Monday, 7 July 2014

July and August 2014

Down Memory Lane
A perfect time - when summer weather brings ambient temperatures to earth and I find myself floating in the spaces between imagination and practicality, collecting inspiration, retrieving numinous facets from the world of the collective unconscious. I have a creative balance in my working day - in fact it is a 24 hour day of delightful discoveries as dream time is yet another surprising facet. I'm working with traces and trails of colours that reflect my journey and with the beauty inherent in the simplicity of fragments and discarded objects, found in the world at my feet, whether city pavements or along river banks and shorelines.
It's in line with the philosophy of arte povera, that emphasises the importance my own guiding principles of intuition, imagination and innovation.  The things I make are rather like maps that are made after the journey. For me, the importance is mainly about the journey, although saying that, it would remain uncharted if not for the making.

Lizzie, my daughter and I went to Herefordshire for a weekend at the end of July to visit old haunts, a little trip down memory lane. The whole weekend was filled with synchronicity and was delightful and moving.
The cottage rapidly disappearing beneath the ever encroaching undergrowth (above) is where we used to live. In fact when I found it in the late 1980's it was also wrapped up by Mother Nature. I had woken up early one morning after a strange dream (I have many unusual and telling dreams by the way) in which I was visiting a very old lady who lived in an isolated cottage where wild ponies would come to her door to be comforted and fed.
On the hill beyond a hunt was in full swing, I remember being surprised the appearance of a very stroppy woman in a black velvet top hat, (who looked like someone I had met only once but who lived nearby and who was also a member of the local hunt) who was busily bossing everyone about but she could not come onto this old woman's land to pursue her prey. The dream cottage was like a little oasis of peace and magic. On recalling the images on waking, I thought that I recognised the place by the lay of the land and after I had taken my son to school, I drove up to where I thought it was with Lizzie, who was then only two years old, to see if this place actually existed. Sure enough I saw the top of a chimney above all the tangled brambles that covered the entire building. Feeling quite encouraged I went back home and got a thick blanket for Lizzie to sit on, a machete, a pair of thick leather gardening gloves, a sailing hat ( to stuff my rather long and unruly hair under), a pair of wellies, a pair of dungarees (quite on trend in the 80's) and a picnic and returned to start my hacking and chopping. I should add here that the land, 5000 acres belonged to a close friend who was also the local Lord of the Manor and I knew he would not mind one bit as I tried to connect dreams with reality. The whole episode had the air of fairy tale adventure from beginning to end. The cottage had in fact been unoccupied for over 40 years and brambles grew extraordinarily well in that neck of the woods, some were almost as thick as Lizzie's wrist. I slowly made my way and came to a stream, not very deep but quietly running along its course and kept on hacking back the brambles, trying to avoid the very sharp thorns. I came to the porch after about two hours. The brambles had travelled into the front room, (the only room downstairs apart from a larder and a place to chop up a pig) grown up the fireplace in which was an old iron grate where the previous occupants had done all their cooking and heating of water and up the chimney, intertwining between a 40 year old tower of crows nests that had been built on year on year. The extraordinary brambles had also grown across the flag floor and made their way up the spiral stone staircase, across the two bedroom floors, through the little windows

and back outside to begin the journey all over again. I must add that as I kept clearing my way, I would also clear another place for Lizzie on her blanket. She made no attempt to crawl away and simply sat and watched as I slowly revealed what was eventually, though unbeknownst to either of us at the time, to become our new home.I can and will no doubt retell all the adventures we had there over the ten years that we lived there. It's fascinating, and is often stranger than fiction.
The undergrowth nowadays is more cultivated at least, or once was as I established a beautiful garden there before we left in 2000 and moved to Devon. I had the cottage on a so-called renovating lease for 20 years with an extra 7 years for Lizzie to take possession if she so wished when she was 21. There hangs another tale of devious skullduggery, the upshot is that this lovely place is abandoned once again. 
Before and after shots but not as we expected. Initially, when I started on my renovation plans the kitchen, above was an old cow shed, again abandoned for 40 years, made from bricks, timber and corrugated iron sheeting. It was beyond repair so I made the plans for a kitchen with a sort of minstrel gallery above, where I envisioned my children and their friends peeping through and looking down on preparations for Christmas etc way after their bedtimes. It worked perfectly for the time we lived there. My son, Richard, built a beautiful Carl Larsson style wooden shelf all around the kitchen where I could keep my papier-mâché pots.

