Category Archives: landscape

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 …..

Walking notes

I’m back in Wells after a month down in Surrey. As always the first thing I do is to go for a walk to take the air and to see what’s what. It’s a mild day with little wind. The tide is coming in and although it’s mid afternoon the light is flat and is already beginning to fade. Here is my walk ….

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The berries of the sea buckthorn stand out bright orange in the dull light.

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It’s a very lazy tide today and the sea laps gently up and around the groynes.

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There are a couple of seals swimming around just off the beach. Rope barriers have been set up to give the seals a ‘safe place’ from dogs and humans – this one is very interested in one of the poles.

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Cormorants head back inland to their roost.

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The sun, just visible through the clouds, falls fast at this time of year. 

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Its colour deepens the lower it falls.

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Across the fields towards Holkham a mist rises after the sun has set.

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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My Place

After several weeks of intense teaching, making work and travelling I am back in Wells for a couple of weeks before putting up The Archive Project exhibition in London at the beginning of May. I went down to the beach this afternoon for a walk and it is really good to be back here.

I have just returned from Switzerland where I was teaching an ‘Exploring Place’ workshop and it was wonderful to explore and discover a new environment. The weather was as good as it could have been with sunshine and clear blue skies and the long reaching views of mountains weaving together into the far distance were beautiful …. but it’s not home. It’s not the place that calls and that feels right.

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This afternoon it was a bit grey, although blue patches (enough to make a sailor’s trousers) gave the promise of clearer skies. There was a cold westerly wind and the tide was out. First impressions were that it was rather bleak and there wouldn’t be much to see. But, as always, as I walked a story emerged.

At low tide the contours of the beach are revealed. These change frequently, often from tide to tide. Water is trapped in hollows and small channels, that I call ‘sea rivers’.

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Oystercatchers were stepping around and about the shallow water and as I approached they took off, flying further down the beach with their ‘peep, peep’ call.

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Footprints left in the sand show their frenetic activity.

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The gusting wind freckled the water on the sea rivers …..

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and blew dry sand across the wet beach.

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Wind and water combine to produce an ever-changing picture.

It’s lovely to go away and have new experiences but it’s even better to come back.

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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Gun Hill

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Despite the fact that it has rained just about everyday for the last few weeks the paths along the edge of the marsh are dry. In winter they are permanently wet and muddy – too muddy to walk along without wellies. However the irregular intervals of warm sun and wind at this time of year, coupled with a week of small tides, means that the paths have dried out to a crazy paving of cracked mud and they are now negotiable.

I reach the hut (portacabin) where I was hoping to sit and draw but someone is there before me, perched on a convenient ledge, face up to the sun and quietly enjoying the heat. This is a favourite spot and I have sat here and drawn many times. I move on and find a dry, sand-pebbled spot at the end of the point overlooking the Scolt Head channel.

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The tide is out and there are many birds poking about in the mud. A group of oystercatchers chirp continuously with their ‘peeping’ call. They run around on short, red legs and then suddenly rise up, black and white stripy wings flashing in the light, only to land a few yards away, to continue feeding, talking and bickering – a typical family.

A streak of white comes in from the left and lands. Elegant legs and a crooked neck. A little egret stands out brightly against the dark mud. These egrets are a common sight here now on the marshes. At this distance I can’t see its bright yellow feet.

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Gulls wheel on the thermals and a skylark rises up from the dunes behind me. Its melodious song strengthens as it flaps its wings and climbs higher and higher. It is still singing half an hour later as I get up and walk on.

A week of documenting: Cornwall – Day 2

Day 2: Prussia Cove 

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Spring Squill

We do a walk high on the cliffs above the sea. The sun is bright and small U’s sparkle across the deep blue water.

I am amazed by the colour and sheer number of wildflowers that carpet almost every available bit of ground. They are burgeoning up through grass and clinging to crevices in the rocks. I note down what I see:

Thrift or Sea Pinks

Campion – red and white or bladder

Bluebells

Scarlett Pimpernel

Wild Garlic

Daisy

Buttercup

Vetch

Tamarisk

Violets

Gorse

A tiny blue starred flower (Sprig Squill)

A long, thin stalk with red grass-like flower (Sorrel)

Scabious – tiny blue version (Devilsbit Scabious)

Pendulous white bells with a triangular stalk (Three-cornered Leek)

Later in the week I add the names of the last four flower descriptions as the coastguard at Cape Cornwall tells me their names.

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Bladder Campion

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Thrift or Sea Pink

A week of documenting: Cornwall – Day 1

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In the New Year I did a short project, A Week of Collecting, where I collected an object everyday for a week and drew and wrote about it. This prompted a series of small, salted works that I showed at an exhibition in January. I have just been to Cornwall for a week and as always I took a sketchbook and a pen with me to record my experiences. I thought I would do another Week of Collecting but things didn’t turn out that way. I have been going to Cornwall on and off all my life but I don’t know it in the way that I know the North Norfolk coast. I kept coming across things on my walks – flowers, geology and industrial processes, that I didn’t know anything about. These weren’t things to be collected and brought home, but instead they needed to be documented and researched later. I realised how much you need to know before you can really understand a place. There needs to be not only knowledge of the history of the place and its inhabitants but I also believe that your own personal history, built up over many years, is crucially important. Over the next seven days I’ll show you some of the notes and drawings from my sketchbook. These prove that I am only brushing the surface of this environment.

Day 1: Portreath

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It has been a long drive to Cornwall from Thames Ditton. We stop for a breath of fresh air to stretch our legs and have a cup of tea at Portreath on the northern coast.  The weather is grey and misty with a hint of drizzle in the air. A sharp SW breeze isn’t stopping the surfers from dressing and undressing in the car park by the beach. We watch them in the sea as we drink tea. There isn’t much action, just a lot of bobbing around …. the waves must be the wrong sort. According to the lifeguard’s board the sea temperature is 13.5 degrees so even with a full wetsuit they must be cold.

On the beach my eyes, as always, drop to see what is beneath my feet: sand, seaweed and stripy pebbles. It seems that the cliffs have seams of quartz running through them and the grey pebbles are striped with it. The grey part (I don’t know what it is) has worn faster than the white quartz stripes so that they stand proud of the smooth surface of the pebble. I pick up three – there is a precedent for collecting stones as a memento of place, and both Robert MacFarlane and Edmund de Waal have done so and written about it. I also often pick up pebbles, and I make a mental note to write about this only once this week – pebble drawings can become monotonous.