Category Archives: Studio Practice

Describing The Processes of My Studio Practice

Pointing the Way

Signs. The subject for this weeks WordPress photo challenge.  All these photos were taken over the course of my week-long reconnoitre trip up to the Holy island of Lindisfarne during Michaelmas last week.  (see also Pilgrim on Horseback for the back story).  Click on any of the photos if you wish to read the messages more clearly!

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Normally, I would jump at the chance to use a title like this to go down the esoteric route and interpret it as ‘signs as symbols’.  Something I am always seeking to find in the landscape as personal messages for me.  These, however, are signs that are literally pointing the way.

this is one I hope to become very familiar with

this is one I hope to become very familiar with

Some are warning signs, some have been defaced: a sheep turned into some of rhinoceros. Information boards, a scratched dedication to a loved one on a bench, and a way marker looking like a crucifix.

Then, on a wild and desolate moor in the North Yorkshire Dales, I come across the Red Flag which stopped me in my tracks.

On the Holy island of Lindisfarne, the signage becomes grand and imposing to shepherd the thousands of visitors around the island as well as marking the way for pilgrims wanting to follow in the Saintly footsteps of Cuthbert.  A couple of the signs, however, are cracked and old-fashioned and seem oddly out-of-place against the ‘corporate’ signage of a place that has become a major tourist attraction.  (Naively, something I was not expecting and found rather disturbing).  For me, these signs seem more home-spun and real and speak of the people behind them.  (Like the dedication on the bench, above)

And looking at them all again, collectively, there is an element of deep symbology for me in them, each one unique in its own way telling their own story.  On my epic journey, I shall be looking for these signs to guide me along the right path, both physically and spiritually.  Not least as a little bit of entertainment to also delight and amuse.

 

To see how other people have interpreted signs, here.

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Filed under my sketchbook pages, Paths of Enlightenment, Personal Philosophy, Pilgrimage Walks, The Artist as Pilgrim, Walks, Wordpress Photo Challenge

Allowing Silence to Speak

Inspired by this:

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
Mary Oliver
Today, I came up with these words:
Brollies, Balloons, Bunting and Bicycles.
In my ‘patchwork’ of words, I enjoy the repeating sound of the ‘b’s, like a babbling brook.   The seemingly random connection of their meanings.  They hint of party-time and celebration.  They are, in fact, the things that I have been working with in the training ‘room’ (which is the round pen) with my horse and I have used them as the title for a new post in my blog, Pilgrim on Horseback.  They represent the things that occupy that ‘silence’ in my days at the moment.
The words on their own conjure up colourful imagery: rounded, twirling shapes, triangular shapes, flowing ribbons and farting balloons: an expectation of fun and giggles.  I am very grateful for these words.  This is my ‘other’ voice speaking, quietly with joy.
And because these words are so full of imagined colour and fun, I have decided not to illustrate this post with any imagery at all, preferring to let the words do the picturing for you.  This last has been difficult but a first for me!  Read them again.  What do they represent for you, I wonder?

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Filed under my sketchbook pages, Personal Philosophy, Professional Development

Magnolia Leaves, Copeland China & Lily Pads

By tradition, this time of year is always very busy and this past month has been no exception.  Hence no posting.  Just thinking about what I have done in that time makes my head spin.  With delight.  And to spare you the dizziness of adding to your own busy times, I’ve just outlined a few things as an aid-memoir for me or for you to dip into if any of it takes your interest.

  • SOIL CULTURE FORUM

Making a Vessel to travel into the Other World (In memoriam 1)

Result of  the Slow Poem Workshop at Soil Culture Forum, Falmouth University.

My response to the Slow Poem, Composted Thoughts Workshop led by Mat Osmond & Tom Scott at the Soil Culture Forum, Falmouth University.  Layers of notes on one sheet of paper, torn up and placed in a dried magnolia leaf before being buried.

The Soil Culture Forum – using the arts to revitalise a resource we take for granted.  In brief, the presentations ranged from a captivating performance by Fraulein Brehms on the humble earth worm, Lumbricus Terrestris, to Yuli Somme, a felt maker from Devon who makes beautiful felt shrouds.  The creative workshops were absorbing and the whole Forum was thought-provoking, not least the key-note presentation about the state of our soils by Patrick Holden, of the Sustainable Food Trust.  (Note to self…must find out if I can get hold of a transcript of his presentation, it was so good).

making paint from mud

a workshop participant making painterly patterns from mud

my notes showing the mud and water mixtures using earth pigments from Peter Ward's workshop .

my notes showing the mud and water mixtures using earth pigments from Peter Ward‘s workshop .

