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.
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.
I will be teaching a workshop in March at West Dean College in West Sussex. As a new tutor to this renowned centre for the creative arts I have been invited to show some of my work in the College foyer in the run up to my course there. I have sent a variety of work to show in this exhibition, including: Spurn Cloth #1, the large art quilt piece I made during my 2012 residency at Spurn; 49 Beer Bottle Tops (shown above) and 76 Hair Grips (both incorporating found metal with hand stitch and natural staining); a selection of paper-based pieces incorporating rust prints, collagraph and stitch. The exhibition runs form 10th January to 10th March.
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 had a lovely week with my Leaf Stitching exhibition in London. Spending time with a body of work in an exhibition situation is a good time to reflect on things, both leading up to that point and looking forward. Being removed from the studio and all the distractions of home life can be useful for a period of time, even if the logistics of arranging it all are tricky! Being present in the gallery to talk to visitors about the work can be very rewarding and, I think, adds a lot to the visitors’ experience of the work. Visitors were often surprised to find that the person sitting quietly stitching in the gallery was the artist. For those that didn’t make it to the exhibition the Leaf Stitching catalogue/book is available in my shop, along with other publications. I hope to get some of the pieces that were featured in this exhibition available in the shop in coming days, along with a few other items for sale.
Tide Line, shown above, is currently showing in The Language of Objects at Unit Twelve Gallery, Staffordshire. This looks to be a really interesting exhibition with work from a great group of artists and makers. I am really pleased to have another opportunity to show work at this quirky gallery set on a farm in rural Staffordshire.
A few more workshops dates for next year have been added to the list on the workshops page. I hope to arrange some more day workshops at my studio in West Yorkshire as well, although these have to be during the middle part of the year when the temperature in the studio is more hospitable: it is starting to get pretty cold in there already and we’re only in early autumn! Details of these will be made available when I’ve sorted out dates in the diary.
I am in the middle of a flurry of workshops at the moment. I’m looking forward to teaching at Stone Creek Barn over in East Yorkshire later this week and then my first workshop for Committed to Cloth down in Surrey next week. There is currently one place available at the Committed to Cloth workshop due to a cancellation.
I have organised a couple of dates for Stitch, Fold, Rust workshops at my studio in Keighley. One in July and one in September. These can be booked through my online shop. I hope to fix some dates for more of these next year. I have been invited to teach in Italy and France next year, which is really exciting. Details and dates for 2016 will go on the workshops page when links are available for booking.
Time flies: I realise I post much less frequently here than I used to and than I would like to. I have been away for much of the last three weeks and seem to have spanned a great deal of the country in the process. I had a wonderful few days teaching in Eastbourne (on the South coast) before Easter. As a group we explored the beach, collecting in different ways and then used what we had collected in a variety of techniques – great fun and a chance to explore an area I didn’t know.
Easter saw me in North Somerset (in the South West) with my family in the beautiful Mendip Hills. I snatched an opportunity for a bit of mud lurking – more on that another time.
Then we had a few days in the depths of Snowdonia, off grid and off everything else apart from a tent and whatever we could carry. We were blessed with the most amazing weather and managed to get the whole party (youngest 6) up to the top of Snowdon (the highest mountain in England and Wales) in glorious spring sunshine with a dramatic helicopter rescue (not one of us!) to add a bit of drama.
After a night at home I headed north to give a talk just over the Scottish border. I spent the morning on a windy walk overlooking Lindisfarne and its causeway in Northumberland. Serenaded by skylarks and calling waders the colours and creeks of the salt marsh were brought to life in the clear air.
Meanwhile, an article by Wendy Feldberg on artists using rust in their work has been published in Fibre Art Now and is available here.
I have books on the brain at the moment – if I’m not writing words for one, I’m playing about with book forms. On a recent workshop I was teaching, where simple book forms was a small part of what we did, I was inspired to try out some new bindings. I used some of the demonstration samples to experiment with and now they have become little books.
I recently got a copy of Little Book of Book Making, out in America (and I think a UK version is coming out later in the month under a different name) in which my work is featured alongside some amazing book artists. Making books is just a small part of what I do and I only use very simple structures, so I feel very honoured to have been included in such a collection.
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.