I have long been interested in making simple book structures. My work previous to this project had included making a series of small Coptic bound books that then became the repository for recording some aspect of the landscapes I was visiting. The stitched binding remains exposed on the spine of the book, which is made up of page ‘signatures’. Bound together with a series of interlocking stitches, the book structure becomes a unit that flows beautifully in your hands or can sit open in a variety of curves through to a full circle. Using a fairly substantial, good quality paper for these books, I became fascinated by how this basic structure as my ‘blank’ unit could then be dyed, printed, dropped in puddles or dipped in exposed estuary mud, collecting some physical aspect of the landscape, just as I had also treated similarly ‘blank’ units of hand woven thread.
So it was only natural that my initial thoughts for this project were to make books. But… surely that would be too obvious? Wouldn’t everyone else be making some sort of book? Just because the starting point is a collection of books the creative response could take any form…
I considered something less bookish… I had thoughts about possible directions:
using the shelves on which the books are kept
the spaces within these shelves
the repetition of the book unit
the scale of these large books – making something big!
But I kept coming back to that incredible exposed spine. Just because something seems obvious doesn’t make it wrong. That gut reaction I’d had about ‘my’ book seemed just as relevant for my intuitive desire to explore this stitched bound book structure. Furthermore, to have some sort of continuation of themes between projects seems very justifiable. After all, we divide our work into ‘projects’ to present to our audience but really an artist’s work is a continuum, an ever-evolving line of inquiry.
This time last week I was on an island surrounded by water, mud, birds, boats and a clear blue sky… Northey Island is in the Blackwater Estuary, Essex and has only two houses on it. One of these was ours for the weekend for a workshop through which we explored the island and recorded our experience of it.
The approach to the island is via a causeway that is covered for a few hours at high tide. It only takes half an hour or so to walk right round the island. Salt marsh and mud continue beyond the land you can safely walk on, creating tantalising patterns that extend toward the watery edges and change with the ebb and flow of the tide.
After a period of bad weather we were blessed with a dry weekend of sunshine and blue skies, a keen wind and stars at night. Spending much of the time outside, we undertook a series of mark making, drawing, printing and recording activities, with students exploring different aspects of the place. We also shared our marks in a collaborative exercise one evening.
Then we made a series of books with our marked papers, which became our personal records of the place to take away.
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 was fortunate to spend a weekend with the Textile Study Group a few weeks ago. The group is made up of textile artists and tutors who share their experience and skills with their students and with each other. The weekend I attended was themed around ‘drawing’, but not just the conventional pencil on paper stuff that immediately springs to mind. We explored how different artists take initial ideas and get things down on paper (or elsewhere) as a starting point for their work – ‘taking the idea out of your head’. This included intensive drawing exercises, as well as group and individual activities on recording what we found around us. Many different ways of recording thoughts, sights, experiences were explored and discussed. It was an immensely stimulating and enriching weekend. What became clear was that everyone has a different approach to drawing, recording ideas and developing their work. Each approach is personal to each artist but all are relevant.
I’m really pleased to announce that I have been made a member of the Textile Study Group. This is quite an honour and I look forward to working with the wonderful artists and teachers that make up the members of the group.
Last year I was commissioned to make a special record of a garden. This record was for the occupants of the garden (and its house) for over 20 years to take with them when they move on to pastures new. There is more information about the project here and there are some images of how things developed in an album here. The final set of prints were chosen over Christmas and are now with the framer. I’m looking forward to seeing how they look as a finished series. Meanwhile, I will be bringing the experiments and developments together in a special book to go with the framed prints.
My book is a record of things picked up in the streets around my home on everyday short walks during autumn and winter: on the way to the post office or back from school. The things I’ve picked up are insignificant: a rusty washer, a few leaves, a beer bottle top… They have come together with the help of the chemistry of tea to make marks on the pages of the book. I’ve then used rollers and ink to build up more marks and texture and finally there are stitches added in response to the other marks.
This morning I finished my book and now I can post it off to the Brooklyn Art Library for it to join all the other books from around the world. Eventually my book will be available online to view digitally, but for now here are a few peeks at the detail:
While I’ve been at Spurn I’ve been experimenting with little film clips. Some are of moving water, a way to capture the patterns that are on the move. This one records a walk across the beach, looking at the various ripples, waves, textures and colours on the sand, approaching the sea.