Tag Archives: landscape

Iceland collection

Some of you who follow my Instagram page will have seen some of the objects that I collected on my recent trip to Iceland. I have been mulling these over for the past month and have been stumped as to how to use them. I’ve got as far as making a ‘tray’ for them, which I then stuck in the window to look at and ponder.

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These objects serve as a reminder of place (indeed I can remember exactly where and when I collected each one), and even out of context their place of origin remains embedded, for me, within them. I could of course just leave them as they are to serve as artworks in their own right and they look quite nice sitting there on the tray in the sunshine. But I believe that the hand of the artist is important and that any artworks that might be created in response to them will be a more powerful and dynamic response to place.

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So, what to do?

First I asked simple questions about this particular collection of objects. What are they? Where did they come from? How did they get there? How long have they been there? These objects (there are more!) were found across two beaches in the North of Iceland. They are remains: mainly bones, but also some interesting dried seaweed and something that may be a tooth. The bones are obviously old and have been in the sea for a long time before being washed up on the beach. On many of them their lacy interior is revealed. I don’t know what animal the bones come from, but they are small, so my guess is a sheep…. Iceland has a lot of sheep. The wing-shaped bones, I think, are the breast bones of a bird.

P1030692Bone fragment

The beach on which I found the bones is on a small island in the middle of a fjord, and it obviously serves as a ‘net’, or a catchall where the local conditions of tide and current deposit detritus from near, and possibly far away. The beach was simply littered with bones and other natural detritus. I have never before seen such a quantity of small, white, broken bones collected together in one place; limb fragments, tiny jaw bones and other bone splinters mingled with black volcanic pebbles to create a rather disquieting resting place for broken animal remains.

P1030703Plaster relief of a bone fragment

These sea-worn remnants look old and their colour and surface remind me of plaster reproductions of plants, fossils and other natural objects that I have seen in other collections and cabinets of curiosities. It’s good to start with a simple idea, so I have started to make straight reproductions of some of my gathered objects out plaster. These plaster reliefs are just one step away from the real thing, but I have already started to make aesthetic judgements about them and to put my own stamp onto how they could look.

P1030706Plaster relief of a bone fragment

I’m not used to working with plaster and I’m enjoying the process of finding out what it will do – I’m amazed at the detail that it is able to pick up. Already I have ideas. Once I start playing and exploring I hope that it will be a short step to a less literal interpretation of these reminders of place.

P1030689Plaster relief of a bone fragment

PS. As you can see the new studio is starting to look more busy. Things are still in disarray and I need to get everything off the floor because of the possible flood risk, but I am very much enjoying the space and slowly getting to know what I need to make this a working studio and where it should all go.

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Wells Art Trail

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I’ve just had a wonderful 2 weeks driving around the whole of Iceland. However, I’m not going to talk about that at the moment although I’m sure that in the near future new work will come out of the drawing and writing that I did on my way round the island. If you’d like a flavour of the trip, pop over to my Instagram page where I posted a few highlights.

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Whilst I was away my work for the Wells Maltings Heritage Art Trail was put up on the quay at Wells by the Maltings hanging team. They have done a fantastic job! It was a thrill to come back and to see my piece hanging between two tall boat masts; gently flapping in the breeze and repeated as its shadow was reflected by the sun on the building behind.

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The work is called View from the Shipwright’sand it is a representation of the view across Wells Harbour from the residence next to where it hangs on the quay at the East End of Wells called the Shipwrights. The building was formerly a pub called the Shipwright’s Arms and its name gives a clue to the approximate location of a previous boatyard.

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The work is 2850 x 117 cm and it combines my own artistic practices with simple sail-making and knotwork techniques. It is protected from the weather in the traditional way using bitumen, beeswax and linseed oil. I hope that the materials will do the job over the three months that it will be hanging there.

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During the 19thcentury the main livelihood in Wells was the trading of grain and coal up and down the coast and many wooden sailing vessels would have been tied up against quay. There were two shipwrights in the town who built and maintained these elegant vessels and provided them with ropes and sails.

