I’ve been playing about with old envelopes and have made a series of small note books using them. I’ve always loved the patterns you get on the inside of many envelopes and often keep them ‘just in case’ they might be of use. Now I’ve found a way of using them and giving them another life. I’ve enjoyed playing with some of the printed marks on them, deliberately including bits of text, stamps and those little windows that allow you to see the address on the letter inside.
I’m reading Roger Deakin’s Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees at the moment. Anyone who reads this blog regularly will know I’m a fan of nature writing and there is a pile of such books permanently on my bed-side table, either waiting to be read or ready for me to dip back into a favourite section. There is a chapter where Deakin describes visiting the artist Margaret Mellis, which I read the other day. Because he is focusing on trees and wood he is particularly interested in Margaret’s use of driftwood for her sculptures or assemblages. He also describes her drawings made on opened out envelopes and he makes an observation that really struck a chord with me:
Letters, like driftwood and ideas, arrive out of the blue. They are gifts. The envelopes, like the driftwood, had a former life, and would generally be discarded. Mellis gives them new status and a function. Ingeniously reusing an envelope, or driftwood, to make a picture is, in the context of environmental politics, a deliberately frugal act. Both were once trees, and what would otherwise have been wasted is turned to good use. (p 188).
The phrase ‘a deliberately frugal act‘ has stayed with me since I read it as I know that many of the decisions I make both in my life in general and in my artistic practice are just that. I am excited by the possibilities of the found or discarded object and see it as a challenge to make use of them. If by doing so I can reduce the consumption of new materials that is another challenge met. This doesn’t mean I won’t use new materials but I am always considering carefully how and when I do.
I’m currently preparing for a series of workshops over the next month introducing people to printing and dyeing with rust. I am gathering collected rusty things as well as a range of materials on which to make our rusty marks. Fittingly, the first of these workshops next weekend will be held in a salvage yard. I’ll let you know what we find and how we get on. If you fancy making some notes on the back of an envelope then the little books are available here.
I’ve been working quietly away at my exhibition for Saltaire Arts Trail. This time next week the event will be in full swing and the ‘village’ of Saltaire will be buzzing with people of all ages, inspired energy and a plethora of different art experiences for visitors to sample. One of these will be my exhibition Gifts from the Pavement, in one of two pop-up galleries on Victoria Road.
I posted a while ago about finding my ‘gifts’, the result of a kind of ‘beach-combing’ or pavement combing. Farley & Roberts (see post on Edgelands) refer to this kind of collecting of objects: “This is not beachcombing, but edgecombing” (p154). Saltaire, a World Heritage Site, can’t really be classed as an edgeland; it’s far too loved and looked after. However, the discarded or ignored details that I’ve explored here are generally over-looked, so there is an edgelands quality to them.
My collection of ‘combed’ textures, marks and shapes found on the streets of Saltaire has been transformed into a series of long prints or sections of a path, which will form the main part of the exhibition. As with other recent print-based work these are built up from various layers of different print techniques and texture: There are rust prints from found metal objects; collagraph prints, some made with found items and some from paper but inspired by the textures and patterns found on the street (drain covers, worked stone etc.); mono-prints using some of the natural items I found (leaves and seed heads); screen prints featuring scraps of found text; hand stitch adding a further layer of texture to the surface and finally a layer of subtle texture, almost like a rubbing, that makes the surface even more pavement-like. There are areas of intense activity as well as quieter sections. This reflects the ‘activity’ on the streets: some stretches were rich in points of interest, others much ‘cleaner’.
In the run-up to the Arts Trail the Saltaire Tourist Information Centre has some ‘Pavement Pieces’ prints (like little fragments of the main ones) and cards. I still don’t know exactly how the long prints will actually come together in the exhibition space until I get in there later in the week. This is slightly nerve-racking but exciting too. The book I’ve published to go with the exhibition is due for delivery on Monday and until I see it in print I won’t know if it really has worked how I hoped. Although the work is all made there are unknowns and challenges for the week ahead.
I’m working on a new project. It started with my contribution to the Brooklyn Art Library’s Sketchbook Project (link to my book in the digital library on the right). I’m now working on an exhibition for the wonderful Saltaire Arts Trail which takes place in my local World Heritage site in May. I’m taking the ideas I started in my original sketchbook and the resulting work will form an installation as part of the trail around the village.
Gifts from the Pavement is a collection of textures, marks and shapes found on the streets of Saltaire: Subtle changes in the surface of the pavement; points of interest under foot; discarded objects like a rusty washer or squashed tin can, a dropped ticket or a scrap of something not-quite-discernable. These marks and shapes are collected and arranged, explored and developed into unconventional prints and displayed in surprising ways for the viewer to follow, discover, explore.
So I have been collecting, pavement combing, sweeping the Saltaire streets with my eyes. I have a whole bunch of wonderful photos of ironmongery, kerb stone marks and ephemera of all sorts. I also have a box of ‘gifts’ that I collected on my walks, some more beautiful than others (I avoided anything too distasteful – there were many cigarette stubs and a few other unsavoury items!).
This week I’ve been sorting through the images and items (some more of them are here) and preparing to print with them. They’re a strange mix of things: some with a history as long as Titus’s village, some dropped from someone’s pocket on a rushed journey to work a week ago.
‘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
I’ve done some updating of the items on my online shop. You can now find a series of collagraph prints on there, including some of my Spurn Marks prints. These feature rust prints with collagraphs over-printed. There are also a few concertina books, various cards and some framed pieces as well. Because each item is unique things change on there quite frequently, so it’s worth keeping an eye on what is currently available. The link to the shop is always on the right hand side of the blog and I’m happy to post to anywhere in the world.
> I’ve been sorting through my art kit for college. At the same time I’ve gathered together some bits and pieces to give to someone I know who is just starting at art college, for part of their art kit.
They’re all things I’ve found useful for mark making with all sorts of different media. How many different marks can you make with each one?
> Today I’ve been with good friends who I last saw a year ago in Northern Spain for their lovely wedding celebration. This time last year we were having a really relaxing and food-filled few days in Cudillero, Asturias with friends old and new. As a late wedding present I made them a little book with copies of the sketches and notes that I made while we were there and I finished it this morning just (literally!) in time to give it to them over lunch.
There were sketches of the fishing boats coming in with their catch and then the catch being auctioned in the fish market…
There were sketches at the beach where various members of the party swam in the very cold sea… There were sketches of the spectacular muddle of a roof-scape in the valley-confined village…
And sketches of the main square where the people of Cuillero spend their time sitting, drinking, eating and putting the world to rights…
Scanning my drawings and cleaning them up on the computer was fairly time consuming but it was actually constructing the book which was the difficult bit. The good quality water colour paper I used is fine to stitch through as long as you’re not using a big wadge of it! Several broken needles and bleeding finders and thumbs later I had a complete book
which I could wrap
and present to my friends.
Book making listening: Schubert quintet in A major and quartet in D minor