I hope you have fun giving some of these a try.

Back soon,

Monday, 2 March 2015

Entertaining the Creative Kid

I don't know if all two-year-olds are the same, but we've got one who opens her eyes before it's morning, yells "Mooorrrrnnninnnng!" and then goes through the day like a whirlwind before falling asleep at some point, usually still chattering. Entertaining? Yes. Tiring? Yes! I do my best to keep her entertained with all sorts of creative activities. This week we've been experimenting with china paints. (Not your usual toddler-friendly activity, but she's very closely supervised at all times).

We're all set, she's smiling sweetly, I get the camera out, this happens.

We applied the ceramic paints with small brushes.

I wrote her name on the teapot with a Sharpie as I'd read somewhere that it'll be permanent once baked.

A thinner layer of paint is probably better, but once dry they can be baked and the painting is permanent.

These are the paints we used. They just bake in the oven once dry. Thanks to Baker Ross for the paints and teapots! Definitely something we'll be doing again.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Through Our Hands Magazine

I've got lots of exciting Through Our Hands news to share with you over the coming few weeks, but for today the fanfare of trumpets you can hear faintly in the distance is to announce the arrival of Issue 4 of the Magazine!

In this issue we've got some amazing work to share with you. Let's start with Susan Hotchkis, our cover artist: we're delighted that best selling author Linda Seward who I'm sure you all know from her latest release "The Ultimate Guide to Art Quilting", has joined us as a regular contributing columnist. For her first article she's interviewed Susan and selected some fabulous pieces of work to share.

We're so pleased that Terry Grant is also writing for us too. I've been following Terry's blog for a long time. I'm sure many of you will know her from the 12 by 12 collaboration. I just love Terry's writing, there's always wit and humour to accompany the artistry. Have a read of her article and I'm sure you'll agree.

And of course, there's lots more to read too! Articles by Through Our Hands Affiliate Artists Jette Clover, Linda Barlow and Clare Smith (think you take risks when you dye fabric? Think again!), and even Linda and I are back on our Soapbox discussing the blurred lines of inspiration and downright copying!

So hopefully you'll find plenty to inspire you. You can read the entire magazine for free, just click on the link above. If you'd like a copy to download, keep, print out then you can purchase a PDF for just £3. By purchasing the magazine you’re making a vital contribution to the continuation of the project and we value and appreciate your enthusiasm and support. Thank you!

Please do share the news that the latest issue of the Magazine is out with your friends, colleagues and students. 

Back soon,

Friday, 20 February 2015


The first workshop here at the Wooden House is 'Drawing with Rubbings' and I thought it was about time I told you something about the class and what we'll do...

Lots of students tell me they can't draw! But drawing is so much more than sitting down in front of your subject with a blank piece of white paper and a pencil, and trying to record every detail. There are many creative ways to 'draw'. We'll use the technique of making rubbings to be the basis of creative drawings. I reckon making rubbings is one of the most underrated and under-used techniques available to us. There's nothing better for easy, effective and fast results.

We'll explore line, shape and pattern and you'll be able to use lots of my print blocks and rubbing plates, but you'll also have the opportunity to make your own plates which of course, you will be able to take home.

I'll guide you through the whole process from making a good plate, taking effective rubbings, and most importantly what to do with them next. We'll add colour and use a range of other simple mixed media techniques to complete a number of compositions/designs. You'll end the day with a pile of exciting papers and can choose to take your work home with you as loose sheets or we can bind them into a unique sketchbook/art journal.

This one-day class is available on two different dates and takes place in our newly renovated 'Wooden House'. I'll provide all the materials you'll need, a light lunch and refreshments throughout the day. Places are limited as I'm keeping the class size small and friendly to ensure plenty of space to work and lots of individual attention from yours truly. Students of all levels of experience are very welcome.

Really hope you can come! Please email to reserve a place.

