27 July 2012

to the point

I had a very enthusiastic audience for my talk 'To the point' this afternoon.  We just managed to squeeze everyone into my studio here amongst all the fabric and samples.  It was lovely to meet some new people (and see some familiar faces) and share what I'm doing with such an appreciative bunch.  There was even a 'Blue Peter' moment where I unwrapped a bundle of silk wrapped round a piece of rusty metal, accompanied by suitable expressions of delight at the marks that were being revealed.

26 July 2012

spurn cloth #2

I started constructing Spurn Cloth #2 today.  Again, this was a case of laying things out along the floor of the studio and playing about with things until they looked right.

It was good finally to be able to see how all the textures and patterns I've been collecting on these pieces of linen will work together and how they relate to cloth #1.

Joining all these strips together is a quicker process as I'm using the machine for this one.  This cloth will hang in a very tall space in the lighthouse where the light levels are relatively low, therefore the detail isn't as important on this one.  I've concentrated on creating a cloth with bands of texture that will give an overall effect rather than be viewed up close.  There will be time to add more detail before it is shown elsewhere (with better lighting!) after the show at Spurn if needed.

 It's been a quieter day at the Mill today with fewer visitors.  The weather is still damp and grey, but there was an hour or two of sunshine this afternoon to throw some good light into my studio.  I'm also preparing for my talk here tomorrow afternoon, picking out the key images to tell the story of my project.

25 July 2012


I've stitched fairly solidly today, apart from doing a phone interview for a press article.  Progress is slow but steady.  People come in to the studio every now and then to see what I'm doing and I have a welcome little break to chat to them.  Most people are wowed by the scale of what I'm doing.  I'm fairly daunted by it too at the moment, but I will persevere as it is right for the space it will be seen in.

24 July 2012

let the stitching commence

I started stitching this morning.  I have rather a lot of it to do.  Of course I knew this, but it is only in actually starting the process and spending a good part of today on it that it is clear just how long it will take me to do it all!

The stitches serve two purposes: they fix the silk pieces to the felt and they add texture and marks to those already in the silk.  They can help to blend the different pieces together and accentuate certain areas.  I am purposefully keeping some of the creases in the silk as the reflective qualities of these are what give a similar feel to the reflection of water and wet sand.  My stitches can help to fix these in place and add reflective qualities of their own.  In placing the stitches I am responding to the marks on the silk, using the boundaries of colour already there and thinking about how material is sorted and arranged on the beach.

residency number two

I'm spending this week at Farfield Mill in Cumbria.  I am artist in residence here during that time.  Yes I know, surely I can't be 'in residence' in two places at once... But I've brought a bit of Spurn here with me (images, sketches, notes, memories) and I am very much there in spirit.  I am using this week to work in a concentrated way on my two big textile pieces, currently called Spurn cloth #1 and Spurn cloth #2... these unromantic titles may change with time but for now they will do.

I have a clean, light space here where I can spread out and work away from the distractions of my home studio.  It would be tricky to do this in the lighthouse and while I work here I have people popping in to see what I'm doing so I can tell a different bunch of people about the project.

My first job yesterday, after unpacking my things, was to lay out the roll of felt In using as the base for cloth #1.  This is industrial wool felt and will give a strong but flexible base to the piece that is beautiful to stitch into.  My roomy studio floor was perfect for laying it out, measuring and cutting it to the size I need.  I could then start to arrange my dyed silk on top of it.  There then followed a great deal of fiddling, moving, rearranging, considering etc. until I was happy with the arrangement.

I could then begin to pin the pieces in place.  This cloth is to hang in the lamp room in the lighthouse, where there is good light and visitors will be able to see the detail of the surface very close.  There is a suggestion of a horizon and this work will almost be reflecting back the 360 degree view you get from the top of the lighthouse.  But I'm not trying to represent it directly, rather I aim to capture something of the changing tones and marks in sky, sea and sand.

I will be giving an illustrated talk here at Farfield Mill on Friday at 2pm, all about the project. 


21 July 2012


On any walk on the beach I pick things up, sometimes more actively than others.  On my long walk last weekend I just collected feathers.

I've experimented with printing from these, having turned some of them into a collagraph plate.  Their solid shafts mean that there is quite a difference in heights on the plate so a relief print using just rollered ink is patchy, but I love that uncertainty about what will print and what won't.

17 July 2012

marks on silk

As well as the fabric wrappings that I left at Spurn to gather marks from the groynes, I have also made bundles at home with rusty things collected on the beach.  These are all unwrapped now.  The silk practically glows with reflected light and the prints are a curious mix of subtle and strong.

I am planning two large textile pieces for my exhibition, as well as a series of prints on paper.  In terms of a space for showing art the lighthouse is pretty challenging: it is large (!) and there are generally low light levels.  This means that the subtle shades and natural tones that I am drawn to working in won't have much of an impact.  So I must bear this in mind when preparing work to go in the various rooms.  The one space that does have good natural light is the lamp room and this is flooded with it, even on a cloudy day.  I am going to make the most of that and am planning one of my large pieces for this space, where the viewer will be able to see the work very close and in good light.

