Category Archives: documenting

Sea sponges

The beach – Cley-next-the-Sea – this morning.

Nearly high tide – strong waves.

Cloudy sky with the suspicion of sun.

Wind coming from the west and is on my back.

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Ironically I was thinking about what I might write about next here on the blog. I am working on something at the moment but I’m not quite ready to reveal all yet! (but I do put work in progress photos on Instagram if you are interested). As I walk on this shingle beach I always keep a weather eye out for an interesting pebble, so my eyes were, naturally, looking just in front of my feet. Almost immediately I spotted a softly yellowed ball of sponge, and then another and another. Looking up I saw more and more of the yellow sponges scattered right along the high water line.

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They are the empty egg cases of the Common Whelk (Buccinum Undatum) and are routinely found all round the British coast. Their common name is Seawash Balls and in the past sailors would have used them as sponges for washing.

Whelks gather together to spawn and they lay their eggs in small lens-shaped pouches which are glued together in a spherical mass. Although each pouch contains about 1000 eggs only one or two eggs hatch as the unhatched eggs are used to feed the first hatchlings. Once the eggs have hatched (or been eaten) the empty mass floats away and is washed up on the beach.

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I pick a ball up. It is heavy. Normally when I find these sponges they are white and papery dry and so light that they dance up and down the beach, blown by the wind. This Seawash Ball is waterlogged – not dripping but dense with water. It looks fresher and less desiccated than ones I have seen before and I wonder if the power of the recent big tides could have dislodged a whole mass of eggs from their laying grounds and deposited them here on the beach?

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Walking on along the high water line I find more objects washed ashore by the unusually  big tides. Wood …..

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(I would have brought this bit home but it was too big and too heavy) and several rusty things ….

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This bit did come back with me.

I wasn’t expecting to find something to write about this morning but you just never know what you may encounter. There is always something new to be noticed and experienced – that’s what I love about this place.

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Dusk

A grey day of dull flat light.

Late afternoon.

A walk along the footpath by the pines at the back of the beach.

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The rustle of dry branches and the steady, hushed tramp of boots on a slightly sticky surface is accompanied by the gentle chattering of pink-footed geese as they fly overhead to their night-time roost.

It is peaceful in the almost quiet stillness.

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Behind me, on the horizon, is a thin clearing of clouds. The dropping sun appears below, a scant semi-circle of glowing light that is diffused softly through the surrounding sky.

I walk on. And look round. Brighter now. In the clear sky is a line of brilliant orange, a streak of golden colour in a grey world.

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I walk on. Tall reeds and spiky blackthorn to my right. I glance round and look through the lacework vegetation turned black by the brilliant light beyond.

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I walk on. And look round again. The heavy sun sits poised between cloud and horizon. A burning sphere waiting to drop.

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I walk on. Moments later the light dissolves. I turn yet again. The sun has gone down below the horizon leaving a final blush of colour.

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I walk on. The light flatter, and greyer than before.

For one day only

I’m very happy to have been invited by Viv and Kev at Art Van Go (stand TGF1) to be one of several Artists in Residence at this year’s Knitting & Stitching show at Ally Pally and I am going to be there this coming Saturday.

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The brief is to ‘examine options, explore ideas and work through processes’ and the idea is that each artist should work in their space as if it were their own studio. I am going to be bringing along some unfinished and unresolved works in progress. I am working through various new ideas at the moment and I intend to show how the concept of one of these ideas begins and how it could possibly unfold.

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The works are intended to be a small part of a much larger body of work that looks at the connections that can be made between the experience of different places. It looks at the encounter with new environments and how the experience of a new location is touched by similarities and associations to more familiar places in a never-ending, and possibly unconscious, triangulation of place, experience and memory.

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I am a great collector and just about every time I  go for a walk I will pick up pebbles, shells, wood, rope, fossils, seaweed and rusty detritus. These ‘evocative’ objects come from various locations and create associations to a particular place and can be seen as reminder, or a touchstone, of experiences and impressions that in turn feed the creative mind and the imagination. I am exploring how these objects could be included into these small works.