"Drawing with Rubbings"
A one-day workshop with Laura Kemshall
Venue: Wooden House Workshops, near Bridgnorth, Shropshire.
Date: Wednesday 25th or Sunday 29th March 2015, 10am - 4pm
Class fee: £65 to include use of studio equipment, all art materials, refreshments and snacks throughout the day and a homemade lunch.

Please email me at to reserve your place. To secure it, a deposit will be required, payable by cheque, online banking or PayPal. I'll email all the details.

Thanks for dropping by today. Don't forget, details of other Wooden House workshops can be found by clicking the tab at the top of this page.

I'm looking forward to welcoming you to a workshop really soon!


Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Entertaining the Creative Kid

I'm always looking for activities to keep Amelie entertained. When I was little we had Fuzzy Felt. Do you remember them too? I'm sure they're still available, but we've gone for a homemade version. All you need is a few pieces of brightly coloured felt and some sharp scissors (the scissors are for the grown up!).

We chose a background colour that would work for a variety of scenes - this mid blue is good, it can be sky or sea. Then while she sat impatiently, I cut hills, trees, a sun, clouds...Before long special requests were being shouted: red apples, stalks, leaves, windows, bird with a beak and an eye...

Needless to say this is great for perfecting those precision, fine motor skills.

So far this has been a big hit and she's remade different versions of the picture several times. 

Thanks for visiting,

Monday, 16 February 2015

The only way is up?

Finish Me! Art Journal - Tip #4

The Finish Me! art journals are bound with all sorts of paper types, several of which have text. I've cut and bound the pages in a random way. This means that sometimes the text will be the right way up...and sometimes it won't.

We're used to picking up a book and beginning with the front cover, we look through it page by page in sequence, reading left to right. This is quite a linear way to use a book, but this art journal is not a novel, there's not necessarily, a beginning, middle and an end. Maybe as you work in your book, the back cover will sometimes be the front? Consider turning your book, work on it from different directions, from back to front, have it open in 'landscape' format and sometimes 'portrait' format. The Finish Me! book need not be a linear experience. It can be much more spontaneous than that. Start on any page you like, skip pages, go back, jump forward. Think of the book as an interactive object that you can dip into at any point.

I'll be back soon with more suggestions!
Bye for now,

Friday, 13 February 2015

Let the editing begin

Finish Me! Art Journals - Editing

As you get to know your Finish Me Journal, there will hopefully be pages you love, and no doubt, pages with elements that you're not so keen on.  That's OK, part of the fun of this project is going to be responding to things which are natural favourites and especially those which present unlikely challenges!

I dont know about you, but if theres something I dont like, then it bugs me until I do something about it. Im not just talking sketchbooks here, the same applies to life in general! However, when it comes to sketchbooks, fixing things is easy. Ive often torn pages out of books or glued two pages together to lose or hide disasters. This time though, lets be a bit more positive in our resolution.

My tip today is to go through your book and find something you dont like and paint it out. Im using gesso, but you could use acrylic paint, even emulsion if thats what is to hand. A couple of thin coats and the offending whatever-it-was is gone for good.

So that stage is easy, but does come with a word of caution. Dont zap everything youre unsure of, or that you think might be difficult to work with. This can be an ongoing process!

You might choose to paint a page out entirely, but it can be more creative to leave some of the original. On this page, I voted to leave a margin of text close to the spine. This'll work not only as a visual reminder of the origin of the page, but also as a border to whatever is to come.

Many of the books have pages cut from vintage maps. This one is from a National Geographic atlas. The places on the map didn't have any relevance to me, so I've decided to use the format of the map to guide the editing. 

I've used the grid lines on the map to define a checkerboard (which I love) and painted alternate squares with gesso, this time keeping the gesso quite thinly painted so a ghost of the map still shows through. You could use the grid lines, or maybe your map has contour lines which would create a much more organic effect.

Happy painting!

Another quick update

Hello again,

The current batch of books have all sold out and my waiting list for new books is full. If you've placed an order via PayPal, or emailed me to reserve one, then you're on my list and your book will be on its way within the next couple of weeks.

