Category Archives: documenting

Being Curious

I have been doing a lot of teaching recently, catching up with the backlog of cancelled Covid workshops. One of the topics of conversation that often comes up as we are exploring our surroundings and making work in response to it, is the issue of how to see. The writer, Robert Macfarlane, points out that you don’t see what you can’t name, and I find this to be so true.

On the Exploring Place workshops, we take a walk every day to pay attention to and document our surroundings. Last week, as we walked in the burgeoning Hampshire lanes, we were lucky enough to have a student who was able to give a name, both formal and colloquial, to the plants and weeds growing in the hedgerows. I know the names of some plants, but when you have someone with knowledge at your side, the seeing and understanding becomes so much richer.

Sticky willy, Old man’s toenails, Eggs and bacon, Jack by the hedge are just a few of the plants we saw and named. It became a bit of a joke as the week went on as Jack by the hedge suddenly seemed to pop up everywhere.

When you can name it, you see it, and the natural extension to seeing something is to find out more. When we got back to the studio we looked up the plants, and for the record Jack by the hedge, or Alliaria petiolate, comes from the brassica family and is also known as Hedge garlic. The leaves smell of garlic when crushed and taste of mustard.

If knowing is to see, then curiosity is an imperative to seeing. To go and look up something you don’t understand gives greater insight, but also plants that awareness in your mind so that you will recognise, notice and comprehend in future.

In Scotland a couple of weeks ago I was greatly taken by the lichens hanging from the trees. The green spring landscape was made even more verdant by the pendulous growth on the branches of firs, birches and other deciduous trees.

I brought home a couple of samples to look up – I’m not an expert on lichens!

As far as I can tell the hairier of the two is Beard Lichen, Usnea subfloridana, and the one with wider fronds is Oak Moss, Evernia Prunastri. I probably won’t remember the Latin names, but I will remember their common name.

My Observer book of Lichens (do you have some of these on your bookshelves?) tells me that there are about 30 species of Beard Lichen in the UK and that Oak Moss is a very common lichen where the thallus (the plant body) is attached at the base.

So, the moral of this story is, be curious, look things up, and you will see more.

Hello again and a Cairngorms trip

Well some of you may be surprised to see a blog post pop up again! Like so many people I have been seduced by the quickness of Instagram recently, but I have missed writing about what I do and think. Stopping to think about what to write about, and to explain and structure the writing has always been an important part of my practise and I realise that I have missed doing it.

Across Loch Insh from the balcony

‘the swifts have arrived here, I hope I haven’t missed their coming at home’

Yesterday I got back from a short trip to the Cairngorms to see my son who works near Aviemore. It is relaxing to go to a place that has such a different landscape. There are mountains and valleys, and a perspective that either looks down on things, or up at them, rather than my usual flat, coastal Norfolk landscape where I look across at everything.

We love to walk, but for most of the week there was a strong wind blowing so we mainly stayed low and walked around some of the many Lochs. I took a small handmade sketchbook with me to record my experiences. Here are some of my ‘noticings’.

‘There is an Icelandic artist, I can’t remember his name at the moment, who talks about the valleys between mountains as voids. He describes how the void fills to become solid when it rains or snows. I am reminded of this sitting at the Green Lochan and seeing the steep-sided bowl fill with shining rain.’

The artist I was thinking of here is Georg Gudni

Lochan Uaine – The Green Lochan

I didn’t do any drawing at the Uath Lochans but wrote in my book when I got home.

‘Brisk wind, grey, drizzle

Walk around the lochans. Sky reflected grey/blue from a distance but near to the edges of the water are a dark, peaty brown. The clear water appears murky with the brown peat stain.

On the cliff, coffee and a sit down. I watch the effects of the wind.

Cat’s paws across the Lochan. Fan shapes blown in fleeting movements disturb the already broken surface.

Looking down on the pines from our elevated position the tops of the trees sway left, right and around as the wind blows over them. The forest looks like a field of corn or reeds on the marsh.

And finally, all other sounds are deadened by the wind that blows onto me and fills my ears with the rushing of leaves and the trees splitting the air.

I look for red squirrels but I don’t see any.

‘The light and colour changes minute by minute. I can’t keep up.

‘Clouds hang in a grey line above the hills. Moving west to east they trail loose, ever-changing strands below that cover and uncover the hill tops.

Gradually the sky is clearing and more and more blue is appearing. The sun breaks through on a far hill and the bracken yellow colour is revealed. Rocks on top shine white. A bright peak amongst the other, dull colourless ones.

Moments later and the sun disappears and the shining peak blends with the rest of the range.

Another valley is revealed and then dulled.

All along the range the sun hits peaks and troughs, lightening them as the clouds hide and reveal.

For one moment I see snow. The last remains of winter hidden in deep corries’.

I will probably never make a piece of work from these drawings and writings, but I am struck that the particular circumstances of these experiences: the time, the place and coming together of objects, won’t occur again. I relish the act of stopping, paying conscious attention, and documenting these fleeting moments. It is a mindful exercise that makes me concentrate on the moment and leaves me feeling relaxed….. which is what a holiday is for!

