Tag Archives: creek

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Painting and drawing

Everyone is back where they should be after the Easter holidays and suddenly I find myself on on my own for a couple of days. Although I have things I should be getting on with, I decide to take a break and do some painting and drawing.

So, this is how a near perfect day on my own goes:

  1. Go to the art shop and buy a couple of sheets of lovely 300gsm watercolour paper.
  2. Stop off on the way home at Morston quay and buy a cup of coffee from the National Trust shop.
  3. Drink coffee and take in the view and general hustle and bustle (boats being put in the water for the first time this year, dog walkers, seal boats loading up to take people out to Blakeney Point). Enjoy the sunshine.
  4. Follow the path along the creek and across the marsh with sketchbook and pencil in hand.
  5. Stop every now and again and draw what catches the eye.

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  1. Lunch
  2. Get out painting equipment, put on music (Bach, Brandenburg Concerto’s) and spend the rest of the afternoon painting (keep half an eye on the morning’s drawings but paint mainly from memory).

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The Sluice Creek Cloths

There is only a week to go before the Knitting & Stitching show! Nearly everything is packed up in copious amounts of bubblewrap and I am running around deciding on slightly strange things like how to transport 2 buckets of dry sand without it spilling out everywhere. Today I’ll give you a bit of information about the main part of the Moments of Being body of work – The Sluice Creek Cloths.

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Sluice Creek is a tidal inlet just off the main channel at Wells-next-the-Sea. It runs north/south and narrows to the north in a labyrinth of seemingly endless inlets and creeks. It is a quiet place but at the same time it teems with life and movement – there is always something new and interesting to see and experience.

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The Sluice Creek Cloths are inspired by the memory of encounters with physical processes that I have encountered whilst out walking or sailing: the sun moving over the marsh and creating shadows, the clink of halyards knocking against masts, the shape of a bend in the creek or the way saltwater marks my clothes.

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I have invested a huge amount of time and effort in these cloths and they have taken me about 18 months to make. There are seven cloths in the series. Each one is made from linen and hangs double over a shiny, varnished pole. The mark I have chosen to use as my personal notation for this body of work is the hole. It is a space – an immaterial emptiness that is surrounded by a physical material that describes its shape and allows us to see a nothing. The holes I have sewn into the linen of The Sluice Creek Cloths are edged with thread-bound iron wire. These evoke the small metal eyelets and fastenings that are in tarpaulins, boat covers and sails found in a coastal environment. Each cloth has been dipped in the sea several times to rust the eyelets and to mark the cloth.
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The information I have written over the past three posts has come from a book that I have designed and self-published to accompany the Moments of Being exhibition. It is a 20 x 20cms, soft-covered book with 60 pages. It includes text that describes my inspiration and way of working and has photographs that I have taken myself of the work and the environment that inspired it. It will be on sale at the show next week. It will also be on sale  after the show in my shop.
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Do come and say hello if you are there!

Marshscape Collage

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It is only three weeks now until the Knitting and Stitching show and I have finished making all the work for my gallery. There are just the fiddly (but surprisingly time consuming) things left to do to make sure that everything is in perfect order – finishing off, sewing in ends, thinking about what I need to actually hang the work and other paper/computer related things.

I thought that in the lead up to the show I would give you a taste of what I will be showing and a short explanation of the work’s inspiration. First the title of the work – Moments of Being.

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Moments of Being is a concept that occurs in an essay by Virginia Woolf called A Sketch of the Past. In it she wonders why it is that some ordinary, but powerful memories rise above the forgotten trivia of everyday life. She concludes that there are two types of experience: moments of non-being and of being. Moments of non-being are experiences that one lives through but are not consciously aware of, whereas a moment of being is a flash of conscious awareness.

