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.
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.
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.
After a few hectic days with excited children and family coming and going I am having a quiet end to the year. I have a bit of space to catch up with myself.
In that strange waiting time between Christmas and new year I had two afternoons, two walks in Lincolnshire’s fields, empty of people and drained of colour but then filled with other colour, different winter colour, the earth gone to sleep.
One on the wolds:
gently rolling; lines of field edge and combed earth; hedge and pathway; footprints on saturated ground; a smell of the sea wafting inland on the stiff breeze, which then brings rain and stinging cold.
A second on the coast:
salt marsh keeping the sea at bay with a white line of breaking waves way out beyond the gullied expanse; even further away my familiar lighthouse clear over the water; a bitter wind; blue light in the gloaming and collections of birds forming almost murmurations.
Now back at home the memories of them intermingle.
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.
When I was down at the Contemporary Craft Fair in Devon a couple of weeks ago I spent a morning escaping from the intense experience of the show in the relative tranquility of the Devon Guild of Craftsmen‘s gallery, over the road in Bovey Tracey.
I needed a little space away from the thinking and talking that we were so busy with all weekend (I was on a research trip with others from the Saltaire Arts Trail). The gallery featured an interesting exhibition about engagement with the senses. I found the work by Marcia Smilack particularly interesting and spent a long time sitting in the booth separated off from the main gallery watching her projected images.
Marcia describes herself as a ‘reflectionist’ and photographs reflections on moving water. Her images look like they’ve been manipulated but they haven’t. She experiences synesthesia and I found her descriptions of each image really intriguing as the senses she described were all jumbled up: sound = colour; sight = texture. For someone who doesn’t experience colour in this mulit-sensory way it seems incomprehensible that a sight can trigger a sound and vice versa so I sat for a long time trying to imagine what it must be like. I find that smells trigger very vivid memories… we all experience things in subtly different ways.
Marcia says she “collaborates with nature” and creates “paintings by camera”.
I found all this particularly interested as just a week before I’d been filming little clips of moving water at Spurn. I’m not trying to capture the same things that Marcia is but there was enough of a link to make me really spend some time with this work.
This is the image that I enjoyed the most: Cello Music.
At the weekend I spent a really inspiring two days with Emily Harvey, printmaker. My printmaking experience has been bitty (kind of on the back burner for a number of years) and, although I did have some access to the printmaking room at college, I never had enough time to give to it properly. But the desire to integrate it more into my work has remained and this was an opportunity to learn a bit more and test out some of my ideas. Collage is a tool I have often used as part of my design process; here it is key to the bringing together of texture and contrast that is used to make the print.
This intensive weekend was just what I needed to confirm to me that these processes suit my sensibilities. I am comfortable with the whole routine of printmaking (more so, I have to admit, than with screen printing); I love the experimental nature of both making collagraph plates and of printing from them; I love being able to concentrate on texture and line and that the 3D element is important, even though it is a low-relief kind of 3D. And, importantly, I can see how I can integrate my use of stitch into both the making of the plates and the resulting prints (something I started in my college work but that I want to push further).
We spent the first day making collagraph plates using a whole range of different techniques and resulting in a good bunch of different ones to then print from on the second day.
There were just two of us with Emily this weekend, and it was perfect – enough energy and ideas bouncing around between us to have kept going for a week I reckon! Here is the product of our labours (a bit more colourful than I would have naturally gone for, but using all that colour was a great way to understand the different effects you can achieve):
It was really interesting to see how different the resulting print can be using the same plate but with different inks and combinations of intaglio and relief printing.
I had a go once before at chine colle, so it was good to be reminded of this technique and to see how the layering up of a different paper can be really effective. Some of my experiments with this technique worked better than others, but I had lots of ideas about using this more.
When I got home I spent a good hour scribbling down lots of notes and ideas. It was a really inspiring weekend, I just have to let it all sink in and work out how to take things forward. At a time when I’m trying to focus my work in I am suddenly faced with more possibilities than I know what to do with!
> I’m planning something new, but which will enable a return to something I love after some time away from it. It is five years since I dyed with indigo. I love blue very much and simply can’t get enough of the particular shades that come with indigo dyeing. I’m hoping that it will be just the thing for this new project.