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View from the Shipwright’s is inspired by the ‘soft’ materials the boatyard’s sailmaker would have used in the 19thcentury: canvas, thread and rope, and uses bitumen and a traditional concoction of beeswax and linseed oil to preserve and protect it from the degenerative effects of the weather. Looking across the marsh from the Shipwright’s Arms 200 years ago a sail maker would have recognised the contours of the land and sea depicted in my work.

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There are 17 works in Wells Heritage Arts Trail that has been curated by John and Yvonne Milwood and each work has been created especially for the event. The trail takes you around the quay at Wells and onto the beach and it runs from 23 June until Sunday 30 September 2018. There is a free trail guide that can be picked up from the Maltings on Staithe Street, Wells.

 

Skylark

The sun is out, and I am walking behind the dunes at Holkham with no coat on. After all the recent rain spring seems to have finally arrived and there is no better reminder than hearing the skylarks sing high in the sky above the marsh.

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The skylark, Alauda arvensis, is a small, non-descript brown bird, but its song is a complete joy. Rising from the ground it flaps its wings faster and faster to gain height, and as it flies upwards it sings. Its song goes on and on and on without a pause. If you stop and listen, it is more likely that you will give up listening before it stops singing. What is more astounding is that it doesn’t seem to stop for a breath.

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Being a flautist, I’m interested in breathing and I wondered if, like didgeridoo players, oboeists, and other wind players they could do circular breathing. Circular breathing allows for continuous sound. It is a technique where you breath in and fill your cheeks with air and then with the next breath, simultaneously squeeze out air from your mouth and breath in through your nose. It’s horrendously difficult and I never mastered the procedure.

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However, skylarks and indeed all birds can do it. Their respiration system is different to ours and their circular breaths allow for their song to continue almost endlessly.

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On Holkham beach, with the dunes and the sea beyond to my left and the skylarks singing above I am reminded of one of my favourite poems by Gerald Manley Hopkins, The Sea and the Skylark. In the first two verses he compares the sound of the sea, both low and high tides, and the musical sound of the skylark. Here they are:

On ear and ear two noises too old to end
Trench—right, the tide that ramps against the shore;
With a flood or a fall, low lull-off or all roar,
Frequenting there while moon shall wear and wend.

Left hand, off land, I hear the lark ascend,
His rash-fresh re-winded new-skeinèd score
In crisps of curl off wild winch whirl, and pour
And pelt music, till none’s to spill nor spend.

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I’m sorry not to have been able to take a sound recording for you, but have a listen to the skylark’s music pelting down from the sky here.

Leading lights

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Recently two red and white triangles have appeared in the trees on the dune behind the last beach hut on Wells beach. The Wells Harbour website (I keep my eye on this for news when in Surrey) tells me that they are refurbished and reinstated channel transits. The triangles, which are visible offshore, are placed one above the other and when they appear in line, they indicate a safe course for boats in through the harbour entrance. At night they would originally have been lit by paraffin lamps, but now they appear to have up-to-date solar powered lights. These particular transits were in use from the 1700s to the mid 1900s. I have always known this type of signal as leading lights.

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As a child (and I must confess, still today) I was an avid reader of Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons books and anyone who has read them will remember the Swallows finding their way into the secret harbour on Wildcat Island at night with the use of leading lights.

Titty saw them, flickering among the trees and then disappearing again as they were hidden by big rocks south of the island.

John paddled on slowly.

‘There they are again,’ said Susan.

‘Close together,’ said Titty.

John turned round from his rowing and had a good look at two small stars twinkling over the water.

‘Right,’ he said, I’m going to do nothing but row if you’ll keep your eyes on the lights.’

‘Are they still close together?’ asked John.

‘Fairly close,’ said Susan.

‘Where is the top light?’ asked captain John.

‘A bit to the left of the low one,’ said Susan.

John pulled a stroke or two, pulling a little harder with his right. ‘Sing out as soon as it is just above it.’

‘It’s above it now. Now it’s a bit to the right of it.’

John pulled his left.

‘Above it.’

Tell me the moment it is one side or the other.’

‘The lights are exactly one above the other,’ said Susan.

John had shipped the oars and was now sculling over the stern.

‘The lights are quite close to us, ‘ said Roger, and as he said it there was a gentle scrunch as Swallow’s nose touched the soft, pebbly beach of the little harbour.

