Tag Archives: natural pigments

New Work

I have finally finished a piece of work using hand-collected and hand-ground clay and chalk: substances that connect the materiality of the environment, the actual matter that landscape is made up of, and the utilitarian use of cloth in a coastal environment.

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It has taken me all summer to try and get this process to work to my satisfaction. The problems have mainly been with trying to get the clay or chalk ground to a fine enough powder to combine successfully with a binder. I have come to realise that hand grinding will only get me so far  – I’ll need machines to make the pigment really fine.

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I’ve also tried using a suspension method to get really fine grains by letting the chalk or clay sit in water so the heavy grains drop to the bottom leaving the lighter, finer grains to be suspended in the water and to be poured off. The process is repeated until the grains are fine enough. This has been more successful but it is a lot more time consuming and there is more wastage.

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This first piece uses two processes to colour the cloth. The first is a process I have used before and in this instance I placed part of the work into the sea so that the sewn eyelets rust. The second process uses yellow clay and hand-ground chalk, collected from the cliffs at West Runton, and combined with a mixture wax and linseed oil. This concoction is a traditional way of treating canvas sails in order to preserve and protect them. Read more about this  here.

P1010860I’m calling this series of works, Groundcloths, and this work is half of a work I’m calling Coiled. It is the first of two coiled pieces and I’ve already started making the second, companion piece. It is made from linen, wire, hand-collected and hand-ground, hand-collected and hand-ground yellow clay, seawater, linseed oil and wax and measures 30 x 30 x 10 cm.

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I have two group exhibitions next year and the 2 coiled pieces will be for one of them, although I haven’t decided which yet.

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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?

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!