Select Festival 2016

Textile group Studio 21 are taking their Exhibition The Sewing Machine Project to the Select Festival 2106, Stroud. I am helping to put up the exhibition next Monday and it opens on Tuesday until the end of May. Do go along and have a look if you are in the area. I’ll be there on Tuesday 3 and Wednesday 4 May and also for the ‘meet the artists’ session from 12-2pm on Saturday 7 May.

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There is a lot going on during the festival with exhibitions, lectures, workshops and the Select Trail where you can meet artists and buy and work. There is more information and a copy of the Festival brochure here. 

 

Sluice Creek

You close your eyes and see

the stillness of
the mullet-nibbled arteries, samphire
on the mudflats almost underwater,
and on the saltmarsh whiskers of couch-grass
twitching, waders roosting, sea-lavender
faded to ashes.

From Here, at the Tide’s Turning, Kevin Crossley-Holland

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The work I have been concentrating on for the past 9 months is for the autumn Knitting and Stitching shows and is, as always, inspired by the North Norfolk coast. It comprises a major new body of work The Sluice Creek Cloths.

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Sluice Creek is a narrowing watercourse that runs off the main channel at Wells-next-the-Sea and from it spring a network of meandering creeks and tributaries. Running through the saltings its banks are rich with mud, sea lavender, samphire and birds. Rotting posts, the remains of bridges and jetties, dot its edges. On the highest tides the whole area is totally covered by water but at low tide the water drains away to leave a slick, shining surface rich in nutrients and teeming with life. It is a complex, ever-changing place and I have sailed here at high tide and walked over the mud. I know it well, but its twice daily ebb and flow  means there is a continuous transformation and it hasn’t given up all its secrets to me yet.

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The cloths reflect a series of vividly remembered encounters and engagements with this place: things I have heard and seen and noticed.  Each work notates an ordinary but memorable, event: the movement of the tides, the sun moving over the marsh and creating shadows, the clink of halyards knocking against masts, the call of a curlew or the moment the moon rises above the horizon.

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So far I have made four cloths and I hope there will be more. I’m not ready to show them yet (I will do before long), so in the meantime I have been playing around with my new printing press and these drypoint, collograph and carborundum prints are trials! They are of Sluice Creek and are drawn from memory.

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Rainbow

It’s been a week of dodging showers – typical April weather. Here are some notes from my sketchbook written whilst weather watching from the comfort of the beachhut….

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‘At the moment I am sitting in the sun, but all around me are clouds and the grey cloak of falling rain. The clouds don’t appear to be moving fast but the weather is changing by the minute.

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The sky darkens overhead, but on the horizon the wind farm is suddenly illuminated as the sun catches it with passing light. The slow-turning tri-sailed arms stand brightly in front of a darkening sky but they quickly change as the sun moves across them. One moment the front rank of windmills are shining white and the back ones are black. Seconds later they reverse and the back ones appear white and the front ones dark. One lone white windmill stands out – the light moves on and it too turns dark.

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To the east the dark, dark outlined shadow of the pines dominates the skyline. To the west a heavy grey line of clouds lets go its moisture. In the foreground the wet and dry tones of the sand reflects the clouds above.

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A motorboat chugs in towards the quay on the flood tide and chattering voices float on the air from far across the sand. Suddenly, with a slight change in wind direction, I hear the sound of breaking waves.

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The heavy clouds, that are moving west to east, disgorge their load over the East Hills and immediately after is sun and a brilliant cyan sky. A rainbow slowly emerges. Rising upwards from its base it slowly joins to make a full arc.’

Sea Dipping

I have finally got to the stage with part of my latest piece of work where I can dip it into the sea and I have been thinking about why this process is so important to me.

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Recently, I have placed the finished cloths into the sea two or three times. This, I thought, was principally to rust the iron rings that I had sewn into them, but it has become obvious that the process of taking the cloth to water has more significance than just the visual effect of the rusting.

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The cloths are inspired by vividly remembered encounters and engagements with the coast: processes, sights and sounds of the the sea, the beach and the marshland. Placing the work and photographing it in the environment that inspired it somehow brings the whole thought process back full circle.

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For me the work I make in response to a place is about the experience of looking, touching, hearing, light and space. The work, for me, is not separate from the original experience. The energy of the place is within the energy of the piece, although its form and material come from my imagination. The introduction of the work to the place brings together two halves of a whole.

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The photographs I take of this ‘introduction’ are not a work in themselves, but the documentation of bringing work and place together is highly significant to me and the photographs form a visual record of the act. The other record is of course the resulting rust marks that stain the cloth from the contact of sea and iron.

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Without this baptism in the sea the work would not be complete.