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My new body of work is inspired by a series of vividly remembered encounters and engagements with the marshes and beach of the North Norfolk coastline. I have taken my own quite ordinary, but powerful, recollections to form the basis of the work. Each work notates the memory of a commonplace event or observation: the sun moving over the marsh and creating shadows, the clink of halyards knocking against masts, the shape of a bend in the creek or the way saltwater marks my clothes. These are not unusual experiences, but are personal and intensely remembered moments.

The last of this work to be finished is a set of 16 small Marshscape Collages and so I’ll start there. The collages are mounted on thick board and framed with a waxed cloth border. They are 20 x 20 cms each.

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The collages have been created intuitively. They are images of the Norfolk coastline that come from my memory: the shape of a bend in the creek, the rocking of moored boats or the outline of the saltmarsh. They are about shape, colour, light and space. I have made them from bits pulled out of my big bag of odds and ends (mainly unfinished or discarded work and left-overs) and specially painted paper and cloth. It is rather like doing a puzzle. I move shapes and colours around until they suddenly jump into the right place – what Sandra Blow calls that ‘startling rightness’.

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The first of the Knitting & Stitching shows is at Alexandra Palace, London from 5 – 9 October. Please do come and say hello to me if you are there.

Last walk in Wells

I am back in Thames Ditton after 10 (very hard-working) weeks in Wells. Although I’m sad to leave, I’m looking forward to a busy autumn. I have finished all the work for the Knitting & Stitching shows and I only have the details to sort out now. As a result I am beginning to feel a little bit excited!

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I went for a last stroll around Wells just after sunset last night. It was getting dark and it felt as if I was marking my territory until the next time I can be there which probably won’t be until after the London Show at Alexandra Palace

Here is what I saw as the light gradually faded.

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Gun Hill

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Despite the fact that it has rained just about everyday for the last few weeks the paths along the edge of the marsh are dry. In winter they are permanently wet and muddy – too muddy to walk along without wellies. However the irregular intervals of warm sun and wind at this time of year, coupled with a week of small tides, means that the paths have dried out to a crazy paving of cracked mud and they are now negotiable.

I reach the hut (portacabin) where I was hoping to sit and draw but someone is there before me, perched on a convenient ledge, face up to the sun and quietly enjoying the heat. This is a favourite spot and I have sat here and drawn many times. I move on and find a dry, sand-pebbled spot at the end of the point overlooking the Scolt Head channel.

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The tide is out and there are many birds poking about in the mud. A group of oystercatchers chirp continuously with their ‘peeping’ call. They run around on short, red legs and then suddenly rise up, black and white stripy wings flashing in the light, only to land a few yards away, to continue feeding, talking and bickering – a typical family.

A streak of white comes in from the left and lands. Elegant legs and a crooked neck. A little egret stands out brightly against the dark mud. These egrets are a common sight here now on the marshes. At this distance I can’t see its bright yellow feet.

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Gulls wheel on the thermals and a skylark rises up from the dunes behind me. Its melodious song strengthens as it flaps its wings and climbs higher and higher. It is still singing half an hour later as I get up and walk on.

Sluice Creek

You close your eyes and see

the stillness of
the mullet-nibbled arteries, samphire
on the mudflats almost underwater,
and on the saltmarsh whiskers of couch-grass
twitching, waders roosting, sea-lavender
faded to ashes.

From Here, at the Tide’s Turning, Kevin Crossley-Holland

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The work I have been concentrating on for the past 9 months is for the autumn Knitting and Stitching shows and is, as always, inspired by the North Norfolk coast. It comprises a major new body of work The Sluice Creek Cloths.

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Sluice Creek is a narrowing watercourse that runs off the main channel at Wells-next-the-Sea and from it spring a network of meandering creeks and tributaries. Running through the saltings its banks are rich with mud, sea lavender, samphire and birds. Rotting posts, the remains of bridges and jetties, dot its edges. On the highest tides the whole area is totally covered by water but at low tide the water drains away to leave a slick, shining surface rich in nutrients and teeming with life. It is a complex, ever-changing place and I have sailed here at high tide and walked over the mud. I know it well, but its twice daily ebb and flow  means there is a continuous transformation and it hasn’t given up all its secrets to me yet.

