Category Archives: making

Sea dipping again after quite a while

I haven’t been down to the beach to dip a piece of work in the sea for quite a long time. I seem to be having a creative rush at the moment with one piece of work following another. This is the first of several pieces to be sea dipped.

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Words are becoming more important to me (an imperative really) and each of the works that I am making are a response to words that document the memory of an experience. I have given them the working title of ‘Fragments’.

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This is what I wrote after I arrived home after a walk along the raised dyke

Burnham Overy Staithe.

The sun is warm on my back as I walk out to the beach,

but coming back the wind gets into my ears and chills them.

 

Low tide.

The blue sky is reflected upwards again by the shiny, smooth marsh:

a bright, slick brown/blue/green.

 

Recent spring tides have moved the sand and mud.

Where before the marsh was formed into deep crevices;

it is now flat.

Where before the marsh was flat;

it is now sculpted into twisting channels

of high banks and low, slowly seeping waters.

 

On top: sunlit, sparkling.

Below: deep dark shadow.

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As I was dipping this in the sea (to rust the small iron wire eyelets sewn into the cloth) it occurred to me that although I was on Wells beach the experience that inspired the cloth was of another place. It is interesting that the memory of a place from then has been transcribed to now. The original memory has been reshaped and as a result another layer of meaning has been embedded into the cloth.

Teaching in Italy

How would you like to join me in Italy on an Exploring Place workshop? I have been invited to teach a 5-day course in October 2020 at the stunning 18th century Masseria della Zingara in Puglia, Italy.

The masseria at dawn

The masseria, sits in 20 tranquil acres of olive, cherry and almond groves and I’m very much looking forward to walking, exploring, noticing, documenting and making in this beautiful environment and sunny climate. I hope some of you would like to join me!

sketchbookSmall, handmade, coptic bound sketchbook

Each morning will start with a walk where the emphasis will be on paying attention and documenting our experiences in sketchbooks that we will make ourselves. Using all of our senses we will explore the contours of the landscape, objects, materials, and the effect that air, wind, light and sound have on the environment.

detail from soundmark bookSoundwalk concertina book

Back in the studio we will draw, and make and sew; feeling our way into the landscape and finding ways of documenting our own personal experience of this place. I expect to  experiment with new materials, found objects and natural phenomena such as shadows, light and the wind.

ropeObject made from found rope

The photos are examples of the type of things we will be doing. You can find more information about the workshop on the Committed to Cloth website and more information about the Masseria della Zingara here.

 

Blue is ….

I was at the beach on Saturday. These were my thoughts:

 

Warm

A south westerly breeze

brings

a slight chill to the air.

 

Sunny

Blue sky

Blue sea

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Thin wispy clouds

cirrus

blow in fragile strands

diagonally across the sky.

 

Fall streaks that foretell

a change in the weather.

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Far away

towards the horizon

the blue sky lightens.

 

Below

deep water

deep blue.

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Blue is

scattered light.

Short waves

at the end of the rainbow

that disperse

into the air

and into the water.

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You can’t touch

this blue

because it isn’t really there.

 

This will be a concertina book – watercolour on one side and words on the other. It will be bound with blue cloth. I’ll show it to you when it’s finished.

Making connections

I have a small plinth that has been sitting in a corner of my studio for nearly a year now. It has on it a collection of objects which I have been changing around and adding to regularly over the year. It started with a collection of objects that I gathered on a trip to Iceland, and at the time I felt sure that a piece of work would come from it but although I love the collection, a separate piece has simply not happened.

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I realise now that of course the collection is the work. An array of objects that document my way of interacting with, responding to, and documenting my experience of the natural environment: walking, gathering, keeping, noticing, drawing, making. The plinth is a like sketchbook of objects: a gathering that consists of words, drawings, materials and things. I have found myself adding to and taking away from it over the year in a continuous process of relating one thing to another and I now recognise that the work is not only about linking one object to another but is also concerned with connecting new landscapes to familiar ones.