I will make more, so if you missed out this time, there'll be another chance to buy one in a few weeks time.

Thanks so much for your interest in this project. I'll be back tonight with another tip on how to use the book.

Love Laura

Thursday, 12 February 2015

A quick update

Hi everyone,

Just a quick update on the books. Turns out the PayPal buttons don't play nicely together when pasted onto the same post, so instead, I've popped them over in the side bar. Please make sure you're ordering the size of book that you want and that the destination for postage is right.

I'm sending out books on a first come first served basis. If you've emailed me to reserve one, then I've got your name on my list so please just pop your order through using the buttons over on the side bar and I'll post your book to you as soon as I can.

Thanks so much!


Wednesday, 11 February 2015

More books!

Thank you so much if you've been waiting patiently to order a Finish Me! art journal. It's taken me longer than expected to catch up, but finally I have begun a new batch of journals. This time there are two sizes to choose from: 5" x 6" and a neat, pocket-sized 3" x 5.5" (covers are a bit larger, this is the approx. page size). Both have approximately 50 assorted pages (100 sides) to work on.

The pages might include: blank cartridge, watercolour paper, vintage sheet music, vintage magazines and knitting patterns, antique newspaper, tracing paper, vintage maps and of course, my art work which might include block prints, mono prints, stencilling, rubbings and hand painted papers. All books have board covers and a black or silver spiral binding.

Here are a few pictures to give you a flavour of this batch of books...

These are the 5" x 6"books:

And here are some of the dinky pocket-sized books that are perfect for journalling on the move or if time is short:

If you'd like one, just click on the link below to reserve a book. I'll be making books and sending them out as soon as each one is done.

Update: The books are temporarily sold out. I'll be making more soon!
Thanks for dropping by the blog today. I'll be back soon with more tips on how to complete your Finish Me! journal.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

What's on DMTV today?

There's a new DMTV video workshop available today. A few weeks ago I demonstrated a fun and spontaneous method for starting a sketchbook page. Today it's time to take it on to the next stage and complete the page with some pattern and drawing.

The video workshop is available for DMTV subscribers, (and the first part of the workshop is still live in the playlist too). Here's the link:

If you're not already a subscriber, perhaps we can tempt you? Sign up and you'll have access to the current playlist of video workshops (more than 30) with a new workshop added each week.

Here's all the info. Prices start from £25 for 3 months access (over 42 video workshops).

Thanks for dropping by today,

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Wooden House Progress

Steady progress is being made on the pavilion in anticipation of the workshops starting this Spring. Jamie appreciates how important good lighting is for working in - hmm - maybe I grumble too much about the existing lighting in the house! He's really taken care to fit something that'll be just right.

I'll show you a photo but you have to promise to only look at the lights. Don't look at the plastic window that's just taking up space in there, or the debris on the floor, or the ugly step ladders, or the bit of wall that got dented and had to be filled...

The track lighting means that we can add or move fittings as required but I think it looks OK as it is. Once we've got some tables in there we can faff about with getting each little light angled just right! This photo was taken at night and it's still pretty bright in there.
The next thing is the flooring. Dusty concrete just won't do. Can't wait for some vinyl to be fitted and I can get in and start arranging things. 

If you'd like to join me and get creative in this space you'll find details of the 'Wooden House' workshops on the 'workshops' tab at the top of this page. I'm also taking bookings for group workshops/retreats so if you and your friends fancy a couple of days in beautiful Shropshire countryside do email me to chat about what we could do. I can accommodate up to 8 people (depending on activity) and there is a choice of lovely accommodation nearby. 

Thanks for dropping by today. Hopefully with the wind behind us, deadlines approaching and plenty of elbow grease, the next time I show you the pavilion it'll all be ready.


