Category Archives: making

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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!

Iceland collection

Some of you who follow my Instagram page will have seen some of the objects that I collected on my recent trip to Iceland. I have been mulling these over for the past month and have been stumped as to how to use them. I’ve got as far as making a ‘tray’ for them, which I then stuck in the window to look at and ponder.

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These objects serve as a reminder of place (indeed I can remember exactly where and when I collected each one), and even out of context their place of origin remains embedded, for me, within them. I could of course just leave them as they are to serve as artworks in their own right and they look quite nice sitting there on the tray in the sunshine. But I believe that the hand of the artist is important and that any artworks that might be created in response to them will be a more powerful and dynamic response to place.

P1030693Bone fragment

So, what to do?

First I asked simple questions about this particular collection of objects. What are they? Where did they come from? How did they get there? How long have they been there? These objects (there are more!) were found across two beaches in the North of Iceland. They are remains: mainly bones, but also some interesting dried seaweed and something that may be a tooth. The bones are obviously old and have been in the sea for a long time before being washed up on the beach. On many of them their lacy interior is revealed. I don’t know what animal the bones come from, but they are small, so my guess is a sheep…. Iceland has a lot of sheep. The wing-shaped bones, I think, are the breast bones of a bird.

P1030692Bone fragment

The beach on which I found the bones is on a small island in the middle of a fjord, and it obviously serves as a ‘net’, or a catchall where the local conditions of tide and current deposit detritus from near, and possibly far away. The beach was simply littered with bones and other natural detritus. I have never before seen such a quantity of small, white, broken bones collected together in one place; limb fragments, tiny jaw bones and other bone splinters mingled with black volcanic pebbles to create a rather disquieting resting place for broken animal remains.

P1030703Plaster relief of a bone fragment

These sea-worn remnants look old and their colour and surface remind me of plaster reproductions of plants, fossils and other natural objects that I have seen in other collections and cabinets of curiosities. It’s good to start with a simple idea, so I have started to make straight reproductions of some of my gathered objects out plaster. These plaster reliefs are just one step away from the real thing, but I have already started to make aesthetic judgements about them and to put my own stamp onto how they could look.

P1030706Plaster relief of a bone fragment

I’m not used to working with plaster and I’m enjoying the process of finding out what it will do – I’m amazed at the detail that it is able to pick up. Already I have ideas. Once I start playing and exploring I hope that it will be a short step to a less literal interpretation of these reminders of place.

P1030689Plaster relief of a bone fragment

PS. As you can see the new studio is starting to look more busy. Things are still in disarray and I need to get everything off the floor because of the possible flood risk, but I am very much enjoying the space and slowly getting to know what I need to make this a working studio and where it should all go.

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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.

 

Little Boxes – Wells-next-the-Sea

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I’ve been waiting for sunny, bright day to photograph some work I made over the Christmas break.  The work is a response to the ‘Little Boxes’ that contained found objects collected at Brisons Veor in Cornwall. These ‘Little Boxes’ hold objects that I found on the beach in Wells over the past few weeks. They aim to evoke one interpretation of that place.

Wells beach is relatively clean, and surprisingly very little rubbish and plastic detritus washes up there. I think there are two possible reasons for this. Firstly, the North Norfolk coast is caught in the elbow of the Wash and is away from the main shipping lanes, consequently less rubbish is created, and secondly, the shallow water creeps in and out slowly over the sands and the waste doesn’t get dumped in quite the same way that rubbish from a big, deep, rolling sea would. You have to look very hard on Wells beach for the usual odds and ends of discarded rope and plastic so unlike the Cornish collection, the Norfolk collection consists of only natural objects. These have been unaltered to highlight their natural beauty.

Each object has been chosen because of it’s texture or shape or some other unusual aspect and the bright sunlight has brought out all their surface qualities.

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Chalk with piddock holes

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Black oyster shell

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Crab claw

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Sea-worn wood

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Crab shell with barnacles

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White oyster shell

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Flint pebble

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Flint with tube worm casts

In Cornwall I made the boxes and then filled them. In this case I collected the objects and then made the boxes to fit the objects. There was no particular reason for this – it just happened that way. The boxes are waxed cotton duck, with a rigid board base and held together with a twist of wire.

 

 

 

 

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 …..

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.