Category Archives: research project

A Creative Retreat: Part One

Discovering a visual feast for mind, body and soul.

walking across the shallows to Tresco on the low Spring tide

walking across the shallows to Tresco on the low Spring tide

I have found a paradise here on earth!  Surprisingly, I have lived in Cornwall for 14 years but this is the first time I have had the opportunity to visit the Isles of Scilly.  It’s a first for the dogs too.  First time on a big boat for them, let alone the island hoppers.  The noise of the engine is a little alarming at first but they soon get used to that.

We are staying on the small island of Bryher, based in a cottage at Hillside Farm.  My hosts are delightful and they have farmed this land for several generations.  I, my bags and dogs are collected from the small jetty, all bundled into the back of an old red Landrover for the short, bumpy ride back to the farm.


Aptly named, this small farm overlooks its own fields surrounded by high, pittosporum-hedged windbreaks.  In the past, the fields of Bryher supplied the mainland with early Spring flowers like daffodils and anemones before cheap imports from South Africa put them out of business.  Now, the produce from Hillside Farm supplies both islanders and visitors with fresh vegetables and eggs.


Beyond these tiny fields lying in a low sandy neck of land, is Sampson Hill, from the top of which, the twin peaks of Sampson Island can be viewed on the other side.  From my South-facing balcony, I can see the sea on both sides of this spit of land – the Atlantic on the right in the west and the island of Tresco on the left in the east.  (scroll down to see 2nd ‘pano’ below)

Birds use this area as a corridor.  The whu whu coming from the pair of swans that live on the pool in front of Hell Bay Hotel just around the corner makes me look up from my sketch books as they fly backwards and forwards on their daily comings and goings.  A young blackbird comes to my breakfast table every morning, fluttering its wings and asking to be fed.  Thrushes.  I haven’t seen these songsters for years, and sparrows. The air is just bursting with a multi-toned symphony of sound which is all overlaid with a more raucous stave of tunes from a variety of seabirds: Oystercatchers, Herring Gulls and pretty little Kittiwakes.


They are so close, I am forever peering into the shrubbery or tops of boulders to see who is making these wonderful avian sounds.   If you are not careful, it is all too easy to stumble on a nest half-hidden in rocks on the foreshore or know I am near one by the screeching alarm calls from anxious parents.


On our first day, we were able to walk across the sand banks to Tresco and back again, thanks to the low Spring tide.  Being brought up on the beaches of Cornwall, the dogs are in their element too.  Wading, knee-deep in the channels, Tammi wild with excitement, darting across the sand banks and jumping into the water to splosh her way across, whilst Sadie sticks to me like a shadow.  I am pretty excited too.  It is a hot, crystal-clear, perfect day.  I thought life just couldn’t get any better than this.

If ever there was a time when I wished I had a camera with a zoom lens or the ability to make panoramas, then this is it.


I tried to make some with the ‘pano’ App on my iPhone.   They make some strangely distorted images but I like these unusual angles.  (Click on them for a better look.)  All the photographs in this post are from my iPhone camera and I haven’t ‘doctored’ any of them.






These islands are only a few square miles at most, so everything is on a human scale.  Scan the horizon and most of what you see is within a single viewpoint.  There is no need to adjust the settings on your camera to ‘toy-town’ scales.  It is a ready-made landscape in miniature.  It is Les Ecrehous, Les Minquiers and Jersey, with a dash of Barbadian beach idyll, all rolled into one.

I also tried the traditional 4-photograph panoramas.

Everywhere you looked, there is some treat in store.  (spot the goat)

Either feasting the eyes on distant views (spot the whippet)


Or things up close and more detailed, highlighting some of the amazing colours and textures.  (spot the Cornish colours)


I was surprised just how often I found myself alone on these desert island beaches feeling like a castaway.  I could fancifully imagine myself as a Mrs Robinson Crusoe.  Even found his abandoned camp, complete with fire pit.

IMG_3125 IMG_3123 IMG_3126


This is a place that is hard to leave.  Physically, I have returned with an old gig-racing oar that the farmer turfed out of his barn having deemed it of no use to anyone any more.  With little thought about how to get it home together with 2 cases (one for clothes, one for art materials), a rucksack and 2 dogs, it is £2.50 worth of island history that I just had to have as a souvenir.  Plus a handful of white sand to view under the microscope.


