frugal acts

Alice Fox Notes on the back of an envelope page detail

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.

Alice Fox Notes on the back of an envelope inside found text

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.

>unwrapping

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I took a couple of my ‘old fishing station’ bundles back there towards the end of the week to unwrap them and see what results I would get from the experiments I’d set up. They had definitely developed over the few days they’d sat on the veranda, colour seeping through in various places. The top one of the bunch had just sea weed in it, wrapped in silk. It seemed right to return the seaweed to where I’d found it. The others I wanted to bring home to give them longer to develop.



I was intrigued to see what would have happened to my rust prints that I’d left in the hut. When I got there the one on the shelf was just as I’d left it with some nice marks transferred from the rusty bits and pieces onto my paper.



The cows had been into the hut over night (probably to get out of the rain the previous day) and crashed about a bit. They had left their mark in various places amongst the ropes and ‘stuff’ on the floor. They’d also knocked my other paper off the box I’d left it on. There were marks on it from the rusty nails but also the odd foot print!



I unwrapped the thread that was binding my bundle tight then unrolled the silk, shaking out the bits of weed that I’d wrapped up a few days earlier.



The different types of weed left different marks and colours, some with quite distinct patterns from the veins and fronds.



As the silk unwound it flew in the breeze like a flag. I carried it to the edge of the water to rinse out the last bits of weed.



The silk dried quickly in the warm breeze and sunshine. I wet another small piece of wool felt and wrapped it around a big limpet shell, binding with linen thread. This one was to go home with me, along with a jar of sea water with a few of the rusty nails I’d found for future use.