Category Archives: documenting

Contrasts

What a difference a couple of weeks can make! Two weeks ago I was in the far west of  Cornwall. After a fantastic first day everything rather went down hill. Firstly, I got a cold (the first for 2 years), and secondly the weather deteriorated into rain (heavy at times) and gales. It made for exciting conditions, standing on the top of cliffs, looking down at huge, rolling waves and being battered by force 8 winds. The conditions meant that I didn’t manage to do as much drawing as I had hoped, however, the rain did stop occasionally, the sun did make an appearance (rarely), I did manage a few walks and some sketching was done.

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Looking to Pendeen watch from east of Porthmeor Beach. Grey Granite. Green grass. Grey/blue sea. Grey/blue sky is lighter than the sea which has a softly edged dark stripe along the horizon.

The landscape in Cornwall is vibrant.  The colours are strong and the lines and forms of the land and water are dynamic. All around there is constant activity and movement. When I was there the noise of the wind and the waves was tremendous; it filled the ears and was a real presence. I draw fast, moving pencil, pen and paint over the paper at speed: look, scribble, look, scribble. It is an energetic response to a vigorous landscape.

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Looking down on a boiling sea and rock stack at Porthmeor Beach. Jade green/blue sea. White/jade waves froth around the rocks.

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Rocks at Kynance Cove.

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Cliffs at Kynance Cove.

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Deep black gully looking back from Gurnard’s head.

Back here in Wells on the far east side of the country the contrast couldn’t have been more different this weekend as there were clear, bright days with hot sunshine. Sitting at the beachhut early in the morning, I watched the beach gradually fill with people coming to enjoy the summer sunshine. The long horizontal lines of the landscape languidly mingle and intertwine and although the light is brilliant there is still a subtle blue/grey cast to its colour. Everything appears calm.  Even the incoming tide, that creeps slowly over the sand, filling gullies and submerging exposed sandbanks, moves so slowly it is almost indiscernible. There is movement and change but, at the moment, it is a much quieter energy than that of the Cornish landscape. I draw a line, look and then draw another line. I smooth and gently wash the paint across the paper, filling the brush with colour and letting it drip and mingle as it will. It is a considered response to a contemplative landscape.

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The tide is coming in. The sun is bright with a westerly wind. The sky is cloudless and the sea is a shade darker. A dark line on the horizon.

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British Sharpie Championship lining up for the star of the race. The sound of the hooter carries (loudly) over the water.

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Bunched up before the race.

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A beautiful brown sail boat (runs) sails past the gap in the dunes.

Thankfully the cold has gone!

Cornwall walk – On Gurnard’s Head

About 1.30 pm. Brilliant sunshine with white/grey streaky clouds. A strong westerly wind.

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I have been walking along the SW coastal path all morning and have just arrived at Gurnard’s Head, a small headland on the North coast of Cornwall. With a tricky scramble over rocks I’ve managed to reach a rocky outcrop high above the sea. Exposed to the Atlantic I feel exhilarated.

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I’m facing into the wind and looking straight out to sea. Behind me are cliffs and at 10 o’clock, in the far distance on another jutting headland, is the Pendeen Watch lighthouse. The granite rocks at the bottom of the cliffs are brilliant with yellow lichen – they shine, slick with seawater, in the bright sun.

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In stark contrast, rising up behind the glassy rocks, are deep, dark fissures that have been worn into the cliffs by millennia of pounding seas. The shadows of these clefts are rendered so dark by the glaring sun that no detail can be seen within them. Small white seagulls wheel in and out of the black gullies, briefly showing in relief against the darkness before disappearing as they are backed by a white and blue sunlit sea. They glide round in slow, lazy loops, in turn emerging and vanishing.

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As I face directly into the wind, it roars uninterruptedly in both ears. I only have to turn my head slightly to the left or right and the sound fades. I like the slightly chilly wind on my face in the warm sun.

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Beneath me the sea boils. Waves constantly beat the rocks below; frothing up and pulling back. One rock slopes at 45 degrees into the sea. Pounded by waves, it is submerged in a coat of white sea spume before reappearing as the swell drags the beaten water back down again into the jade/blue translucent morass.

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The sea is rarely like this in Wells. There, its soft grey/blue flatness creeps slowly backwards and forwards tide after tide. Here, on this part of the Cornish coast, the sea is energetic, heaving, rolling and frothed. Each wave is dashed violently against the land, its energy exhausted as it is flung upwards and outwards.

Painting and drawing

Everyone is back where they should be after the Easter holidays and suddenly I find myself on on my own for a couple of days. Although I have things I should be getting on with, I decide to take a break and do some painting and drawing.

So, this is how a near perfect day on my own goes:

  1. Go to the art shop and buy a couple of sheets of lovely 300gsm watercolour paper.
  2. Stop off on the way home at Morston quay and buy a cup of coffee from the National Trust shop.
  3. Drink coffee and take in the view and general hustle and bustle (boats being put in the water for the first time this year, dog walkers, seal boats loading up to take people out to Blakeney Point). Enjoy the sunshine.
  4. Follow the path along the creek and across the marsh with sketchbook and pencil in hand.
  5. Stop every now and again and draw what catches the eye.

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  1. Lunch
  2. Get out painting equipment, put on music (Bach, Brandenburg Concerto’s) and spend the rest of the afternoon painting (keep half an eye on the morning’s drawings but paint mainly from memory).

