Category Archives: collecting

Sampling

There has been no let up since the Knitting & Stitching shows at the end of last year! I’ve had to slam straight into gear and put my mind to the next (very busy) six months. Before the end of June I have two exhibitions to make substantial new work for (more on these later) and a workshop, Exploring Place, that is happening in an environment, about which, I haven’t previously made work.

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It is very important, to me, that the materials and processes I use reflect the environment that I am working in. Previously, the Exploring Place workshop has taken place in a coastal environment and so my support material doesn’t apply in this instance as it is taking place inland, in the mountains and woods of southern Switzerland.

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So, I’ve been out in the field. I’ve been exploring the beech woods of the Surrey hills, and the pinewoods that back the beach in Norfolk; collecting information, documenting it, collecting specimens and making work that evokes this type of environment.

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The students and I will be looking, listening and touching outside in the woods, and these drawings and small works reflect some of the ideas and techniques we will be exploring.

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Walk 3 – Hunstanton

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Hunstanton is a bit out of my way. I know it’s only a fifteen miles along the coast but it’s not a place a generally go out of my way to visit. However, recently I wanted to go and look at the stripy, white, red and orange chalk cliffs as research for a new piece of work.

These are the notes from my sketchbook:

‘Grey/white on top – brick red below.

Gulls nesting on ledges – croaking calls.

Grass – thin layer- on top.

 

 The cliffs come to an abrupt and brutal end as they turn the corner.

Sharp ridges and ledges where the cliff face has fallen away.

Fissures diagonally across its face.

Grass clinging.

 

Underneath, brick red chalk holds up white chalk.

Large chalk boulders at the base of the cliff.

Smaller chalk stones and pebbles are washed away from the base of the cliff and have been dragged over the beach by the sea’s action.

 

Bleak, stark, uncared for.

North-west facing – dank, cold, damp.

I imagine the sun rarely reaches the cliff face and so never has the chance to dry out.

Green/grey coating to the white chalk.

Grass in all the crevices.

Large mossy stones on the beach.’

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The looming cliffs cut out any warm southerly light; the beach is in shadow and the resulting cold and damp isn’t helped by a wintery day and a sharp northerly wind. I collect a few chalk pebbles to experiment with – they are freezing cold – and hurry back to the car. I need a cup of coffee …. perhaps it this place would feel more welcoming in the summer.

Marram grass

With gale force winds and rain forecast for later on today an early walk at Holkham to get the best of the day was called for. I know I’ve been a rather quiet here recently so I took my camera with me to see what caught my eye.

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As is usual when the wind is coming from the west, I walked along the path at the back of the pinewoods so that the wind would be behind me on the walk back along the beach. Coming out into the open across the dunes it was immediately obvious how sheltered I had been as the force of the wind took my breath away as it buffeted me sideways from the left.

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The dunes at the top of the beach are topped by marram grass, Ammophila arenaria, whose fibrous roots  stabilise dry, windblown sand and aid the dune building process. The dense, grey/green tufts of this grass can be seen all along the coast and is so common that I don’t usually pay it much attention. However today the wind had animated into swirls and waves of alternating light and dark movement. A continuous, swooshing rustle drowned out any other sounds.

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Hunkering down between the dunes and the grass to find a modicum of shelter and to drink a cup of coffee I found my fingers itching to pick the marram. Twisting it round and round on itself I started to make a string – strong, fresh green grass at first but as that split and broke I found  that old dried, yellowing blades were stronger, more pliable and held up better to the twisting process. Before long I had a couple of metres that I rolled it up into a small ball to put into my pocket.

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I love the process of looking and noticing and the way I never know what will catch my eye from one day to the next. The ever-changing weather conditions, the shifting light or just being in the right place at the right time draws my attention to something I could never have foreseen. It’s good just to go out and see what there is to see.

Sea Lavender

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I’m hiding away, hermit like, at the moment, sewing for hours each day to get the work for my gallery at the Knitting and Stitching shows in the autumn finished. I already have a great deal of work, but it is amazing that the nearer the show gets, the more concentrated I become. I have been finding that work I made nearly a year ago doesn’t seem to work and I keep making one last thing in order to push things a bit further. This obviously has to stop at some point as I don’t have the time to go on for ever, so I have set my self a deadline of the end of July to finish the series of cloths – The Sluice Creek Cloths – and I am presently sewing the very last one (it will be the very last one!).

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It isn’t all nose to the grindstone however, and I am  getting out at least once a day to sail or walk.

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This is one of my favourite times of year out on the marsh as the sea lavender (limonium vulgar) is flowering and a soft purple haze is covering large areas of the saltings. It is a tolerant, hardy plant that gets covered by the sea when there is a high marsh tide.

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Each stem is about 30cm tall and the flower heads have a dry look to them. It is a bit of a pilgramage to go and pick a small bunch each year. It keeps, out of water, for months although by Christmas it has lost its colour and is usually rather dusty and cobwebby.

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A week of collecting – Day 7

Day 7: Wells Beach – Oyster Shell

(Ostrea Edulis)

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I found this pockmarked shell on a dry sandy part of the beach that is only covered by water a few times a year. It is old and worn but nevertheless there are still parts that are shiny and pearlised. The tiny holes scattered across the surface of the shell are evidence of a former infestation by boring sponges.

A week of collecting – Day 6

Day 6: Wells Beach – Bladderwrack

(Fucus Vesticulosus)

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It is a dull, drizzly sort of day with a damp mist obscuring the horizon. On the beach it is totally calm with not a breath of wind. I walk to the sand dune that lies in front of the beach-huts. The dune is ringed with a strand-line flecked with black calligraphic lines – bladderwrack.

Fragments of this seaweed can be found strewn right along the North Norfolk coastline. On the shoreline, close to the sea, the dark fragments are limp and slimy, but high on the strand-line  they become dry, curling, dessicated strands that have a red tinge to them.

I have made whistles out of the larger air sacks which when dry are very tough.

A week of collecting – Day 5

Day 5: Wells Beach – Common whelk with Acorn Barnacles

(Buccinam Undatum, Balanus Balanoides)

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A late afternoon walk, which at the beginning of January means about 3.30 in the afternoon just before the sun sets. As we walk onto the beach the low sun breaks through the clouds and illuminates the surf which is running diagonally across the water on the outgoing tide. It is quite spectacular .

There is still not much to find here on Wells beach. It is surprising how little material, both natural and man-made washes up. I choose something that could be picked up any day – a common whelk (Buccinam Undatum). This one is encrusted with large, sharp acorn barnacles (Balanus Balanoides). Acorn barnacles are the most common barnacle found around our shores. They attach themselves to hard surfaces such as rocks, wooden piers, buoys and the bottom of boats. Razor-edged, they remind me of summer, bare legs and feet and scratchy cuts.