Elderflower and Dog Roses – a creative retreat at home

Canal

I’ve had 3 days leave from work this week to focus on my art. I’ve begun to accept that C19 is probably scuppering any ideas of a summer holiday so I’ve treated this time as a creative retreat (albeit at home) instead;.

Detail of “Life is not Still – June”

Day 1: I got out on the canal early to pick whatever flora June had to offer, walking along with gardening gloves, secateurs and armfuls of plant life attracted curiosity from two older gentlemen walking their dogs and a couple of older ladies in brightly coloured rain coats – perhaps conversations I wouldn’t have had otherwise. I spent the rest of the day painting a cloth covered panel in Acrylic, setting the vase with a backdrop of my hallway. I like these paintings which document my home, which is as much about place and time as the flora.

Day 2: I woke up feeling directionless now the painting was down, decided to go for a 9 mile run/walk along the canal and photograph the boats and bridges instead. Some research for other ideas I am mulling over. I did a lot of thinking whilst I ran. I let the afternoon drift, achieving very little and then spent an hour in the evening revisiting my sketchbook/research and reconnecting with early ideas.

June study – Painted paper collage

Day 3: I sat an watched You-Tube video’s on Sign Writing (another aspect of canal life that interests me and i’d like to weave into the work at some point). Then I painted papers and created some collages inspired by the main blocks of colour and shape in June’s vase. I’ve also started some pressed flora collagraph experiments.

Collagraph Plate experiment

Next month I will have a whole year’s worth of flora studies from the canal (albeit i’m missing paintings for January and May). Where has that year gone?

 

Words paint a picture – May on the canal

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The blossom is dropping, covering the towpath in little white speckles.

Helicopters hang in heavy clumps.

Bold yellow Irises add drama to the reedbeds.

Farmers tractors create stripes;

Wide stripes of short pale green grass, narrow stripes of piled dark green cut grass.

Giant white goats.

Red Campion, more magenta than red.

Strong bright green is the dominant colour.

Cow Parsley, thick and tall; I didn’t know it was poisonous!

 

 

Week to View

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In diaries you get a couple of pages, usually at the back or front, which show the whole year in a table, or a month in blocks of squares. Some have added details like full moon markers or bank holidays etc.

I’ve been looking at these grid/table formations lately and how they could lend themselves to my work. To incorporate the idea of calendars and how colour can represent a particular time in the year.

In my November fabric prints I was trying to capture the soft colourless world of November, when you can see through the trees, the last skeletons of plants in the reedbeds punctuated by the vibrant orange/yellow of the birch. The orange and grey print reminds me of tally marks, yet another marker of time.

I intend to insert the bar section pictured above into a bigger quilt top, I’ve been playing with titles such as “week to view” – eluding to both diaries and the 7 bars of cloth in the bar quilt. Quilts offer us protection and comfort over years, quiet companions and sometimes markers to our own life changes. It’s really important to me that my quilts are functional. I want them to be slept under, to be part of living life, not just a decoration.

However, as the shops remain closed for COVID19 I will have to wait to buy the supplies. Perhaps we will have turned a full year before I finish this piece, but that’s all part of its story.

Home – April 2020

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April’s Pallette

I had started painting a large canvas depicting Aprils Canal flora. It wasn’t working but no matter how I tried to resolve it, something wasn’t right. I generally trust my instincts and decided to take a break and allow my mind to work on something else. Ultimately, I would have to leave it until next April; the problem with working from life, in monthly series, is that time doesn’t wait.

I occupied myself with re-writing my artist statement and refreshing my website, it’s been a few years since I wrote it and my practise has subtly evolved. It was in reflecting on and writing about my recent practise, the problem with April’s painting became clear.

March’s painting (in fact many recent paintings and drawings) depicted the subject within the context of a room. I have always collected objects from the outdoors and brought them into my home, arranging them in bowls or frames, drawing and creating work from them, but in the last couple of years my work has evolved from depicting objects in isolation to situating them in a space or with a figure. Connecting the outdoors (or talismans of them) to me and my home.

The problem with the canvas I was painting for April was it didn’t situate the vase in a living space, it filled the whole canvas. The room, the interior, the space which fills the backdrop was missing and is important to what I am expressing.

Conscious that time was ticking I collected a fresh vase of flora and started again.

Structure

Canal, Creative input

 

I have been collecting flora from the Canal hedgerows and reedbeds once a month since last August. This structure has given me the permission to work slowly, allowing time to get to know this place, to notice its changing nature over the course of a year, whilst giving me monthly deadlines to keep my work moving forward.

In the last month of COVID19 lockdown, I have found comfort in my creativity with a flurry of work; resolving a painting for “March”, screen printing fabric inspired by last November’s flora studies, hand stitching and binding “Finding Place”, the last of my Pebble series quilts and I have painted small stylised studies from Aprils flora.             The structures humans place over nature (time, calendars, map keys) have been an interest since University days. In times of difficulty I take faith that natures cycles will continue long after the trials of my life and humanity have passed.

I’m reading two books this week;

Threads of Life a History of the World Through the eye of a Needle by Clare Hunter (Hodder & Stoughton 2019, ISBN 9781473687912). This book is so apt at the moment, with chapters such as “Frailty, Captivity, Identity, Protest, Loss” it reminds us of the role textiles, stitching and the arts play in bringing people together, empowering people and providing an element of control and restoration or a coping mechanism to lives. The writing is accessible, historically informative and thought provoking. I can’t recommend it enough.

