island adventure

alice-fox-sandaig-sketch

So we’re back in the old routine now term has started again and the kids are back at school. Our holiday seems a long way off but my head is still full of the sights, sounds and smells of the Outer Hebrides and my sketchbook is full of moments captured in one way or another. Those empty white shell-sand beaches that turn the sea the most wonderful turquoise greens and stretch for miles are just fantastic – the stuff of dreams (mine anyway!). I have been to the outer isles before but not the Uists and this trip took me to places I’ve wanted to visit for a very long time. It takes quite an effort to get to these remote parts and I love a good ferry journey, which is necessary (made even more special by the dolphins and porpoise we saw from the boat). This is the very edge or Europe, and apart from the tantalising St Kilda, which we saw on a particularly clear day, when you look out across the sea the next land is Canada. Highly recommended: this fascinating exhibition, which is based on St Kilda but also deals with amnesia, was on in Lochmaddy. It will be moving to London soon here.

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owl encounter

Alice Fox owl sketch

Sunny, bright blue sky. Light wind. We walk across the beck and up the steep road, following the Cleveland Way. Fenced-off cliff-tops and a road that disappears into the void beyond the cliff edge. We follow ‘a line made by walking’ through a field of winter wheat, then on up the hill, climbing all the time, past cottages precariously positioned near the cliff edge. Last year’s bracken is bright, singing in the sunshine, contrasting against sparkling blue sea and sky. Up a steep bank with wind-sculpted hawthorn and a robin. Round the back of a dis-used quarry and up to a trig point, then on past noisy, shaggy cows and a communications mast. Turning down a steep lane with a pond to the side, an owl appears silently, flying low over the pond. We stand absolutely still, breath held. It turns and flies towards us, then suddenly off across fields to the right, and it’s gone. A flock of lapwings swirl around then disappear too. On we go, enlivened by our encounter, down the steep lane, past interesting farm houses and out-buildings. Back onto the footpath and we join the muddy line through the field. An owl pellet lies on a rock by the path: A perfect waste disposal package of hair and bones with jaws and pairs of teeth protruding from the tightly packed mass, not unlike the fossils embedded in stone down under the nearby cliffs. The shape and darkness of the pellet is similar to some of the pebbles I collected on the beach earlier in the week. We are almost back at the village and the owl re-appears and I see clearly now that it is a barn owl. A bonus second sight, this time prolonged as it flies low over a patch of rough cliff-top grassland. It cruises up and down, around, back and forth, hunting for quite some time. Suddenly it turns and comes too close, our eyes meeting for a split second, then it thinks better of it and flies off towards the sun setting behind the smoking potash works. Light fading. It occurs to me that the pellet I found was probably from this very same bird and the whole encounter feels very special indeed.

Alice Fox barn owl pellet drawing

A long time ago I was taught how to dissect pellets and identify all the different small mammals, amphibians etc. that the owl had eaten. I haven’t decided yet whether to do that with this one. It is tempting to investigate all those tiny little jaw bones and skulls but there is something rather wonderful about this tightly bound bundle as it is.

away

Alice Fox Eastbourne beachcombing

Time flies: I realise I post much less frequently here than I used to and than I would like to. I have been away for much of the last three weeks and seem to have spanned a great deal of the country in the process. I had a wonderful few days teaching in Eastbourne (on the South coast) before Easter. As a group we explored the beach, collecting in different ways and then used what we had collected in a variety of techniques – great fun and a chance to explore an area I didn’t know.

Alice Fox River Axe North Somerset

Easter saw me in North Somerset (in the South West) with my family in the beautiful Mendip Hills. I snatched an opportunity for a bit of mud lurking – more on that another time.

Alice Fox boats in mud sketch

Then we had a few days in the depths of Snowdonia, off grid and off everything else apart from a tent and whatever we could carry. We were blessed with the most amazing weather and managed to get the whole party (youngest 6) up to the top of Snowdon (the highest mountain in England and Wales) in glorious spring sunshine with a dramatic helicopter rescue (not one of us!) to add a bit of drama.

Alice Fox Lliwedd from Snowdon

After a night at home I headed north to give a talk just over the Scottish border. I spent the morning on a windy walk overlooking Lindisfarne and its causeway in Northumberland. Serenaded by skylarks and calling waders the colours and creeks of the salt marsh were brought to life in the clear air.

Alice Fox causeway sketch

Meanwhile, an article by Wendy Feldberg on artists using rust in their work has been published in Fibre Art Now and is available here.

sketch

Alice Fox badger drawing 2

I’ve just posted off my entry to this year’s Sketchbook Project. My book is called Contemplating the Badger and is made up of drawings of a dead badger that I met last September. Encounters with wildlife in this way provide a closeness that we are never afforded when they are alive. It may seem morbid to want to study an animal that has met with an end like this but I see it as an opportunity to understand more about them. It was particularly moving to find this young badger freshly killed (by a car) within days of the badger cull being re-started in the area of the country I was visiting, something I strongly disagree with. Very sad. One of my all time favourite books is a collection of drawings from wildlife by Keith Brockie. Many of his studies are made from dead animals: the model stays still! I have had his books since childhood and I go back to them again and again.

