5th size book adventure

This is going to be the first in a series of posts about a project I am currently involved in: the 5th Size Book Adventure based at Newcastle Central Library. I am one of a group of lead artists on this Arts Council England funded project, commissioned to share my experience with the participants and make new work, the development of which will be visible for the participants to engage with as they wish. There are around 20 participant artists who are all creating work in whatever medium they use (and it is wide-ranging) in response to the 5th size book collection. They are also recipients of a programme of professional development sessions. All the work will be presented in November in an exhibition in the library itself.

What is a fifth sized book? There are various different ways of classifying book sizes. Most library books, in the UK at least, are classed as 1st size (up to 27cm). There are second, third and fourth dimensions and then anything over 63cm is classed as fifth size.

At Newcastle Library the fifth size book collection is an eclectic mix of subjects, sizes, formats, ages and states of repair. The shelves of third, fourth and fifth size books are all out of access to the general public and the main thing that unites them is their non-conformity with the more standard book sizes on the standard library shelves. It struck me, when being shown the collection, and whilst walking past the area where newspapers are collected and stored (for 1 month after publication), that newspapers are a more ephemeral version of over-sized books. The local newspapers, the Journal and the Chronicle, therefore might be considered part of the collection.

To be invited to take a whole collection of books on such wide-ranging subject matter as religion, architecture, Shakespeare, poetry, history, atlases, dictionaries and many more is a pretty wide starting point. Some might choose one particular book, either by careful consideration or picked at random. The subject matter of that book might take one off on all sorts of creative journeys. Some might decide to focus on the collection as a whole; its physicality; the fact that it is hidden away from public view. Others might concentrate on the whole idea of scale: large scale, possibly small scale, even changes in scale.

I picked a few volumes off the shelves for a closer look: The Complete Woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer; One Day in the World’s Press; Goethe’s Faust (this had a library stamp on every page); Illustrated Catalogue of Bookbinding. The borrowing history in the front of this last one was interesting because it was first borrowed on 20th August 1904, recorded with handwriting in pencil. It was then borrowed 18 times during the next 30 years. On 5th September 1949 it was borrowed and the record was made with a stamped date for the first time. It was borrowed five more times until the last recorded date stamp on 26th May 1966.

After this first visit I listed the things that had jumped out at me:

Shelves

Rows

Repetition

Gaps – views through to more books

Books leaning

Different angles

Piles of books

Stacks

White Gloves (some of the books are fragile but we were actually given gloves to protect us from dusty and disintegrating covers)

Worn covers

Embossed spines

Leather

Book cloth

Textures

Split covers

Too fragile to open

Dust and staining from perishing covers

Worn and grubby

Weight

Greys, blacks, browns

Bubble wrapped

String holding one book together

Gold lettering

Pattern and texture on spines

Massively varying subjects

Ridged spines

Curled corners

Loose edges of spine

40 Sycamore Keys

Alice_Fox_Hackfall_sycamore_keyAs 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.

Alice_Fox_Hackfall_sycamore_keys_log

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.

Alice_Fox_40_sycamore_keys

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.

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articles

AliceFox_unfinished_detail

I have had interviews and articles published in three places this week. One is here on the lovely Textile Curator website. The second is here and is part of a series of articles where Anne Williams discusses ‘unfinished’ work. Number three is an article in The Quilter, which can be viewed here. This appears in Winter 2015 issue (no. 145) of The Quilter, the quarterly membership magazine of The Quilters’ Guild of the British Isles. ‘Moving On’ follows the article I wrote for The Quilter following my bursary from the Quilters’ Guild in 2011.

sketch

Alice Fox badger drawing 2

I’ve just posted off my entry to this year’s Sketchbook Project. My book is called Contemplating the Badger and is made up of drawings of a dead badger that I met last September. Encounters with wildlife in this way provide a closeness that we are never afforded when they are alive. It may seem morbid to want to study an animal that has met with an end like this but I see it as an opportunity to understand more about them. It was particularly moving to find this young badger freshly killed (by a car) within days of the badger cull being re-started in the area of the country I was visiting, something I strongly disagree with. Very sad. One of my all time favourite books is a collection of drawings from wildlife by Keith Brockie. Many of his studies are made from dead animals: the model stays still! I have had his books since childhood and I go back to them again and again.

Alice Fox Badger drawing

In order to fit my badger into the small format of the standard Sketchbook Project book I took the book apart and laid the pages out together so that I could work on a larger scale. I drew from a series of photos I had taken. The pages were then re-constructed back into their book form. The drawings are therefore broken up and somewhat abstracted. I have also included on my pages words from a poem of the same title as my book by Nigel Morgan:

I stopped the car I was alone,
I snapped it three times
with my phone and now
it lies here on his desk,
three shots of this dead thing,
its dark blue pool of blood
that spills half on the road
half on the grass, from deep
inside its side it’s dead,
and really still,
and still
it has a such beauty,
still.

