Category Archives: making

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.

 

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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.

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.

 

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.