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The cloths reflect a series of vividly remembered encounters and engagements with this place: things I have heard and seen and noticed.  Each work notates an ordinary but memorable, event: the movement of the tides, the sun moving over the marsh and creating shadows, the clink of halyards knocking against masts, the call of a curlew or the moment the moon rises above the horizon.

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So far I have made four cloths and I hope there will be more. I’m not ready to show them yet (I will do before long), so in the meantime I have been playing around with my new printing press and these drypoint, collograph and carborundum prints are trials! They are of Sluice Creek and are drawn from memory.

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Words

I’ve been thinking about how I record and document the experience of my surroundings.

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Of course I use my eyes, and at first looking appears to be the dominant sense.  As I walk I’m mindful of what is going on around me  – I literally have to look where I’m going – but it is only when I sit still that I really begin to pay attention.  Stillness allows me to take time to search out detail and choose what is worthy of recording. I look, but I also listen and feel and smell (I don’t taste very often!). My senses shift from listening, to looking, to feeling as I become aware of the change and movement around me. It seems that one sense always dominates and the other senses back it up. If I hear a sound I look for it. If I see a movement I listen for evidence of it. If I stub my toe I look for the cause. Nothing happens in isolation and I need all senses to fully comprehend.

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‘wind in the reeds sets them waving and shifting – red/green movement – a huge continuous rushing and swooshing’.

So how do I record these sensory noticings? Drawing? Photograph? Sound recording? I do all of these things. Although texture is visually referred to in drawing and photographs and a visual picture jumps into your mind of what is being listened to in a sound recording, I like to complement these documentations with words and my sketchbook has as many pages of writing as it has drawings.

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‘the tide has moved the mud into ridges along the sides of the meandering rivulet. The sun catches them and casts deep shadows. A curlew calls’.

Sometimes I write down simple facts: the weather, the sounds I hear, colour and changes of light. I have a great fondness for lists: lists of birds I’ve seen (if I know their names), lists of objects found and just lists of words. I love a Thesaurus and I frequently write a list of synonyms for one word  (I find it can spark new ideas) and I love it when I discover a new word. Often I write a single sentence noting a change of light or how a bird calls as it takes off from the marsh. Finally I write pages of noticings that are a stream of consciousness – observations (not great works of literature) that I scribble down as they occur.

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‘Sea Roar – white noise

Higher sssssh – continuous – slightly wavering

You can’t hear the waves breaking.

There is no rhythm.

There is no source – it is enveloping.

The higher and lower sounds come forward and recede so that neither is more prominent that the other.’

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Words are a complement to my drawing and although I seldom make work that comes directly from either of these activities, the discipline of recording ensures that I stop, take notice and fully document each phenomenological observation. I am always searching for something new and the knowledge I gain through the process of documentation widens my scope and gives me a greater understanding and thus more possibility as I start creating.

Three Watercolours

I haven’t got any textile work to show you at the moment – I’m plugging away at a (large) cloth that I hope I will have finished sewing before Christmas. It is slow going, but I enjoy sitting down with radio 4 and stitching myself into a reverie. When my fingers get too sore (actually the inside tip of my right index finger) I put down the cloth and get on with something else. A couple of days ago I decided to tear up a sheet of rather nice Hot Pressed watercolour paper and do some drawing. Here are the results. They are all done from memory.

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Why worry

I’m in the middle of a busy period with exhibitions to get ready for here and here and workshops to prepare (here). At the same time I’m working on a new body of work that will be shown at the Knitting and Stitching Show 2016. I know that seems a long way off but things take a long time to create and realise and already I’m feeling the pressure. There will be a lot more about this in the future but for the time being I’m keeping things under my hat!

Here are a few photos taken on a recent walk to Morston to be getting on with. I think that the name of the boat in the foreground is particularly apt ….

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