 

Waiting

My family have filled the house for the holiday weekend and with bad weather forecast we were expecting to be stuck indoors, so what a delight it was to wake up this morning to find clear blue sky. There was a definite feeling that spring was round the corner and for the first time this year you could contemplate going out without a coat. I sneaked out of the house quite early to go and sniff the air and with the warming sun and water filling the channel my mind turned towards boating.

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Most of the running moorings up the beach bank are empty at this time of the year. The slack ropes, which are caught at each end by a short metal post, are thick with marsh mud and tangled with sea-wrack that has accumulated through lack of use over the winter months. 

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The fat shackles that attach the rope to the posts shine out in the sun….

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…. and plastic buoys that mark out the moorings are dotted, in and out of the water, along the shoreline.

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One or two boats have been left out, exposed to the elements, over the winter. With their paintwork peeling and their metal fittings rusted they look rather a sorry sight.

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Our small boat has been stored snugly in a barn since the autumn, but with the prospect of stormy rain tomorrow, the mooring will have to wait for a few more weeks before we risk taking her out. Today has given me a hint of the pleasures to come later in the year.

Words

I’ve been thinking about how I record and document the experience of my surroundings.

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Of course I use my eyes, and at first looking appears to be the dominant sense.  As I walk I’m mindful of what is going on around me  – I literally have to look where I’m going – but it is only when I sit still that I really begin to pay attention.  Stillness allows me to take time to search out detail and choose what is worthy of recording. I look, but I also listen and feel and smell (I don’t taste very often!). My senses shift from listening, to looking, to feeling as I become aware of the change and movement around me. It seems that one sense always dominates and the other senses back it up. If I hear a sound I look for it. If I see a movement I listen for evidence of it. If I stub my toe I look for the cause. Nothing happens in isolation and I need all senses to fully comprehend.

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‘wind in the reeds sets them waving and shifting – red/green movement – a huge continuous rushing and swooshing’.

So how do I record these sensory noticings? Drawing? Photograph? Sound recording? I do all of these things. Although texture is visually referred to in drawing and photographs and a visual picture jumps into your mind of what is being listened to in a sound recording, I like to complement these documentations with words and my sketchbook has as many pages of writing as it has drawings.

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‘the tide has moved the mud into ridges along the sides of the meandering rivulet. The sun catches them and casts deep shadows. A curlew calls’.

Sometimes I write down simple facts: the weather, the sounds I hear, colour and changes of light. I have a great fondness for lists: lists of birds I’ve seen (if I know their names), lists of objects found and just lists of words. I love a Thesaurus and I frequently write a list of synonyms for one word  (I find it can spark new ideas) and I love it when I discover a new word. Often I write a single sentence noting a change of light or how a bird calls as it takes off from the marsh. Finally I write pages of noticings that are a stream of consciousness – observations (not great works of literature) that I scribble down as they occur.

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‘Sea Roar – white noise

Higher sssssh – continuous – slightly wavering

You can’t hear the waves breaking.

There is no rhythm.

There is no source – it is enveloping.

The higher and lower sounds come forward and recede so that neither is more prominent that the other.’

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Words are a complement to my drawing and although I seldom make work that comes directly from either of these activities, the discipline of recording ensures that I stop, take notice and fully document each phenomenological observation. I am always searching for something new and the knowledge I gain through the process of documentation widens my scope and gives me a greater understanding and thus more possibility as I start creating.

Slow progress

Do you ever feel as if you have been beavering away with nothing to show for it? That is how I am feeling at the moment. I have been working on a large piece for about three weeks now and things are definitely moving forwards but it is very slow progress.

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The cloth is for the Knitting and Stitching show where I  have a gallery in the autumn. It is the fourth in the series (I expect to make at least two more) and at 2.75 x 1.50m it is the largest so far. The cloth will hang doubled over so the actual dimension of the cloth is 2.75 x  3m.

I am pulling out the weft threads of a medium weave linen – a technique I have used before – and on this cloth there is more hole than cloth ….. an awful lot of threads to snip and pull out. It has taken me over two weeks to do one half, but yesterday I finished and could hang it up, look at it and then paint it. It is presently drying in the garage which in the damp, cold weather we are having at the moment is taking time. Normally I’d show you a picture but the light in there is poor so the photo above is of my sample.

Today, while I’ve been waiting for paint to dry, I thought I’d get on with something that takes a bit less time, gives me something immediate to show for my efforts and is useful …. 3 teaching samples for my colour/collage workshop.

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Here are my sketchbook and finished samples…..

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with holed wax and stitch,

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loops and an eyelet,

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french knots,

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and more loops.

However, sometimes things don’t go to plan. I cut up the third collage because I didn’t like it ….

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and this is all that’s left!

Tomorrow my big cloth should be dry and I can start on the next stage. I had hoped the whole thing would be finished by Easter but I think that is wishful thinking. I’ll keep you posted.