Category Archives: experimenting

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

 

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Step by step

I am progressing slowly and steadily with my new project based on my experience of the landscape of north Iceland and found objects from the beaches there.

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Introducing a new material to my practice has been fun and continues to be challenging. I have always enjoyed working with 3-d objects and I am relishing finding out how to control and use plaster. I’ve always loved tools and in order to carve and manipulate plaster I’ve had to turn to instruments that I haven’t used before: a vice, chisels, hammers, surforms, a Dremel and files, rasps and rifflers.

I’m obviously still in the very early stages of understanding what I can make this material do and so far I have tried making reliefs,

IMG_3215Relief of an oyster shell with boring sponge marks

flat-bottomed casts with moulds made from clay,

P1000205Casts of  Norfolk flints inspired by an Icelandic whale’s tooth

P1000226Flat-bottomed cast of a flint that has been drilled out

and now I’ve started to make blocks of plaster to carve and form into fully 3-d shapes.

IMG_3205Plaster block with (crude) chisel marks

P1000230Carving of a bone

These are all small-scale pieces and my aim has been to reproduce, as accurately as possible, some of my found objects. I think that if I am able to learn the skills required to represent each object precisely then, at a later date, I will be able to go ‘off piste’ and take my ideas beyond the purely representational. However, at the moment I’m still learning about what can be achieved.

P1000208Carving of a flint

I like this stage of a project. Although I have an idea of what I want to do this is only the catalyst to get me started – an original idea that kicks off the making process and enables ideas to flow so that the work takes on a life of its own.

IMG_3212Carving of a volcanic pebble, painted with oil paint

In my experience brilliant ideas don’t materialise spontaneously. Instead they occur only when you devote time and thought to the making process. I start by making something simple that then leads to something else and something else and I find that one idea leads to another, that leads to another, that leads to yet another. As the project progresses a growing awareness and understanding develops and takes the mind along a path that could never have been predetermined.  The connections made along the way will hopefully culminate in something exciting and new.

P1000239_edited-1My work table today

I’m still at the ‘making something simple’ stage, but it is fun and absorbing. Already I’m making connections and having new ideas and with any luck these first steps will lead me forwards.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colour from the Landscape – Making paint

I’m busy at the moment jumping from one thing to another and I have several ‘makings’, new ideas and experiments going on at the same time. One of the most exciting is that I have been making watercolour paint.

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Grinding West Runton chalk with a muller

I enjoy the fluidity of watercolour and last summer I made several drawings using pigments I had collected from the landscape mixed with water. Of course when it dried most of the grainy pigment just brushed off, and ever since I have wanted to have a go at making ‘proper’ paint in order to make drawings of the landscape from the materials of the landscape.

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Grinding Hunstanton chalk – this chalk is whiter than the yellowed West Runton chalk

I finally collected together the right equipment (including the very handsome muller at the top of the page), ground up my pigments and had a paint making session. I have gathered five different materials from beaches along the North Norfolk coast. They are: chalk from Hunstanton, chalk from West Runton, yellow ochre from West Runton, Red clay from Cley, and sea-coal from Wells.

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Hunstanton chalk and gum arabic/honey binding solution waiting to be ground with the muller

I have used gum arabic and honey as the binders for the pigment. Gum arabic is sap from the acacia tree and you buy it in large, hard, brittle crystals that have to be ground down to a powder and then dissolved in water. Honey is also added to the gum Arabic to make the solution fluid and easy to work. Honey is a humectant: it helps to pull in water so that the dried pan of colour gets wet and is able to release colour more easily onto the brush.

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Red clay ground to a buttery consistency

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My little paintbox of colours from beaches on the North Norfolk coast.

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From left to right the colours are:

Hunstanton chalk white, West Runton chalk white, West Runton yellow ochre, Cley red,

Wells sea-coal black

I’m remarkably pleased with these paints. I have managed to grind the earths down to a surprisingly fine texture and I’ll show you the resulting paintings next time!

If you would like to have a go at making watercolour paint I’m doing a workshop at the Contemporary Textile Fair at the Landmark Arts centre, Teddington, TW11 9NN where we will be grinding and mixing pigments to make different types of paint. Hopefully there will be time to paint with it as well.

 

Drawing music

In a couple of weeks time I’m doing a 2 day workshop at Art Van Go – Drawing to Music. I can’t ignore music and if I have it playing whilst I’m working I can’t help but respond to its rhythm and atmosphere. My body wants to move and before I know it my foot starts tapping …. I might even sing!

This morning I got out paper and paint, put on some music and let myself go, responding solely to what I could hear and what was appearing on the page in front of me. I did four large pages of drawing, each with three or four small sketches on each. I did them very quickly. I wonder if you can tell which bits of music were fast / slow / reflective / melodic/ rhythmic?

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Its a great way to free up – nothing matters, you can’t do it wrong as it’s totally subjective and it’s fun! Do join me at Art Van Go on 6 and 7 February if you’d like a go as well.

Brisons Veor – Seaweed

From my sketchbook:

‘Priest’s Cove – they say every seventh wave is a big one. I count – it’s not true in this case. There are big and small waves, but they are random. Two big ones together and then a series of small ones. Every now and then a piece of seaweed gets washed ashore and dumped on the concrete slipway – kelp I think.’

‘Sennen Cove – seaweed fronds have caught on the iron girders supporting the ramp to the lifeboat station and hang flapping in the wind. They are all different colours: red, green, brown, yellow, grey.  Dried and waved. Gentle quivers of frond on frond and louder smacks as the wind blows it up against the metal.’

