Practitioner Focus: Amanda Duke

Fleeting Moments

Tell us about your work

Dropping from Arts Faculty Leadership to 0.6 p/t teaching three years ago allowed me to immerse myself into making my own work again. Joining the Sketchbook circle has been really helpful in making sure I keep going and it is keeping me connected with others across the country who are juggling their lives and their time yet are determined to make their own creativity a priority. In addition I have had a joint residency opportunity over the last year with Emma Taylor at Sussex Prairies, an RHS partner garden in West Sussex. This has culminated in an exhibition entitled ‘Fleeting Moment’ which continues until mid October this year.

I have discovered that having deadlines to work to is key. Responsibility to others helps me to keep going and makes sure I meet challenges in my own work. I have gradually become confident enough to call myself a mixed media and textile artist and believe that collaging and assembling materials whether paper or fabric based is at the core of everything I want to make. In the sketchbook circle books I can see an annual increase in my ability to loosen up and to work without fear. In my residency work I have built a body of work which includes 5 series each containing 6 works. A series of photographs recording shadow play in pressed leaves from the garden. A set of screen print collages where I have assembled pre prepared coloured papers, personal photographs, and drawing materials onto screen printed backgrounds. A series of plant dyed fabrics which have been arranged and layered before drawing and embellishing with running stitches. An installation which shows the different experimental processes I have researched and practiced and various journals which show another record of my residency journey. The residency has given me a unique and vital opportunity to make the commitment to making my own work again, explore new ways of working and engage in subject matter which has become extremely important to me.


I have responded instinctively to the prairie surroundings. Collecting and preserving plant life has been continuous and led to research into natural dye processes, recording through photographs, notes and sketches, leaf rubbings and teaching myself screen printing. I have been mixing a variety of materials onto cotton rag paper and cotton and silk fabrics. Outcomes in stitch, print based media and collage reflect a sustained interest in the changes that occur in a garden across a year. My aim has been to capture the very essence of the plants, the impressions left through the changing seasons and the warmth and light of the summer sun in an attempt to re-create a sense of the Sussex Prairie Garden.


What creative process are you currently working on?

A life time fear of dyeing fabric was cracked 3 years ago when I taught myself how to dye with indigo. With lots of practise with the Shibori dye process I became fascinated in learning more about different ways of dyeing fabric. The residency gave me the opportunity to work with nature through the garden plants. Collecting and foraging has been a real feature of the last year. Taking rubbings from leaves, hammering colour out of leaves and flowers, bundling leaves into fabric, steaming and simmering the bundles revealed some real possibilities. I have had to complete a lot of research through reading, watching You Tube videos and talking to local people with fabric dyeing experience to find out more about the process. I am becoming proficient at scouring and mordanting fabric with Allum (a preparation process to ensure that the dye is colour and light fast) and most of my work has involved Ecoprinting. (Contact printing leaves straight onto fabric through bundling, tieing, steaming or simmering in water). My next quest will be to extend my mordanting knowledge by using copper and wood ash in preparation for dyeing and also using modifiers to alter the colours after dyeing.


How does your creative process work?

I work in ranges and series all of the time and have at least 3 -4 series on the go continuously. This way of working helps me to keep an experimental approach going. Rather than invest all my attention in one ‘masterpiece’ I float from one series to another. When I return to a series I have a fresh eye, see the work differently and adapt and alter the works. I put a series away for a while and get on with another series and then put tthose few works away. I find that distancing myself from the work in between helps me to see the works objectively when I return to them later. Making all these works part of a journey, an ongoign process has helped me to build confidence in what I am doing. If one work fails it matters less and I can rip it apart and rebuild it without worrying or feeling a failure. Happy accidents occur along the way too which again helps build confidence.


What tools or materials could you not live without?

Masking tape, PVA glue, knife, paper scissors, fabric scissors, a range of black and white drawing media. Various ways of making colour such as ink, acrylic paint, pigments and selectasine for screen printing and embroidery cotton for drawing. Silk, wool and cotton fabric, plant life for making marks and colour on fabric.

Where do you search for creative inspiration?

I make intuitive responses to things that I have observed around me, first hand, and then I search for creative inspiration within the artworks themselves. Sussex Prairies residency has given me my subject matter. I am now moving into my own garden for inspiration.


What is the best piece of creative advice you have been given?

When I was 16 years old my father said to me: “ if you want to be an artist it will be your job to reveal to others what they cannot see themselves, you will have to find that angle, that viewpoint in things that no-one else has shown us yet.” This conversation has stayed with me as a lasting memory of my father who died when I was 20. He has never left my side whilst I am making things and in my attempts to reveal to others what it is I find interesting about the visual world and my attempts to communicate this to others.


When I was 18 years old my art teacher Harman Sumray shared a quote with the class from American Author and poet Carl Sandburg “ I don’t know where I am going but I know I am on my way”. This phrase was a great revelation to me at that early point in my life. The realization that whatever I do in my life and that whatever I try to create it will not be the finished article, that leading a creative life will be a continuous journey of reflection, curiosity, reflection, more experiences, reflection and more making searching for an unknown destination. I am loving this renewed immersion into my making my own work and believe that I will continue my journey. I hope to keep connected with the sketchbook circle, a great way to keep things going.