Patrick Heron by Mel Gooding (Phaidon Press Ltd 2014, ISBN 9780714834443). I went to see the Patrick Heron exhibition at Tate St Ives a couple of years ago but I’ve not made the time to sit down and read this book properly – what better excuse than a lockdown. I always find biographies of artist’s lives and work reassuring, not only do they offer insights into the context and progression of art history, but they normalise and put into context the life of “famous/successful” artists, the way they approach making, the sporadic nature of creating, the familiar frustrations of combining art with life/family, how their work developed and matured over time, the fretting over artistic debates (in Heron’s case the figurative versus pure abstraction) and how they managed and overcame them. What biographies remind me time and time again is the importance of remaining curious, true to ourselves and that we keep making our work.

A museum to November

Canal, drawing, Walk Run Object diaries

I couldn’t get the colour orange (and my missed opportunity to capture it) out of my mind last week so I had to go back and collect some more leaves. The next daylight window was Friday afternoon; I put my running shoes on and enjoyed the miles to the next town and back.  I thought for a moment that time had already changed the landscape; the trees didn’t seem as bright but then there it was, slightly back from the towpath “glowing”.

In “ways of seeing” John Berger talks about pin boards at home with their torn out magazine clippings, drawings and photos being like a personal museum. Well this weekend my design board became my museum to November with more sketches, the leaf colours captured and some photos of two artists work that seems relevant to my thinking; (Angie Lewin’s woodcut prints of British flora and Ewan MacLeod’s paintings of the male figure in the Land).

Ideas are mingling, half formed or on the cusp of something…..seasons, time and change/transitions, colour synonymous with a month/time, the male figure, gendered subject matter, objects as symbolism, interiors, tools and still life.

 

 

 

Rich Orange of Copper Beech

Canal, drawing, Walk Run Object diaries

November’s dark days curtails my ventures onto the canal path.  I leave for work before dawn and it is pitch when I get back; moments to observe the changes for the next few months will be confined to weekends (or require a head torch and serious monologues to quell the inner fears).

Last weekend I collected another vase of flora from the hedgerows and reedbeds. Hands tucked in pockets against the chill and old shoes for the muddy puddles. Everything is becoming skeletal, although the last curling leaves cling to the ends of branches or carpet the floor in fading emerald and lime. The bright berries of October seem to have died off or darkened. The only colour that strikes me is the rich orange of the copper beach, shiny and luscious in it’s stark contrast.

I fill an old jug with the collection at home. I want to capture the orange colour in paint, but something stops me. Instead I do a line drawing. The next morning the heat of the house has curled the Beech leaves and they have lost their vibrancy. I’m disappointed with myself.

The canal path is quieter than summer, holiday boats are now moored or under repair. House boats seem deserted. Runners, wrapped up, pound past periodically – Spring Marathon training season has begun.

Colour Palettes to Dye for

Canal, Dye/Paint/Stitch

Thurs 31st Oct Blog header photo - dye palletteThe canal has a very different colour palette to my previous coastal themed work. Predominantly shades of green & brown landscape and water, graphic black & white locks and bridge structures and touches of bright colours in the flora, birdlife and barges. This weekend I’ve gone back to basics with some dye colour mixing to teach myself some new palettes.

I have always tended to work (and love) a muted rainbow palette, those mixed with all three primary’s and to include slightly jarring colour combinations. Greens and brights are not colours I have worked with much. However, the opportunity to work with a wider range of colours in relation to my canal series is one of it’s exciting possibilities.

Turqouise and Golden Yellow Swatch

The lock gates are opened

Canal, Uncategorized

October Collage red leavesI’ve just come back from a creative retreat weekend with my textile group CQWest. It was great to have 2-3 days solid to focus on my new work and to bounce ideas around and learn from my creative friends. Creating can at times be quite a lonely process and these group networks are important as support, guidance and an empathetic ear.

October 19 retreat wall

I realise looking at how long it’s been since I last blogged that I have perhaps been in creative “retreat” at least publicly for a while and its time I provided an update.

There has been a lot of change in my life over the last year; a new job, a new partner and letting go of the place that has inspired my artwork for the last nine years. My creativity hasn’t stopped but I needed some time out, to finish projects, to set up a new workshop, to learn new skills and think about where my inspiration would come from next. To share that confusion via my blog felt too public.

 

It was my new partner that made me realise I already have another significant place in my life; the Kennet and Avon Canal. I have lived near it in various houses, lodgings and flats ever since I was 21. I have walked it as a commute to work, cycled the entire length once, I run on it regularly for fun and exercise, I’ve cycled its rocky hawthorn strewn path to see friends, walked along in sunshine or puddles to the local towns and pubs and its always been there with it’s bird and boat life when I just need to escape and watch the world go by outdoors for a while.

I have therefore started to observe the Canal more consciously. Noticing the specific and the general, how it changes with the seasons and learning a little about it’s history. As always I’m using this research to inspire my art, or perhaps more the art is a visual expression of what I observe; the two are entwined as ways of knowing.

 

Currently I’m focussed on two series;

  • Bridges, as way markers along the navigation and their names and numbers.
  • Flora, in the hedgerow and reedbeds and how the colours and structures change each month.

So having found a new direction, I will be back to blogging my progress more regularly.

October vase pencil drawing

October collage Orange leaf