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Using material that is collected directly from the landscape is a very important part of my practice. It creates a direct connection between the environment itself, my experience of the environment and the work. It is the medium through which I try to evoke the sensuous qualities of a landscape in a multi-sensorial way.

I saw one seaweed in particular all along this part of the coast in Cornwall. It is called Oarweed or Tangle – Laminaria digitata, it is a type of kelpIt can be found attached to rocks at the lowest tidal level and is often washed ashore. It has smooth, thick, cylindrical, flexible stalks which expand into leathery, oar-shaped blades that divide again into many finger-like fronds.

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From my sketchbook:

‘Looking out just beyond the breaking waves at Priest’s Cove I can see the seaweed’s dark fronds swaying just below the surface of the water. A graceful, undulating dance that moves in time with the continuous play of the waves.’

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Seaweed is a material that embodies the coast. I gather a large armful of wet, slippery stalks and fronds to take back to the studio. It smells faintly of the sea – not unpleasant, and it weeps a wet, sticky residue – rather unpleasant.

I know that when seaweed dries it becomes hard and leathery. I also know that it can be re-hydrated once dry. This characteristic has been put to good use as a traditional way of forecasting the weather. If the seaweed is wet and slippery rain is due and if it is dry and brittle, the weather will be fine. It has the possibility of being a versatile material that changes with the humidity of the atmosphere. It could have great potential for me.

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I cut some fronds and sew them tightly together. It’s a messy business as this seaweed is glutinous and sticky. I leave it hanging over the banister and it takes about 2 days to completely dry. It shrinks. It curls. It’s wonderful. I try again with another piece. This time I cut the fronds to the same size and press them under a heavy book when I’ve finished stitching. This piece takes about 3 days to dry. It is also wonderful.

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These small samples are brittle and have cracked on the journey back from Cornwall, but I know that if I wet them they will become supple again. I have a couple of bags of kelp drying in the garage. I will definitely be making something out of this unconventional material.

More playing

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When I make things I often do so obsessively, repeating things over and again until I have what I want. I’m sure this is a throwback from doing hours of flute practice in order to be able to play notes and to get techniques perfect. I’ve been making more samples that have been coloured solely with materials that I have collected from the ground: sea-coal, clay and chalk. I’ve tried grinding the ‘pigments’ to different sizes, experimented with heavy, light, loosely woven and tight textured cloth and fiddled around with different percentages of linseed oil and beeswax to make the binder. I now have enough samples that I’m happy with to enable me to start on the fun bit ….. the construction and putting together to see what is possible.

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I started simply by folding one sample over another or placing eyelets on top of one another or wrapping a piece round an edge. Just to see what would happen. I tried many combinations.

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I love the blend of coarsely ground chalk and the creamy waxiness of the binder …….

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and here there was an especially thick layer of wax that cracked on a fold. It’s very fragile, but is food for thought.

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This was the last sample I made, and to use everything up I threw all the last bits of grindings into the wax pot. The result is surprisingly good.

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These eyelets have been rusted with sea water before having a coating of the wax mixture and a trace of sea-coal.

I’m finally happy with the arrangement of each piece so now I need to sew them together. But I’m wondering! These samples are small  ….. I wonder how they would look big?

Experimenting

As an artist who uses cloth I am very interested in how it is used in the landscape that I am trying to evoke. I take great inspiration from sails and tarpaulins that can be found everywhere here on the coast and recently I have been researching traditional ways of preserving and waterproofing them.

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Nowadays, sails are made from highly technical synthetic materials that won’t shrink, rot or stretch out of shape when battered by the wind and weather. But before these fabrics were in common use, sails were made of canvas and linen – fabrics that will degenerate quickly if they are not treated with a preservative. I often use canvas and linen in my work and so it is appropriate to look at traditional ways of preserving these types of cloth.

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There are several traditional ways that sailors and fishermen would preserve sails, ropes and nets. Tanning or barking is a process of boiling sailcloth in a solution of cutch, an extract of the plant Acacia Catechu that is very high in natural tannins. This process turns the sail a reddish/brown and gives protection from the elements, but the sail remains absorbent and becomes heavy in wet weather.

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I find the process of ‘dressing’ sails with linseed oil, wax and ochre more intriguing. The mixture is spread on both sides of the sail and penetrates the cloth to create a barrier that protects it from the wet. Despite the fear that the linseed oil coated cloth would spontaneously combust (!), I have made some samples and hung them up in a well ventilated room to dry.

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Since using chalk that I had collected, hand ground and turned into distemper in a recent piece of work, I have been keen to use other natural materials collected from the environment. I thought that I could easily replace ochre in the dressing mixture with another material and for the past couple of weeks I have been looking for a substitute on my walks along the beach. Red clay from Cley beach and sea-coal from the East Hills in Wells have proved to be worthy alternatives.

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When I first made these samples I was disappointed. I thought they looked like dirty scraps of cloth with no aesthetic appeal. However, I looked at them again a couple of days ago and the drying process has greatly improved their appearance and touch and I think there could be some potential.

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Now the linseed oil is less sticky and smelly, the yellow/brown oil, wax, and coarsely ground red clay turns the cloth a wonderful, translucent terracotta and similarly coarse-ground sea-coal gives texture. I’ve also mixed some of my previously ground chalk with oil and wax and the mixture gives a dense, creamy coating that gently cracks when manipulated.

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These are my first experimental samples. They need a lot of refining and I should spend longer processing the clay and sea-coal and trying out different proportions of oil and wax.  But I have ideas …… I’ll keep you updated!