Spiritually, this place has seeped into my being, through the pores of my skin and found its way into my heart.  The question is not if, but when can I come back again?

(See part two coming shortly: the creative journey.)



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Filed under my sketchbook pages, Nature / Nurture Project, research project, The Artist as Pilgrim

Terra Firma: 10 Shades of Grey


Fudge Factor No. 4

Fudge Factor No. 4

Whilst walking the familiar paths today, underfoot, the mud has dried in places to a soft sludge, sinking slightly under the pressure of my foot.  This is in sharp contrast to the sloppy quagmire and rivulets that were evident only a week or two ago.  In racing terms, this would be considered ‘good to firm’ going.  Then I wondered if there was an equivalent terrain rating for walkers?  I know walks are rated in terms of difficulty such as rocky, uneven tracks and steep inclines, but not the actual physical sensation of walking over bare, ‘earthen’ tracks which change from day-to-day according to the weather and the seasons.  If there is then I’m not aware of it.  So how could you rate it?  What measure could you use – at a glance – if someone wanted a daily update?

Crackle glaze, FF 4

Crackle glaze, FF 3

Lets take a closer look.  The earth beneath our feet is made up with a mixture of fine-grained particles of rock (sand and clay) and other organic matter (dying vegetation, decomposing animals and other organic waste products).  We tend to take it for granted but if you think about it, soil is one of the most important substances on our planet.  Along with water, clean air and sunlight, it forms the basic matrix for life itself.   Walkers, or anyone else who crosses over this important matrix, are connected to it in a fundamental way.   Forget about its importance on a global level at our peril.  Perhaps we can become more aware of it by noticing its condition?

A hoof-print divot made when the mud was soft, now baked solid.

A hoof-print divot made when the mud was soft, now baked solid.

So for walkers, how could you rate it in terms of a sensation underfoot?  When soil gets wet, it turns to mud.  If you think of mud as being the consistency of fudge, what about a ‘fudge factor’?  You could rate it in terms of squelchyness from 1 to 10.   1 being arid, desert conditions or solid concrete; 5 – the midway point – ‘good to firm’ and in ‘fudgey’ terms a perfect eating consistency.  10 would represent the danger of being completely submerged in the gloop (Dawn French style).  The two extremes of the scale represent a significant danger to life.  In Cornwall, our soil has a built-in colour-code on a scale of white to a rich burnt umber: chalky white in the driest of conditions to a rich black in its most saturated state.  Somewhere in the middle is a furry-chocolate grey.

This is my imagined table of Conditions for Fudge Factor on a scale of 1-10:

Fudge Factor

Description of Terra Firma


Dry, dust-bowl conditions, cracked earth. Concrete and tarmac.


Ground rock hard, dried and baked to a crust.  Ideal medium for making earth, pigment-based paints.


A little moisture in the ground making good to firm going


Firm underfoot but not hard.


A little ‘give’ in the ground when pressure applied. (Perfect fudge conditions)


Deeper ‘cut’ in the ground when pressure applied.


Ground wetter with small puddles appearing.  In racing terms, good to soft.


Puddles getting bigger and more boggy conditions


Quagmire conditions and danger of loosing footwear in the bog.


Worst case scenario.  Fine grained sand, silt or clay and water forming colloidal mass causing quicksand conditions.


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Filed under my sketchbook pages, Paths of Enlightenment, research project, The Artist as Pilgrim

New Beginnings

This post is for anyone who might have been wondering why things have been so quiet on my blog front recently.  Traditionally, it is the time of year when I update old websites, draft ideas for new projects and generally start to plan the year ahead.   This year I have the added pleasure of getting familiar with my new Mac, consigning my old PC to the dinosaur graveyard.

Screen-shot of new blog

Screen-shot of new blog

And….I have given birth to two new websites!

Screen-shot of my new website

Screen-shot of my new website

One is about my newest project and the other is a journal blog to go with it which explains a bit more about what I have been getting up to.  If you would like to have a look, just click on the images.

I still feel slightly apprehensive about going public but do take a look and let me know what you think?  These are long-term projects and still a long way to go to get them off the ground but today, at least, I feel I have made a start.  Comments would be most welcome.


Filed under Pilgrimage Walks, research project, The Artist as Pilgrim