Happy new year (I know I’m a bit late in getting round to saying that, but it is still just the middle of January). We’re still in the depths of winter, and although today the weather has provided a mix of cold wind, sleet, snow and generally depressing greyness I did notice yesterday that it is getting dark a little later now.
I have news of new projects and new workshops. Back in September I started studying for an MA in Creative Practice. This is a research-based course, the focus of which (for me) will be my new allotment. I have taken on this plot in order to garden but also to explore the site in creative ways. I hope to use material from my plot for a variety of different techniques, recording the site and its changes through the seasons. If you follow me on Instagram (where I post pretty much daily) you will already have seen some of the things going on there.
There is a lot to do over the winter to get my plot ready for the growing season as it hasn’t been properly tended for a few years. However, there is a good structure of beds, sheds and fruit trees under the weeds. I am very excited about this project; about the possibilities it offers for creative engagement with a site over an extended period, as well as the benefits of being outside, having my hands in the soil, growing some lovely things and the fresh start it provides.
I have a long list of workshops which get under way from March onwards and which are all listed on the workshops page with links to the relevant studios for booking. I am looking forward to returning to familiar locations to teach this year, as well as some new ones. Some of the workshops are full, but these have waiting lists (it is always worth being on a list as people do sometimes have to drop out). I understand here are still places available at Lund Studios in early May, ArtisOn in late May, Moor Hall Studio in August/September and the wonderful Masseria della Zingara in Puglia in October.
I like the quiet pause that comes at the closing of one year and the opening of the next. There is a delicious stillness, particularly today, the first of January. This stillness is to be breathed in deeply and then exhaled slowly as the wheels of routine turn and normality resumes over the coming days.
Yesterday, at dusk, we walked in the woods and listened to the wind in the trees. The rooks that roost in the trees along the top of the wood were chattering and restless, scattered groups in other parts of the valley. We waited. Eventually they started to gather; more and more coming together and settling under the narrowest sliver of a new moon.
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…
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.
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…
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.
This comes with wishes for a happy, healthy and peaceful 2015. The holiday time brings a necessary pause, a change in routine and a chance to relax and reflect. Walks each day this week have been wonderfully varied. The same walk done a few days apart was invigorating in very different ways – first with a few inches of snow transforming the landscape into a monochrome graphic version of itself, the second in wind and rain with russets, greys and greens of winter wood and moor. More images are here.
The Society of Designer Craftsmen annual exhibition takes place at The Mall Galleries in London from 8th to 17th January. My 25 Beer Bottle Tops will be in the special 25th anniversary section of the exhibition. I have some invitations for the preview on 9th January. If you would like one of these send me an email and I’ll pop one in the post to you.
This time last week I had just returned from a long weekend on the North Norfolk coast. I was leading a study weekend with 8 Fold, a group of textile artists who are all regulars at the Committed to Cloth studio in Surrey. We had a wonderfully stimulating and creative time and the location provided rich inspiration in terms of landscape and our beach-combing (extreme scavenging at times!). I have long wanted to visit this part of the world, partly having glimpsed elements of it through the work of Polly Binns and Debbie Lyddon.
We were blessed with the most beautiful blue skies and bright winter sunshine, giving long shadows and the perfect conditions for photography. It was very cold so our cliff-top cottage was a necessary sanctuary to warm up and the kitchen table became the focus of all sorts of experiments and explorations in rust printing, embossing, weaving, stitching, drawing… and eating, but not all at the same time! It was great to spend time with such experienced artists whose curiosity and delight in exploring place and material matched my own.
Needless to say, many photos were taken, and there is a selection here if you want to see more. Although the temperature wasn’t very conducive to sitting around drawing I made the most of the recent cliff falls and used the varying tones of the clay to help record my experience. As ever, there is much to process and explore as a result of this weekend and I know I’ll be feeding off it for a long time.
As the year draws to a close there is a kind of waiting time; a period of rest and reflection. Juggling family and work means that things are done in small portions of time, slotted in between one another. Creative activity spills over into the rest of life and vice versa: boundaries are blurred. Time in the fresh air is relished when the weather allows. New germs of ideas form unexpectedly and distract me from the projects that need finishing: exciting things to come… Happy new year.