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On Saturday I will bring the inspiration for this work – drawings, found objects and things I have already made (including the work you see here). I will be experimenting  with colours collected from the landscape: chalk, yellow ochre, clay and sea coal and other materials to paint cloth and then when its dry, hopefully, I’ll be waxing and stitching it – I may even sew in an eyelet or two. At this moment nothing is set in stone ….. if you are there do come along and see what happens and to say hello.

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 I’ll report back next week with what I managed to achieve!

Finally, also at the Knitting and Stitching shows, I have two pieces of work in the Colour Notes exhibition by textile group Studio 21. The works tie in very neatly with what I will be doing with Artists in Action at Ally Pally as they are both coloured using ‘colours from the landscape’: chalk, yellow ochre and sea coal.

fullsizeoutput_d1f.jpeg copyGround Work: CoilLinen, wire, hand-collected and hand-ground chalk, hand-collected and hand-ground yellow clay, beeswax, sea water. Approx. 29 x 29 x 10 cm

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Ground Work: Fold, Linen, wire, hand-collected and hand-ground seacoal, sea water, beeswax, found threads. Approx. 35 x 40 x 10 cm

 

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!

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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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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Leading lights

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Recently two red and white triangles have appeared in the trees on the dune behind the last beach hut on Wells beach. The Wells Harbour website (I keep my eye on this for news when in Surrey) tells me that they are refurbished and reinstated channel transits. The triangles, which are visible offshore, are placed one above the other and when they appear in line, they indicate a safe course for boats in through the harbour entrance. At night they would originally have been lit by paraffin lamps, but now they appear to have up-to-date solar powered lights. These particular transits were in use from the 1700s to the mid 1900s. I have always known this type of signal as leading lights.

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As a child (and I must confess, still today) I was an avid reader of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books and anyone who has read them will remember the Swallows finding their way into the secret harbour on Wildcat Island at night with the use of leading lights.

Titty saw them, flickering among the trees and then disappearing again as they were hidden by big rocks south of the island.

John paddled on slowly.

‘There they are again,’ said Susan.

‘Close together,’ said Titty.

John turned round from his rowing and had a good look at two small stars twinkling over the water.

‘Right,’ he said, I’m going to do nothing but row if you’ll keep your eyes on the lights.’

‘Are they still close together?’ asked John.

‘Fairly close,’ said Susan.

‘Where is the top light?’ asked captain John.

‘A bit to the left of the low one,’ said Susan.

John pulled a stroke or two, pulling a little harder with his right. ‘Sing out as soon as it is just above it.’

‘It’s above it now. Now it’s a bit to the right of it.’

John pulled his left.

‘Above it.’

Tell me the moment it is one side or the other.’

‘The lights are exactly one above the other,’ said Susan.

John had shipped the oars and was now sculling over the stern.

‘The lights are quite close to us, ‘ said Roger, and as he said it there was a gentle scrunch as Swallow’s nose touched the soft, pebbly beach of the little harbour.

Captain John had used his leading lights for the first time, and had made his harbour in pitch dark.

 How exciting!

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The idea of a boat, or indeed a body in the landscape, having to move from left to right or up and down to get the correct view of something – to line it up – reminds me of research that I did during my MA about ideas of experiencing the environment. Anthropologist, Christopher Tilley writes in his book, The Materiality of Stone, ‘The body is continually improvising its relationship with things … constantly opening itself out to the world as it moves in it. The manner in which we sense the world remains forever incomplete and ambiguous because we always experience things from a particular point of view or relationship. The body is open to the world but things are always hidden from it.’

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The idea that I could make a piece of work that moves in and out of focus or that only appears as it should from one particular viewpoint is a powerful one. Different elements could line up, as with the leading lights, to make a whole. Or one part of the work could hide another, only to be revealed  as you move or peer around it. To actively walk around in order to experience a work would relate to the way we experience objects outside in the environment, where their size and shape appear to alter as we change our relationship to them. From different directions and with a different order of seeing, things do not have the appearance of sameness.

Seeing the Wells leading lights has got me thinking, but I’m not sure where this one is going yet …..