Topophilia

I always have the radio on as I’m working especially if I have a mundane, repetitive task to do. This afternoon as I was making samples for a forthcoming workshop, I caught an episode of Ramblings with Claire Balding on Radio 4 which was particularly interesting. It has left me thinking and I thought it was worth mentioning it to you.

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The present series of Ramblings discovers how walking can be a way of bonding; with friends or other people etc. Today’s episode was with travel writer Philip Marsden and considered how walking could be a way of bonding with place. Philip Marsden has just written a book, Rising Ground, in which he explores why we react so strongly to certain landscapes and what makes them so special.

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His new book includes thoughts about the area of Cornwall where he now lives. He talks about falling in love with the place – with all the feelings, sensitivities and yearnings that go with that state. It is, he says, an intense and physical response and one that is fundamental to whom we are – we define ourselves through the experiences and stories that we encounter in that place. It is an idea I relate to. The more you know a place the more you learn to love it. You become sensitive to its little quirks and changes; you can become upset by careless planning verdicts or if an eyesore is allowed to ruin a view. You’re elated when you encounter an animal or bird in an unusual place (like the first time I saw a seal up Sluice Creek in Wells far from their normal stomping ground …. Do seals stomp?).

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So why do we react in such a way with certain places? Is it because of the associations we have with places we knew as children and the value we put on those places? Or is it the shape of the land? Marsden talks about geographical characteristics that have historically attracted people to a particular spot– he calls them collective places. These locations have an extraordinary presence that has always been special and consequently stories and myths have built up around them.

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However what I love isn’t necessarily going to be what you love – your feelings won’t be the same as mine. Each one of us senses a place differently. Our mind and our eyes are in constant interaction – how we see, or indeed use all our senses, is conditioned by our brains and so our feelings for a place are personal. They are determined by prior knowledge and experience, subjective perception and  selection.

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There is much to think about and if you were wondering about the title of this post: Topophilia is a love of or emotional connection with place or physical environment. The photos are from a ramble of my own taken at Wells last weekend.

3 black drawings

I have known for a long time how important drawing is to my practice and I also know that I tend to scribble things down in a rather inconsequential manner on scrappy bits of paper. Consequently I’m on a drive to do more drawing and to actually produce something worthwhile – something that works in it’s own right but that could also open up ways to extend my textile practice.

Some of you may have noticed some photos of etching plates popping up in my instagram feed in the sidebar. Printing is something I’ve dabbled in before – on my MA and other courses – but now I feel the time is right to set to and really understand the process so that I can begin to make the medium my own. I’m at the beginning, but I’m really enjoying the slow process of building up tonal layers on the metal plates.

Here are 3 drawings. They are studies or formative ideas for possible aquatint prints. I’m using my pen to get my mind around the layering process required.To stop out with varnish and dip in acid  again and again to produce light to dark tones. They are of course images of the saltmarshes in North Norfolk and are quite small – approx. 15×10 cms.

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It may be a while before I’ve got a finished print, but I’ll keep you posted!

Seam

It’s always interesting to make something that’s out of the scope of your own practice. As a member of a group that usually sets a brief for their exhibitions I relish the opportunity to get my teeth into something different. The textile group Studio 21 have an exhibition coming up in the autumn that is inspired by ‘the sewing machine’ – The Sewing Machine Project. We started by pulling apart some old machines, looking at their mechanics and drawing, painting, rubbing and generally getting to know the bits you don’t normally see. The project has developed and many of the members are now looking at the social and historical implications of the sewing machine. It is very interesting and I’ll write about this more as my ideas develop.

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For now here is a tiny new work made for the project. The brief was to make something which had the dimensions of less than 20x20cms, was blue and made of cloth. It was to use machine stitching only. I have called it Seam  (I think even small work should be titled). It may well be the first of several ‘seamed’ pieces as I think I am moving in the direction of cutting, piecing and seaming.

 

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Sketchbooks

I love sketchbooks. I always have several on the go at any one time and at the moment I am using three.

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I always have an A4 workbook in which to record ideas (both drawn and written). I also put things I’ve read that are interesting or relevant to my thinking in there  – it’s a dumping ground for all concepts and ideas.

I have a smaller A5 sketchbook that I slip in my pocket and take out on walks. These drawings are quick, rough and would probably mean nothing to others. They are my own personal hieroglyphics.

At the moment I also have a rather lovely moleskin watercolour sketchbook (the drawings you see here come from it). It is landscape in format and opens out into a really wide spread that is perfect for Norfolk drawings. I am enjoying the process of filling it up with rather splodgy, wet paintings. They are done from memory – I think myself into a place and see where the paint leads me.

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Working in sketchbooks is all well and good – I do a lot of it. But recently I have been wondering whether it is just prevarication. These are quick sketches, rather carelessly done. I’m a great one for splashing paint around so naturally everything ends up blotchy and a bit messy. What, I ask myself, are these sketches for?

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Well – all thinking, drawing and making has to be relevant to my practice. Every time I make something or draw something leads me onto the next thing. Progression can’t happen without doing and at the moment I am feeling a great need to put these rather scrappy drawings onto a firmer footing – to recognise that drawing is a very big part of what I do.

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It was Terry Frost who said that thinking happened before and after making a picture but that painting was all about putting paint on canvas. I want to explore paint on paper or even paint on canvas – to get to know these materials more intimately and to turn my sketchbook drawings into artworks in their own right.

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I’m starting by re-doing these drawings on a nice, big piece of watercolour paper – with no creases, splashes or smudges ….. I’ll let you know how I get on.

Newsletter

I’ve just sent out my first Studio News newsletter with information and pictures about forthcoming exhibitions and talks etc. I’ve also included a little bit about what I’ll be up to in the studio over the next few weeks. I’ve been fiddling around for days trying to get it to look nice (the line spacing seems to be ridiculously difficult to get right) but it’s gone out even though it’s still not quite right. I expect I’ll get to grips with it eventually!

If you haven’t received one and would like to please add your email address to the mailing list on my website here and I’ll send one along to you.

A frosty morning

Waking up early the other day I peeked through the curtains on the way downstairs to make a cup of tea and was rewarded with the sight of a clear sky and a very heavy frost. I can’t resist an unusual weather event so I threw some clothes on over my pyjamas, grabbed my camera and went out to have a look.

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The air was cold – catch at the back of the nose cold – and the sun hadn’t quite risen above the tall north-facing buildings on the quay. The water and marsh were caught in a subdued grey/pink light and underfoot the frost gave a satisfying crunch with each step. The tide was out.

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My footsteps were accompanied by the woodwind murmurings of a flock of Brent geese as I walked northwards along the beach bank towards the sea.

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I turned to look at them and at that moment the sun rose up from behind the town, touching everything around me with a soft golden light and making the frosted world sparkle.

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Overhead, skeins of geese were making their way inland to feed on sugar beet.

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Turning back the glare of low sun made me screw up my eyes – the landscape suddenly a black outline, silhouetted against the shining backlight.

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