Making shiny mud balls on a Hikaru Dorodango workshop led by Emma  Saffy Wilson

Making shiny mud balls on a Hikaru Dorodango  workshop (the link describes the art of Japanese perfection), a workshop led by Emma Saffy Wilson.

 

  • ALL MAKERS NOW? conference workshop

Trelissick Gardens (In memoriam 2)

Also at Falmouth University was The All Makers Now ? Conference A two-day conference exploring craft values in 21st century production.  I was fortunate enough to be offered one of the 12 available places open to craft makers, museum curators, technicians and artists, on the 2 day workshop held at Autanomatic, the 3D Digital Production research cluster at Falmouth, just prior to the conference.

Each group of 4 people worked on an idea for an artwork to be included in the exhibition at Trelissick House, timed to coincide with the conference.

With help from the skilled technicians, we had just two days in which to see our ideas go from the initial brain-storming session to  material realisation in a finished artwork before our very eyes.  We shaped and fashioned our way through the suite of cutting edge digital production technologies including Rapid Prototyping, Lazer Cutting, 3D Scanning and Computer-Numerically-Controlled Milling and Routing machines.

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The concept our group came up with was inspired by the famous Copeland China collection which was sold when the contents of Trelissick House were auctioned off.   As the exhibition was being held in the now empty library, we decided that a book would be a suitable matrix to contain the now lost textures of remembered objects.  A Bonhams lot ticket was the template on which areas of texture were either ‘imprinted’, embossed or ‘grown’, such as a section of a fire surround in the house, a small section of leaf pattern taken from a piece of china  or a section of the topography of the river and the land sweeping up to the house.  Even the wear marks on a piece of china, all telling some aspect of the story of Trelissick House and its famous garden.

The whole process was extraordinary and every aspect new to me.  The question we posed was: Can objects produced through the use of digital technologies (over the course of a two-day creative workshop), recapture the character of artefacts that have been displaced?

The Work for inclusion in The All Makers Now Conference Exhibition,

Trelissick House, Truro.  10th / 11th July, 2014

Title:  In Memoriam, 2014

materials: paper, acrylic, hardwood, plaster, ABS, canvas, card

processes: laser cutting, CNC milling, 3D printing, laser etching, (clay cast? if time)

Makers: Armando Chant, Barney Townsend, Rebecca Skeels, Caro Woods

 

  • CODING FOR WOMEN

A workshop delivered by Katrin and Shauna of MzTEK, a non-profit organisation with the aim of addressing the imbalance of women artists working in the fields of new media, computer arts and technology.  This workshop thanks to Creative Skills, Cornwall.

The idea was to build our own wearable synthesiser by programming a small ‘lilypad’ computer to output movement data as sound using the freely downloaded Arduino software.  Over the two days, some truly weird and wonderful inventions were created.

Finally, I managed to combine a few days of family time with the search for my horse.

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Rose has taken a liking to Tammie’s bed

Plus an unexpected and last-minute invitation to spend the weekend at Womad thanks to someone who had  dropped out of a party of friends because of ill-health.  Wasn’t I just the lucky one?  Three days immersed in a cauldron of melting heat, a rich array of costumes and heart thumping beats.  A mass of chilled-out humanity soaking up all the colourful sights and sounds.   I loved it.

I also had use of the 'posh' loos.  Luxury.

I also had use of the ‘posh’ loos. Luxury.

So that’s me up to date.  I’ve scarcely drawn breath and I’m off again tomorrow for the next 6 days with Richard Dealler (Mary / Michael Pilgrim Route) and crew walking over Bodmin Moor. The forecast is for rain but I’m a seasoned camper now.  (She says brazenly but without conviction).

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The good news is, when I return, I will be welcoming my new horse, Tommy, to Trezelah.  This is him being vetted on Monday.  (see my blog pilgrimonhorseback.wordpress.com for more details of that).  Exciting times.

 

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Filed under my sketchbook pages, Professional Development, The Artist as Pilgrim

A Potpourri of Observations

This weeks photo challenge is ‘extra’.  Last week I posted off a package of work for a mixed show in Jersey, in the Channel Island, as a guest artist in Observations with Art in the Frame, at The Harbour Gallery, opening this weekend.  I hope the show goes well.

So I present a few ‘extras’ for you: a potpourri selection of details from some of the work I sent off as my contribution.  (click on images for a larger view).

Seven + One, concertina ‘book’

From the Ancient Landscape Series:

Divided Cells:

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From the Membrane Portals Series:

For other ‘extras’, see here.