I will be using the silk that I've dyed using rust and tea and making a kind of art quilt.  I'm going to start putting this together and working on it in earnest next week, when I'm at Farfield Mill.  The painted sketches I did last weekend will help guide me when putting this together and I'm really looking forward to having the space to spread my fabrics out and start fitting them together.

15 July 2012

painting sea and sky

I was joined in the lighthouse this weekend by Mary, another of Spurn's artists.  It was lovely to finally meet her, having shared the lamp room with a couple of her paintings.  

I took no photos yesterday at all, just painted sketches of the subtle changes in tone on the 360 degree horizon.


peninsula walk

13th July - notes taken as I'm walking:

I decide to walk the peninsula today.  The weather is good and the forecast for tomorrow not great.  I don’t have other pressing things I want to achieve this weekend, so this is the day for it.

I set off from Warren Cottage and walk along the estuary side first.  The tide is high but falling.

The waters of the Humber glitters in the sunshine.  Water and sky with clouds are a similar mix of silvers, light grey with hints of blue.  The tide is well up still.  Groups of birds sit on the mud with its shallow water, near the shore and further out.  Scattered groups form dots but larger dots than the worm casts visible nearer the shore. Occasionally a group moves then settles again a little further along.

A layer of tiny cloudlets sits over the estuary mud, held in the curve of the peninsula.

Salt marsh plants form low humps (sea purslane I think).  Bobbly flowers give hints of pinks, oranges and purples all set against glaucous greens.  The grass along the dunes gives way to the humps of the salt marsh plants, each in its own zone, clearly defined.  Beyond, the weird mud lumps with their special grass are a different green again.

Walking through the grass is difficult.  A couple of months ago there was a defined path here.  Now it is hidden and you have to push through, sometimes guessing where it goes.

Then a band of sand takes over from the grass. Clear bands of marram, sand, then salt marsh.

A pair of oystercatchers ‘peep’ as they fly past.

Some bands of texture in the water and shore are very subtle, almost imperceptible shifts in tone and density of marks.  Others are very strongly defined: strong, dark, intense change.

Further on the sand changes to stones, or rather has stones on it.  White stones then black further down the beach.

The low dune is now a sort of cliff with buckthorn scattered in amongst the marram.  The salt marsh has largely stopped now.

I can see the point where the mud turns to moving water; the same tone and texture but with movement.

I’m about half way round the inside of the curve now.  The calls of the waders are clear on the gentle breeze with the sound of the waves from the other side of the spit giving a background rumble.  There are bird footprints in the sand, blurred by the drying of the grains.  Occasionally there are human prints, similarly blurred.  I wonder if anyone else has walked along here today.

There are huge amounts of large debris: massive concrete slabs and sections of broken brick wall, tumbling down the steep dune bank and spilling onto the beach.

Now I’m walking on stones all the time, mixed with smaller lumps of concrete and broken brick.

There are waders busy in the freshly exposed mud, oblivious to my passing.

Dark sea weed blackens the lower part of the beach and green weed clings to some of the rocks.  I reach the high tide wader roost and move on to the road so as not to disturb birds or annoy anyone in the Chalk Bank hides.

The road verges are littered with a colourful mix of flowers: bind weed, hawk bit, ragwort, birds foot trefoil, tiny plantains in flower, perennial wall rocket, various umbellifers…

I leave the road by a freshly mown path onto chalk bank.  There is a prominent head of a white umbellifer swaying in the breeze behind the first hide.  One head of white flowers has 9 red/orange flies on it, some in couples, presumably mating.  They don’t seem to mind my close inspection.

Rose and bramble clamber over and between the buckthorn and elder.  High grasses sway gracefully.

Over the stile into the meadow, sweet smelling clover and other flowers in abundance.  The scent is heady.  There are yellows, whites and occasional pink.  Pyramidal orchids are dotted around, magnificent in their bright pink.  Small puffballs are dotted about the path.  I walk along to the Heligoland trap and on through the gate, leaving the meadow.  My hay fever reacts badly to the meadow!

I was just thinking this must be the kind of place the deer hang out, amongst the buckthorn and other shrubs, and there is a pair; mum and young.  She jumps over the fence to join the little one then spots me and we stand looking at one another for a minute or so.  Her large ears swivel to catch the tiniest noise and she sniffs the air.  She jumps back over the fence but the little one can’t or doesn’t know to try so they hang about a bit, not knowing quite what to do, until I decide to leave them in peace and walk on.

I pass Steve’s gabion installation, walking between the two concrete blocks.  It looks good in the sunshine.  I re-join the road.  On to the beach just a little further on.  I’m near the lighthouse now and on a familiar patch of beach, having walked this stretch a number of times before.

