Monthly Archives: June 2015

Alice Fox workshop day 4

How fast the end of the week has arrived! Last day in the sunny Surrey studio, and our attention turned to bringing together the prints and drawings we had made over the last few weeks into some sort of order. Before we started however, our daily walk! I was trying to focus on different things today – looking at the human edges of the place we had been in. A couple of my best photos of the week:

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After the walk, Alice showed us a few simple book-binding methods that she uses for us to try out on our samples. I pulled out all of the bit which I thought had actually worked ok – about half I would say, which isn’t bad for experimenting. I themed them into books based on the different ‘places’ which we had visited over the week: the buttercup meadow, the railway, the village, the hedgerows.

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Overall it has been a really marvellous week, and I am really glad I got the chance to meet Alice and see her methodology first hand. Courses like this are also made by the people you are with – we had a lovely bunch of ladies working away, and our studio chief Jude looked after us so well (very good food and cake everyday!).

I will take a few days to reflect on what we have done and what learning I can take back into my MA project. I would like to understand how such direct responsiveness to a specific place can become something more than just a record of personal experience. Later though, for now I am thinking about nothing other than the sofa!

Alice Fox workshop day 3

A great day today – under the heading of MANIPULATE. We used a range of different making techniques to play with our found materials including thread making, leaf stitching, plaiting and weaving. We spent all morning in the sunshine sat in the buttercup meadow. I really enjoyed making string out of grass and was abnormally pleased with the little string ball I made!

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We carried on with a thread theme in the afternoon to do some weaving, so I finally got a chance to use my old tapestry frame I normally use for silk painting. I really enjoyed this too and could really see myself making more weavings. We captured a response to our day out in the fields in the weaving we were doing – this was my final sample:


Finally the heat of this week finally dried out our Eco printing bundles, so we got to unwrap those. The fabric bundles didn’t really work and I have had much better results with my own Eco dye experiments. The paper printing came out much more successfully though, with more of the details coming through.


Alice Fox workshop day 2

The excitement continued today with experiments using printing techniques as the backbone. We started the day with another walk where a few of us ventured out into a beautiful meadow edged with thick woodlands, spending an hour or so watching, listening and drawing. Not doing so well on the collecting, but part of me feels bad for picking things up moving them out of context into the shiny whiteness of the studio.

This was the photo of the day – a Richard Long tribute walk through buttercup meadow

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We played with two printing techniques once back in the studio – direct transfer printing from the botanicals and using a pasta machine as a miniature printing press. We also used some of the rust dyed strips from yesterday to overprint onto – giving some lovely results. My absolute standout favourite was using the pasta machine for embossing – I’ve never done this and the clean crisp lines of white on white (no ink whatsoever) really appeals.

Alice also gave us some little ideas which we could use as starting points – today I focussed on trying to translate sounds into imagery. I did end up back into drawing with words again (both Anita and Maiko would laugh at my predictability here) but I can’t seem to help myself. I need to try to exploit this I think rather than endlessly fight it.

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Overall thoughts – it was a great sunny summer’s day, and very useful to learn the techniques. I think it’s getting clear in my mind that I don’t really get on with directly using the nature forms (leaves etc) in my work as I keep trying to go more abstract. I really liked the translation of movement (a journey) into line, and my attempt at capturing the genius loci of a meadow (bottom three strips in the image above).

More new things tomorrow!

Alice Fox workshop day 1

Walking, collecting, making

Sometimes serendipity smiles on you, and three weeks ago I was offered a last-minute spot on a full-a-year-in-advance course being led by one of my project’s main reference artists: Alice Fox. The activities began today!

I wanted to go on this primarily to experience first hand the methodology of someone who can so successfully capture the essence of a place into her work, using walking as a key part of her practice. She also is a big user of natural mark-making and dyeing processes so should be able to teach me a few new tricks to add to the box.

As an aside….I am aware my MA proposal is still in flux between three different angles on our sense of place: (1) psychogegraphy / making through walking, (2) culture v nature / wildness and (3) potentially bringing in elements of humanity’s cosmological sense of place. This week’s course is playing into the hands of the first two – but I’m not going to worry about aligning anything for now – I’m just learning and enjoying the process, and intend to make what feels right for the materials we use this week….