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Filed under Art Works, Exhibitions, The Art Business, The Artist as Pilgrim, Wordpress Photo Challenge

A Creative Retreat: Part Two

Room to Grow

My intention is to use my time on Bryher (see part one) as a space to make work.  That’s fine, but I discover that when it comes to it, I am left wondering, is that what I really want to do?  I unpack my boxes of materials, open my sketch books, but when I start going through the motions, the old routines, I feel strangely numb, the actions robotic.  What is causing this impotence?  I am in a stunning location but I feel powerless to render so much beauty with any sense of justification.   Is a fear of failure causing this inertia?  Is my own judgement getting in the way of my creative intentions?  What am I actually trying to do?

An aerial view of an island?  Or the hull of a boat being prepared for painting at a boatyard at Porthloo, St Mary's?

An aerial view of an island? Or the hull of a boat being prepared for painting at a boatyard in Porthloo, St Mary’s?

While I was pondering my condition this quote popped up out of the blue. “I believe it was John Cage who once told me, ‘When you start working, everybody is in your studio—the past, your friends, enemies, the art world, and above all, your own ideas—all are there. But as you continue painting, they start leaving, one by one, and you are left completely alone. Then, if you’re lucky, even you leave.”  Philip Guston.

But I recognise some of these inhibiting factors from past experience, so I revert to my default mode and concentrate on getting a feel for this place, its people, its history, its topography, before I even attempt to tackle what is in front of me head-on: more a quest to decode the sign language this landscape presents to me.

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a long, thin dog walking in a large pebble labyrinth just above the beach.

But first, in order to break through this temporary creative blockage and chase away this Bryher-sized mountain of expectations, I need to ground myself and establish my bearings by walking the landscape and scrutinising the cartography.   The first couple of days here on Bryher I have felt strangely unsettled.  My North / South internal orientation has flipped and it takes a while to re-adjust to the magnetic North within my own body.

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As you can see from this image above (taken from one of the guide books kindly left for visitors in my cottage), the Scilly Isles looked very different 5,000 years ago when sea levels were lower.

from my 'Isles of Scilly Guidebook' (Friendly Guides, 2011)

from my ‘Isles of Scilly Guidebook’ (Friendly Guides, 2011)

Compare that with a current map of the Scillies and I begin to imagine how prehistoric Scillonians might have lived their lives.  For instance, areas of land dedicated to the dead, such as the northern section of Bryher, would have once served a larger community and is echoed by the Northern slopes of Tresco, now separated from Bryher only by a narrow channel of water (see above map).

The duality of opposites:  my desire creates a battle between the opposite twins of hope (intention) and despair (fear).

In terms of creative inspiration, in the past, I have found that exploring opposites is fertile ground for me: light / shadow; above / below; beauty / imperfection (arguably the same); staccato / slow movement; colour / absence of colour; composition / chaos; stasis / flow, etc. etc., and this retreat is no exception.

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I wasn’t looking for opposites, certainly not expecting to find them, but the more I walk around Bryher, exploring its nooks and crannies and feeling its voices echoing back at me through the ages, I begin to feel a distinct pattern emerging.  A notion that this is an island story of two halves.  Take its extremes of weather: it faces the full brunt of winter storms thrown at it from the Atlantic, yet a peaceful idyll when the seas are calm and the sun blazes down on deserted, bleached beaches.  This sense of calm in a time of peace also belies the amount of ships that have floundered off these treacherously rocky shores, thwarted by rows of jagged teeth that emerge from the waters along its western coastline, aptly nicknamed the Wreckers.  This is a place that can bite back and gobble you up if you are not careful.

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looking towards twin peaks of Samson island

Even this seemingly benign island is divided by its topography.  The gentle southern slopes of Bryher are sheltered, verdant and inhabited.  Flowering succulents grow in profusion like weeds in the hedgerows and the air is scented with herbage.  (Similar conditions to the famous Abbey Gardens on Tresco, just across the small channel that separates these two islands).  You would be forgiven for thinking you had stumbled into a garden paradise which time had forgotten.

By contrast, the northern plateau of Bryher feels like a shadow land: a desolate and eerie place where the terrifying might of the waves gouge out huge, black gaping holes in the coastline and the thin layer of vegetation hugs the ground to escape the desiccating winds.

I begin to realise why this northern place, inhospitable to man as a place to live, the exceptional concentration of cairns here indicating it was probably much more suited as a place to bury the dead, even though in the Bronze Age this would have been good agricultural land due to the mini heat wave conditions at the time.  It was also used for defensive purposes with names such as Badplace Hill, and House of the Head (a chilling reminder of the Iron Age Celts and their cult of head worship) which can be reached only by going over The Gulf.