Somewhere beneath the jasmine and vines is a wooden pergola, once a sunlight dappled retreat.
There was a wildlife pond here that I had dug out to collect water from the stream.
Before and after rack and ruin.

Monday, 23 June 2014

My New No-Dig Organic Allotment

I'm now the proud tenant of an organic allotment at Riverford Farm in Devon. At the time of writing it's merely a portion of the field. I'm sitting under the umbrella considering my next move.

My intention with this allotment is to create five square 'rooms' with paths moving into and through, connecting them all together. Initially I was going to take on one full sized plot plus a half one but at the point of signing the contract opted for an extra plot. This means that the compost bin is now in the middle of the plot and will have to move to the far right bottom corner. 
I've bought a little Mountfield mower and I've mown and mown and mown the grass which had been previously rough cut by a ride on mower by the farmer. All the grass had been left so my little machine chopped it up and collected it. This is wonderful as I now have loads of grass clippings for adding to my no-dig lasagne style beds. However, the task was really far too much and there was still lots of lovely long, soft dried grass still to be raked together - again a perfect ingredient for the beds as it was basically hay.
The next stage on room number one was to measure and to peg out and divide the square plot into four and establish the centre. 
The centre may be a lawn or a pond - yet to be decided but it will be circular. I shall modify this plan slightly and I am considering adding trellises. Along the dividing fence between my neighbour and myself I have created a grass path. It looks a bit like this and as time goes by with raking and mowing should begin to resemble a nice, soft, green, grassy path. I may also add seed.
I shall be putting a rabbit proof wire netting fence around the plot, initially the main expense but well worth it as other tenants have been extolling their woes regarding the voracious appetites of young rabbits and of their breaking and entering skills. This allotment will not resemble a traditional allotment, even though I've always thought they were the best way to garden an allotment. This is because I want to create a very inspiring and beautiful retreat as I as yet have no garden of my own. I love the French Potager style of gardening and this will provide lots of inspiration but I think my allotment is going to be some sort of hybrid of my own. if you would like to explore the ultimate Potager Garden then click here for Villandry. There are lots of elements that I want my plot to contain and I have started to collect some on my pinterest board of ideas.
This slight incline/slope of the field makes me think of terracing. No-dig terracing?
Layering up the bed with layers of wet cardboard, (be aware of using cardboard that may have formaldehyde in it) then cow manure, grass cuttings, beech leaves, more manure, hay etc, etc. The idea is to keep the layers wet but we are in a heat wave and the allotment has no running water. This time next year and I will have my irrigation/rainwater collection system in place but for now I will cover up and rely on condensation. I have a penchant for recycling but also for making the garden beautiful. Somewhere in between I will make use of the discarded plastic banners that are used for advertising - the make perfect covers and can even be tied to stakes as they have brass eyelets.
Mmm, I need to remember that although my enthusiasm belongs to a 21 year old, my physical age is meant to be retired. I have been pulling out lots of wood from an enormous pile (that resembles a giant's Pick a Stick game) with my left arm and projecting them javelin like towards the boot of my car for a few days, collecting enough wood to start building my recycled shed. I have finally learnt my lesson after damaged my left shoulder rather badly. Enough to stop play for some weeks in fact. I have promised my family that I will limit myself to swimming, walking and yoga from now on and ask someone to do the extremely physical work. I am not at all pleased as I love challenges. So whilst I am recovery mode all the beds are composting down and I am looking through shed catalogues. I suppose I will have to pay someone to put in the rabbit proof fence as well. Damn.
Meanwhile I have been working on new ideas for autumn and winter jewellery back in the studio.

May and June 2014

No time to blog! I have been taking advantage of early mornings and long evenings and for once, perfect weather, blue skies and scudding clouds. So much to catch up on.
This is the time of year when gardens are open via the National Garden Scheme - the N.G.S, so with the yellow book at hand I set off for Spitchwick Manor, nestled on the undulating edge of Dartmoor in wooded valleys. One of my ideas of heaven is a walled garden with greenhouses - Victorian greenhouses. I would happily live in a walled garden.
And at Spitchwick Manor the walled garden is tucked down into the landscape for protection from the elements of winter weather - strong prevailing tree bending winds and slashing, lashing icy cold rain. Consequently you will find the orchard is also tucked behind the granite walls - perfectly pruned old apple trees geometrically spaced within their own neat round islands of earth set in lawns of roughly mown, daisy strewn grass.
The walled garden in also a sunken garden on the side where the entrance is. From the outside you find the usual magical wooden door set within the wall and as you push it open are quite surprised to discover that stone steps descend. It makes perfect sense as it embeds itself into the ancient landscape once and for all time. As walled gardens go, this is on a miniature scale. Initially you look over the tops of the apple trees across the top of the walls towards the sea. And then you enter another world.
 I love old gardens and all the things that go into the making of them. I don't know if this knife sharpener is still in use as most shears and spades are now stainless steel and as far as I know are not sharpened. I may be wrong. This is for sharpening plain steel tools, the kind that go rusty when left in the damp night air. All tools ought to be washed, dried, oiled and put in their own place, that is if you have a place to put them.
Storage - essential and also a place for returning swallows to nest. 
More storage - the potting shed - another essential for a well run garden and a place to wile away the hours. Robins also nest here.
I will make a bench like this for 'potting-on' on sunny days. I am planning my next garden, where-ever it may be, composing lists of reminders of details and aspects of things that I love to create once again a little heaven on earth.
 And Azaleas for perfect beauty and drifting evening fragrance.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Painting Inspiration in April

