Walking

A blue sky day!

Although I had several things I (probably) should be getting on with it seemed a great shame not to put my boots on and go out for a walk.

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I chose a favourite route at Holkham that takes the path through the pines behind the beach to Gun Hill and then onto the sand and back along the water’s edge.

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When I’m out walking I never know what will catch my eye and this time, inspired by the tall, straight pines, I found myself searching out similar lines. Dried willow herb …..

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and marram grass rise up above the sand dunes and dance gently in the breeze.

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The sun is quite low in the sky at this time of year and so there are great shadows. In sand ripples created by the recent ebbing tide ….

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and in a beach river that drains out into the sea.

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Soft waves make lacy patterns ….

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and more dynamic lines,

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and the reflection of the sun in the wet sand makes a dramatic positive/negative as a wavelet draws out.

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The pines and another beach river create strong parallel lines,

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and I couldn’t resist poking a few razor shells into the sand to make a set of vertical lines.

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Finally, a small wave is thrown into relief by a larger one behind creating a long straight line between the two.

Not a bad morning!

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Step by step

I am progressing slowly and steadily with my new project based on my experience of the landscape of north Iceland and found objects from the beaches there.

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Introducing a new material to my practice has been fun and continues to be challenging. I have always enjoyed working with 3-d objects and I am relishing finding out how to control and use plaster. I’ve always loved tools and in order to carve and manipulate plaster I’ve had to turn to instruments that I haven’t used before: a vice, chisels, hammers, surforms, a Dremel and files, rasps and rifflers.

I’m obviously still in the very early stages of understanding what I can make this material do and so far I have tried making reliefs,

IMG_3215Relief of an oyster shell with boring sponge marks

flat-bottomed casts with moulds made from clay,

P1000205Casts of  Norfolk flints inspired by an Icelandic whale’s tooth

P1000226Flat-bottomed cast of a flint that has been drilled out

and now I’ve started to make blocks of plaster to carve and form into fully 3-d shapes.

IMG_3205Plaster block with (crude) chisel marks

P1000230Carving of a bone

These are all small-scale pieces and my aim has been to reproduce, as accurately as possible, some of my found objects. I think that if I am able to learn the skills required to represent each object precisely then, at a later date, I will be able to go ‘off piste’ and take my ideas beyond the purely representational. However, at the moment I’m still learning about what can be achieved.

P1000208Carving of a flint

I like this stage of a project. Although I have an idea of what I want to do this is only the catalyst to get me started – an original idea that kicks off the making process and enables ideas to flow so that the work takes on a life of its own.

IMG_3212Carving of a volcanic pebble, painted with oil paint

In my experience brilliant ideas don’t materialise spontaneously. Instead they occur only when you devote time and thought to the making process. I start by making something simple that then leads to something else and something else and I find that one idea leads to another, that leads to another, that leads to yet another. As the project progresses a growing awareness and understanding develops and takes the mind along a path that could never have been predetermined.  The connections made along the way will hopefully culminate in something exciting and new.

P1000239_edited-1My work table today

I’m still at the ‘making something simple’ stage, but it is fun and absorbing. Already I’m making connections and having new ideas and with any luck these first steps will lead me forwards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Out of the window

I seem to have had a lot of waiting around recently – waiting for paint to dry, waiting for plaster to dry and waiting for clay to harden. With time to spare I’ve taken a cup of coffee, my sketchbook and paintbox and have been recording what I see out of the studio window. The ‘bones’ of the view rarely changes: look left, right or straight ahead, but the light, the weather and what my eyes alight on at any one time is different each time.

Here are the last six sketchbook drawings.

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Thinking/making

My Iceland collection has expanded and this is what my work table looks like at the moment. I have made some more plaster reliefs, but you will also see that other found objects have crept in.

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Flints and oyster shells with holes made from boring sponges collected on the the beach here in Wells have been included in the collection as I start to make connections between the objects found in Iceland and more familiar objects found here on the beach at home. The shape and texture of the Icelandic bone fragments bear more than a passing resemblance to the pieces of broken flint and likewise the small Icelandic volcanic pebbles relate directly to the holed shells.

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I make some more plaster reliefs, this time of flints, and as a direct representation they work very well. However, I want something that is more open to interpretation …. something that has been created out of my own imagination and that is able to blur the boundaries between the bone/flint and shell/pebble samples.

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In an attempt to better understand the shape and form of the flints and bones I draw them and in doing so I realise that the reliefs don’t do what I want them to do; their bases are too square and uniform, and the pressed forms are incomplete. I want a full 3-d form. So I try something else and enclose a flint protrusion in clay and fill the resulting indentation with plaster.

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This small fragment (it’s about 5cm high) could be either bone or stone.

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I make some more ambiguous fragments and feel as if they are closer to, but not exactly what I am aiming for. I think it was the producer John Read who said, ‘Art is the expression of the imagination not the imitation of real life’. I am not trying to imitate or to recreate but to make something new and to create new connections. My thinking and making continues!

Iceland collection

Some of you who follow my Instagram page will have seen some of the objects that I collected on my recent trip to Iceland. I have been mulling these over for the past month and have been stumped as to how to use them. I’ve got as far as making a ‘tray’ for them, which I then stuck in the window to look at and ponder.