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Shipman Head Down, underfoot a thin, springy carpet of vegetation, eroded into crevices and cracks on its north-western slopes

Entering into this place that overlooks Hell Bay, is like going over a threshold.  There is even a demarkation line where the vegetation clearly changes from small, neatly mown fields to untamed scrubland with a spider’s web network of paths strung over it.  I didn’t meet another soul on my visit here, even on a warm Spring day, when the wind was moderate, and the sea slight.  I was constantly worried about the dogs disappearing over the edge of the cliffs and was pleased to leave this plateau and its ghosts behind me.

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But it didn’t leave me.  I was left pondering about this landscape.  On top of Shipman Down Head, lying amongst the many cairns, I come across a long row of granite standing stones.  Was it a stone row or ceremonial way, a defensive boundary, or a tribal boundary?  Who Knows?  It echoes the row of stones I found on the beach at Green Bay in the south, which were the remains of prehistoric field walls, now submerged by the tide twice a day.

This discovery threw up another contrast, this time extremes of tones: the stone row standing starkly ‘white’ amidst the darker vegetation, contrasting with the submerged field boundary, its seaweed covered boulders marching into the sea, broodingly ‘dark’ against the blonde, sandy beach.

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Having explored as much of the island as I can, going from granite outcrops, entrance graves, cairns, beaches, hilltops, sand banks, even a Hangman Island and back, I am beginning to get a feel for the place and add my sketch books, pencils and pen to the collection of dog bags and old stick of lip slave in my pockets before I set off on my daily roamings.   And just draw.  Anything.

No drawing takes more than a few seconds to do.  I have to work quickly especially when rain drops fall onto my paper wanting to make their own contribution to my presence.

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A boulder on the beach, a line of rocks in the sea, a tree blown into shape by the wind, and in the process, I realise that my drawing is a way of looking, a way of seeing the landscape around me.  A way into a process.  What could be more elemental than that?  Each mark made with the pencil or pen comes from an unconscious place, unfettered by judgement or notions of precision.  A simple interpretation of what is in front of me rendered by a line, a scratchy mark, a dash, a smudge.  A shaded patch here or a line going off at a tangent there.  I am beginning to be ‘left completely alone‘.

And tried a few simple mono prints based on my drawings.

Back home, I may not have achieved what I had set out to do but I have returned buzzing with new ideas, consumed by the names of that shadow land: The Gulf, Hell Bay, House of the Head.  Entering that dark place via a Threshold (my word): A Gateway between this and the Otherworld, between normal consciousness and a spiritualised consciousness.

Combined with insights that emerged from my recent pilgrimage, these are the things that fire my imagination, the places that I want to inhabit, re-visit, to explore what they mean to me in my own deep places, and it is to these very places where I shall be heading with my next body of work.  Where the visible and the invisible meet in me and find an outlet in my practice.   And in that free-flow, reach that still point in my heart, the meeting point between heaven and earth: the only really meaningful meeting of opposites.

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This retreat has served to remind me that my desire to create can only be achieved once I have let go of any expected outcome.  Where hope and despair dissolve into simple, clear vision.  Something, obviously, I need to keep reminding myself.  And it is in this process where, if I’m very lucky, ‘I’, the judgemental part of ‘me’, will leave.

To visit other ideas about ‘room’, this weeks photo challenge, see here.

 

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Filed under Drawings, Paths of Enlightenment, Studio Practice, The Artist as Pilgrim, Walks

Two Worthy Causes: Helping Survivors of Torture or Typhoon.

Christmas.  You know it’s that time of year when the begging letters with pitiful photos of suffering donkeys/dogs/homeless people etc., flop through your letterbox designed to tear at your heart-strings, and dig a deep hole in your pocket.  They are difficult to ignore.  I’ve seen the graphic images on Facebook too.  Images of unbelievable cruelty metered out on these poor innocent creatures.  They stay with me for days and leave me weeping with anger and sadness.

Poniou by Veronica Vickery

Poniou by Veronica Vickery

But it’s the cruelty we inflict on our fellow humans that is the most shocking of all and shatter the lives of families around the world.  Not to mention the natural disasters like the recent Typhoon Hayain that shatter the lives of millions of people.  At the very least, witnessing the survivors of these natural or man-made catastrophes serve to put any adversities we may be experiencing into perspective.  Anything that we can do, however small, to try to heal those affected and suffering is surely worth pursuing.

installation of 'kisses', Drawing the Line exhibition.

detail of installation of ‘kisses’, Paul Carter and Alexandra Zierle, ‘Drawing the Line’ exhibition.