It is clouding over.  Light grey cloud sits over light grey water with hints of green and brown.  The water is noisier than sometimes: a rush of movement.  The tide is going out.

A faded metallic ‘1st birthday princess’ balloon crinkles on the beach, caught on the stones.  Thoughts of some disappointed toddler letting go of this helium filled delight, lost on the wind, disappointment and tears.

I find a tiny fossilised sea urchin, beautifully rounded and complete with a small patch of mottled blue showing through white calcification. 

Crossing lines of footprints on the damp sand.

There are people walking the other way.  I realise I’ve not seen anyone since leaving the Warren.  Cars have gone up and down the road but no people are walking my route today.  We nod in distant acknowledgement.

Different patches of sand are very different to walk on.  I hit a hard patch and suddenly it is much less hard work.

A lone jellyfish, stranded.

The point is unnervingly calm.  There are no crashing waves, no fight of water against water.  There are just lapping waves and a steady movement of water out of the channel: the river and tide quietly working together.  Then round the corner the waves are crashing on the sand bar that is exposed when the tide is low.  Still not fierce but more like the waves that are usually here.

I walk round the point and into the wind.  I now have 3 ½ miles of this.  My legs ache.  I’m walking in the wind now and with the sand it is really hard work.  I’m now wishing I’d gone the other way round.  On the estuary side it seemed that the wind was coming from the south.  Round here it is coming off the sea. 

There are lots of shoes on the beach today.  Canute’s chair is still here but broken up by the waves now.  Fascinatingly marked pebbles beckon a closer look with almost every step.  I ignore and march on.  Bic razor case… chip fork… stone with giraffe-like markings…

On past the lighthouse and into the forest of groynes.  A sand castle, beautifully decorated with pebbles.

On the estuary side I could see what I was aiming for.  On this side it feels relentless as the spit disappears round the curve and out of sight, with no clue as to how much further there is to go.  I can’t shelter from the wind.  There is nowhere to hide.  I sit on a concrete lump but a rest isn’t very restful.

The beach is unusually empty.  There are no sea-fishermen and there were no bait diggers on the other side.  A family of silohetted figures cross the beach and mingle with a row of groynes.  Their irregular shapes adding to the strong row of marks that join beach and waves.

Occasionally a small wader appears and seems to be alarmed by my presence.  I wonder if I’m about to stumble upon some camouflaged eggs amongst the pebbles and hope that if I do I will spot them before crushing them.

I find that I‘m talking to myself – out loud!  I’m having imaginary conversations intermingled with planning my talk for next week. 

I pass through a very dramatic part of the beach.  There are large concrete cubes tumbling from the dunes onto the beach in a messy jumble with worn groynes.  A cliff that is actively being eroded has exposed concrete supports with a thin layer of roots and marram grass perched on top.

Soon I can see the hide above the Warren and am relieved that my walk is nearly over.  It feels good to have done it and good to have exerted myself.  A good blow of wind and a few hours thinking time are valuable.  Tired limbs mean I can go to bed feeling I’ve really done something today.

the peninsula

When you have nothing more to say, just drive
For a day all round the peninsula.
The sky is tall as over a runway,
The land without marks, so you will not arrive

But pass through, though always skirting landfall.
At dusk, horizons drink down sea and hill,
The ploughed field swallows the whitewashed gable
And you’re in the dark again. Now recall

The glazed foreshore and silhouetted log,
That rock where breakers shredded into rags,
The leggy birds stilted on their own legs
Islands riding themselves out into the fog,

And drive back home, still with nothing to say
Except that now you will uncode all landscapes
By this: things founded clean on their own shapes,
Water and ground in their extremity.

 - Seamus Heaney, from ‘Door into the Dark,’ 1969.

A friend sent me this poem last week.  It really captures the particular nature of a piece of land that juts out into the sea, almost an island but not quite separate from the 'main land'; and the intense noticing of detail as part of the experience of traversing it.

I won't drive round my peninsula, I'll walk. 

10 July 2012


I've been developing some collagraph plates to print from.  This is a slow process as things have to happen in the right order, with one layer or process being completed before the next.  I'm working with two different ideas: one is to use collected items from the beach, glued onto a base; the other is to build up texture based on my drawings using collaged paper and stitch.

I'm experimenting with different types of found item: plastic fragments (which should make an interesting print but are not easy to glue down effectively), textile fragments (which glue down beautifully) and seaweed fragments (which glue down with mixed success).

 At this stage things can look disappointingly boring but there is the hope that they will produce some really interesting textures and marks once printed.

Everything has to be sealed so that when it goes through the printing press with damp paper it all holds together.  Some things also need a kind of primer to help stabilize them for when ink is applied.  The gesso I use for this transforms the plates into ghostly versions of themselves (see the image at the top).

My hope is that I can use the textures to print onto both paper and fabric, the second of those to feed into the 'Spurn cloth' that is developing from the fabric dyed on site.