PS I missed the swifts and swallows arrival – when I went down to the studio this morning they were flying about high in the sky.

Green pebble update

Thank you everyone for your suggestions about my green pebble.

One suggestion comes via Sarah Waters who serendipitously read my post just before her brother-in-law, a geologist, came to visit. He says: ‘This is possibly a piece of Cretaceous Green Sandstone. The green colour is from the mineral glauconite which forms in shallow marine environments. This is quite a dark one. It is about 100 million years old and was formed at the height of the dinosaurs dominance of the planet. It almost certainly was washed into the sea at Hunstanton, where a thin out-crop reaches the sea, and moved along the coast by a process of long shore drift to Cley.’ So thank you Sarah for passing on the information.

Even more, she sent me a map of the geology of Hunstanton that shows where the pebble would have come from. It probably originated from the bright dark green area down the right hand side of the river at Hunstanton. See the map below.

So I think that little mystery has been solved. It has pleased me no end to get all your suggestions, and I have made this special pebble a little bag out of a fold of waxed silk that is just translucent enough to see its form and to glimpse a hint of its colour. It will live with the growing number of other found objects and their made containers that are presently multiplying down in the studio!


Marshscape Collage – the view from the studio window at high tide

Yesterday I saw a kingfisher. I was sitting outside the studio, looking at the ebbing tide with a cup of coffee. Taking a moment just to be.

Suddenly, driving fast and low above the surface of the draining water, a flash of iridescent blue. My eyes lock onto the speeding blur it as it passes directly in front of me and, as if they are joined to it by strings, they follow the wink of coloured light as it races fast and away to the right until out of sight. 

5 seconds of wonder and excitement. 

I strain to see it again. Hoping it will turn and come back. But the miraculous bird has gone, and I am left with a feeling that something special has happened.

How, I ask myself, can I capture that brief sense of movement, absorption and marvel in a piece of work?

Drawing day

I’ve just spent the whole day outside drawing. For one reason or another this is something I haven’t done for quite a long time. It has been a very enjoyable day and I realise that I must get back into the habit of taking a sketchbook out with me as I have refreshed my mind, come up with a few ideas and generally reinvigorated myself. Drawing is good therapy!


I sat in one spot with a good friend for four hours and drew, and chatted, and wrote. We were sitting in a slightly elevated position above the marsh between Stiffkey and Morston almost opposite Blakeney point. The tide was out when we arrived and it was high tide when we finally packed up and left. There was plenty of time to take everything in and to notice the changes taking place before my eyes.

These are my drawings which I have interspersed with some of my written ‘noticings’.


Prickly grass on my back



Grass gently bobbing

Water laps, wind hisses.


Purple sea lavender is smudged across the marsh. It will have faded to brown in a week or two.

The sun comes out, and sand in the distance out by the sea flashes a bright creamy, white.


Boats move gently back and forth on their moorings. Blown one way by the wind and then pushed back again by the incoming tide.



Why Knot

LN5 Kings Lynn – Mary Jane


A cobweb is caught in a gorse bush – the wind blows it but it doesn’t break.

Birds like boats take off from the surface of the water.


Light, dark, light, dark

Seagulls fly over and their wings flap light, dark, light, dark. Reflecting fluttering bunting from boats on the marsh.


Birds, high, high up

Tiny dots

flying together like a pepper pot against the clouds

extend and curve out into the blue sky.


I’ve just spent a lazy hour sitting in the shade at the studio looking at what was going on and watching the swallows swoop and dive around me.

These small, elegant black and white birds arrived about three weeks ago, (or maybe a bit longer – I can’t remember exactly)  and they will be here now for the rest of the summer.

Swallows feed on the wing and their flight patterns are mesmerising as they hunt for insects. So of course I grabbed a pencil and started to draw – flight path, over flight path, following their movements with my eyes.


Another page and the side of a graphite stick varied the marks,


and on further page a few more jottings.

IMG_1594 2

The words read:

Swallows fly past

Now high

Now low

A glide and then a short flap of wings.

Rise higher and another glide.

A sudden, flutter and turn, flutter and turn – switchback

Falling – wings back – they chirrup.

From the left a straight, confident path,

swift and low

to rest on the far bank.



I have used the swooping shapes of a swallow’s flight in my work before but it is always a pleasure to have another look.

Finally, on another note, you may be interested to know that I am giving an online workshop for as part of their new Stitch Club. The workshop starts next week and in it I talk about how objects can tell a story and take you through the processes I use for making small containers for some objects that you have chosen yourself. I think the last day for registration is tomorrow!

Cutting and sticking


Yesterday I spent a very happy afternoon sifting through a huge pile of discarded watercolours to see if there was anything in them that could be of use.  I have a box in the studio where I throw ‘stuff’ that doesn’t quite work – little drawings (and big ones as well), stitched pieces, maquettes …… I have been meaning to go through the drawings/watercolours in particular for months.

