Brisons Veor – first thoughts

Wow! I’ve been back from Cornwall for a couple of days now and my mind is still buzzing with the many impressions and experiences of the past week.

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Of course, I went with expectations and pre-conceived ideas. Before I left, decisions had to be made about the materials to take and these were based on what I thought I would like to do and what I would like to investigate. Naturally, all expectations were confounded, but little glimmers of something new have been planted in my mind as a result.

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The sun came out on the last day but its was still cold and windy

The process of exploring a new place, I’ve discovered, can never be pre-judged. There can certainly be tried and tested methods of working, but you never know what the environment, the weather or your own physical and metal state will be at any fixed time. You can only deal with what is happening now.

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Out of the studio window

I went to Brisons Veor hoping to work with the sounds of that place. I wanted to listen actively and deeply so that I could understand it aurally. But that didn’t happen quite as I thought it would. Brisons Veor is at Cape Cornwall, a small headland that juts out into the Atlantic. The cottage is the most westerly residence in England. It perches on the edge of a granite cliff and at high tide it is only metres away from a boiling sea. We had ‘winter’ weather. The noise of the wind and the waves was constant. The howling, whistling and roaring virtually blocked out all other sounds. Only occasionally did a faint bird call penetrate the all-encompassing cacophony. I went hoping for a multi-coloured palette of sound but, if this existed, it was drowned out by the natural conditions at that particular time.

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There can be no sound without movement and sitting high on the cliff by the coastguard station or down on the beach in the cove there was wild movement everywhere. The wind, eddied and gusted. Heavier gusts buffeted me so that I was physically moved. It whistled through the gap between my head and my hat, it flapped at my my coat and froze my fingers. The act of hearing the wind became confused with being touched by the wind.

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Porth Ledden on the other side of the Cape

High on a cliff is, for me, an unfamiliar way of seeing the sea. In Norfolk I look at it from ground level and from that angle there is less sea and more sky. But at Cape Cornwall, from such an elevated position, the sea and sky are almost equal. Below me, the force of the waves is broken by the cliffs and the tall rocks that lie scattered all along the coast. Their crash and roar is a continuous white noise as they break and ebb. All around me is movement and noise, but far out across the waves on the horizon, is stillness and silence. The further the distance the calmer and quieter it gets.

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The weather conditions continued for the whole seven days. Each time I stepped out of the cottage I was confronted by the same symphony of wind and waves. Whilst I was there I was disappointed. I felt that this ‘noise’ blocked out the sound detail. But I was wrong. This wildness and movement and sheer, overwhelming sensation was the most important thing about the place at that point in time. The sound was uncontrollable and immense and the movement that produced it was ever-moving, ever-changing and multi-layered.

From my sketchbook:

There is no movement without sound.

There is no sound without movement.

All around me, extending outwards

the duet of sea and wind.

But out on the horizon is stillness.

No sound reaches me from there.

I’m not sure what will come out of these first thoughts. All week I wrote and drew and printed and made. I have collected a lot of data and documented it. Next time I’ll show you some of the things I did and give my thoughts on them ……

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Residency

I’m really very excited! At the weekend I am going down to Cornwall with fellow artist Mary Morris to stay at Brisons Veor for a week of making and thinking. Brisons Veor is a residential workspace for artists who would like to take time away to concentrate on a specific project.

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Our stay there will kickstart a new project that is based on a personal observation and experience of place. Its working title is Along the Same Lines. Working independently from the same points and at the same time, Mary and I will use observations and personal methods of working to document, record and collect information from the environment. Brisons Veor is (almost) the most Westerly point of the British Isles and it will form the first location for the project. We hope to take it on to other locations in the North, South and East.

I’m not taking a huge number of materials with me: mainly things to draw, paint and write with, as the main aim of the week is not only to set the parameters of the project, but also to have the precious opportunity to work closely with somebody else for an extended period of time. I’m particularly  looking forward to this aspect of the week.

There’s no WiFi and little phone signal at the artist’s studio so there will be no electronic distractions. However do keep an eye on Instagram for updates.

 

Colours of the Landscape

It is an ancient practice for artists to use earth as a painting material. For centuries (almost forever in fact) earth has been dug out of the ground, processed and mixed with binders to make colour. Raw earth colours can range from yellow to red and brown and when burnt can darken the colour substantially. The main colouring material in these earths is iron.

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Chalk is another material that comes from the ground. It is a variety of limestone and was formed over millions of years from the skeletal remains of minute plankton called coccolithophores. It is, of course, pure white.

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Sea-coal is a coal that washes up on the beach from exposed deposits that exist on the sea bed. It is a dark, dark black and is shiny and remarkably ‘clean’.

