sketchy

Alice Fox north sea waves sketch

I’m busy writing, trying to get my book finished for the deadline I have in a few weeks time. I am making the most of a day or two to myself while the kids are off splashing in the sea (she says jealously) and I’m plugging away at it.

Alice Fox people sketch

In between summer holiday parent duties I snatch the odd moment to put something on paper in a sketchbook, recording things I’m seeing or things I’ve found. It doesn’t matter what it is – the act of drawing is the important thing and the discipline of being present in the moment for it to really work. I am reading John Berger’s Bento’s Sketchbook and am reminded of the pleasure and relevance of the practice of drawing – something I often tell myself I should do more of. The problem is fitting it all in to the routine . . .

Alice Fox found items sketch

sharing

Alice Fox Lost & Found workshop

I spent most of last week at Oxford Summer School teaching an extended workshop called Lost & Found. We had great fun and it was lovely to get to know the students a little over the period of the workshop. We shared a host of different techniques: mark-making, printing, stitching… all based around various found objects and there was much delight at the discoveries we made. The students produced some really exciting work.

I will be working in the Virtual Studio at the Festival of Quilts on Friday morning and Saturday afternoon this week. This inspiring area of the show (run by the wonderful Committed to Cloth) provides an insight into how different artists work in the studio, so isn’t necessarily about finished pieces but the journey you go through before they are reached.

grass string

Alice Fox grass string

I’ve had a welcome few days away with family and surrounded by beautiful landscape that was abundant with wildlife. The warm summer we’re having is glorious but I love the relief of the evening air and the light at that time of the day can do wonderful things to a field of grasses.

During walks I gathered grass and twisted it into this ball of string. I enjoy exploring a material like this: manipulating it and seeing what it will do and improving my technique as I go. It dries quickly and the fresh green above is soon dulled. Working the grass I find there is a sweet point where it is dried a bit and so a little firmer but once it dries too much it becomes brittle. The ball is my little record of the places we walked.

tide line

The summer holidays are almost upon us and with them the mix of relief (I could do with a break!) and dread (how on earth do I fit in all the work I need to do whilst also enjoying time with the family?). I know I’m not the only one to feel that way about school holidays and it really will be lovely to have some time away from the normal routine.

Alice Fox Tide Line on studio table

Yesterday I delivered Tide Marks to Artlink in Hull ready for them to put it up for my exhibition which opens on 26th July. There is a preview on Friday 25th from 6-8pm so if you are in the area do come along. Each time an exhibition goes up in a different gallery there can be different hanging requirements. As I’m not hanging it myself this time I decided the best way to deal with the little woven pieces that make up Tide Line was to mount them onto a piece of wood so that they are effectively one piece. This took far longer than I thought (each one is sewn to the wood) but I’m pleased with the result and I just managed to squeeze it into my little car to take it over to Hull. I’m looking forward to seeing how it looks next week when I go back for the preview.

within sight of the sea

Within Sight Of The Sea cover

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I was preparing drawings for a publication. The publication is now live and is available as an e-book. This collaboration brings together poetry by Nigel Morgan (if you have my book Tide Marks you will have come across his beautiful poems already) with my illustrations taken from various sketchbooks. Many of these drawings were done en plain air, attempting to capture something of the experience of these places, although they weren’t done in the knowledge that they would later be publicly viewed – this kind of sketchbook is a very personal record of place.

These images and words blend together as evidence of such visits in each other’s company, and occasionally alone. Some of what you see or read has come into being in situ, others as dream memories. Together they form a record of time spent unconfined, in the opened air and the pressing wind, sighting distance, or observing the close confusion of what lies at the feet, or near at hand.

Having had the very rewarding experience of publishing a small number of books so far, initially with help and then as my own publisher, the concept of the e-book is one I am very interested in. It has to be the ultimate in sustainable publications – no actual materials being used etc. But, being a hands-on craft-orientated artist, the fact that I can’t hold this thing in my hands, turn the pages and feel the surface of the paper is something I have to put aside and accept: this is a different experience. Collaboration pushes you in directions that you might not have taken on your own, provides new possibilities and opportunities to learn as a result.

Alice Fox Llyn sketch 2

 

collar books

Alice Fox Shirt collar book #1 d

Now that the Shirt Collar Project exhibition is open and the final pieces have been revealed I can share a few images of my finished work. There is a full explanation of the process and decisions that led to these pieces over on the project blog. I ended up making three small book forms using the prints I made from my collar. I find the 3D nature of these pieces very pleasing. I often feel drawn to working in a more three-dimensional way and perhaps this project has taught me to go with that impulse. I really allowed the experimentation with the materials to lead me this time, with no particular outcome in mind: a really useful challenge.

