Talk: Alison King – “Where is the Consolation?”

Hosted by Dumfries & District Branch Embroiderers’ Guild, 6 October 2016. With many thanks to Margaret, who invited me to attend as her guest.

Alison King trained as a painter, but now works mainly with textiles. Her practice has developed into working with a combination of paint with stitch. Her work is inspired, in general, by the Scottish landscape, but the idea for her most recent work came from another source. “Where is the Consolation?” has been exhibited in St Giles Cathedral, Edinburgh, and will eventually be displayed in the The Heart of Midlothian Football Team’s Museum. It is this piece of work that the artist’s illustrated lecture described, including the inspiration, preparatory work and exhibition of the piece.


Alison King Where is the Consolation? (detail)



Alison King Where is the Consolation?


During WWI, sixteen members of the Heart of Midlothian Football team were persuaded to sign up to a new volunteer battalion in 1914. The battalion became the 16th Royal Scots. Hundreds of football supporters also volunteered, along with Alison King’s husband’s relative, the Rev James Black. He was one of 200 of these volunteers that survived the war (600 died at the Somme).

The title of the artwork is taken from a sermon preached by the Rev Black at the end of the war: “Where, Minister, is the Consolation?”.

King visited the area around Albert in France where the battalion fought, making drawings of the vast crater in the area (site of an explosion), the wild flowers, left over artifacts from the trenches such as rusty guns, barbed wire fence, the landscape etc. A trench map once owned by Rev Black became the inspiration for the structure of the artwork (seen in the lines and numbers in the detail shown here). The artist made a large drawn cartoon of the four sections to be joined, then worked on a small patch at a time, using paint, stitch, photographic transfer and an embellishing machine.

After the talk, we were allowed to handle an artwork made in a similar way, but which had been left as a flexible textile (transported folded in its own painted box), rather than being mounted on canvas, as the subject of the talk had been. The mixture of paint, fused fabrics and stitch gives a very varied and textured surface.

I was impressed with the way the artist had chosen and researched her subject, finding a link between her interest in the peat digging found in the Scottish landscape, this leading to her interest in trenches, and to her husband’s relative’s involvement in WWI, and the story of the ‘footballers’ battalion’.

The artist’s sketchbooks were wonderful to leaf through: A3 size, portrait books, with painted pages decorated with sketches, paintings, notes, poetry and quotations, photographs, torn and collaged paper, small images of inspiring paintings by other artists, found ephemera (such as an old stamped envelope), little samples of fabric and stitch.

There is an interview with Alison King on, which includes images of her landscape work.


This fascinating talk clearly illustrated the way Alison King’s artwork had evolved from initial idea, through research, sketches made on site, and sampling, to a finished piece of work. It confirmed the usefulness of the coursework that I am currently learning from. The artist’s sketchbooks were very inspiring to look at and have encouraged me to return with renewed vigour to my own sketchbooks (or rather the loose sheets that I work on). I will have to give some thought to mounting them on similarly-sized sheets and making them into a book.

6 thoughts on “Talk: Alison King – “Where is the Consolation?””

  1. Wow – what a wonderful talk this sounds as. Great inspiration. On mounting loose papers – I was advised not to ‘squash’ the bigger drawings (such as A2) down to my A4 sized sketchbooks by folding them (as I had done). My tutor said that an assessor might not have time to fold out and thus might not see them. But for ATV I found those loose sheets a challenge – but my tutor was OK with them… Just to perhaps destress the process as you find you own best solution.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your very helpful advice on the loose sheets, Inger. I am glad you mentioned not to fold the larger sheets, as that is something I had considered. I think that I may try and make an A3 sized wrap for the loose sheets (like an opened-out envelope with four flaps).


  2. Lovely post, Julia. I too work on loose sheets for some assignments. I’ve settled on A3 which seems to cover most eventualities but I do find myself avoiding A2 which is a shame. But then a whole sketchbook of A2 seems a bit unwieldy… Ongoing debate, it seems.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, A3 seems a good size, Julie. At the moment I have a mish mash of A5 – A1 sheets, so I won’t be able to send them all anyway. I really liked Alison King’s A3 sketchbooks, which were spiral bound, bought ones. I couldn’t see a manufacturer’s mark, so I’ll have to do some research!


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