A week of documenting: Cornwall – Day 1

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In the New Year I did a short project, A Week of Collecting, where I collected an object everyday for a week and drew and wrote about it. This prompted a series of small, salted works that I showed at an exhibition in January. I have just been to Cornwall for a week and as always I took a sketchbook and a pen with me to record my experiences. I thought I would do another Week of Collecting but things didn’t turn out that way. I have been going to Cornwall on and off all my life but I don’t know it in the way that I know the North Norfolk coast. I kept coming across things on my walks – flowers, geology and industrial processes, that I didn’t know anything about. These weren’t things to be collected and brought home, but instead they needed to be documented and researched later. I realised how much you need to know before you can really understand a place. There needs to be not only knowledge of the history of the place and its inhabitants but I also believe that your own personal history, built up over many years, is crucially important. Over the next seven days I’ll show you some of the notes and drawings from my sketchbook. These prove that I am only brushing the surface of this environment.

Day 1: Portreath

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It has been a long drive to Cornwall from Thames Ditton. We stop for a breath of fresh air to stretch our legs and have a cup of tea at Portreath on the northern coast.  The weather is grey and misty with a hint of drizzle in the air. A sharp SW breeze isn’t stopping the surfers from dressing and undressing in the car park by the beach. We watch them in the sea as we drink tea. There isn’t much action, just a lot of bobbing around …. the waves must be the wrong sort. According to the lifeguard’s board the sea temperature is 13.5 degrees so even with a full wetsuit they must be cold.

On the beach my eyes, as always, drop to see what is beneath my feet: sand, seaweed and stripy pebbles. It seems that the cliffs have seams of quartz running through them and the grey pebbles are striped with it. The grey part (I don’t know what it is) has worn faster than the white quartz stripes so that they stand proud of the smooth surface of the pebble. I pick up three – there is a precedent for collecting stones as a memento of place, and both Robert MacFarlane and Edmund de Waal have done so and written about it. I also often pick up pebbles, and I make a mental note to write about this only once this week – pebble drawings can become monotonous.

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