Category Archives: exploring

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!

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!

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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