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These three cloth vessels (I am calling them Ground Works) have been coloured with local yellow earth, chalk and sea-coal. The materials have been collected from beaches along the North Norfolk coast, ground and then mixed with water to a creamy consistency and rubbed into the cloth. A wax and linseed oil mixture has been applied when the paint was dry. I’m remarkably pleased with the pure colour that I have managed to achieve with these hand ground, local pigments.

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The ground pigments can also be mixed with a binder, in this case rabbit skin glue, to make paint. The paints I have made are rough and textured. I found the sand in the yellow earth difficult to grind down to a very fine texture and the sea-coal is also very hard and so difficult to grind finely. However, these local colours are remarkably intense and their texture is certainly interesting. It pleases me that the colours make a direct connection between the non-descriptive ambiguity of the vessels and the realism of the drawings.

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I love the idea that a material dug up from beneath the surface, in this case the colour, is able to describe the landscape above and so connect the work to the environment both physically and visually.

 

Walking notes

I’m back in Wells after a month down in Surrey. As always the first thing I do is to go for a walk to take the air and to see what’s what. It’s a mild day with little wind. The tide is coming in and although it’s mid afternoon the light is flat and is already beginning to fade. Here is my walk ….

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The berries of the sea buckthorn stand out bright orange in the dull light.

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It’s a very lazy tide today and the sea laps gently up and around the groynes.

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There are a couple of seals swimming around just off the beach. Rope barriers have been set up to give the seals a ‘safe place’ from dogs and humans – this one is very interested in one of the poles.

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Cormorants head back inland to their roost.

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The sun, just visible through the clouds, falls fast at this time of year. 

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Its colour deepens the lower it falls.

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Across the fields towards Holkham a mist rises after the sun has set.

Just a quick catch-up

I just wanted to say hello! I’ve had my head down recently getting on with stuff and there haven’t really been any new developments to tell you about.

I’m presently working on 3 large cloths for an exhibition next year. They are going to be coloured with hand-collected and hand-ground pigments: probably chalk, sea-coal and yellow clay. After that they will be waterproofed and dressed with a wax and linseed oil concoction that will change their nature completely so that they become glossy and stiff.

At the moment I am preparing the cloths prior to the colouring and waxing process. The one shown here has been dipped in the sea to rust the eyelets and it is presently hanging in my studio so that I can get to know it. I like to live with things for a while to see if they need changes. I’ll put it away presently and then look at it again in a week to two to see if my view has changed ….. it often does when you turn your back.

The balance I am trying to get in the work is tricky. It is between having enough interest in the way the cloth is put together: the utilitarian seams, reinforcements and eyelets, without detracting from the the pigments and wax which are the main reason for the work. I want the pigments and wax to speak for themselves.

I feel that I may have been a bit fussy with this first cloth, so the one I am working on at the moment will be much plainer – almost a blank canvas with just one row of eyelets.

 

The Sewing Machine Project at the Knit & Stitch show

I’ve got the car packed to the gunnels with Studio 21 work as we are having another showing of The Sewing Machine Project. This time it is at the Knitting & Stitching show and we will be at all three of the shows: London, Dublin and Harrogate.

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This is a great project – full of thoughtful, inspirational work and well worth a look; or if you have already seen the work ….. a second look! If you are at any of the shows please do go and say hello to the Studio 21 members who would love to see you.

I’ll be showing two works: Fold and Seam.

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New Work

I have finally finished a piece of work using hand-collected and hand-ground clay and chalk: substances that connect the materiality of the environment, the actual matter that landscape is made up of, and the utilitarian use of cloth in a coastal environment.

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It has taken me all summer to try and get this process to work to my satisfaction. The problems have mainly been with trying to get the clay or chalk ground to a fine enough powder to combine successfully with a binder. I have come to realise that hand grinding will only get me so far  – I’ll need machines to make the pigment really fine.

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I’ve also tried using a suspension method to get really fine grains by letting the chalk or clay sit in water so the heavy grains drop to the bottom leaving the lighter, finer grains to be suspended in the water and to be poured off. The process is repeated until the grains are fine enough. This has been more successful but it is a lot more time consuming and there is more wastage.

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This first piece uses two processes to colour the cloth. The first is a process I have used before and in this instance I placed part of the work into the sea so that the sewn eyelets rust. The second process uses yellow clay and hand-ground chalk, collected from the cliffs at West Runton, and combined with a mixture wax and linseed oil. This concoction is a traditional way of treating canvas sails in order to preserve and protect them. Read more about this  here.

P1010860I’m calling this series of works, Groundcloths, and this work is half of a work I’m calling Coiled. It is the first of two coiled pieces and I’ve already started making the second, companion piece. It is made from linen, wire, hand-collected and hand-ground, hand-collected and hand-ground yellow clay, seawater, linseed oil and wax and measures 30 x 30 x 10 cm.

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I have two group exhibitions next year and the 2 coiled pieces will be for one of them, although I haven’t decided which yet.