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The Signalman (part 3)

I have finished the last flag in The Signalman series (you can read about the other two flags and a bit of background  to the work here and here). This last flag is made in response to events that took place during the 3rd night action of the Battle of Jutland and specifically the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron engagement.

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This action was devastating for the HMS Southampton as it was hit by twenty 4.1” and 5.1” shells. Three guns and two searchlights were knocked out and the ship’s radio was destroyed. Lieutenant Stephen King-Hall wrote: ‘75% of the upper deck men on Southampton had been killed or wounded. It had been a point blank engagement. Southampton was burning so badly that a friend of mine who was five miles away on one of the 5th Battle Squadron ships read a signal on the bridge by the light of our fires’.

My grandfather was very lucky to survive the action.

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Flag 3: Night action

Fires started. Flames engulfed the forebridge.

Signal method: Flags

Linen, cotton duck, cotton, brass

Written by Charlie Sewell in his memoire.

 ‘… at 10.20pm the roar of the claxon sounded and action stations were manned again. I took my place on the upper bridge and as soon as I could accustom myself to the darkness it was clear that a line of light cruisers was just before us on the starboard beam, steering, what appeared almost a parallel course, gradually closing upon us …. finally, both seemed to challenge at the same time and immediately there were exchanges of gunfire and torpedoes, an action which historians state lasted 15 minutes, but to me five minutes….’

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The ‘U’ flag – The Royal Navy Handbook of Signalling (1913)

I am having a bit of a dilemma. My original intention was to set fire the flag in order to blacken it (but obviously not to fully destroy it). Now it comes to it, I can’t decide ….. I wonder if it may seem trite rather than powerful …… what do you think?

The exhibition details are:

The Archive Project @The Cello Factory

33-34 Cornwall Rd., Waterloo, London. SE1 8TJ

Thursday 4th May – Friday 12th May 2017,

Open daily 11.00-17:30 (16:00 on last day)

MEET THE ARTISTS Saturday 6th May 11:00-17:30.

 

The Signalman (part 2)

I have finished the 2nd flag in a new body of work that I have titled The Signalman. The work is for a new group exhibition, The Archive Project@ The Cello factory . The exhibition is at The Cello Factory, 33-34 Cornwall Road, Waterloo London SE1 8TJ from Thursday 4 May 2017 – Friday 12 May 2017.

The starting point for my work is a personal archive – a journal that was written by my grandfather, Charles Thomas Sewell, who was a Leading Signalman on the Light Cruiser, HMS Southampton, during the Battle of Jutland in 1916. He survived the battle and left a concise, but personal, account of the events of 31 May and 1 June. The main events of the battle are told using key words and phrases that have been taken either from my grandfather’s memoir or from the record of Naval signals that were sent during the battle. The Signalman takes the form of three ‘flags’ where the narrative of each is notated with a different method of signal communication. Each flag commemorates a different part of the battle. 1. The beginning, 2. The day action and 3. The night action.

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The semaphore code on Flag 2 spells out, ‘Urgent. Have sighted enemy battle fleet.’ It is part of  signal 497 that was sent from HMS Southampton to the Commander in Chief of the Battle cruiser fleet at 16.38 GMT on 31 May 1916. The original message was sent by wireless telegraphy and announced the first sighting of the enemy during the day action at the Battle of Jutland.

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Flag 2: Day action

Urgent. Have sighted enemy battle fleet.

Wed 31 May 1916, 16.38 GMT

Signal Method: Semaphore

Linen, felt, cotton, wire, brass

Written by Charlie Sewell in his memoir:

‘Incidents in the action were taking place very rapidly; we in HMS Southampton with our squadron ahead of HMS Lion had a close view of most events, some discouraging. At about 4.30pm we sighted the enemy battle fleet and reported the fact to Admiral Jellicoe in HMS Iron Duke…. In order to obtain the disposition and composition of the enemy battle fleet Commodore Goodenough led his Light Cruiser Squadron in between the lines and it was for all the staff on the upper bridge a very thrilling experience.

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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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Starfish

Cley beach is a place I love to walk. It has everything: birds to watch, proper rolling waves and pebbles and stones to collect, but it is particularly special when something unexpected appears along the shoreline.

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On a sunny day a few weeks ago the receding tide stranded hundreds of orange starfish high and dry on the shingle. At first I thought they were all dead, but closer inspection showed that some were still alive as tiny tentacles were moving about slowly on their undersides. I carefully picked one up to throw it back into the sea (possibly a futile exercise as the waves would probably fling it back). It was bigger than my hand and its arms were fleshy, muscular and stiff  and surprisingly heavy.

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I imagine that the heavy water of a storm at sea must have lifted them from their feeding grounds on mussel beds and washed them all ashore. It is sad to see so many creatures tossed out of their natural habitat and I wondered if they would stay alive until the next high water when the tide might carry them back out to sea.

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The Common Starfish – Asterias Rubens –  can grow up to 30cms in diameter. It has five stout arms and the amazing ability to regenerate if an arm is lost. The lost limb can grow back completely within a year. If a part of the central disc comes away with the arm, that arm can, incredibly, become a new fully functioning starfish.

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Seeing so many starfish on the shore reminded me of this,

‘.… when she saw the shimmering pattern of orange stars, she thought the world was upside down and the heavens finally within reach.’

From a Year of Marvellous Ways, Sarah Winman.

I like the idea of sea stars dotting the shoreline like the night sky.

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