During the half term holiday I was away with my family on the west coast of Scotland. I’ve been coming to these parts all my life and I can feed off a visit like this creatively for months and more. Although the weather wasn’t brilliant it was easy to be on the nearby beach every day, at least for a brisk walk, and at most for a leisurely afternoon playing games, cooking and pretending it was a bit warmer than it actually was.
As ever, I came home with a head full of thoughts, images and ideas and a box full of ‘things’ to continue that process with. Now my little collection is laid out in my studio and slowly I’m getting to know the various objects.
My Leaf Stitching books have just arrived, hot off the press from the printers. The book is now available here. This book forms a photographic record of a series of experiments with leaves and hand stitch that I have been playing about with for a couple of years. As it says in the afterword: This book illustrates a line of inquiry, the following of a thought process.
Some of the pieces that feature in the book, and others that don’t, will be exhibited this Autumn at the Society of Designer Craftsmen Gallery, London.
Just as the new buds are unfurling in the woods I am using last years leaves. I am working on my largest leaf stitching piece so far. This is a sort of experiment, just to see what happens when I try to scale up something that I’ve been doing previously on a hold-in-the-hand scale. These leaves are pretty fragile, although they were collected at a point when the winter hadn’t completed its job of weakening and breaking down the fibres. Pressed and dried flat they are generally doing what I want them to and I am learning all the time what the boundaries are. As I work on this piece in the studio my Leaf Stitching book is finished and at the printers. I hope it will be available in the next couple of weeks.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
Since the excitement of my Tide Marks exhibition going up and opening last week there has been a period of catching up, both with myself and with a few things that had to be set aside while I got the exhibition prepared. A week of half term holiday for the kids means time away with family and some welcome walks in the countryside near my parents’ home. I set myself a little challenge on these walks: to use only what I found to make colour in my sketchbook. Along with a single drawing pen and then the addition of some home-made walnut ink I managed to make a surprising number of different colours.
The things that I made marks with included: mud, sticks, leaves, chestnut leaf stalks, dandelion flowers, elderberries, haws, hips, sloes, conker (horse chestnut) cases, privet berries, cabbage leaf, blackberries.
The Tide Marks exhibition features a range of works on paper and cloth as well as some small tapestry weave pieces. This is the first time that I’ve shown weave as part of an exhibition. Weave is very much a part of my practice but I tend to use it as a way of collecting things together, part of my process rather than the finished work. I have often used tapestry weave to bring found items together, partly as a way of exploring the possibilities of the material and getting to know it. You really understand a fibre when you spend time with it, manipulating and seeing how far you can push it. Weave requires tension. Some things just can’t cope with this, whereas others can surprise in how they withstand it.
These small woven fragments all have a found metal object embedded within them. These metal marks form a line, like a line of debris left by the tide. They are dark marks within light weave but their mark spreads into the weave as sea water has worked on the metal and taken it into the fibre around. You can see a little sequence of images taken when these were first introduced to sea water here.
These pieces are like a collection of random objects found along that tide line: scraps of things, some rounded, some tattered, some pleasing in shape and compact enough to sit pleasingly in the hand or pocket, some more ungainly. The quality of the weave differs: some is tight and affected by the shape of the embedded object, some is more loose, imperfect. They undulate in response to the forces that have been exerted on them. These are imaginary items: one could almost imagine they’d been woven by mermaids.
I taught the first in a run of workshops last Saturday at the lovely PASH north of York. This wonderful old flax mill is full of things in various states of rustiness and repair, so it was a perfect venue for a workshop focusing on making marks with rusty things. We had the luxury of a wealth of interesting items to use in our experiments as well as those that we’d brought along ourselves.
Here’s what we got up to:
This workshop is part of a celebration of different print techniques that is on at PASH until the end of June, called Passion for Print. This includes an exhibition of work from a number of artists working with print in different ways and a series of workshops too.
I’ve been playing about with old envelopes and have made a series of small note books using them. I’ve always loved the patterns you get on the inside of many envelopes and often keep them ‘just in case’ they might be of use. Now I’ve found a way of using them and giving them another life. I’ve enjoyed playing with some of the printed marks on them, deliberately including bits of text, stamps and those little windows that allow you to see the address on the letter inside.
I’m reading Roger Deakin’s Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees at the moment. Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know I’m a fan of nature writing and there is a pile of such books permanently on my bed-side table, either waiting to be read or ready for me to dip back into a favourite section. There is a chapter where Deakin describes visiting the artist Margaret Mellis, which I read the other day. Because he is focusing on trees and wood he is particularly interested in Margaret’s use of driftwood for her sculptures or assemblages. He also describes her drawings made on opened out envelopes and he makes an observation that really struck a chord with me:
Letters, like driftwood and ideas, arrive out of the blue. They are gifts. The envelopes, like the driftwood, had a former life, and would generally be discarded. Mellis gives them new status and a function. Ingeniously reusing an envelope, or driftwood, to make a picture is, in the context of environmental politics, a deliberately frugal act. Both were once trees, and what would otherwise have been wasted is turned to good use. (p 188).
The phrase ‘a deliberately frugal act‘ has stayed with me since I read it as I know that many of the decisions I make both in my life in general and in my artistic practice are just that. I am excited by the possibilities of the found or discarded object and see it as a challenge to make use of them. If by doing so I can reduce the consumption of new materials that is another challenge met. This doesn’t mean I won’t use new materials but I am always considering carefully how and when I do.
I’m currently preparing for a series of workshops over the next month introducing people to printing and dyeing with rust. I am gathering collected rusty things as well as a range of materials on which to make our rusty marks. Fittingly, the first of these workshops next weekend will be held in a salvage yard. I’ll let you know what we find and how we get on. If you fancy making some notes on the back of an envelope then the little books are available here.