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Handmade sketchbook dipped in bitumen with ink and graphite drawings of the Norfolk coast, a small linen bag coated with bitumen and paint to keep the sketchbook in.

I have written before that I believe an encounter with a new environment cannot, in this age of browsing the internet, be completely fresh, but that it is affected by expectations and presumptions. A new place, in this case Iceland, is touched by similarities and associations to known places (the Norfolk coast) in a never-ending, and possibly unconscious, triangulation of place, experience and memory.

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Top: Wood from a Norfolk beach painted with bitumen, rope from a Norfolk beach, knotted and painted with bitumen. Bottom: String from an Icelandic beach dipped in bitumen and coiled, string from an Icelandic beach made into a knot and dipped in bitumen, a linen and bitumen bag to hold them.

I’m trying not to analyse too deeply what I choose to keep, but amongst things relating to both the Icelandic and the North Norfolk coasts I have: collected objects, both in their original form and altered; drawings, in a handmade sketchbook and on scraps of paper; made objects that have been painted with bitumen.

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View from my studio, silverpoint drawing on gesso.

The unifying factor for all of these objects has evolved and is now their blackness or whiteness: either the scoured purity of bird keel bones, soft eider down and oily sheep’s wool or the dark, stickiness of bitumen that preserves all objects from the effects of the weather and the damp, salty air.

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Keel bones of birds found on both Icelandic and North Norfolk beaches.

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From the left: Eider down, white sheep’s wool, black sheep’s wool collected in Iceland, held in waxed linen containers with found threads.

What are the influences? Perhaps Icelandic black beaches of volcanic stones or dark bituminous preservative? Maybe beaches of white Norfolk flint or chalk cliffs that give themselves up to be made into fine gesso to draw onto? I think all are there in my memory, connecting backwards and forwards and backwards again to tell a story of places, experiences and materials.

This work isn’t finished and I expect it to keep evolving and to get larger as I continue to have new ideas and to make new things.

An artist in action

I thought I’d show you what I got up to on the ArtVanGo, Artists in Action stand at the Knitting & Stitching show last Saturday.

IMG_3454Seacoal, Cley clay, synthetic Indigo watercolour, graphite

The brief was to ‘do what you would be doing in your studio‘, and so as recently I have been continuing my exploration of how I can use pigments gathered from the landscape in my work, that’s what I did.

I started by grinding up red clay from the beach at Cley (I ground two batches of this: fine and coarse) and seacoal from Wells beach (fine) and then made watercolour paint with it by adding gum arabic and honey …. I made quite a lot.

IMG_3464Seacoal, Cley clay, graphite

With paint in hand I started painting on Khadi paper supplied by ArtVanGo, first small pieces and then longer ones.

IMG_3450Seacoal, Cley clay, synthetic Indigo watercolour, graphite

Each day, as I look out of the studio window, I see the creek slowly fill and then empty as   the tide comes in and goes out each day. The muddy marsh banks and creek bed are marked by the outgoing tide with hundreds of small ‘marsh rivers’ as the water drains off the banks into the channel. The soft mud is moulded and cut through as its surface changes twice daily. I am reminded of this quote by Ian Scott and Richard Worsley from their book, The Return of the Tide

‘This is a landscape in flux. Dunes creep. New channels cut the sandflats and slow, glassy tides spread thin smears of mud to build slick upon slick into new marsh.’

I am trying to evoke the marsh surface and the movement of water in these drawings.

IMG_3461Seacoal, Cley clay, synthetic Indigo watercolour, graphite

I use a lot of water and a lot of paint and let it mingle and move. The coarsely ground pigment separates out as it is swilled around in the water.

IMG_3459Seacoal, Cley clay, synthetic Indigo watercolour, graphite

Unfortunately I can’t make my own blue paint from local earths and rocks, so I have used a ready made indigo paint to add a contrast to the earth colours. A wax resist adds light and another texture.

IMG_3460Seacoal, Cley clay, graphite

My aim is to try and get the same diffuse, drippy effect on cloth as I have here on paper.

It’s amazing how much you can get done when you stand at a table for most of the day working!

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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.

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.