Category Archives: making

Colours of the Landscape

It is an ancient practice for artists to use earth as a painting material. For centuries (almost forever in fact) earth has been dug out of the ground, processed and mixed with binders to make colour. Raw earth colours can range from yellow to red and brown and when burnt can darken the colour substantially. The main colouring material in these earths is iron.

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Chalk is another material that comes from the ground. It is a variety of limestone and was formed over millions of years from the skeletal remains of minute plankton called coccolithophores. It is, of course, pure white.

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Sea-coal is a coal that washes up on the beach from exposed deposits that exist on the sea bed. It is a dark, dark black and is shiny and remarkably ‘clean’.

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These three cloth vessels (I am calling them Ground Works) have been coloured with local yellow earth, chalk and sea-coal. The materials have been collected from beaches along the North Norfolk coast, ground and then mixed with water to a creamy consistency and rubbed into the cloth. A wax and linseed oil mixture has been applied when the paint was dry. I’m remarkably pleased with the pure colour that I have managed to achieve with these hand ground, local pigments.

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The ground pigments can also be mixed with a binder, in this case rabbit skin glue, to make paint. The paints I have made are rough and textured. I found the sand in the yellow earth difficult to grind down to a very fine texture and the sea-coal is also very hard and so difficult to grind finely. However, these local colours are remarkably intense and their texture is certainly interesting. It pleases me that the colours make a direct connection between the non-descriptive ambiguity of the vessels and the realism of the drawings.

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I love the idea that a material dug up from beneath the surface, in this case the colour, is able to describe the landscape above and so connect the work to the environment both physically and visually.

 

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Just a quick catch-up

I just wanted to say hello! I’ve had my head down recently getting on with stuff and there haven’t really been any new developments to tell you about.

I’m presently working on 3 large cloths for an exhibition next year. They are going to be coloured with hand-collected and hand-ground pigments: probably chalk, sea-coal and yellow clay. After that they will be waterproofed and dressed with a wax and linseed oil concoction that will change their nature completely so that they become glossy and stiff.

At the moment I am preparing the cloths prior to the colouring and waxing process. The one shown here has been dipped in the sea to rust the eyelets and it is presently hanging in my studio so that I can get to know it. I like to live with things for a while to see if they need changes. I’ll put it away presently and then look at it again in a week to two to see if my view has changed ….. it often does when you turn your back.

The balance I am trying to get in the work is tricky. It is between having enough interest in the way the cloth is put together: the utilitarian seams, reinforcements and eyelets, without detracting from the the pigments and wax which are the main reason for the work. I want the pigments and wax to speak for themselves.

I feel that I may have been a bit fussy with this first cloth, so the one I am working on at the moment will be much plainer – almost a blank canvas with just one row of eyelets.

 

New Work

I have finally finished a piece of work using hand-collected and hand-ground clay and chalk: substances that connect the materiality of the environment, the actual matter that landscape is made up of, and the utilitarian use of cloth in a coastal environment.

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It has taken me all summer to try and get this process to work to my satisfaction. The problems have mainly been with trying to get the clay or chalk ground to a fine enough powder to combine successfully with a binder. I have come to realise that hand grinding will only get me so far  – I’ll need machines to make the pigment really fine.

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I’ve also tried using a suspension method to get really fine grains by letting the chalk or clay sit in water so the heavy grains drop to the bottom leaving the lighter, finer grains to be suspended in the water and to be poured off. The process is repeated until the grains are fine enough. This has been more successful but it is a lot more time consuming and there is more wastage.

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This first piece uses two processes to colour the cloth. The first is a process I have used before and in this instance I placed part of the work into the sea so that the sewn eyelets rust. The second process uses yellow clay and hand-ground chalk, collected from the cliffs at West Runton, and combined with a mixture wax and linseed oil. This concoction is a traditional way of treating canvas sails in order to preserve and protect them. Read more about this  here.

P1010860I’m calling this series of works, Groundcloths, and this work is half of a work I’m calling Coiled. It is the first of two coiled pieces and I’ve already started making the second, companion piece. It is made from linen, wire, hand-collected and hand-ground, hand-collected and hand-ground yellow clay, seawater, linseed oil and wax and measures 30 x 30 x 10 cm.