Friday, 30 January 2015

Finish Me Art Journal - Stake your Claim

The Finish Me! art journals have started out as my work, but now it's time to stake your claim - here's my tip for this week:

Put your name on it!
The first page of my book was conveniently blank so it was the perfect spot to place my name. If your first page isn't blank, then you might choose to paint it out with white paint (the whole thing or just a small area), or perhaps add a label of plain paper.

I started by stamping my name. Curiously I'd been researching hand-drawn lettering and when I met up with my pal Annabel she gave me a set of really nice letter stamps with much the same feel as I'd been seeing in the hand drawn styles. The theory was the stamps were for Amelie, but she will have to share!

Once my name was stamped I've used pens to elaborate.

I've looked to the free motion quilting patterns that I know to add doodled detail in the background.

And I've added a typical motif that crops up in my work - a poppy seed head of course!

If you're nervous about drawing direct to the page with pen, use a pencil first to set out the main letters and then go over it with pen before rubbing out.

Stamping the letters is such an easy way to start. Trust me, even a 2 year old can do it...

Inking up the stamp...

Checking it's evenly covered...

Press down firmly...

All done!

Thanks for visiting,

Friday, 23 January 2015

Finish Me! Art Journals - Getting Started on Finishing

Well this is pretty much how my desk has looked all week - piled high with stacks of papers!

These are pages for the latest batch and I spent a happy morning spray can in hand.. Really liking them, mind you, I'm finding I like every book even more than the last. I've had to close orders for the books for a short while, just so I can catch up on those already on my request list. As soon as they are done, I'll make a new batch and let you know here when they are up for grabs.

Getting Started on Finishing the Book

I promised to share some ideas and tips to help finish the book. Today's might seem simple, but I think it's a really fundamental thing - get to know your book! A conventional shop-bought sketchbook will usually use the same paper throughout. There are no surprises. The Finish Me books are quite the opposite, I've tried to use all sorts of things and now's the time to get familiar with what's in your book. 

Get a feel for the papers that I've included: thick, thin, translucent, plain, printed...have you got drawings, prints, photos, rubbings, stencilling? Maybe there is text or images which suggests a theme? Perhaps there's a combination of colours on a page that suggests a colour palette?

When you look through the book, does it bring to mind things that you've saved and have stashed in a drawer somewhere? I'd suggest spending some time over the next couple of days finding out anything that you think might become relevant to the book. Perhaps you have your own prints, drawings and other bits and pieces that are currently homeless. Pull them out of the drawer, folder or heap and keep them handy. This book has started out as my work, but now it's time for it to become yours.

I'll be back again soon with the first hand-on tips for working on the pages.

Bye for now,

Monday, 19 January 2015

Drafting in help

Well, turns out the "Finish Me!" journals are more popular than I'd anticipated. I confess, I'd made 8, one to keep for myself and one for Linda. I thought if I was lucky, that I might have takers for the others. I'm delighted that they, and more, have all sold. I've raided another drawer in the plan chest and have been busily making books. If you've ordered one, then a big thank you for your purchase. I'll get your book out to you as soon as is humanly possible!

As I've been binding them, I've been giving lots of thought to ideas for things we can do to finish the books. I've come up with some suggestions that I hope you'll think will be a lot of fun so do check back to the blog over the next week or so for the first post. (I'll pop a link on Facebook and Twitter too).

I wanted to make some new printed papers for the next batch of books and so I've drafted in some extra apprentice hadn't done monoprinting before. Luckily she's a quick learner...

We started with a bit of block printing. You can picture the scene - I'm trying to be super-productive and have several sheets of lovely clean white paper ready, clean roller, a plan in mind, then a little voice chirps up "I'll try!". The only place for her to go was on the table. She commandeered three sheets of paper and of course, the dirty roller, clean roller system lasted about a minute.

Next up, monoprinting. I showed her the technique where you ink up the plate, pop it face down, very lightly, and draw on the back to make the design (we'll be doing this one at my monoprint workshops this summer!). 

A little drawing with the left hand... and a little with the right...


Thanks for visiting today. Better go cut up some more papers (and scrub the paint off the table).