Friday, 21 September 2018

More questions than answers

   'Two years into this project and the more I find the less I know !
I began with the idea of parallels, between my specialism in embroidery and that of vascular surgery and also between craft and medicine. I find that to dwell on the obvious parallels and differences is a distraction. I am not here to look at the obvious but to look at the unseen.
   What is unseen? Embodied knowledge in the hands, expert knowledge and assumptions.

(image from a series of pieces around the Norse myth of Gleipnir, this piece is the cats' footsteps)

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Off colour


  To further my understanding of the use of colour in medicine I was studying the medical illustrations found in 'The Sick Rose' by Richard Barnett. It was not an easy viewing even in illustrative form but it was that very fact that made me focus on what I was seeing, the artists view of sickness. All kinds of conditions are illustrated, mostly of diseased or afflicted skin and there was something that linked them all;specific colours. These I found to be a range of browns with blue in, sepia with greys and teal blue washes.In order to suggest ill health you simply add shades of blue green, for decay a hue of grey brown.
  I had been reading about a very successful illustrator who gave his favourite colour to use as being sepia with a touch of ultramarine. A friend of mine, of the same ilk, agreed saying you had to watch which brand of Payne's grey you bought (it is usually a mix of ultramarine and burnt sienna) in case it was too blue. A quick internet hunt gave a similar picture: many illustrators like using blues and browns.
  A brief note on colour mixing;
red and yellow make orange,blue and red make purple, yellow and blue make green.
then.......mix all three to make brown, in fact keep mixing the lot for every shade of brown and dirgy grey (depending on the pigments used). To get a blue toned brown simply add more blue.
  Flat grey is a different beast all together and not popular as it kills the surrounding colours but this is where I found the surgeons differed. An interesting chat with an orthopaedic consultant revealed that she lives in a greyscale world. Her sensitivity to grey has developed over many years so that she can read an xray with more subtlety than her registrars.This means that she can spot things that are causing pain or have serious implications where others can not. It is a skill that only develops with time.

 (As an interesting glimpse of what it is really like to be an illustrator read here. )

Monday, 9 July 2018

Colours of the body

  Sensitivity to colour is part of the furniture for any textile artist.I can name or give names to any colour and can see and love subtle changes and shifts and vibrations within colours which give them life. Lighting is very important in the studio, I use three lamps all using different systems of full spectrum bulbs and get three different effects!!
  So, whilst watching an anti reflux procedure or fundoplication done laparoscopically with full spectrum LED lights I was captivated by the colour.Words were not enough to get across the range of shades so I went to my embroidery thread drawer and spent time looking at my ombre dyed silks and these are what I chose.
  The first image here looks at some colours that you might expect to find but gold?? Under LED and with minimally invasive techniques the fat in membrane glistens like gold dust.

Muscle  has a dark berry summer pudding range, fats are more peach melba and mango.

  Around the edges of the abdominal cavity you find bluer toned pinks which shift into the glistening opalescence of the abdominal wall, it made me think of freshwater fish. Bluey greys are around the margins with slatey browns like an approaching storm or cocoa. The deepest reds are like a cotinus coggygria or smoke bush with its shifting ember red to purple black
 A while back I spoke about gardening and knew I would have to use this as a tool for material understanding. Sensitivity to colour and understanding complex surfaces are also part of a gardeners'skill. The best gardens have sublime or unexpected colour use in their planting because the gardener has a sensitivity to which blue toned pinks match those chartreuse greens or which hot reds bring out a vibrant pink. They also know when something looks wrong, either aesthetically or because a plant is sick, by its' colour or texture.

 I am beginning to look at how we understand what we mean by 'wrong' by looking at colour perception.Over the next phase of my residency I will be exploring this facility and that of touch to learn to see what a surgeon sees.

p.s. this peony from my garden against a heuchera and an erysimum.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Surgical planes


 Planes in surgery may sound a bit odd but it is a term also used in the art world so I was not unfamiliar with it myself. In vascular surgery you are concerned with particular areas and the focus is on the access to arteries. I am fairly used to this view of the body now so it was when I watched a 'reflection' that I had a leap in understanding how the body is structured. It was still with a vascular focus though so when I watched a stomach cancer being removed the penny finally dropped.
  Secret compartments, sliding panels, hidden doors, inner rooms, magic cabinets, this is what it means! Like a puzzle box the body can hide and reveal itself in the same spaces like a magic trick. If you had those puzzle cubes as a child that turn and fold to reveal different pictures this is how the body can be.
 To see a glimpse of this marvel is profound, more so because it was only a slight shift in perception that gave it away.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018



Reflection is such a gentle sounding word, with its watery esoteric meaning, so when I was told I was going to watch a surgical reflection I could not imagine what I was going to see. The point of the operation was to repair two aneurysms that were in very hard to reach areas, that is to say behind other organs. These organs had to move out of the way and that very very simply is a reflection.
   I can only use the metaphor of a tightly packed wardrobe to describe this procedure. Some of the clothes have to come out and the others must be carefully moved along one way and then the other to get at the mending behind. It is the kind of operation where a surgeon must see with their hands. This was the dominant feature of what I saw, that of hands moving with their own sight and understanding.Gentle cradling movements, sliding over one part to find another and lifting soft structures. This was how it was being taught too as it can only be learnt by touch.Hands were guided and taught to feel their way around delicate areas, membranes and connective tissue felt and tested and parted.So material knowledge is gained of all the mysterious areas of the body.
 Surgeons speak of planes within the body but it was not until I watched another type of operation later that I fully understood what this meant.

Thursday, 3 May 2018

Imperial Festival

  Last weekend I was at Imperial College London's public festival where all can come and see the research work that is done at the college. The work that I am doing with ICCESS was on show and we were explaining how the Textile Body worked by having surgeons operate on it for a fascinated public. It was wonderful for me to see consultants happily describing what they do and engaging with it.They trained many future surgeons that day and I am very proud and grateful to them for coming along to help!

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

In my garden I am queen

 The other day I was planting some bulbs out in a tricky spot in the garden. The soil was a bit dry and full of rubble , there was the usual ground elder to remove and the bed is tilted and at an awkward angle. To top it all there is a very old clematis vine in front of the spot and somewhere very nearby its roots. The vine lay across the planting hole and I found myself reaching for my claw rake and using it as a retractor.
 Would this have come to mind had I not spent some eighty hours so far watching surgeons use their tools in tricky spots? I always look to nature for inspiration in my work ,usually for the subject matter, but now I find it  helpful to bridge the gap of experience. Naturally I am not allowed to actually get involved during surgery and this had initially presented me with a dilemma. How do I understand the hands of another without trying what they do themselves?
 Whilst planting I always have to remove weed roots, note the soil condition and not chop the worms up as I dig. The soil structure is 'healable' but there are schools of thought that regard pit planting as preferable to digging over the whole bed. Choice of planting relies on knowing the spot that you want to plant up; dry? shaded? well drained?
 A multi dimensional understanding is key in gardening. This means that you combine the understanding of the plants' needs, the ecosystem of your garden, choice of colour  and how time affects the outcome. And yet these are qualities of all expert practise, we all use multi dimensional thinking to produce our work, artist, surgeon or gardener.
 My thoughts turn to understanding colour and complex surfaces hence the image above.This demands a whole post later.........