Category Archives: noticing

Contrasts

What a difference a couple of weeks can make! Two weeks ago I was in the far west of  Cornwall. After a fantastic first day everything rather went down hill. Firstly, I got a cold (the first for 2 years), and secondly the weather deteriorated into rain (heavy at times) and gales. It made for exciting conditions, standing on the top of cliffs, looking down at huge, rolling waves and being battered by force 8 winds. The conditions meant that I didn’t manage to do as much drawing as I had hoped, however, the rain did stop occasionally, the sun did make an appearance (rarely), I did manage a few walks and some sketching was done.

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Looking to Pendeen watch from east of Porthmeor Beach. Grey Granite. Green grass. Grey/blue sea. Grey/blue sky is lighter than the sea which has a softly edged dark stripe along the horizon.

The landscape in Cornwall is vibrant.  The colours are strong and the lines and forms of the land and water are dynamic. All around there is constant activity and movement. When I was there the noise of the wind and the waves was tremendous; it filled the ears and was a real presence. I draw fast, moving pencil, pen and paint over the paper at speed: look, scribble, look, scribble. It is an energetic response to a vigorous landscape.

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Looking down on a boiling sea and rock stack at Porthmeor Beach. Jade green/blue sea. White/jade waves froth around the rocks.

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Rocks at Kynance Cove.

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Cliffs at Kynance Cove.

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Deep black gully looking back from Gurnard’s head.

Back here in Wells on the far east side of the country the contrast couldn’t have been more different this weekend as there were clear, bright days with hot sunshine. Sitting at the beachhut early in the morning, I watched the beach gradually fill with people coming to enjoy the summer sunshine. The long horizontal lines of the landscape languidly mingle and intertwine and although the light is brilliant there is still a subtle blue/grey cast to its colour. Everything appears calm.  Even the incoming tide, that creeps slowly over the sand, filling gullies and submerging exposed sandbanks, moves so slowly it is almost indiscernible. There is movement and change but, at the moment, it is a much quieter energy than that of the Cornish landscape. I draw a line, look and then draw another line. I smooth and gently wash the paint across the paper, filling the brush with colour and letting it drip and mingle as it will. It is a considered response to a contemplative landscape.

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The tide is coming in. The sun is bright with a westerly wind. The sky is cloudless and the sea is a shade darker. A dark line on the horizon.

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British Sharpie Championship lining up for the star of the race. The sound of the hooter carries (loudly) over the water.

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Bunched up before the race.

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A beautiful brown sail boat (runs) sails past the gap in the dunes.

Thankfully the cold has gone!

Cornwall walk – On Gurnard’s Head

About 1.30 pm. Brilliant sunshine with white/grey streaky clouds. A strong westerly wind.

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I have been walking along the SW coastal path all morning and have just arrived at Gurnard’s Head, a small headland on the North coast of Cornwall. With a tricky scramble over rocks I’ve managed to reach a rocky outcrop high above the sea. Exposed to the Atlantic I feel exhilarated.

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I’m facing into the wind and looking straight out to sea. Behind me are cliffs and at 10 o’clock, in the far distance on another jutting headland, is the Pendeen Watch lighthouse. The granite rocks at the bottom of the cliffs are brilliant with yellow lichen – they shine, slick with seawater, in the bright sun.

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In stark contrast, rising up behind the glassy rocks, are deep, dark fissures that have been worn into the cliffs by millennia of pounding seas. The shadows of these clefts are rendered so dark by the glaring sun that no detail can be seen within them. Small white seagulls wheel in and out of the black gullies, briefly showing in relief against the darkness before disappearing as they are backed by a white and blue sunlit sea. They glide round in slow, lazy loops, in turn emerging and vanishing.

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As I face directly into the wind, it roars uninterruptedly in both ears. I only have to turn my head slightly to the left or right and the sound fades. I like the slightly chilly wind on my face in the warm sun.

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Beneath me the sea boils. Waves constantly beat the rocks below; frothing up and pulling back. One rock slopes at 45 degrees into the sea. Pounded by waves, it is submerged in a coat of white sea spume before reappearing as the swell drags the beaten water back down again into the jade/blue translucent morass.

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The sea is rarely like this in Wells. There, its soft grey/blue flatness creeps slowly backwards and forwards tide after tide. Here, on this part of the Cornish coast, the sea is energetic, heaving, rolling and frothed. Each wave is dashed violently against the land, its energy exhausted as it is flung upwards and outwards.

My Place

After several weeks of intense teaching, making work and travelling I am back in Wells for a couple of weeks before putting up The Archive Project exhibition in London at the beginning of May. I went down to the beach this afternoon for a walk and it is really good to be back here.

I have just returned from Switzerland where I was teaching an ‘Exploring Place’ workshop and it was wonderful to explore and discover a new environment. The weather was as good as it could have been with sunshine and clear blue skies and the long reaching views of mountains weaving together into the far distance were beautiful …. but it’s not home. It’s not the place that calls and that feels right.

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This afternoon it was a bit grey, although blue patches (enough to make a sailor’s trousers) gave the promise of clearer skies. There was a cold westerly wind and the tide was out. First impressions were that it was rather bleak and there wouldn’t be much to see. But, as always, as I walked a story emerged.

At low tide the contours of the beach are revealed. These change frequently, often from tide to tide. Water is trapped in hollows and small channels, that I call ‘sea rivers’.

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Oystercatchers were stepping around and about the shallow water and as I approached they took off, flying further down the beach with their ‘peep, peep’ call.

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Footprints left in the sand show their frenetic activity.

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The gusting wind freckled the water on the sea rivers …..

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and blew dry sand across the wet beach.

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Wind and water combine to produce an ever-changing picture.

It’s lovely to go away and have new experiences but it’s even better to come back.

