Category Archives: mapping

The protective coast – 2

Last time I spoke about some of the research I have been doing around tidal surges and rising sea levels, and the ability of salt marshes to protect the coast by buffering wave actions from the force of the sea.

P1050764Ordnance Survey Norfolk Sheet 111 SE, 1907, 2nd edition.

This is a concern that is very real here in Wells. During the last tidal surge, in 2013, hard defences protected the west of the town – the floodgate was deployed and a glass flood wall held back the huge sea – however to the east of the flood defences the water built up flooding local businesses and houses along the quay. The solution for future surges could be to allow the eastern marsh, Slade Marsh, to flood. Lowering the height of the sea wall (or possibly removing it altogether) would relieve the pressure created by the ‘hard’ defences during exceptional tides by releasing the high water over the marsh and farm land and therefore protecting the buildings along the quay. This of course sounds counter-intuitive but this area used to be a place where the tide regularly flowed before the land was reclaimed for farming in around 1719.

P1050753Sample 1 – taken directly from map

My studio sits to the east end of the town and during the 2013 surge the water rose up flooding the building to about 1 metre (a former occupant has marked the level). This issue is of importance me.

P1050754Sample 2 – taken directly from map

So where to start with a project that addresses some of these concerns? Well I decided to start with a map of Wells and in particular the area to the east of the town. The map is an Edward Stanford Ordnance Map of Wells, dated 1907. It was very kindly given to me by a friend (thank you Helen Terry) and shows the creeks, the marsh and the town very clearly and in great detail.

P1050755Sample 3 – taken directly from map

When you don’t know what to do, or which direction to take, I think it is often best to start simply, and in this case I began by just copying parts of the map. I like that these first efforts depict the creeks as they were over 100 years ago as it gives me scope to research the changes that have actually occurred since then.

P1050757Sample 4 – Using shapes from my observation of the landscape and ‘colouring in’

The samples are 50 x 50 cm, sewing cotton on painted linen. The white on blue hints at blueprint maps. I have to say I really like these first three samples and learnt quite a lot stitching them, but they are much too literal…. too map-like.  So my next move was to come away from the obvious map shapes and to use shapes that come from my own observations of the landscape.

P1050756Sample 5 – Making marks with white paint and then stitching

Again, I feel they are sterile – there is nothing for the imagination to work with. So, I tried making my own marks with paint rather than just ‘colouring in’ and there is much here that I like, especially where in sample 5 the paint looks like a stain that is almost accidental.


Sample 6 – Making marks with white paint and then stitching. 

I thought I might be ready to make a larger version – to make a ‘finished’ piece – but I put everything away for a week and now I look at them again I know I’m not ready to go bigger or finished. I like the fluid, wavering lines that suggest shifting boundaries. I like some of the painted marks. I like the distressed cloth background and the eyelets. But the imagined shapes in the later samples have no meaning for me.

P1050760Sample 7 – Making marks with white paint and then stitching. Couched wire.

My next move? Well I think to do more research. I need to walk the creek at low tide. Draw what I see and notice the effects of the water on the mud and the sand. And then I need to move inland and walk the sea wall and the fields behind – to look and to listen in order to really understand what is at stake here and to give meaning to the marks I paint and stitch.

This is a long term project and I have no idea how it will end. Maybe some of these ‘samples’ will turn out to be actual work (it often happens), but I intend to document each move here, so next up some drawing.


I am wrestling with making work at the moment – too many ideas means that I can’t settle comfortably to one thing. I jump around from one idea to the next, not really sure whether things are working or not. It’s a state I’ve been in before – I just have to keep going and remember wise words that I read somewhere (sorry I can’t remember where) and that is that if you know what you are doing you are not being creative.


Walking always helps – often ideas occur to me or connections are made as I walk myself into a meditative state. However, even though sometimes there is revelation, more often than not there is silence.


A couple of days ago I went down to the beach in-between rainy showers for a much needed breath of fresh air. The tide was coming in. Watching it flood over the sand flats and fill the dips and hollows in an inexorable movement forward is mesmerising. I find I have the need to map its coming in – to measure its flow. A quick line made in the sand with my foot marks a spot a few metres back from the edge. Waves ripple forwards in surges, back and forth, advancing and retreating, until the line is reached. It makes me think of my grandfather who always said that the seventh wave is bigger. I count the waves. This piece of folklore is not scientifically correct but there are occasional bigger waves and they seem to push the tide further in.



Watching and counting the waves I start to notice. The more I look, the more I notice and the more I make connections to what I see and what I think. Crossing lines of foamy water relate to small line drawings I have been doing recently. Tiny bubbles make me think of a different way of making holes in cloth. A small shred of bladder wrack that floats in connects to some salt and sand pieces I have been making and suggests something new.


A breath of fresh air has cleared my head and luckily this time I have found the impetus to go on.


Mapping place

I’ve done a lot of stitching recently – over one hundred eyelets so far and I’m not even half way there! I stitch myself into a meditative state and as I stitch I think (probably over think). I turn over haphazard ideas  trying to fit things together.  Every now and again I jump up to look something up in a book. I thought it was worth putting down these latest ponderings about the Soundmark pieces that I am making at the moment – they are central to what I am trying to achieve. ‘A more profound engagement must depend upon more than the visual, upon those things that remain invisible’. Tacita Dean  ‘Hearing structure and articulates the experience and understanding of space’. Juhani Pallasmaa P1230247 Understanding an environment or place is to understand how you sense it. Its light, its texture, its atmosphere and its sound – eyes, ears, hands, feet. It’s about time spent and the changes that take place over time. Its ups and downs, nears and fars, louds and softs, movements, rhythms and silences. P1230246 An understanding is not arrived at by just seeing, or just hearing or just feeling but by a mixture of all the senses together. P1230243 Take walking for instance. Your feet feel the ground. Your ears hear your footsteps as they beat a continuous rhythm on its surface. Your legs feel the slope – up or down, and as you breathe deeply your temperature rises. All around you sounds, both near and far, come and go. Your eyes confirm all of these sensations. P1230240 To map these sensations as an artwork is not to suggest the visual alone but to integrate all these feelings. Ups and downs (height) become highs and lows (pitch). Large and small (distance) become loud and soft (dynamic). Events – visual, aural and textural – that occur one after the other (succession and duration) are rhythms that happen in time. The gaps between, either spatial or durational become silences. P1230236 I think of these as a type of 3-dimensional graph: height as up/down or pitch, breadth as time and rhythm, depth as distance, either large/small or loud /soft. Uniting all of these sensations is texture: the visual, aural and haptic qualities of air, land and sea – atmosphere and weather, rock, earth and water. P1230237 The lines, shapes and forms of my artworks recall the contours, movements, rhythms and textures of the environment – water on the beach and marsh, air waves, sea waves and sound waves. They bring to mind things I have seen or heard or felt. They don’t describe but are ambiguous and can have several meanings: of sound, of sight, of touch. P1230239 The photos are small watercolour drawings.  They contain impressions, feelings and hearings done from memory and with imagination.