This weekend there was a magpie dead on the road near my house. My daughter told me it was there so we went to look. It was laid out in the middle of the road. I removed it from its undignified position and spent a couple of hours drawing it.

Alice Fox magpie drawing

Contemplating the Badger will eventually be able to view either as part of the Sketchbook Project tour or via the digital library, once it has arrived and been processed. Previous contributions to the project can be seen here and here.

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.

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folding and binding

Shirt collar books wrapped

I’ve been working on my contribution to the Shirt Collar Project and it has taken me in a direction I didn’t expect.  Pictures of the final pieces from all ten artists will be revealed over on the project blog but here are a few images of my process as it unfolded (or folded!). I didn’t expect to make book forms but having printed from my collar on to both paper and fabric I then tested various routes and this was the one that I ended up following.

Alice Fox Shirt collar prints cut upAlice Fox shirt collar book bindingAlice Fox shirt collar book folding

shirt collar

collar arrival

A few months ago I was invited by Kathleen to be part of a group project involving some vintage shirt collars.  The brief and some of the developments can be found on the project blog here. So this is what arrived back in the summer and has been pinned to my studio board while I considered what to do with it.

Alice Fox shirt collar

Last week I finally got round to playing with this item that is sort of a ‘found object’ except it is someone else’s find. I studied it as if it were some sort of specimen, investigating its make-up, structure and features. I drew it, photographed it, took prints from it and slowly took it apart, documenting the process. At each stage I took a print, initially blind embossing (putting it through the press with damp paper and no ink). The marks it made became slowly more ragged and dis-shevelled as the edges were un-done.

Alice Fox shirt collar blind embossed print Alice Fox shirt collar deconstructing Alice Fox shirt collar rough edges

It was so pristine and white that I daren’t mark it with ink initially, knowing that once I did there would be no going back.  Eventually I plucked up the courage to do so and now the collar lies in its dissected state, flattened and black with printing ink. The prints it made have wonderful detail where the loose threads caught the ink.

Alice Fox shirt collar inkedAlice Fox shirt collar print detail

I like it as an object. It has a history and a story that I can never know. I don’t know yet what I’ll do to it next but I’m looking forward to finding out…

book marks

Alice Fox Tide Marks woven tide line

After a long and busy summer things have finally returned to the normal routine of term time.  Autumn is in the air and I have a lot to do!  I have work to finish for a number of exhibitions this autumn (there is an updated list on my exhibitions page now), the biggest of which is Tide Marks, which gets its first showing at Gate Gallery in Grimsby towards the end of October.

As with Textures of Spurn and Gifts from the Pavement I am publishing a book to accompany this body of work and I am busy pulling that together to meet the print deadline.  It’s a satisfying process to bring something like this together, to see the images sitting alongside each other and look back at how the work has developed.  I like this documentation of a project, recording the process and bringing that together with elements of inspiration and finished work.  It isn’t a catalogue and it isn’t a description of how I have done what I’ve done.  It is more a commentary on the project and a way to take the viewer deeper into where the work has come from.

This time round I’m doing everything myself: becoming publisher and graphic designer as well as artist.  It’s a steep learning curve but I like a challenge!

Openings

Alice Fox sand marks cloths edges

Last week I packed up my new Sand Marks pieces along with some of my Tide Marks books, some sketchbooks and found objects to do with the Spurn project.  These all went off to Cardiff ready for A Personal Perspective at the Makers Guild in Wales.  The exhibition opens this Saturday with a private view on Friday evening and runs until 28th April.  Sadly I won’t be able to make the opening as I will be at another event…

Alice Fox Tide Marks books folded in progress

The Leeds Artists’ Book Fair is on at leeds University this Friday and Saturday and I will be showing my work there.  I have visited this event in previous years and there are some amazing book creations to be seen.  As I’m a relative new-comer to the world of art books I feel rather humble about being offered a space.  I’m really looking forward to seeing the other exhibits.

Further afield, the European Art Quilt VII exhibition moves to its next venue this week. My Folded Wall is included in this touring show.  From 10th March it will be showing at the Breda’s Museum, Netherlands.  It is there until 5th May.

And even further away, the Sketchbook Project tour has begun in America with various dates over the coming months.  Once my contribution is available to view digitally on their website I’ll give the link.

And if that isn’t enough Hannah‘s lovely exhibition Experiments in Light and Landscape featuring her landscape based work opens this Thursday at the Yorkshire Craft Centre in Bradford (preview 4-7pm)