So! Today we started with an overview of Alice’s methodology and the principles behind the course. She talked though some of the context around walking and collecting – as a method for recording experience of place / landscape. This record can be through objects, images, words and thoughts which captures a snapshot of a particular place and time. Alice also had some very interesting thoughts on using found objects (directly or for mark-making), in that she seeks to explore the potential of materials have been found, to see how far they can be pushed. This is one of the things I’ve not succeeded fully with yet on my project….

First up today we went on our first short walk around the studio, recording in whatever way we were inspired to. This was the most curious photo of my journey:
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and a shot of all of the sketches, words and objects I brought back:

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We spent the rest of the day experimenting with two different processes. First up was rust printing on  paper and fabric strips. Having done a lot of rust dyeing recently looking at texture, I thought I would do something different by focussing on the quality and pattern of the marks – hoping for some clear distinct lines. We just used tea as an activator and will need to wait a day or so to see how they turn out.

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Second up was eco-printing using a process of India Flint (I have her book!), which I haven’t tried before. This involved gathering a whole host of different leaves and botanical oddities, wrapping and steaming in order to transfer the whole mark onto the substrate. Again an opportunity for clarity of mark as well as just transfer of colour. These also have to dry out fully before we can look at them – maybe tomorrow or the next day!

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So far, very enjoyable and Alice is a great teacher (plus we had cake). Getting some interesting whirring in my brain about my project – letting them swirl by themselves for now.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings!

The lifecycle of iron (part 1)

Out in the deep, darkness of interstellar spaces, the coldness is absolute. Dust and gas gathers slowly, too cold to move any quicker, leftover remnants from a violent explosion is the long forgotten past. The dust creates an interstellar cloud, the dark nebula, so laden with beauty if there were but any light to see it. Time and gravity are in control here, and if the cloud cools just…enough…the density within the core of the cloud reaches a tipping point, pushing the dust and gas into collapse. As the molecules are pushed closer and closer together by the unrelenting force of gravity, the density and the heat rises and a protostar is formed.

The vast dust clouds are at first dark. As the protostars grow, they feed of the matter around them and become hotter and more stable. In a wink of a galactic eye, barely some few million years, thermonuclear fusion begins in the core and accretion of new material stops. Hydrogen, the most abundant element scattered through the stellar nursery, forms the body of the young star, and once burning begins, light is scattered by strong stellar winds out into the wider universe. As time passes,  we find the cluster of young stars (once deep within the core of the gas cloud) scatter the remaining gases leaving only themselves. Time passes slowly and for countless millions of years the stars burn brightly – vast amounts of energy released as the hydrogen nuclei are fused into helium.

However, mass is finite, and the supply of hydrogen eventually runs out as the star approaches the end of its life. Fusion continues, first with helium nuclei fusing together to make carbon, and carbon and helium create oxygen. If there is enough fuel, fusion will continue as the star grasps to extend its lifetime, moving though neon, magnesium and silicon in a matter of weeks. Eventually as the final bell tolls, the silicon nuclei in the core fuse into iron – the most stable element known to us – and cannot be fused further without putting more energy in (thereby dropping the temperature), so finally depleting the fuel in the core, in under a day.

In the massive stars where this happens, the sudden cessation of energy release causes the core to collapse suddenly and violently, the outer layers imploding onto the inert iron core with so much force they explode as a supernova, burning brighter than the entire galaxy for the briefest of moments, before silencing. As the remnants of the core collapse at last into a neutron star or further into a point of infinite density, the rest of the matter is ejected back out into space.

Slowly but surely this matter starts to clump together in the dark and so the cycle begins again.

A change in perspective

With my project moving away from object-ness and more into the realms of knowledge and language, Maiko kindly arranged for me to have a tutorial with Susan, the director for Camberwell’s Book Arts MA course. It was a fascinating conversation and a different perspective on what I have been doing. We had a good chat about my still-too-large scope and where I am stuck, and my dichotomy between an interest in place / nature and place / language. Some good references and places to visit added to the to-do-list.

