Earlier this month I was fortunate to be in Southern Italy, teaching at the wonderful Masseria della Zingara. We had a great week exploring the land around the Masseria, walking the lanes, collecting things to use in the studio and using various techniques to record our experience. We collected, printed, stained, wrote, stitched, wove, folded . . . and ate!
Spring was in full swing (which it certainly isn’t yet here in the UK!) and we were surrounded by fruit trees in blossom, beautiful wild flowers and a green lushness that I’m sure will have gone once the temperatures rise later in the year. The wonderful red earth in that part of Italy provides a striking foil for the colours of growth. And of course my travel reading had to be The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, which provides the story for one of my favourite films, a must-see at this time of year.
I have some work in this exhibition, which opens today at Bradford School of Arts & Media and runs until 27th April (Monday – Friday, 10 – 4). All are welcome to the Private View on Tuesday evening, 4 – 6.30pm.
Sunny, bright blue sky. Light wind. We walk across the beck and up the steep road, following the Cleveland Way. Fenced-off cliff-tops and a road that disappears into the void beyond the cliff edge. We follow ‘a line made by walking’ through a field of winter wheat, then on up the hill, climbing all the time, past cottages precariously positioned near the cliff edge. Last year’s bracken is bright, singing in the sunshine, contrasting against sparkling blue sea and sky. Up a steep bank with wind-sculpted hawthorn and a robin. Round the back of a dis-used quarry and up to a trig point, then on past noisy, shaggy cows and a communications mast. Turning down a steep lane with a pond to the side, an owl appears silently, flying low over the pond. We stand absolutely still, breath held. It turns and flies towards us, then suddenly off across fields to the right, and it’s gone. A flock of lapwings swirl around then disappear too. On we go, enlivened by our encounter, down the steep lane, past interesting farm houses and out-buildings. Back onto the footpath and we join the muddy line through the field. An owl pellet lies on a rock by the path: A perfect waste disposal package of hair and bones with jaws and pairs of teeth protruding from the tightly packed mass, not unlike the fossils embedded in stone down under the nearby cliffs. The shape and darkness of the pellet is similar to some of the pebbles I collected on the beach earlier in the week. We are almost back at the village and the owl re-appears and I see clearly now that it is a barn owl. A bonus second sight, this time prolonged as it flies low over a patch of rough cliff-top grassland. It cruises up and down, around, back and forth, hunting for quite some time. Suddenly it turns and comes too close, our eyes meeting for a split second, then it thinks better of it and flies off towards the sun setting behind the smoking potash works. Light fading. It occurs to me that the pellet I found was probably from this very same bird and the whole encounter feels very special indeed.
A long time ago I was taught how to dissect pellets and identify all the different small mammals, amphibians etc. that the owl had eaten. I haven’t decided yet whether to do that with this one. It is tempting to investigate all those tiny little jaw bones and skulls but there is something rather wonderful about this tightly bound bundle as it is.
Last week was a working week away from home on the North Yorkshire coast: a week of walking, reading, thinking and developing work towards my Findings exhibition; a week of changing weather, windy cliff-tops, cold fingers on the beach, fossils and falling cliffs, stunning views…
upside-down limpets, marks on rocks left by limpets, pebbles and pellets…
mud underfoot (and half way up the trousers), mud on woven thread, mud trails left by periwinkles at low tide…
I’m now half way through my drawing project 40 Sycamore Keys. Each time I go to the studio I start the day by doing a couple of these drawings. The latest 10 are now listed on my shop. I’m really enjoying working my way through the collection, studying and recording each one in turn.
This week I haven’t managed to get to the studio. I’ve had a great deal of administration to do, so I’ve concentrated on that and done research and reading. I find it depressing to spend a week staring at the computer screen rather than doing what feels like ‘proper’ work. However, it is all relevant stuff and next week will involve much more making.
Once again it is the time of year when Craft & Design Magazine run their Selected Makers Awards. Voting is open until the end of March. If you would like to vote for me (here) your help would be much appreciated – thank you!
Join me at Teesside University, Middlesborough on Tuesday 19th January at 4pm. I will be speaking about my work as part of the Fine Art Department and Mima’s visiting lecture series . More details here.
As I mentioned a couple of posts back, I spent my 40th birthday exploring the wonderful Hackfall woods in North Yorkshire. This special place is a historic landscape garden, which appears wild but has been manipulated by the hand of man for over 400 years. Now managed by The Woodland Trust and The Hackfall Trust, it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
For two whole days, from sunrise to beyond moonrise, we drank every detail of the woodland in. Walking every path, treading each 18th century step, discovering all the carefully planned vistas and more. From our precariously perched hideaway we looked down onto the steeply sloping valley, lined with a tapestry of trees recently exposed as their winter selves. The luminous larch held the light and glowed from it’s soon-to-drop yellowing needles. Walking amongst the trees we came upon the recumbent trunk of a fallen tree that had become home to a whole community of plant species: a garden where fairies might have partied, littering the populated surface of the trunk with their tattered wings. The death of majestic birds was exposed before us on the path: blood spilled and feathers strewn. The naked pink of sycamore stems caught our attention. We marvelled at hazel branches holding droplets to sparkle in the last light as the moon rose behind silhouetted boughs. And through it all the rushing river wound its noisy way; energetic always. Water is a constant in this wood: dripping, rushing, hanging, pooling, reflecting.
Those tattered fairy wings I found were sycamore keys in various states of delicate decay. I collected a few, popping them into a little jar to study later. Back in my studio I emptied out the jar and laid out the keys. Counting them I found that I had collected exactly 40. I set out to draw each one, studying the detail of their veined surface and aiming to capture something of their fragility.
The drawings are made in walnut ink on watercolour postcards. The ink was made from walnut husks gathered in the Yorkshire garden of a friend. The first few of the series are now posted in my shop and a donation will be made to The Woodland Trust from the sale of each drawing. My drawings are ongoing, a few a week until all 40 are made. I’ll let you know how I get on.
The experiments I’ve been doing recently in the studio are my way of exploring 3D structures and trying out different ways to form them. This shot from earlier in the week shows some of these experiments alongside some of the objects that live on my studio wall, which I described a couple of posts ago. I am not necessarily trying to re-create the forms of these objects but there are often similarities between the ones I’ve got pinned up there (for instance, the ones included here on their own or incorporated into a a new structure are either circular, have holes or form vessels) so they gently influence my making in different ways.
I’m really enjoying the bare winter trees at the moment. Their skeletal forms are silhouetted against the sky even in day light, whether against blue (not much of that at the moment) or varying shoes of grey. Over the two weeks of school holiday we’ve had I have walked most days and each walk has taken me past wonderful trees in a variety of landscapes. We passed the oak above on a very wet walk on Christmas day. It was miserable weather and the ground underfoot was slurpy and slippy. I felt very sorry for the sheep we passed hanging around in the cold mist and rain. But even in this terrible weather the trees were resplendent.
I found this lovely page in one of my many natural history books of the silhouettes of winter trees. I love these kind of diagrams.
I spent my birthday a few weeks ago staying in and exploring some beautiful woods in North Yorkshire on the River Ure. Hackfall is a magical place and combines spectacular scenery with some wonderful historic landscaping. I have a little project unfolding based on some things I found at Hackfall. More on that another time…