Two exhibitions opened this week in Cornwall with the aim of raising funds for charities that help others in desperate situations: Freedom From Torture and ShelterBox.  It was a coincidence that they happened to open on the same evening.  Both causes are close to my heart and I am proud to say I have had a small part to play in both events.

preparing to hang

Works by Faye Dobinson (left) and Samuel Bassett.

‘Drawing the Line’, kindly hosted by the Millennium Gallery, St. Ives, is a sealed bid charity exhibition in aid of Freedom From Torture, the medical branch of Amnesty.  The charity aims to help rehabilitate men and women from anywhere in the world who have survived torture.  The exhibition has been organised and curated by artist, Kate Walters, and as a member of the West Cornwall branch of the charity, I offered to help ‘hang’ the show.

lunch break for Janet, Kate (and me).

lunch break for Janet, Kate (and me).

Over 150 artists, not only from Cornwall but also from across the globe responded to the call-out and generously donated works with some well-known names amongst the line-up.   Kiki Smith, Tim Shaw RA, Sarah Gillespie, Lisa Wright and Pippa Young to name just a few.  With such a diverse range of work from different artists and over 200 works, putting this exhibition together has been a considerable task and not without its challenges.

untitled, by Richard Nott

untitled, by Richard Nott

However, there are some truly stunning pieces on show alongside contributions of work by a few of the people who have been helped by FFT.   The exhibition runs until 7th December so there is still time to make a bid and own a drawing by your favourite artist!  (I have donated 4 ‘drawings’).

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A drawing by Hugh Mendes

Over £8,000 has been raised so far from successful bids.  Take a look at more drawings here.

‘The Christmas Postcard Show’ is a collaborative event this year between Badcocks Gallery and Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens.

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The exhibition is taking place in the Lime Tree Café at Tremenheere, with part of the proceeds going to ShelterBox, a charity set up in Cornwall delivering emergency relief to people around the world.  (Typhoon Hayain in the Philippines is still so recent in our memories).  The show which this year has a ‘botanical’ theme, runs until Sunday, 15th December.  You can see the works here  (I have contributed 3 small drawings which I did from a recent visit to the Gardens in November, see one below).   The café is worth a visit in itself.  A slice of their home-made coffee and walnut cake is highly recommended!

Collecting Seeds, mixed media collage, 23cm x 18cm.  Inspired by the knowledge that the owner of the garden is a modern-day seed collector and visits foreign parts of the world to enhance his garden.

Collecting Seeds, 2013, mixed media collage, 23cm x 18cm, by Caro Woods.  Inspired by the knowledge that the owner of the garden is a modern-day plant collector who visits foreign parts of the world to bring back seeds to enhance the garden at Tremenheere.

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Filed under Art Works, Exhibitions, my sketchbook pages, The Art Business

Umbral Onions

Yesterday a neighbour gave me a bag of home-grown onions and garlic that were surplus to his requirements.   Gratefully received.   When I put them in a bowl their dried tendrils draped over the edge in a wonderfully informal fashion.  The overhead light created some distinctively graphic shadows not only on the onions in the bowl but also on my kitchen work surface.

I was given a bag of home-grown onions recently and loved the shadows their tentrils threw from my bowl.

umbra

[uhm -br uh ]

noun plural um·bras, um·brae 

1. shade; shadow.  A region of complete shadow resulting from total obstruction of light.

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‘umber’ earth pigments. If I was painting this, raw umber and burnt umber would be in the mix.

2. the invariable or characteristic accompaniment or companion of a person or thing.

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The French Impressionist artists used ‘reflected’ blues and purples in their shadows.

3. a phantom or shadowy apparition, as of someone or something not physically present; ghost; spectral image.

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It is a little more difficult to make an image that describes the etherial body of an object / person, although I have seen this clearly in ‘transfigurations’.

In Astronomy.  see the Wiki link here for an illustration of the 3 distinct parts of a shadow:

1. Umbra:

a. the complete or perfect shadow of an opaque body, as a planet, where the direct light from the source of illumination is completely cut off.

b. the dark central portion of a sunspot.

2. Penumbra – a shadowy, indefinite, or marginal area. (from the Latin paene “almost”, “nearly” and umbra “shadow”).

3.  Antumbra – is the region from which the occluding body appears entirely contained within the disc of the light source. (from the Latin ante, “before”).

can you see the shadows within the shadow?

can you see the shadows within the shadow?

Anyone for French Onion Soup?

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Filed under my sketchbook pages, Personal Philosophy