November, and we find ourselves in another National Lockdown. As we are still allowed outside to exercise I’m trying to see it as an opportunity to start researching another aspect of the canal I’ve been musing on; Bridges.
What is a bridge? A means of connection or transition, a link between two “places”, a structure to go over an obstacle, a relief from repetition. Perhaps it is quite apt to study them as a project to get through Lockdown.
Starting at Lock 7, and the Entrance of the Kennet and Avon Canal (the navigation goes much further into Bristol), I started walking, photographing and making notes. I realised some time ago that I have nick names for my local bridges and mentally they act as markers in mapping where I am, or how far I have to go. I didn’t realise they had official names until I read “The Kennet & Avon Canal, A user’s guide to the waterways between Reading and Bristol” by Niall Allsop (ISBN 0948975288).
In the last year I’ve been making mental notes of their numbers (they each have a number plaque) and how curiously, they sometimes skip numbers (where did bridge 159 go?)
The types of bridge are various; swing bridges, stone bridges, wooden footbridges, ornate iron bridges, aqueducts and tunnels (are these bridges?). Each has it’s own character & shape.
I have a few idea’s of where I could take this series, but for now, I will just walk, collect images of Bridges and let thoughts meld.
No poisonous plants this month, just edible ones and I’ve completed my “start of Autumn” ritual by making pots of blackberry jam. I’ve also started making a mental note of the sloe trees ready for picking in October.
The Reedbeds on the canal are covered with the soft white fluff of Willowherb seeds, interspersed with stinging nettles and brown spiky teasel’s, and the hedgerows are full of brambles, elderberry and rosehips. I haven’t drawn any new plants this month, instead focusing on last Septembers paintings and working from them onto cloth.
Painted Study – abstract of Sept Still life vase
Sept Vase on cloth
I wanted to paint an abstract interpretation of last September’s Still life onto cloth. My approach to image making is always fairly low tech, here I have used thickened procion dyes, sectioning off areas with masking tape or sticky back plastic and, applied the dye using old bank cards, the end of a pencil, kebab sticks or a brush. Further lines and marks and shapes will be added with stitch.
Alongside this I have painted or printed a small bundle of patterned cloth and immersion dyed some solid colours with the leftover dye.
September Cloth bundle
And so the dyes and pots are all washed up, the studio boards cleared, these fabrics will be packed away with the drawings until next September when I will return to move them forwards again. It doesn’t seem a moment since last year when I drew the original drawing…
If you look back at the pencil drawing in my “Abundant July” blog post, you will notice a ? next to the drawing of a seed head. It turned out to be hemlock, a highly poisonous plant if digested. I made a mental note that having a vase of Hemlock on my dining table for a week was probably not the best idea, and further highlighted my ignorance of the plants I was collecting and a need to educate myself, not least so I don’t end up in a bizarre Miss Marple style investigation for why my Partner has ended up hospitalised or worse (excuse my black humour).
Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve revisited last August’s vase painting, collages and painted cloth which I had deemed unsuccessful (wrong colours, too painterly) and i’ve added new drawings from Purple Loosestrife, Water mint and a great or hairy willow herb, noticing their particular structures, shapes and colours. I have started to design from them on paper and cloth.
Purple Loosestrife detail
A while ago I did some research into the history of still life painting and discovered that often the arrangements couldn’t have existed. The plants and fruit depicted wouldn’t have grown at the same time of year or the country in which they were painted, they were “fake” arrangements painted from prototype illustrations. I like this idea of a faux or rogue element being in each month’s work. This month I experimented with taking a Purple Loosestrife inspired leaf design and depicting it in the colours of a canal boat I had photographed (orange, cobalt blue, dark and light grey) to see if rogue colours would change the reading. My partner came home and asked why I was painting carrots! It is fascinating how humans “read” imagery – categorising and turning abstract images into representational imagery.
Purple Loosestrife Leaves
I went over to a friends house yesterday and talked her through my recent work. We normally meet monthly and its the first opportunity since March’s lockdown we have had to share work properly . I have so many ideas for this series but I can’t follow them all there are only so many hours in the day and I need to start focusing them down into two or three manageable avenues to start experimenting with. I find it so valuable to talk to someone about my work, it helps me see and verbalise what is working (or not) and why. I now have some clarity.
I popped into to see the re-opening of the Trowbridge Town Hall yesterday as I have my painting “April No-Movement” showing in the exhibition. Not only have they opened, but the place has been transformed since I last went.
There is now a plastic free shop selling dry foods and cleansing products, the Free-range café serving delicious looking cakes, pies and coffees and the artist co-operative shop, and of course upstairs is the new exhibition showcasing local artists work created in lockdown. It is a varied and high quality show with a wealth of visual stimulus and stories reflecting peoples creativity in lockdown. On throughout August.
The towpath flora is so abundant in July I could fill numerous vases with different kinds of wild flowers and grasses. Such a contrast to January, when there was little to choose. I didn’t feel like painting in Acrylic this month, I felt quiet, low on the energy to commit to such a painting and the delicate flowers leant themselves more to watercolor and pencil drawing.
This is the last month of “collecting” to make a years worth of drawings/paintings/photos and written observations of the Kennet & Avon canal. I’ve focused mainly on general impressions, characteristics of canal life and the seasonal changes, but after reading “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens recently, I’ve found my curiosity about the specific plant names, birds and insects increasing. So for the next 12 months I plan to create work from the last years paintings and drawings, removing myself from the source material. I have already started this with my collages, screen printed cloth and collagraphs. Continue my practice of walking and recording, venturing further along stretches of the K&A, and as lockdown eases, hopefully I will also be able to visit more museums and exhibitions – the Crofton Beam engines and Wilton Windmill are on the list.
Alongside all this, I am continuing to read my my way through my bookcase, this week I have been enjoying some American history in “American Quilts the Democratic Art 1780-2007” by Robert Shaw. There were many parallels in this quilting history which resonate with recent news stories, e.g the slave trade, cotton farming and resulting civil war with the recent Black Lives Matter campaign, plus modern day slavery/poor textile/farming employment practices which COVID has highlighted, resulting in the lockdown of multiple factories. Do we humans ever learn? When I picked up the book, I was particularly looking for Album Quilts, thinking about how my monthly floral collections are not dissimilar in practice if not media and these quilts often act as historic documents, through the stories and images they depict, the type of fabrics, prints & colours used or the inscriptions embroidered or inked on.
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?
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.
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.