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I have two group exhibitions next year and the 2 coiled pieces will be for one of them, although I haven’t decided which yet.

More playing

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When I make things I often do so obsessively, repeating things over and again until I have what I want. I’m sure this is a throwback from doing hours of flute practice in order to be able to play notes and to get techniques perfect. I’ve been making more samples that have been coloured solely with materials that I have collected from the ground: sea-coal, clay and chalk. I’ve tried grinding the ‘pigments’ to different sizes, experimented with heavy, light, loosely woven and tight textured cloth and fiddled around with different percentages of linseed oil and beeswax to make the binder. I now have enough samples that I’m happy with to enable me to start on the fun bit ….. the construction and putting together to see what is possible.

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I started simply by folding one sample over another or placing eyelets on top of one another or wrapping a piece round an edge. Just to see what would happen. I tried many combinations.

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I love the blend of coarsely ground chalk and the creamy waxiness of the binder …….

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and here there was an especially thick layer of wax that cracked on a fold. It’s very fragile, but is food for thought.

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This was the last sample I made, and to use everything up I threw all the last bits of grindings into the wax pot. The result is surprisingly good.

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These eyelets have been rusted with sea water before having a coating of the wax mixture and a trace of sea-coal.

I’m finally happy with the arrangement of each piece so now I need to sew them together. But I’m wondering! These samples are small  ….. I wonder how they would look big?

Chalk Ground at Cley 17

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Next weekend I will be installing my newest piece of work, Chalk Ground, at St Margaret’s Church, Cley-next-the-Sea and I am very pleased to be a part of this exhibition run by the North Norfolk Exhibition Project. Cley is just 10 minutes down the road from my house and so the work is being shown in the place of its inspiration – this doesn’t happen very often!

P1000780 The NNEP was set up in order to be able to show contemporary art in a place where there was no gallery that artists could show new work in. Each year there is a different curator who sets the brief and chooses the artists. This year the curator is Marion Stuart who is an artist, art lecturer and founder of StudioDo. The brief is ‘Connectivity’ and asks artists to use historical context and local connections to create links between site and art. She states that, ‘Connecting is inherently human and one way to connect to the world is through art.’

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This brief was a gift to me and plays directly into all the interests of my practice. Recently I have been using the materiality of the environment to articulate ideas about landscape and place, mostly in my use of salt. Chalk is another material that is associated with this area and I was very keen to introduce this new material into my practice in order to stimulate new ideas and processes.

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Chalk is the bedrock of the physical landscape of East Anglia and it forms a ‘chalk belt’ that runs from the Chilterns to the North Norfolk coast. It has shaped the economic and cultural development of this region and gives rise to some of its most beautiful and inspiring landscapes. Chalk is the basis of the new work, Chalk Ground, and the shape and material of the work draws attention to the world we inhabit by making a connection between the materiality of the artwork and the land beneath our feet.

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Ground:

  1. The solid surface of the earth
  2. A prepared surface to which paint is applied
  3. Reduced to fine particles by crushing

 I love the play on words that is contained within the title of the piece and I have tried to incorporate each strand of meaning into the work. The form and shape of the work reflects the curve of the land and I was thinking of a geographical cross-section when deciding what form the work should take. I have made my own ‘ground’ by ‘grinding’ chalk collected from the environment to make a paint, or distemper, to coat the linen cloth.

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I have used all forms of chalk in the work and its texture varies from fine to very coarse. Added to that, each vessel has a ballast of chalk pebbles to make it stable. The height of the vessels ranges from 55-23 cms in height and each vessel is 5 cm in diameter. The whole work measures approx. 2 metres wide and 20cm deep.  You can read more about the process of making this work here, here and here.

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Lastly, having finished the work I have now made other connections to my practice that I should, perhaps, have noted beforehand. I have used the pipe or tube shape before and it is a form that creates many associations for me. It is a vessel or container and so has the ability to ‘hold place’, but primarily it is the shape of a flute and therefore contains the promise of sound. Coincidentally, the work is to be placed on an stone shelf near to the organ….. I think you will agree that there is more than a passing resemblance to a set of organ pipes.

