Tag Archives: chalk

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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?

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Experimenting

As an artist who uses cloth I am very interested in how it is used in the landscape that I am trying to evoke. I take great inspiration from sails and tarpaulins that can be found everywhere here on the coast and recently I have been researching traditional ways of preserving and waterproofing them.

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Nowadays, sails are made from highly technical synthetic materials that won’t shrink, rot or stretch out of shape when battered by the wind and weather. But before these fabrics were in common use, sails were made of canvas and linen – fabrics that will degenerate quickly if they are not treated with a preservative. I often use canvas and linen in my work and so it is appropriate to look at traditional ways of preserving these types of cloth.

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There are several traditional ways that sailors and fishermen would preserve sails, ropes and nets. Tanning or barking is a process of boiling sailcloth in a solution of cutch, an extract of the plant Acacia Catechu that is very high in natural tannins. This process turns the sail a reddish/brown and gives protection from the elements, but the sail remains absorbent and becomes heavy in wet weather.

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I find the process of ‘dressing’ sails with linseed oil, wax and ochre more intriguing. The mixture is spread on both sides of the sail and penetrates the cloth to create a barrier that protects it from the wet. Despite the fear that the linseed oil coated cloth would spontaneously combust (!), I have made some samples and hung them up in a well ventilated room to dry.

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Since using chalk that I had collected, hand ground and turned into distemper in a recent piece of work, I have been keen to use other natural materials collected from the environment. I thought that I could easily replace ochre in the dressing mixture with another material and for the past couple of weeks I have been looking for a substitute on my walks along the beach. Red clay from Cley beach and sea-coal from the East Hills in Wells have proved to be worthy alternatives.

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When I first made these samples I was disappointed. I thought they looked like dirty scraps of cloth with no aesthetic appeal. However, I looked at them again a couple of days ago and the drying process has greatly improved their appearance and touch and I think there could be some potential.

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Now the linseed oil is less sticky and smelly, the yellow/brown oil, wax, and coarsely ground red clay turns the cloth a wonderful, translucent terracotta and similarly coarse-ground sea-coal gives texture. I’ve also mixed some of my previously ground chalk with oil and wax and the mixture gives a dense, creamy coating that gently cracks when manipulated.

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These are my first experimental samples. They need a lot of refining and I should spend longer processing the clay and sea-coal and trying out different proportions of oil and wax.  But I have ideas …… I’ll keep you updated!

Chalk Ground installation

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Yesterday I spent the day at St Margaret’s church in Cley-next-the-Sea installing my work ‘Chalk Ground’ and I’m very happy with how it looks. I never know quite how things will be until the work is in situ and often something unexpected shows itself as it is put in place. In this case it was the light.

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It was a bright day and the sun was pouring through the beautiful window above. I knew that the fine wires hovering over the top of the ‘tubes’ would catch the light but I hadn’t realised how much the work would change as the sun moved westwards throughout the day.

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In the morning shafts of sunlight highlighted the lefthand side of the work and as the hours passed the light gradually moved along the 2 metre work, accenting or leaving in shadow different sections until finally by late afternoon the sun had moved away and the work was in the shade.

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I love to work with the specific conditions of a space and to be able to manipulate the work to fit the setting. In this instance I added more wires to increase the shimmering miasma above …… the beautiful light was a very welcome and serendipitous addition!

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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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.