Time for another Conversation, I think. The work that was exhibited in Sew: Together is dismantled, packed away and returned to the college Collection or the owners. It was a great experience and from the feedback we received, appreciated by lots of people who visited. However, I need now to turn my attention to other things and another Conversation is overdue. I first met Bobby Britnell when she taught at a Scottish Region Embroiderers’ Guild Summer School many years ago but since being a member of Textile Study Group I have come to know her as a colleague and friend. We have taught at different Summer Schools over the last few years and as a Committee member I worked closely with her during our time in office. Bobby has enormous experience in textiles and teaching and runs the Moor Hall Studios from her home in rural Shropshire where she offers a varied programme of textile courses, talks and creative workshops with high profile artists. In 2013 her book, Stitched Textiles: Flowers was published but she has featured in numerous publications, books and reviews and has work in both private and public collections in several countries. Bobby has won prestigious awards and commissions and has exhibited widely as an individual as well as a group member so I was interested to take some time to ask about her practice and started by asking about her early training. Bobby, your original training was in costume but you taught in schools for many years – how important is teaching to your practice?
- Teaching is paramount to my working life. The saying ‘if in doubt, teach’ is very derogatory as some of us love teaching…..the sharing and imparting of knowledge, seeing people develop and grow is all part of the teaching experience. It can also help inform one’s own work, as planning for courses opens up new ideas and possibilities and of course teachers are constantly learning from their students.
Until recently you were Chairman of the Textile Study Group – how important do you feel being a member of a group contributes to your practice?
- Being an active member of The Textile Study Group has been very important to me for the friendships and rigorous discipline that members share. I have been a member for over 20 years now. One is in a very privileged position as chair, as you become fully involved with all aspects in the running of the group. I so enjoyed this experience and particularly the closer involvement with the members. As for contributing to my own practice, it is useful to know that there are always listening ears and people to show your work to for advice.
You have a very popular and successful studio running many courses throughout the year. How important is it to your personal practice that you offer courses in a wide variety of disciplines and not just textiles?
- As a textile artist I obviously like to offer courses in textiles as this is the world where the bulk of my contacts come from. However drawing and painting have become increasingly important to me both in my working practice, so I have brought in highly experienced tutors in the field of drawing and painting to teach these skills and these courses have been very popular. I do not feel however that the courses are there to impact on my own personal practice. Of course I select tutors that I know can deliver excellent experiences for the students, but it does not necessarily follow that I will attend the courses, although occasionally I do, if there is space and if I can spare the time.
Are you able to find a space within this busy working studio for yourself – can you tell us about it, and do you listen to music, audiobooks or prefer silence?
- Well I never can find as much time as I would like, to do my own work, but I am addressing this! This year I have condensed my courses, delivered by visiting tutors to just a few months, keeping certain months of the year free for my own work. I hope that this will work better for me. I often do play music while working, classical rather than anything else or otherwise I like the stillness and quietness. It can be frustrating at times not having the studio space as my own space, but it is what it is.
The charity you and your husband set up is based in Uganda and you have used bark cloth in recent years as one of the main components of your work. I well remember the collaborative shoe project, seeing the results at K&S a few years ago. It must have been very satisfying to bring to more public awareness the value of this amazing sustainable material.
- Yes it has been satisfying introducing people to bark cloth is, but I am also aware that it is not always that easy to obtain. All the time we were travelling over to Uganda, I had access to the material and could bring back plenty with me, but since we no longer go, my own supply is dwindling. However things are beginning to happen, more trees (The Mutuba Tree) are being planted and greater interest is once again being shown for bark cloth as a worthwhile commodity for Uganda. It will require the interest of the Western World to recognize this toork
Do you have a regular or daily drawing habit or how do you make those visual notes that inform your work? How important do you feel it is to have a drawing routine?
- I would like to say that I draw daily, but that would not be true. I draw and paint when I can and do sketchbook studies whenever I can. I suppose it is more often than most people and I do seem to have plenty of filled sketchbooks, but as a practicing artist feel it could and should be more often. Keeping notebooks and sketchbooks has always been important and in recent years I tend to do larger scale drawings, which may or may not influence my textile work. I love it when I am doing it.
What are your favourite techniques and materials?
- I think the technique that I always come back to is mono-printing and I love this technique worked over a surface covered with gesso. I love the spontaneous marks that come from mono-printing. I am also keen on the building up of layers, over printing and the use of translucent colour. The building and changing, loosing aspects, reworking areas, all suit my style of working. Apart from, at the present, working with bark cloth, I am not that interested in working with different materials but am more interested in just using natural scoured cotton and seeing how the drawn marks and paper ideas can be translated onto this cloth.
What plans do you have for the coming months?
Readers may be interested to know that I had a solo exhibition in Germany using my bark cloth in July (2019) at Galerie Unterhammer, Trippstadt. I shall be working on a series of landscape paintings for a local exhibition. I have made a start and they are here in the studio awaiting the next coat of marks and colour……….there, I am committed now!!! I also plan to progress work for the next project by the Textile Study Group which is a self-published book. I have made a start on this work, which is really a continuation of what has gone before and just need to find that ‘space’ that we have discussed to move this work forward.
Thank you Bobby. Having listened to your description of the process of producing barkcloth it is fascinating to feel how soft and adaptable it is and these pieces show how with print and stitch it has huge potential as a surface for textiles. I am looking forward to hearing about your work for the forthcoming book project and wish you well for your other exciting ventures. You can see more of Bobby’s work and information about the courses she runs at the Moor Hall Studios on her website Bobby’s website and of course on the Textile Study Group website. Thanks again, Bobby.