Alice Fox Shirt collar book #3 a Alice Fox Shirt collar book #3 b Alice Fox Shirt collar book #2 c
Alice Fox Shirt collar book #1 b

Alice Fox Shirt collar book #1 a

group gathering

What happens when 10 artists are each given a vintage shirt collar as a starting point to an artwork? If you are any where near Ledbury, Herefordshire this Saturday or until 19th July do go along to the Shell House Gallery and find out. As well as the collar pieces there will be work for sale by the participating artists. You can find out about all the artists here.  If you like words too Ledbury Poetry Festival is on during part of the exhibition period.

invite1

deep, enchanted silt

Alice Fox Severn Estuary mud

While I was down in Gloucestershire with Tide Marks I took the limited opportunities I had to get out of town and see a bit of the area. I was particularly keen to get to the Severn and see a bit of the estuary: the closest to being by the sea I might experience for a while. During the exhibition, which I was responsible for stewarding most of the time, I got to talk to a lot of people about the work on show. Most assume I live by the sea and it always seems a bit ridiculous when I explain that I live a good two hours drive from both the east and west coasts of northern England. Following these gallery conversations I have been reflecting on what it is that draws me to the coast, physically and creatively. I can justify the starting point of much of this recent work by explaining about the Spurn residency and that makes sense, but I am aware that it really goes deeper than that. I know that much of the ideas and images of coastal detail that I have been exploring and that continue to preoccupy me come from places visited all through my life, particularly on the west coast of Scotland. I think that we all have a relationship with the sea and its edge, which stems from childhood and holiday;, the feeling of escape to such places; the ‘clean slate’ and the new possibilities that are created twice a day by the tides; the fact that standing on a beach looking out to the seeming infinity of ‘the sea’ can be restorative and settling even if the weather and water are stormy. Despite living away from the coast the images and ideas from a visit to such a place can sustain me creatively or pre-cooupy me for months or longer. Each experience is added to the memory bank and re-enforces something I’m trying to explore.

My work isn’t all tied to the coast, it is really tied to whatever place I am in at any one time: it is about my experience of landscape, whether that landscape is my garden and the streets around my home or somewhere far-flung that I’ve travelled to. We present work in distinct ‘projects’ but it is really a continuum: everything leads on to the next thing. So when people ask if i’ve ‘finished with this coastal thing?’ I certainly haven’t finished with it: I don’t think I ever will, but on the other hand it doesn’t mean that things won’t move on. I am aware that the found object has become more and more important. The connection with beach-combing is obvious, but collecting small items of importance to me is also something I’ve done all my life: as a child it was dead insects, feathers, shells. Bird skulls were a particular prize from beach holidays and I still have some of these collections. These treasures have always been part of me understanding and studying the detail of the world around me. I see the objects that find their way into our pockets as tangible links to the places we visit. Of course this is a very common practice. This extract from Robert MacFarlane’s The Wild Places sums it up nicely:

For as long as I could remember, we had picked things up as we walked. Humdrum, everyday rites, practised by millions of people…. Now, though, collecting offered a way both to remember and to join up my wild places…. The objects seemed to hold my landscapes together, without binding them too tightly.

It was good to be by the Severn and I would like to get to know this estuary better. After my first degree I worked for a year on a conservation project tied to the River Severn and got to know little bits of its vast catchment, although almost exclusively further upstream than where I visited this time. All through my physical geography degree and my subsequent career in nature conservation my focus was on rivers and wetlands. Wet places excite me in all sorts of ways! It was good to re-connect just a little with this mighty river. The section that is tidal is fascinating because it sits between the worlds of the river and the sea. There is the constant change of the tidal range and this amazing mud that is exposed twice a day. As Elizabeth Bishop says in her poem The Riverman:

The river breathes in salt
and breathes it out again,
and all is sweetness there
in the deep, enchanted silt.

On returning home I picked up my current bedtime reading book Otter Country by Miriam Darlington and read this passage that was, by coincidence, about the part of the Severn Estuary not far from where I had been:

Here the otter forages in the slippery inter-tidal zone. It’s not ground and not water, shining with a slow seeping that is almost impossible for humans to negotiate.

I’m just kicking myself that I didn’t scoop up a handful of the sticky stuff to have a proper play with.

Alice Fox Severn Estuary edge

tide marks

Alice Fox Tide Marks at Lansdown Gallery, Stroud 2

There is still another week to see Tide Marks in Stroud. I’ve really enjoyed being in this lovely gallery and this friendly town. I’ve met some wonderful people and had fascinating conversations. I feel very privileged to be part of SIT Select and this popular festival brings visitors with specialist knowledge and interest. Despite the fact that the logistics of being away from home for a chunk of time are tricky, it makes such a difference being in the gallery and able to to talk to people about the work; both for the visitors and for me. My able gallery assistants (AKA Mum and Dad) did a wonderful job of looking after the gallery last week while I was back at home.

Alice Fox Tide Line (tapestry weave with found objetcs)

The woven Tide Line has been particularly popular and now I am itching to extend it, in length and scale…

The exhibition is at Lansdown Gallery until 24th May, 10.30 – 4.30 (closed Monday). It goes to Hull and London later in the year.