And again the wind

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On the beach a stiff wind.

But in the pinewoods – stillness.

 

A slow crescendo. A gust gently swells

And its hastening rush journeys around from treetop to treetop before quietening.

 

Again the wind touches the trees, but its voice comes from another direction.

In the woods it is difficult to pinpoint its bearing.

 

Again the wind swells.

The sound of dry, cracking wood as its intensity peaks.

Dropping pinecones. Trees crack.

 

A wood-pigeon flies past and lands clumsily with flapping wings and a clatter.

Then, coo-coooo-roo-cu-cu, coo-coooo-roo-cu-cu.

 

And again the wind swells.

Trees gently sway.

Far away, seagull cry, and traffic rumble. Dog walkers walk wordlessly past.

 

And again the wind swells.

Above, a longer, more sustained gust dies and builds repeatedly.

On the ground – stillness.

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Sampling

There has been no let up since the Knitting & Stitching shows at the end of last year! I’ve had to slam straight into gear and put my mind to the next (very busy) six months. Before the end of June I have two exhibitions to make substantial new work for (more on these later) and a workshop, Exploring Place, that is happening in an environment, about which, I haven’t previously made work.

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It is very important, to me, that the materials and processes I use reflect the environment that I am working in. Previously, the Exploring Place workshop has taken place in a coastal environment and so my support material doesn’t apply in this instance as it is taking place inland, in the mountains and woods of southern Switzerland.

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So, I’ve been out in the field. I’ve been exploring the beech woods of the Surrey hills, and the pinewoods that back the beach in Norfolk; collecting information, documenting it, collecting specimens and making work that evokes this type of environment.

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The students and I will be looking, listening and touching outside in the woods, and these drawings and small works reflect some of the ideas and techniques we will be exploring.

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Walk 3 – Hunstanton

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Hunstanton is a bit out of my way. I know it’s only a fifteen miles along the coast but it’s not a place a generally go out of my way to visit. However, recently I wanted to go and look at the stripy, white, red and orange chalk cliffs as research for a new piece of work.

These are the notes from my sketchbook:

‘Grey/white on top – brick red below.

Gulls nesting on ledges – croaking calls.

Grass – thin layer- on top.

 

 The cliffs come to an abrupt and brutal end as they turn the corner.

Sharp ridges and ledges where the cliff face has fallen away.

Fissures diagonally across its face.

Grass clinging.

 

Underneath, brick red chalk holds up white chalk.

Large chalk boulders at the base of the cliff.

Smaller chalk stones and pebbles are washed away from the base of the cliff and have been dragged over the beach by the sea’s action.

 

Bleak, stark, uncared for.

North-west facing – dank, cold, damp.

I imagine the sun rarely reaches the cliff face and so never has the chance to dry out.

Green/grey coating to the white chalk.

Grass in all the crevices.

Large mossy stones on the beach.’

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The looming cliffs cut out any warm southerly light; the beach is in shadow and the resulting cold and damp isn’t helped by a wintery day and a sharp northerly wind. I collect a few chalk pebbles to experiment with – they are freezing cold – and hurry back to the car. I need a cup of coffee …. perhaps it this place would feel more welcoming in the summer.

Walk 2 – Burnham Overy State

Winter. It is a grey, drizzly day that bodes only to get worse. However, I decide to go out for a walk anyway. As I pull onto the hard standing at Burnham Overy Staithe my first thought is, ‘I should have bought my camera!’. Although the wide grey sky is giving off a surprising amount of light, everything before me is drained of colour and blurred in the mist. It is a monochrome landscape. There is detail in the foreground, but horizontal lines of mud, water and sand dune fade into the haze.

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The raised dyke is slippery. Flints stick up out of the mud; slick and shiny, they add to the feeling of instability underfoot and I have to look at the ground to stop myself from slipping. A few yards on the path gets better and I can look up – there are birds everywhere. It’s low tide and they are dotted, like tiny ants, across the wet, silvery marsh. They are too far away to make out what they are, but with binoculars each one is revealed and there is a huge variety feeding on the mud: Dunlin, redshank, several curlews, and a couple of golden plovers. Suddenly a flock of lapwing rise up into the sky, their frilly wings flap as they twist and turn; dancing in the sky.

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I walk on and movements on all sides grab my attention. A great flock of Brent geese fly over in formation; as they pass over more come in from the west. They are looking for a place to land and graze. The formation breaks as they glide down towards the marsh and chaos breaks out as each bird tries to find a space to land. Their chattering calms to a contented honk as they begin to feed.

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The mud flats are slick and shiny, and in this misty, light they are devoid of colour. Deep channels are cut into the smooth, flat surface by the actions of the tides and here meandering black shadows echo the outline of dunes in the distance. Almost colourless tones of layered marsh and mud fade to the feint smudge of horizon.

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A tinkling, tinselly sound catches my ear: goldfinches. A flock of these small birds fly in from behind and land on a bush just ahead of me. As I get nearer, they rise up and I catch small flashes of yellow as they flit through the air before swooping down into a small bush just ahead. This game is repeated several times more as I follow them along the dyke. Finally, they rise up for a final time and dart off over the marsh to find a new feeding place.

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At the beach it’s really too cold to sit, but with a cup of coffee from the flask I note down the birds out on the sand. In the distance, by the sea edge are a flock of cormorants holding their wings out to dry. Closer in along a curving sea-river are more redshank, oystercatchers, dunlin and a ruff. Just in front of me two turnstones are pecking around in the tideline; there must be goodness amongst the dying sea debris.

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As I turn to walk back along the dyke I notice that the clouds have lifted. Maybe there is a hint of sun low on the horizon. Everything definitely seems brighter and more defined out here on the marsh.