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These objects serve as a reminder of place (indeed I can remember exactly where and when I collected each one), and even out of context their place of origin remains embedded, for me, within them. I could of course just leave them as they are to serve as artworks in their own right and they look quite nice sitting there on the tray in the sunshine. But I believe that the hand of the artist is important and that any artworks that might be created in response to them will be a more powerful and dynamic response to place.

P1030693Bone fragment

So, what to do?

First I asked simple questions about this particular collection of objects. What are they? Where did they come from? How did they get there? How long have they been there? These objects (there are more!) were found across two beaches in the North of Iceland. They are remains: mainly bones, but also some interesting dried seaweed and something that may be a tooth. The bones are obviously old and have been in the sea for a long time before being washed up on the beach. On many of them their lacy interior is revealed. I don’t know what animal the bones come from, but they are small, so my guess is a sheep…. Iceland has a lot of sheep. The wing-shaped bones, I think, are the breast bones of a bird.

P1030692Bone fragment

The beach on which I found the bones is on a small island in the middle of a fjord, and it obviously serves as a ‘net’, or a catchall where the local conditions of tide and current deposit detritus from near, and possibly far away. The beach was simply littered with bones and other natural detritus. I have never before seen such a quantity of small, white, broken bones collected together in one place; limb fragments, tiny jaw bones and other bone splinters mingled with black volcanic pebbles to create a rather disquieting resting place for broken animal remains.

P1030703Plaster relief of a bone fragment

These sea-worn remnants look old and their colour and surface remind me of plaster reproductions of plants, fossils and other natural objects that I have seen in other collections and cabinets of curiosities. It’s good to start with a simple idea, so I have started to make straight reproductions of some of my gathered objects out plaster. These plaster reliefs are just one step away from the real thing, but I have already started to make aesthetic judgements about them and to put my own stamp onto how they could look.

P1030706Plaster relief of a bone fragment

I’m not used to working with plaster and I’m enjoying the process of finding out what it will do – I’m amazed at the detail that it is able to pick up. Already I have ideas. Once I start playing and exploring I hope that it will be a short step to a less literal interpretation of these reminders of place.

P1030689Plaster relief of a bone fragment

PS. As you can see the new studio is starting to look more busy. Things are still in disarray and I need to get everything off the floor because of the possible flood risk, but I am very much enjoying the space and slowly getting to know what I need to make this a working studio and where it should all go.

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Whelk shed studio

Exciting things have been happening here over the last couple of weeks and I have just moved into a new studio in Wells. It is an old whelk shed and is one of a few buildings that were originally used by fishermen to process and boil whelks and other shellfish. These sheds have now been replaced with more efficient and modern buildings elsewhere in Wells and so some of them are now being used as artist studios. It is under 10 minutes walk from my house so is very convenient.

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It is quite a large space – approximately 10 x 5 m (although every time I go in there it seems to get smaller),

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and it is quite basic, with a tap, electricity and a wood-burning stove for heat in the winter (it has had a coat of paint since the photo below was taken).

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You can’t see from the photo above, but the view through the window is wonderful, and looks over the water and the marshes ….

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….. I’m not sure I’ll ever get any work done!

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I’m slowly moving everything in and putting up shelves and storage. Soon I hope to be showing you work that I have made there.

Ctrl/Shift

The new 62 Group exhibition opens in 10 days time and I am delighted to have had work selected for it. The work that I submitted for the exhibition is the culmination of all the research and experimentation that I have done on collecting pigments from the local landscape and using it to colour cloth.

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P1020399_edited-1Ground Cloth: Chalk, Linen, wire, hand-collected and hand-ground chalk, linseed oil, beeswax, sea-water, found threads, 120 x 197 cm

I have called the three cloths in the exhibition Ground Cloths – a play on the word ground: to grind up a material and the place from which the material emanates. The materials I have collected, hand-ground and used in the work are chalk from both Hunstanton and West Runton, yellow ochre from West Runton and sea coal collected from Wells beach.

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P1020421_edited-1Ground Cloth: Seacoal, Linen, wire, hand-collected and hand-ground seacoal, linseed oil, beeswax, sea-water, found threads, 75 x 279 cm

The brief for Ctrl/Shift was to consider shifts and changes in our practice and to produce work that had moved on or transformed in some way. The Ground Cloths introduce new materials and processes to my practice and I have spent a considerable amount of time researching, exploring and experimenting with the hand-collected materials to make this work.

P1020405Ground Cloth: Yellow Ochre, Linen, wire, hand-collected and hand-ground yellow ochre, linseed oil, beeswax, sea-water, found threads, 106 x 190 cm

Some aspects of my practice have, however, remained and the form of the work takes inspiration from the sails and tarpaulins that are found everywhere here on the coast. The cloths could be considered to be large ‘fragments’ of a sail and the dangling threads take inspiration from reef points that are used to shorten and secure a sail in heavy winds.

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Traditionally, sailors and fishermen would protect sails, ropes and nets by ‘dressing’ them with a mixture of linseed oil, wax and red ochre to give protection from the elements and I have also experimented with, and subtly altered, the traditional techniques of waterproofing and preserving cloth by substituting red ochre with locally-collected materials – chalk, sea-coal and yellow ochre – to produce a blend that both protects and preserves the Ground Cloths and links the materiality of the environment (the actual matter that landscape is made up of) with the utilitarian use of cloth in a coastal location.

The Ctrl/Shift Private view is on Saturday 21 July at the MAC and I have attached an invitation, with details, as you are all welcome to come and celebrate the opening with us and to meet some of the artists.

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