Captain John had used his leading lights for the first time, and had made his harbour in pitch dark.

 How exciting!

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The idea of a boat, or indeed a body in the landscape, having to move from left to right or up and down to get the correct view of something – to line it up – reminds me of research that I did during my MA about ideas of experiencing the environment. Anthropologist, Christopher Tilley writes in his book, The Materiality of Stone, ‘The body is continually improvising its relationship with things … constantly opening itself out to the world as it moves in it. The manner in which we sense the world remains forever incomplete and ambiguous because we always experience things from a particular point of view or relationship. The body is open to the world but things are always hidden from it.’

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The idea that I could make a piece of work that moves in and out of focus or that only appears as it should from one particular viewpoint is a powerful one. Different elements could line up, as with the leading lights, to make a whole. Or one part of the work could hide another, only to be revealed  as you move or peer around it. To actively walk around in order to experience a work would relate to the way we experience objects outside in the environment, where their size and shape appear to alter as we change our relationship to them. From different directions and with a different order of seeing, things do not have the appearance of sameness.

Seeing the Wells leading lights has got me thinking, but I’m not sure where this one is going yet …..

Sea shells

After a mad three months of almost constant teaching, making and exhibiting I made it up to Wells last night for a bit of a breather. The first thing I did this morning was to do my favourite walk at Burnham Overy Staithe.

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The clocks have jumped forward for spring and the sun has welcomed the time change. Walking north, out to the beach, the sun was on my back and for the first time this year I could feel its warmth. It’s hard to believe that this time last week I was battling in wind, snow and freezing temperatures.

P1020552Painted Top Shell Calliostoma zizyphinum

P1020556Common Whelk Buccinum Undatum

Coming out onto the beach at the end of Gun Hill (almost opposite Scolt Head) the first thing I noticed was that the contours of the beach had changed since the last time I was here. A few weeks ago the sand and shingle lay in deep grooves and channels, the result of strong tides and winds, but today it was totally flat. Last weekend a stormy north wind must have driven the waves up the beach, levelling the sand down to a uniformly even surface.

P1020549Common Mussel Mytilus edulis

P1020564Common Periwinkle Littorina littorea

As always my eyes drift down to the ground just in front of my feet and I pick up and discard shells and pebbles: a mussel, a razor clam and a cockle, shells that are always found on the beaches around here. Some I put into my pocket. And then I find a very familiar shell – a slipper shell. These shells were a constant in my childhood where I found them in great quantities on the the beaches of the south coast. They look like little shoes, hence their name, and are just the right shape to slip your thumb into. They are quite unusual up here on the North Norfolk coast, but I find another, and another – how odd! Walking along the tideline other strangers turn up: a periwinkle and a small pointed shell that I recognise but can’t name. I slip them in my pocket and head for the dunes to sit in the sun and drink a cup of coffee. Lining the shells up on the sand in front of me I do some very quick line drawings in my sketchbook.

P1020560Slipper Limpet Crepidula fornicata

When I get home I look up the names of the shells I don’t know and I also find out a bit more about where different types of shells are commonly found. Bivalve molluscs have two hinged shells and are generally found on sandy beaches. The wide, open sandy seabed offers no protection from predators so they burrow into the sand to hide. We have hundreds of razor shells, cockles and mussels here and this is obviously the right habitat for them. On the other hand gastropods, which have a single, often spiral shell are more often found on rocky shores where they can hide amongst the seaweed which grows there. My ‘stranger’ shells would normally be found in this habitat and I wonder if the storm last weekend has stirred up the seabed and deposited these strangers here, away from their normal setting?

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I love it when I notice something unusual – these unexpected occurrences are what bring me back here again and again.

 

Colour from the landscape – Painting

As promised, here are the paintings done using the watercolour paint that I made from materials gathered whilst walking in the landscape. I have named the colours: Cley red, West Runton yellow, Wells black, Hunstanton white and West Runton white.

They were done working quickly and from memory on A4 ‘rough’ watercolour paper. I also used a neutral oil pastel and a soft graphite stick. The paints make soft colours that are perfect for capturing the sights and sounds of the marshes and beaches of the North Norfolk coast.

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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.