I showed Susan some of my latest experiments, and she was very interested in the Starfield piece – the only one I have so far I felt has that something. She noted the moving away from the stitched quilt into something more communicative of my concepts. We discussed that after Starfield, I went down the road of experimenting with natural dyeing ‘of place’; Susan commented that this has been done a thousand times over, and isn’t it a little safe? (Yes). Have my new experiments now lost the magic of that first piece? (Yes). We discussed the impact the written mathematical language has as an integral part of the piece, part of the materiality of the whole object. She said not to be frightened of tapping into my physics knowledge, this is the uniqueness of it – looking at place at a whole different scale – the cosmological place which humanity inhabits. Also a clear message that unit 1 is there to take risks – so go for it!

My learning from this week:

– nature and man all co-exist, so don’t get obsessed with “natural” fibres, look instead at the material properties I want to express
– materiality can be expressed in many forms, including the texture of the page and the quality of the drawn line, it’s not the preserve of 3D objects!
– I described my current practice as drawing, so far I quite like that as a description. Do some more reading to see how contemporary drawing is seen by the wider art world.
– stop being so afraid of venturing down the road into mathematical / scientific concepts.

So having decided it was time to re-evaluate what experiments to do next anyway (see last post), I think it is about time to start taking some bigger risks and steps forward.

Project proposal

Think bigger. I am making art to engage with more people than just me. I can now answer Maiko that I am not interested in exploring ideas around defining my identity though place – I don’t just want to look at difference, I want to look at shared experiences. I could look at place its most grandest incarnation – how we make sense of our place in the vast unknowable depths of the universe? Moving past the awe and mystery into tangible, physical understanding.

Research Paper

This is looming on the horizon and I have decided my current working essay concept is now out-of-date, firmly supporting research on place purely through experiments with nature materials. TIME TO MOVE ON! I’ve spent this week putting together some new ideas of what research could help me answer my unanswered questions….

….how can an artwork embody both personal experience and collective understanding?
….what works using ideas from mathematics / physics has actually been successful both visually and conceptually?


I think it is time to return to the original ideas behind Starfield and take them in a different direction.

What is place?

Place is….

a specific place, a location
Genius Loci (the spirit of place)
local history
movement, a journey
edges, liminal places
wilderness, wildness
geo-politics, globalisation
a non-place
decayed, lost, forgotten
an imaginary place
utopia / dystopia / heterotopia
mapping, cartography
anachorism (out-of-place)

Group crit with Maiko

It has been a while since we had a group crit and our session with Maiko on Thursday reminded me of why I have found them useful so far. I took in three different experiments to show the group the range of things I am making/thinking and why I come to find myself a little stuck at the moment on where to go next. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) this managed nicely to show up the extent of my confusion with the rapidly spiralling out of control context for my work. I think I have expanded a number of strands of thinking to the point where they are having completely different conversations through my experiments.

Maiko asked again if my discussion on a sense of place is really about identity and belonging. I burbled a bit about local knowledge and experience, but I’m evidently not clear enough in my own head to be clear when talking to everyone else. I know I have been a little reticent of looking at questions of identity – perhaps because I know I am not interested in the commonly seen art on identity: gender, race, sexuality, politics etc.

And then where does all of the stuff on language fit in? I showed a couple of my latest drawings (mark-making with the language of navigation) which are another set of ideas I don’t know where to take. Important questions over whether I am looking to imprint language onto the surface, or embed my messages into the materiality of the object. I understand that it is the latter which I am trying to do, I just haven’t figured out how… I mentioned that I was finding it easier to express what I am thinking through words and poetry, but not yet able to get a material language which speaks of my ideas. Suggestion to make a poem out of fabric – I quite like this idea, reminds me of something we saw recently at the Sonia Delauny show at Tate Modern, where she expressed a poem through her trademark colour painting.

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Maiko also made a comment which has stayed with me as a poignant observation: that my work speaks of a physical place, but one with no people in it – there is only one person evident in any of my work. Reflecting on this over the last few days, I have found this quite a mind-stirrer, and have been wondering if this gets more to the point than I realised at the time.

Should I perhaps consider my question from the other side? Not a sense of place and belonging, but instead that of the dislocated, the isolation and longing. The ambiguous identity; the question of why we feel like we belong in some places but not in others, even longing for places we have never seen; the search for traces of yourself reflected in the world around you. I perhaps need to go back to the topic of materiality and review what can best express what I am trying to say. I have been recently constraining my work to using cotton with plants / materials ‘of-place’ to make both my fabric drawings and handmade paper –  I should review if am I over-constraining myself and if I am missing something as a consequence.