There have been some days when the colours of the sky and the fields were almost beyond belief and impossible to ignore or resist. When Devon looks like this I want to paint in gouache - I can make blocks of colour, layer by/on layer.

In fact the colours are even more intense in reality. April is a wonderful month and takes us from the simple skeleton outlines of trees right into the incredible abundance of blossom.
From early mornings where daffodils are seen gradually emerging into being in mist as the increasing warmth sun slowly disperses the cold, right into days of brilliant sunshine and colour.
Where grassy banks are filled with flowers to spectacular displays as the sun is setting.


Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Transferring Ink Jet Images onto Papier Mâché Clay

This is a technique that I have thought about a lot and experimented with a lot less until now. I am working on a series of wall pieces and jewellery made using this method for our ( the HANDS group ) From Paper to Digitization exhibition in May 2014 at Seale-Hayne.
This LINK initially demonstrates how this technique is used on potters clay but it can also be transferred onto papier-mâché clay.
It is outlined here so far as transferrable techniques for papier-mache clay are concerned. My own photographs will follow. 

Years ago, in an attempt to incorporate digital photography into my clay work, I began experimenting with image transfer processes. I began working with Xerox transfers and decals with some degree of success. But one day I accidentally stumbled across a water-based process so simple and direct that it’s become the single-most-used method for most of my current transfer work. Unlike other processes involving a laser printer, Xerox machine, and/or chemical solvents, this water-based process can be done with an inkjet printer or any water-based media. Consequently it’s nose, skin, and, yes, even kid friendly.
You can see where I am going to go with this - 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Papier-Mache Recipes

Recipes for papier mâché abound and they all work, depending on your preferences and the piece your working on. It's all about personal preference and choice. 
Lets start with one by Jonni Good sharing her recipe for paper mache clay.

and how she uses it on her animal sculptures - no metal armature - simply crumpled paper and masking tape as a base.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Paints and Mediums - acrylic

Every artist will have their own preferred brand of acrylic paint, based on things such as the colours available and the consistency of the paint, that ranges from extremely buttery, as they say, to fluid. Try buy a few of Artist's Quality Acrylics rather than a whole range of cheap colours. Student Acrylic Paints are cheaper because they usually contain a lot more filler, or they are made from much cheaper pigments. It is worth trying out some below and experiencing the difference. 

The next stage is to make your own.

link - Sennelier

link - Winsor and Newton






link - Liquitex






link - Atelier Interactive Acrylics

link - Lascaux Paints - this is a rather unusual company
 More products from Lascaux -
Additives are used to condition paint to perform to the way you want them too.  This range allows you to thin, thicken, rework, retard, matt and build up with Lascaux or any other acrylic colour.  Each paint company offers their own range of additives.

Acrylic Emulsion D-498M - Allows you to make your own acrylics and pastes. This is essentially the same binder used in Lascaux Acrylics.
Impasto Gel - Enables you to mix into paint to create translucent or semi-translucent structures. Available in 1 - Gloss and 2 - Matt.
Water-Re-soluble Medium - With this medium you can make watercolour paint with special properties by mixing with traditional acrylics. Paints will not develop a permanent paint film and may be reworked like traditional watercolour. By varying the amount of this medium, you can create colours that will be water re-soluble in heavy layers.
Lascaux Transparent Acrylic UV Varnish - transparent UV protection, through the application of at least two coats of paint, mixed with at least 25% water and with a 6-hour drying time between them.  Matt, gloss or satin finish, in two sizes. Satin lacquer also available in 5l format.
And then there is Lascaux Resonance Gouache - link

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