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If you are in Norfolk from 6 July to 6 August please come and see the exhibition. As Marion Stuart is a ceramicist I expect it will have a pottery slant which I am really looking forward to. There are also some excellent related workshops and events taking place. There is a copy of the leaflet here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Chalk

Chalk is the bedrock of the physical landscape of East Anglia and it forms a ‘chalk belt’ that runs from the Chilterns to the North Norfolk coast. It has shaped the economic and cultural development of this region and forms some of its most beautiful and spectacular landscapes.

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Hunstanton chalk samples

Although chalk is not as apparent in Norfolk as in other areas of Britain such as the South Downs, at Seven Sisters and the White Cliffs of Dover, it embraces the North Norfolk coast with chalk cliffs to the West at Hunstanton and to the East at West Runton. There are chalk pits and quarries all over the county, including just up the road from here in Wells, and sub-terranean Norwich is riddled with tunnels where chalk was formerly mined.

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West Runton chalk samples

I am using chalk in my next piece of work and decided to collect the material from two different sites that mark the outer boundaries of my ‘place’: Hunstanton, where there are red and white cliffs, and the beach at West Runton where a vein of chalk emerges on the beach and at the bottom of the cliffs. The chalk I find at both sites has broken off from the cliffs, probably from wave action and the force of the tides, and lies scattered across the beach. Huge great lumps, too big to pick up and take home, lie at the top of both beaches under the cliffs, but smaller pieces have been distributed across the sand by the sea. I collect lumps about the size of my fist and smaller pebbles from both places. My intention is to grind them down to a powder and combine the resulting white pigment with a binder to stiffen and colour cloth.

Immediately I can see that the chalk collected from each site is different. The pieces of Hunstanton chalk are rounded and they don’t mark my skin or clothes as I pick them up. They are hard, dry and cold.

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The West Runton chalk, on the other hand, is soft and buttery and the greasy surface of each piece has attracted a light covering of sand. It is damp and soft and marks everything it touches. By the time I get home my hands, clothes, bags and the car are covered with a film of white dust.

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Before I even try to break it up I know that the properties of each sample is very different; the West Runton chalk will definitely be easier to process than the fragments from Hunstanton. I don goggles and a dust mask and whack a small piece of Hunstanton chalk with a hammer. Nothing happens. I try again, and again it doesn’t break. I get a bigger, heavier hammer. This time it cracks in two, but I can sense that using this material will be a battle. I try the West Runton chalk. One firm tap with a hammer and it breaks into four or five small pieces. It is so soft and breaks very easily. I continue tapping and soon I have a coarse powder.

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I take a hard Hunstanton lump and start to grind the softer particles with it. It works well as a pestle and the powder gradually becomes finer. I take more of the softer lumps and continue crushing and grinding until I have quite a large heap. Fine powder rises up with the grinding action and I can feel it drying the skin on my hands and face – I’m glad of the dust mask.

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The ground West Runton chalk is the colour of double cream. I suppose it has been yellowed by sand and I wonder whether covering it with water would purify it. I place it in a large bowl of water and wait. Bubbles rise to the surface as air is expelled from between each grain and after a few minutes the chalk has fallen to the bottom and the water has cleared.

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I put my hands into the chalky soup and can feel hard lumps. I can squish them between my fingers and they disintegrate. I keep squishing, but there are too many to get a fine powder this way.

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I pour off the clear water and realise that, of course, all the large sand and chalk particles  are still combined. I place the creamy, chalk mixture on a tray and leave to dry. Soon I’ll be able to mix it with a binder and make a form of coarse gesso to form the foundation of my next piece of work.

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Burnt Cloth

Some of you may be wondering whether I did decide to burn the last of the ‘Flags’ in my Signalman body of work. I was undecided when I last wrote about it.

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Well, after much hum-ing and haa-ing I took the plunge and did it. This wasn’t a scientific, controlled process but more of a ‘go into the garden with a box of matches, some stout boots and a garden hose, type  of procedure’.

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It was surprisingly difficult to make the cloth catch fire and even more difficult to make it catch fire in an artistic way! Anyhow I’m pleased with the result and even more pleased with the patch that I had to put on it where it burnt through too much.

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You can see this flag and the other two in the series at The Archive Project@The Cello Factory from 4-12 May 2017.