I like the quiet pause that comes at the closing of one year and the opening of the next. There is a delicious stillness, particularly today, the first of January. This stillness is to be breathed in deeply and then exhaled slowly as the wheels of routine turn and normality resumes over the coming days.
Yesterday, at dusk, we walked in the woods and listened to the wind in the trees. The rooks that roost in the trees along the top of the wood were chattering and restless, scattered groups in other parts of the valley. We waited. Eventually they started to gather; more and more coming together and settling under the narrowest sliver of a new moon.
As I mentioned a couple of posts back, I spent my 40th birthday exploring the wonderful Hackfall woods in North Yorkshire. This special place is a historic landscape garden, which appears wild but has been manipulated by the hand of man for over 400 years. Now managed by The Woodland Trust and The Hackfall Trust, it is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
For two whole days, from sunrise to beyond moonrise, we drank every detail of the woodland in. Walking every path, treading each 18th century step, discovering all the carefully planned vistas and more. From our precariously perched hideaway we looked down onto the steeply sloping valley, lined with a tapestry of trees recently exposed as their winter selves. The luminous larch held the light and glowed from it’s soon-to-drop yellowing needles. Walking amongst the trees we came upon the recumbent trunk of a fallen tree that had become home to a whole community of plant species: a garden where fairies might have partied, littering the populated surface of the trunk with their tattered wings. The death of majestic birds was exposed before us on the path: blood spilled and feathers strewn. The naked pink of sycamore stems caught our attention. We marvelled at hazel branches holding droplets to sparkle in the last light as the moon rose behind silhouetted boughs. And through it all the rushing river wound its noisy way; energetic always. Water is a constant in this wood: dripping, rushing, hanging, pooling, reflecting.
Those tattered fairy wings I found were sycamore keys in various states of delicate decay. I collected a few, popping them into a little jar to study later. Back in my studio I emptied out the jar and laid out the keys. Counting them I found that I had collected exactly 40. I set out to draw each one, studying the detail of their veined surface and aiming to capture something of their fragility.
The drawings are made in walnut ink on watercolour postcards. The ink was made from walnut husks gathered in the Yorkshire garden of a friend. The first few of the series are now posted in my shop and a donation will be made to The Woodland Trust from the sale of each drawing. My drawings are ongoing, a few a week until all 40 are made. I’ll let you know how I get on.
I have a flurry of workshops at the moment for various groups, which is getting me out and about around the country. In between those and the preparation for them I am making final touches to work for my exhibition Leaf Stitching at the Society of Designer Craftsmen Gallery, London in a couple of weeks. It seems very fitting to have this exhibition as autumn is upon us and I hope it will be a celebration of the leaf at a time when we become particularly aware of these wonderful objects.
As well as pieces featured in the book I published earlier this year with the same title there will be some more recent leaf stitching I have been working on, including 2D and 3D pieces. The Oak leaf Quilt I made a few months ago will be there, and some panels made from eucalyptus leaves that are still work in progress…
Suddenly the seasons have shifted. Although today is the start of the meteorological autumn it doesn’t always feel autumnal on the first of September. The last week has felt very autumnal with changes in the feel of the air and subtle shifts in foliage colours. There are fruits and seeds ripening and all sorts of interesting fungi appearing. Last week I was teaching down in Hertfordshire and staying in a village surrounded by arable fields. The harvest over, machinery was busy turning the earth ready for the next lot of crops. One day a golden blanket of stubble covered the gently rolling landscape and the next it had been turned in on itself, revealing rich chocolate brown earth.
Walking the lanes near where I was staying my hands became full of treasures, so much so that I used my umbrella to hold them! I don’t now very much about fungi and I wouldn’t normally do more than admire. But I do know a puff ball when I see one and I was delighted to find one that was fresh and firm: ideal for my tea.
Back in Yorkshire a day later and we walk in local woods. Again there are beautiful perfect fungi, ripe berries to pop straight into the mouth as we walk and under one tree we find a scattering of oak galls, which I gathered for use in dyeing.
At home I drew the berries I’d found on the lanes and used their juice to add colour to my pages. The colours won’t stay true for very long but there is something ‘true’ about using the object you’ve drawn to make marks itself. A leaf that also caught my eye because of its purple hues sits alongside and seems to sum up the shift in the year.
Just as the new buds are unfurling in the woods I am using last years leaves. I am working on my largest leaf stitching piece so far. This is a sort of experiment, just to see what happens when I try to scale up something that I’ve been doing previously on a hold-in-the-hand scale. These leaves are pretty fragile, although they were collected at a point when the winter hadn’t completed its job of weakening and breaking down the fibres. Pressed and dried flat they are generally doing what I want them to and I am learning all the time what the boundaries are. As I work on this piece in the studio my Leaf Stitching book is finished and at the printers. I hope it will be available in the next couple of weeks.
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.
As the year draws to a close there is a kind of waiting time; a period of rest and reflection. Juggling family and work means that things are done in small portions of time, slotted in between one another. Creative activity spills over into the rest of life and vice versa: boundaries are blurred. Time in the fresh air is relished when the weather allows. New germs of ideas form unexpectedly and distract me from the projects that need finishing: exciting things to come… Happy new year.
Anyone who has been following my work over the last year or so will know that I like an unusual gallery space. This week last year I was exhibiting in the old lighthouse at Spurn – I can’t believe it’s been a whole year. Well, the next unconventional space is an old 1960s Sprite caravan that Stef and Ian Mitchell of Duckett & Jeffreys run as a touring gallery space. Over the next two weeks it won’t be touring but will be parked up outside their house in a stunning location in the Yorkshire Wolds. Stef and Ian turn their house into a gallery four times a year and invite artists to show their work. I was thrilled to be invited to do a ‘caravan takeover’.
I’m showing some of my Gifts from the Pavement work, including a few new pieces. I took my work over there yesterday in beautiful autumn sunshine. It was tempting to linger in the dry valleys that are so typical of the wolds, amidst pheasants and buzzards and berry-heavy hedgerows. Sadly I had to get back to do other things. I did get a sneek peek at some of the work going up in the house, particularly Helen Booth‘s and I really do recommend getting over there as there is some lovely stuff. There are directions to find Canada House here and there are some lovely images of my work going up over here. The exhibitions are open between 11 and 6 daily until 13 October. If nothing else it’s worth just to see this lovely part of the world!
‘No painting is possible without poetry’
Po Kin Yi (9th C)
Eyes in the feet
Pocketed, brought home,
Shaped under tea’s chemistry
Left on paper sketchbook thin
Enough to register on both sides
Where the roller has marked,
Capriciously, a backdrop
Always different, pavement grey,
Mottled, complex as storm clouds
on a winter sky. Then, the stitch.
Marks of a bird’s foot
On the footpath’s mud,
We crouched close to view
In the last light of this fading year
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.