Category Archives: exploring

Meaning in material

I have been away on holiday to a place that I have never visited before – Spain. We stayed at a Cortijo in the hills in Andalucia about 80 kms inland from the coast. It was hot – (hotter than I had expected) although a cooling breeze generally appeared in the late afternoon. The sky was a uniform blue the whole time we were there and it was very, very dry.

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We spent our time visiting towns to see the sights: Granada and Cordoba, and spending time in the hills near to where we were staying. I took my sketchbook, but for the first few days I couldn’t write or draw in it – I needed time to absorb and think about this new landscape.

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However, an encounter with a new environment is not a blind happenstance and the experience is affected by expectations and presumptions. Of course I had seen photos of the landscape on the internet and I had a good idea about what to expect.  As E.H. Gombrich writes in Art and Illusion, ‘The innocent eye is a myth…… All perceiving relates to expectations and therefore to comparisons’. In this instance, the comparisons I made were to two long, hot summers spent in the countryside in Provence when I was in my late teens. The heat and the dryness were remembered from that time and also the smell. The landscape smelt dry – of dust, cooking and garlic, mimosa, olive trees and heat – can heat smell?

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The landscape, although new to me, had a familiarity, but nevertheless it took a bit of time to settle in and to begin to really pay attention. I drew where my eyes were drawn. I was always looking up: to the tops of the hills where jagged rocky tops were pale grey in the sun but much darker in the shadows, and to ranks of olive groves that dotted the chalky slopes; serried ranks of rounded globes that merged into a solid greeness with the contours of the hills: chalk, terracotta and green – dry, dusty, colour bleached out by the sun.

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I took my normal, minimalist drawing kit with me: a sketchbook, a black pen, a pencil, a graphite stick, a tiny box of watercolours and a couple of those brushes with a water reservoir. But these materials were wrong. They were too fluid and the colours swirled and ran into each other. This is a dry land. I needed dry materials: pastel or chalk. I wish I had picked up some of the terracotta earth to smear across the page with my finger like the cave dwellers in the Cueva de la Pileta who had drawn on the cave walls in terracotta, ochre and charcoal thousands of years ago. 

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Watercolour is for Norfolk –  a place of water and of flux and change, not for the arid dustiness of Andalucia. The materiality of even a drawing is important as it can evoke ideas of time, place and geography beyond those of the purely visual elements of shape, form and colour. Materials have meaning and consequently I’m not really happy with these watercolour drawings. Wrong materials for the place. It is certainly something to think about the next time I go away and I will have to consider my drawing kit more carefully.

 

For one day only (again)

Viv and Kev at ArtVanGo have asked me to come and be one of the artist’s in residence again at the Knitting & Stitching show in Harrogate. Because I had such a lovely time at Ally Pally and, because I have to be in Harrogate to do my stint on the Studio 21 ‘Colour Notes’ stand, I have said yes!

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I will be on the Artist’s in residence stand all day on Saturday 24 November.

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I am going to be exploring ways of using the pigments that I have gathered from the environment – red clay, yellow ochre, chalk and sea coal – and I will be making paint. I will be processing the pigments in order to make watercolour paint, acrylic paint and a type of printing ink. I will then be painting and printing with them on paper and cloth (that’s the plan at least).

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These drawings use synthetic colours, but the yellow/orange colour is yellow ochre that I have collected from the cliffs at West Runton. It has been roughly ground so that the silica grains are still quite coarse and mixed with a binder so that it stays on the paper.

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I love the way the fine pigment and the silica separate out as the water and paint runs through it. It is much like the way sea or rain water would create runnels through the earth outside in the natural environment.

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These small drawings will be for sale in Harrogate …..

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and during the day I will be making some big ones as well.

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

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thinking/making

My Iceland collection has expanded and this is what my work table looks like at the moment. I have made some more plaster reliefs, but you will also see that other found objects have crept in.

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Flints and oyster shells with holes made from boring sponges collected on the the beach here in Wells have been included in the collection as I start to make connections between the objects found in Iceland and more familiar objects found here on the beach at home. The shape and texture of the Icelandic bone fragments bear more than a passing resemblance to the pieces of broken flint and likewise the small Icelandic volcanic pebbles relate directly to the holed shells.

