A few weeks ago there was a real shift in the seasons as things tipped from late summer into autumn. Since then we’ve had a number of frosts at the allotment and as a result some things suddenly faded and flopped. As well as gathering produce in for eating and preserving I have been gathering materials too and preparing what I can for storage, meaning I have a supply of colour or fibre when I need it. Various flowers have been dried and bottled up. Some are ones I know are worth keeping for future use, others are more of an experiment. I’ve also dried various plant fibres to make into cordage when I have time over the winter.
I set up a series of solar dye jars in the summer and these were eventually emptied out to reveal dyed linen squares to add to my on-going collection of colours from the plot. Sunflowers have been quite a revelation, with interesting colour from leaves and petals. I grew a mix of different coloured ones and they were really happy with the particularly hot summer we had.
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.
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.
This weekend I will be showing work alongside my fellow Society of Designer Craftsmen members from the Hallam region. We will be at Art in the Gardens in Sheffield’s botanic garden. The weather forecast is horrid but I’m assured the event is a lovely one and there will be lots of great art to see and buy. The show is open on Saturday and Sunday between 10.30 and 5.30.
The Gifts from the Pavement book is now available to buy on my online shop.
By the way, this is the last week to see Industrial Abstract at the Beetroot Tree in Derbyshire. Textures of Spurn continues at The Bowery in Leeds and if you’re around that area next Saturday I’ll have a stall at the Leeds Festival Chorus Plant and Produce sale at St Chads Parish Centre, Otley Road, Headingley, Leeds from 11.30 – 2.30. This is a fundraising event for the wonderful choir, which I sing in. There will be lots of plants, food, craft stalls and general loveliness.
My kitchen has been filled with the most beautiful fragrance this past week. I brought a couple of twigs back from my parents’ garden (Viburnum, I now know) and they have these delicate pink and white flowers on them, a bit raggle tangle and scruffy, but gorgeous with it. They have been quite a focus this week and their perfume has been such an antidote to the grey damp weather outside the house.
In a pink frame of mind I made the most of a load of avocados that needed eating and used their skin and pits to dye some strips of paper and fabric. Again, this was a creative antidote to the period of relative inactivity over Christmas. I didn’t want to just dye the strips, I wanted to make lines along them. I am more concerned with mark and changes in quality of the dyed mark than getting an all-over colour.
The skewers were to help my little tubes stand up in the dye bath. Once dyed I enjoyed playing about with the arrangement of the bundles. They stood up beautifully and had an almost ceramic quality to the forms (reminded me a little of Edmund de Waal’s lined up pots).
There was a playfulness to the process, which I enjoyed. The kitchen table was experiencing quite a lot of playfulness at the time – look carefully and you’ll find a stork sitting on top of a crocodile: part of my son’s and my drawing project over the holidays.
The rolls are still drying out. I’m looking forward to opening them up once they’ve properly done so.
I can tell that summer is on the wane. My garden is suddenly inhabited by a number of beautiful big garden spiders, constructing their intricate and surprisingly strong webs across path ways at considerable speed.
This morning I opened the back door to find a wonderful web right across the top thrid of the door way.
And there is such colour in the garden at the moment: it’s like it is celebrating something.
A day of respite from the relentlessly wet summer we’re having means I can linger a little longer on my forays into the garden. One of the advantages of working at home is that I can potter a little outside in between other jobs or, at the least, sit outside or on the steps to have my lunch.
I am constantly delighted by my garden. It is a very important part of me. At the beginning of the year there was nothing here: a patch of grass and a tired fence. I’ve changed that and in the space of a few months it is overflowing with greenery of the ornamental and the edible kind.
As I potter it is the detail that draws me in, fascinates me: the tiny holes in leaves (made by who?); the textures of different foliage mixed together; the various insects that are going about their own business; and the mix of colours that can be so stunning.
And then there is the satisfaction of finding something edible forming, and the hope that you will manage to harvest it before the slugs do.
What a weekend! (I’m still recovering) The Saltaire Arts Trail was a huge success once again and we had thousands of visitors milling round the village, brochures in hand, going round the various different exhibitions, activities and installations that were part of the event. Even the cold weather (is it really May?!) didn’t put a dampener on things and the Arts Trail ‘buzz’ was all around the place.
Because I’m involved in the organizing of this event as well as showing some work at it I was really busy in the run up and all weekend and I was poorly at the same time, so it is taking a few days to get back to the land of the living!
My work looked great in Paula’s lovely house. It is quite a big deal to open up your house to thousands of strangers who tramp through to look at the artwork and to have a nosey inside your home. Some of the people who agree to open their houses are selling their own work but others are not artists but want to be part of this lovely event. To be able to see artwork in a domestic setting, particularly in a heritage location such as Saltaire, really makes things accessible and interesting to people.
I was particularly pleased with how one of my little books looked on the window sill with the beautiful garden beyond.
A trip to my parents last weekend allowed for some garden pottering, finding interesting shapes in the winter sunshine,
and winter sweet, which doesn’t look like much (although is better seen from below like this rather than from above the drooping flowers) but smells amazing.
Since then I’ve spent most of the week at my desk doing paper work or jobs around the house. Meanwhile I dream of what my garden might become. I currently have a patch of scruffy lawn and a small patio. It isn’t much yet, but it has lots of potential…