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.
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’m part way through teaching a workshop at Committed to Cloth in Surrey. We’ve been blessed with beautiful weather this week: it has actually felt like summer! This has made a real difference to how we have been able to get out and explore the area around the studio.
We have recorded walks in a variety of ways and used what we found along the way in a range of print and mark making techniques.
We worked out in the meadow, and at the edge of woods, a short walk from the studio; yesterday printing outside, today manipulating grass and leaves and other gathered materials.
Tomorrow we finish, bringing things together in some simple book forms and whatever else appears out of the mix of ideas and starting-points we’ve explored.
I recently completed this little piece (25cm x 25cm). It has 25 found beer bottle tops trapped between layers of linen and a lot of small stitches. Once all the stitching was complete it was dipped into tea so that the rusty bottle tops could stain their surrounding fabric and stitches in their own special way. It will be shown as part of 25 x 25 x 25 at the Mall Galleries, London alongside the Society of Designer Craftsmen’s 25th annual Designer Crafts exhibition in January.
Later this week I’ll be at the Knitting and Stitching show in harrogate. On Thursday I’ll be stewarding part of the day in the Prism exhibition Coded : Decoded, in which I have some work on show. On Friday I’ll be demonstrating in the Artists in Action area on stand C590. Do come and say hello if you’re visiting.
I spent most of last week at Oxford Summer School teaching an extended workshop called Lost & Found. We had great fun and it was lovely to get to know the students a little over the period of the workshop. We shared a host of different techniques: mark-making, printing, stitching… all based around various found objects and there was much delight at the discoveries we made. The students produced some really exciting work.
I will be working in the Virtual Studio at the Festival of Quilts on Friday morning and Saturday afternoon this week. This inspiring area of the show (run by the wonderful Committed to Cloth) provides an insight into how different artists work in the studio, so isn’t necessarily about finished pieces but the journey you go through before they are reached.
I’ve been stitching away for a few weeks in between other things. I’m experimenting with different ways to stitch with and round the various rusty bits and pieces that find their way into my pockets on a daily basis – a kind of rust journal. It starts out white and I’m enjoying the crispness of white on white, but it will change.
These ones are being trapped and stitched round. They will then go outside in the weather to see what marks the rust will make on the cloth and thread they’re embedded within.
This is a different piece, one that is now living in the garden and has started to develop marks.
Last year I was commissioned to make a special record of a garden. This record was for the occupants of the garden (and its house) for over 20 years to take with them when they move on to pastures new. There is more information about the project here and there are some images of how things developed in an album here. The final set of prints were chosen over Christmas and are now with the framer. I’m looking forward to seeing how they look as a finished series. Meanwhile, I will be bringing the experiments and developments together in a special book to go with the framed prints.
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.
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 was reminded this week that I hadn’t shared the results of my little avocado dyed rolls of fabric and paper from a few weeks ago. I had originally intended to unroll them and hoped that this would reveal a graduated tone of dye on the long strips.
I really rather like the form they are in, so even after they dried out I left them in their little bundles. They’re like a group of people each with a personality of its own. But the whole point was to see what marks I would get on the strips so I started to undo one of the paper rolls. It was stuck together. There was no way it was going to unroll without tearing. I tentatively undid one of the fabric rolls and this came apart more easily. It does have a lovely graded mark and there are some darker clumpy bits on the section that was on the outside of the roll.
One of the strips of paper I dyed wasn’t tied up like the others and was loosely curled. This one unrolled easily and has a lovely stripe of the pinky orangey dye along the bottom with splashes further up the paper.
The rest will stay as rolls. I like them as they are.