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I make some more plaster reliefs, this time of flints, and as a direct representation they work very well. However, I want something that is more open to interpretation …. something that has been created out of my own imagination and that is able to blur the boundaries between the bone/flint and shell/pebble samples.

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In an attempt to better understand the shape and form of the flints and bones I draw them and in doing so I realise that the reliefs don’t do what I want them to do; their bases are too square and uniform, and the pressed forms are incomplete. I want a full 3-d form. So I try something else and enclose a flint protrusion in clay and fill the resulting indentation with plaster.

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This small fragment (it’s about 5cm high) could be either bone or stone.

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I make some more ambiguous fragments and feel as if they are closer to, but not exactly what I am aiming for. I think it was the producer John Read who said, ‘Art is the expression of the imagination not the imitation of real life’. I am not trying to imitate or to recreate but to make something new and to create new connections. My thinking and making continues!

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 – Little Boxes

Before Mary Morris and I went down to Cornwall we set ourselves a small project. It was an activity we knew would be achievable during our time there and, if you follow me on Instagram, you will have seen the posts I put up each day that documented it. The working title of the project is Little Boxes.

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14 Little Boxes on the windowsill at Brisons Veor. The front row was filled by Mary Morris and the back row by me. The headland in the distance, through the murk, is Land’s End.

A couple of weeks before we left for the residency we spent a very convivial afternoon in Mary’s studio, each making seven small, square ceramic containers  – one for every day of the week at Brisons Veor. The idea was simple: to find, each day, one small object to put into a box that either had a significance or represented an idea from the exploration and experience of that day.

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I’ve mentioned before that I often set myself rules, and the rule for this exercise was that the object I picked up had to be within arm’s reach when I stopped to write or draw in my sketchbook. However, I quickly realised that this particular rule created a problem, as many of the ‘things’ were too big to fit into the Little Box. But a problem can turn into an opportunity and in this case I was forced to alter the object in some way in order to fit it in. Deciding ‘what, how and why’, created something that, I think, is more interesting and has more significance than the original unaltered object would have had.

This is what I made:

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Day 1: A ball of string

Dead Monbretia leaves are found all along this coastline at this time of the year. The bulbs are invasive and have colonised large swathes of the cliffs. I picked a handful of dead leaves by the coastguard hut at Cape Cornwall and made 5 metres of string from it. When wound up it made a surprisingly small ball.

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Day 2: A spool of seaweed

A piece of Tangle or Oarweed picked up from the beach at Priest’s Cove. Each frond of seaweed is quite thick, but I cut it into thin strips and wound it around its stem.

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Day 3: A spool of found rope

I sat on the beach at Sennen Cove writing about seaweed, however, there was a shockingly large amount of plastic caught up amongst it. This is sea-worn plastic with two pieces of polypropylene rope that have been unravelled, knotted together and wound around it. Notice the tiny shell that has grown around the rope.

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Day 4: A spool of seaweed

Sea-thong or thong weed and a bit of worn rubber bicycle tyre collected from where I sat on the beach at Porth Leddon.

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Day 5: A twist of rope

More discarded rope bound with linen thread. I especially like the melted bit at one end. This would have been done originally to stop the rope from unravelling. From Porth Leddon.

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Day 6: A book

Another visit to Priest’s Cove. This time I was sitting just above the beach by a row of fisherman’s huts. This piece of rusty metal had broken off from the corrugated roof of one of the huts. It has been bent round to support one of the prints that I spent a couple of afternoons making. The little cut up pile is about 2x1x1 cm.

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Day 7: Cornish slate

The last Little Box contains an object that I haven’t altered. It is a piece of slate collected from a little man-made concavity in the cliff just outside the house at Brisons Veor. It could have originally been a small quarry.  Looking at the boxes on the last day I realised that I wanted the collection to have something in it that spoke of that particular place – something that was the essence of it. This piece of slate comes from the very cliff that the house we stayed in is built into.

We both enjoyed this project. It was easy and quick to do, but nevertheless the process of collecting and making has, for both of us, sparked ideas that may well turn into something more significant. Next time I’ll tell you about one of my ideas …..