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.
This is a section of my studio wall at the moment. I’m really enjoying the routine of working in the studio and at home. My diary is relatively sensible at the moment so I’m making the most of it. I’m working on a number of small projects, although they are all linked in some way (perhaps the link is me!) and some may grow to be much bigger: one thing really does lead on to the next idea. I enjoy the experimenting stage of any project, probably more than making the final work, which can be daunting for various reasons. Sometimes I can’t keep up with the ideas and all the things I want to try – the sketchbook becomes incredibly precious as a repository for thoughts and ideas. These are some of the things going on at the moment:
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.
I’ve moved studios. I now have a space in a studio community in Keighley, a town not far from where I live. I’ve spent a couple of days unpacking and settling in and I think I’m going to be very happy working there. I have a window! The building we’re in is an old mill (textile I assume) and there is no heating, so layers of clothing are a must but that doesn’t bother me. In that respect it’s a bit reminiscent of working in the dis-used lighthouse at Spurn (but the view isn’t as good) with a few more home comforts – that really was basic.
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.
There’s nothing quite like a production line to give you a feeling of satisfaction at achieving small goals. Making and writing Christmas cards in between other jobs this week I have been reminded of how rewarding repetitive tasks can be. Whether it is weaving, stitching, folding paper… once in your stride the task is repeated fluidly and with rhythm. Paying attention to the smallest detail of the movements; applying just the right amount of pressure; placing something exactly where it should be; enjoying the physical movement of each small element; mind focussed yet available to explore and reflect at the same time.
I will be demonstrating on the Artists in Action stand at the Knit & Stitch Show in Harrogate this week. The show is on Thursday to Sunday and I’ll be there on Thursday and Friday mornings. There are six artists working on the stand at any one time. We’ll be on stand C590. Do come and say hello. I’ve never done anything like this before and have to admit I’m a bit nervous about having people watch me working. But I was thrilled to be invited to do it and am looking forward to meeting lots of lovely people at the show.
I’ve started something new this week. So often I make resolutions about doing something creative every day, sketching more often etc. Somehow they always get interrupted before they become established so I’m trying to address that. With a period of planning this has become even more necessary.
This is my new little project. By making it online I hope that I will be more disciplined about keeping to it! Each entry is either the result of me making the time to spend a few minutes in my studio rather than at my computer desk or a snippet of something I’m working on anyway.
I follow various other people documenting similar daily projects; here and here for example.
do something pretty while you can Belle and Sebastian
I am always open to opportunities for creating something and this is particularly important when I’m in the middle of a period that doesn’t feel very productive creatively.I love long journeys, especially on a train (as long as it all goes to plan, but even if it doesn’t there is something of an adventure about it when you have to be flexible suddenly as things change). I love that flashing past of landscape and tiny snapshots of detail. Sometimes I’ll just let it flow past me and other times I want to record it.
I traveled to London again this weekend to be in the gallery for a day and then take down the Mall exhibition, which, by the way, was a real pleasure to have been involved in. Spending time alone is refreshing and being away from home somehow forces you to spend time thinking.
I have a little sketch book in my bag at all times. This one is a new one and has just words so far (wiggly ones as most were written on a moving train). Here are some of the words from my journey:
It has been the most sparklingly beautiful of winter days clear blue sky all day bright but pale sunshine and a hard frost, which has remained in place all day wherever the sun hasn’t reached.
The almost-setting sun races along on my right sometimes almost blinding sometimes obscured from view by a wall or partially by the filigree network of silhouetted trees.
The shapes of the trees cannot hide in this clear light each one standing tall and naked and still shadows cast by the low sun turn an otherwise featureless field into a striking series of ridges
A frozen pond an abandoned playground church steeples church towers an old windmill tower all grey silhouettes cut out shapes against an only-just blue sky
A solitary small cloud shaped like a child’s drawing of a horse now a camel then some kind of sea creature is crossed by a small flock of birds. Where do they go with such purpose on as cold a day as this?
The fiery orange ball slips into the horizon haze swiftly changing the mood bleached stubble in disarray over dark earth Suddenly the clarity is gone a mist adds to the gathering darkness.
On my return journey it was dark all the way so I couldn’t see out of the window. Instead I read the whole of a book that I was given for my last birthday but hadn’t opened yet (see the list of books by my bed): A Bigger Message – Conversations with David Hockney, by Martin Gayford. I love the fact that you can read a whole book on one journey. I would never sit and read a book like that at home, always too much else to do.
David Hockney is someone for whom my admiration and respect grow all the time. Before moving to Saltaire I knew very little about him and, for me, his work has taken time to ‘get’. Having a major collection of his work a few minutes walk away from my home means that I’ve been able to get to know it slowly. He is such an exciting artist who is constantly pushing things. Inspiring stuff!
I feel like I’m stuck inside a rubix cube or one of those little games where you can only move one square at a time and you have to make 20 other moves before you can make the one you really want to.
I have managed to unpack a lot since moving house and slowly things are getting straight. The studio was, until Monday, completely jammed with boxes with just a little passage to get to the washing machine and freezer (this is my cellar and so also utility room). Then the removal people came to take away my empty boxes, which suddenly gave me the space to empty some more and so the studio looked like this:
Believe me, this was an improvement! Suddenly I could start to get a feel for the room. I then spent time over the next couple of days sorting and shifting things about. I put together the plan chest where I store my paper and previous mounted work (this involved a great deal of swearing – it isn’t really a one person job). I got to the end of the day I’m afraid to say that the room didn’t look much different, things had just changed places. Basically I have too much stuff.
I know that it will all come together eventually and that the sorting I’m doing isn’t wasted time at all. There isn’t much creativity going on though, which gets me down. So this afternoon I’ve been doing some research towards a project I’ll be doing this year and I’m quite excited. More about that another time…