Alice Fox Badger drawing

In order to fit my badger into the small format of the standard Sketchbook Project book I took the book apart and laid the pages out together so that I could work on a larger scale. I drew from a series of photos I had taken. The pages were then re-constructed back into their book form. The drawings are therefore broken up and somewhat abstracted. I have also included on my pages words from a poem of the same title as my book by Nigel Morgan:

I stopped the car I was alone,
I snapped it three times
with my phone and now
it lies here on his desk,
three shots of this dead thing,
its dark blue pool of blood
that spills half on the road
half on the grass, from deep
inside its side it’s dead,
and really still,
and still
it has a such beauty,
still.

This weekend there was a magpie dead on the road near my house. My daughter told me it was there so we went to look. It was laid out in the middle of the road. I removed it from its undignified position and spent a couple of hours drawing it.

Alice Fox magpie drawing

Contemplating the Badger will eventually be able to view either as part of the Sketchbook Project tour or via the digital library, once it has arrived and been processed. Previous contributions to the project can be seen here and here.

sketchy

Alice Fox north sea waves sketch

I’m busy writing, trying to get my book finished for the deadline I have in a few weeks time. I am making the most of a day or two to myself while the kids are off splashing in the sea (she says jealously) and I’m plugging away at it.

Alice Fox people sketch

In between summer holiday parent duties I snatch the odd moment to put something on paper in a sketchbook, recording things I’m seeing or things I’ve found. It doesn’t matter what it is – the act of drawing is the important thing and the discipline of being present in the moment for it to really work. I am reading John Berger’s Bento’s Sketchbook and am reminded of the pleasure and relevance of the practice of drawing – something I often tell myself I should do more of. The problem is fitting it all in to the routine . . .

Alice Fox found items sketch

within sight of the sea

Within Sight Of The Sea cover

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I was preparing drawings for a publication. The publication is now live and is available as an e-book. This collaboration brings together poetry by Nigel Morgan (if you have my book Tide Marks you will have come across his beautiful poems already) with my illustrations taken from various sketchbooks. Many of these drawings were done en plain air, attempting to capture something of the experience of these places, although they weren’t done in the knowledge that they would later be publicly viewed – this kind of sketchbook is a very personal record of place.

These images and words blend together as evidence of such visits in each other’s company, and occasionally alone. Some of what you see or read has come into being in situ, others as dream memories. Together they form a record of time spent unconfined, in the opened air and the pressing wind, sighting distance, or observing the close confusion of what lies at the feet, or near at hand.

Having had the very rewarding experience of publishing a small number of books so far, initially with help and then as my own publisher, the concept of the e-book is one I am very interested in. It has to be the ultimate in sustainable publications – no actual materials being used etc. But, being a hands-on craft-orientated artist, the fact that I can’t hold this thing in my hands, turn the pages and feel the surface of the paper is something I have to put aside and accept: this is a different experience. Collaboration pushes you in directions that you might not have taken on your own, provides new possibilities and opportunities to learn as a result.

Alice Fox Llyn sketch 2

 

different space

Alice Fox Spurn Cloth #1 creases catching the light

Each time I take Textures of Spurn to a different venue there are new challenges in presenting the work in a new space.  This is quite an interesting exercise and I learn something new every time.

Alice Fox Spurn Cloth #1 at Gallery 49 exhibition

At Gallery 49 I am sharing the space with other artists. There were decisions to be made about how to allow the work to sit alongside that of others and letting it compliment each other.  Stef’s beautiful botanical monoprints and Margaret’s ceramics tied in beautifully, picking up particularly on the seaweed collagraph elements in my work.

Alice Fox Textures of Spurn with Stef Mitchell prints and Margaret Lawrenson ceramics

Alice Fox Tide Marks books at Gallery 49

The exhibition is on until 27th April.

Alice Fox Bridlington north beach

I took the opportunity to have some time by the sea, both at Bridlington and a little further up the coast at Filey.  Despite the persistent cold weather we’re having there was some beautiful sunshine and it was quite a wrench to tear myself away from the beach.  There were all sorts of intriguing marks in the bright white stones, some almost like stitches.

Alice Fox sketchbook Bridlington north beach Alice Fox stone markings Bridlington north beach Alice Fox stone marks Bridlington north beach

 

concrete textile

Last week I collected my Beach Ghosts prints from Artlink in Hull and took a little time on my way back to say hello to the Humber Estuary.  I walked briefly on the foreshore almost under the north end of the Humber Bridge.  It isn’t the most glamorous foreshore in the world but there is something about that point where land meets water that is captivating whatever the situation.

Alice Fox Humber bank sketch

I took a brisk walk in the sharp wind, making a few quick scribbly sketches before the biting cold took hold of my fingers.

Alice Fox Humber bank concrete textile 2

The bank here has the most intriguing erosion control.  It has a fluid smooth form and was obviously created using a textile basis filled with concrete that was then hardened.  These bulging shapes still have vestiges of their textile origins but are now solid concrete, complete with zips and woven surface texture.  It reminded me of the innovative stuff some textile designers and artists have done integrating concrete in their work, for example here, here and here.

Alice Fox Humber bank concrete textile 1Alice Fox Humber bank concrete textile 3