The rejected drawings were all shapes and sizes and had come from several different projects. Some had been folded up in disgust and others not. The intention was to crop out the interesting bits and glue them into sketchbooks so that they would become a readily available resource for possible new work (most probably stitched cloth collages).

These bits came from a series of long drawings that had been folded to form concertina books. I simply cut out the bits I liked.



Other bits were whole drawings (quite small) that although they had been discarded I still thought had something interesting about them. So I stuck the whole thing in.


And some I collaged together or extended to make something new altogether.


And then there was a whole slew of bits, mainly from quite large, boring drawings, that nevertheless had interesting marks or shapes that gave the possibility of being reinterpreted in cloth and stitch. So first I selected, and then cut out those sections and stuck them in.






I love watercolour; it is such a fluid and spontaneous medium. The drawings are wonderful in their own right but can also be a source of inspiration when they don’t quite turn out the way you hoped and now I have two sketchbooks full of ideas ……. a good afternoons work!

Sea Dipping

I’ve been a bit quiet recently but the walking, noticing and making has been continuing everyday.


This morning I spent three hours sewing iron wire eyelets into a cloth and by the afternoon it was ready to take down to the beach and dip into the sea to rust the wire and mark the cloth. Recently I haven’t been taking my camera or sketchbook out with me (I do like to walk unencumbered by stuff) but today I remembered to take a camera to record my activities.

Last night I was woken by a howling wind and this morning it seemed to have quietened down, however on the beach the wind was very much in evidence. It was whipping the sand across the beach and the waves were blown up by its north westerly direction. It was just after high tide.


With a calm, flat sea dipping a cloth can, sometimes, be a gentle activity.  However today, with waves forced further up the beach than normal  it was a bit more frenetic and I had to move quickly to dodge the incoming water. I ended up with wet feet and trousers.




I can be a bit risky with this type of sea as the power and the movement of the waves can take the cloth out of reach.


But it got washed back up the beach and the cloth is now hanging in the studio to dry out. It’s quite cold in there at this time of year so it will be a slow drying time which will give the wire plenty of time to rust.

Whelkshed workshops 2020

Come and spend creative time with me at my studio and be inspired by the ever-changing coastal landscape of Wells-next-the-Sea, Norfolk.

I have put the dates for three new studio workshops into my diary for 2020


Tuesday 23 and Wednesday 24 June 2020

Saturday 27 and Sunday 28 June 2020

Wednesday 1 July and Thursday 2 July 2020

Student work Coastal Explorations Workshop 2019

About the Workshop

Be inspired by the ever-changing coastal landscape of Wells-next-the-Sea and take the time to observe, document and create in these beautiful surroundings.

Part of the Coastal Explorations workshop will be spent outside by the sea paying attention and recording observations with drawing, collecting objects and writing.

Back in the studio your collections will form a starting point for experiments with paper, cloth, stitch, mark-making, collage and printing to create a unique and personal record of your exploration of place.

Cost: £200

Includes basic materials and a simple lunch. Coffee and tea will be available all day with homemade cake.

There are 6 places available for each workshop.

To book please email me for availability on

Booking is on a first come, first served basis.

About the Studio

Debbie’s studio is in Wells-next-the-Sea on the north Norfolk coast, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty that offers stunning views, wonderful wildlife and beautiful beaches, tidal creeks and salt marshes.

The studio is a former fisherman’s whelk shed and has an enviable position overlooking the sea and the salt marshes and is a stunning place to be inspired and to work creatively.

The studio is a large, fully-equipped working space (approx. 10 x 5 m), with water, electricity and a wood-burning stove for chillier days. NB. There is no toilet, but a ‘nice’ Portaloo will be available just outside on workshop days.

The view through the window is wonderful and looks over the water and the marshes.

My Studio


Teaching in Italy

How would you like to join me in Italy on an Exploring Place workshop? I have been invited to teach a 5-day course in October 2020 at the stunning 18th century Masseria della Zingara in Puglia, Italy.

The masseria at dawn

The masseria, sits in 20 tranquil acres of olive, cherry and almond groves and I’m very much looking forward to walking, exploring, noticing, documenting and making in this beautiful environment and sunny climate. I hope some of you would like to join me!

sketchbookSmall, handmade, coptic bound sketchbook

Each morning will start with a walk where the emphasis will be on paying attention and documenting our experiences in sketchbooks that we will make ourselves. Using all of our senses we will explore the contours of the landscape, objects, materials, and the effect that air, wind, light and sound have on the environment.

detail from soundmark bookSoundwalk concertina book

Back in the studio we will draw, and make and sew; feeling our way into the landscape and finding ways of documenting our own personal experience of this place. I expect to  experiment with new materials, found objects and natural phenomena such as shadows, light and the wind.

ropeObject made from found rope

The photos are examples of the type of things we will be doing. You can find more information about the workshop on the Committed to Cloth website and more information about the Masseria della Zingara here.