Tag Archives: Meadow Arts

Avon Meadows – the creative process begins

19 Jan

After returning with various materials gathered from Avon Meadows (see earlier post from Dec 2020), I was excited to begin the process leading to the creation of an artwork responding to the landscape on the theme of beauty and utility. It would require quite a number of stages.

With the enforcement of further Covid restrictions, Meadow Arts and I reluctantly took the decision to delay public engagement workshops until March and to deliver them online – further details to be announced shortly. We also decided to proceed with making the artwork through December/January so rather than working collaboratively with community groups to help make the paper we needed, I made all the paper myself.

Making paper with reed and scrap paper pulp

I had gathered bundles of reeds and some birch twigs and leaves for making paper in two separate batches. The reeds were already mostly brown and dry, and the pulp I could make from both these types of material would not bind well on their own, so I combined it with pulp made with scrap paper. As Winter is also one of the themes, scrap Christmas card white envelopes came in handy.

Before making the pulp, I boiled the reeds and birch twigs/leaves for a couple of hours with a small amount of soda ash which helps degrade the organic matter leaving cellulose fibre. Take care if using soda ash (washing soda) as it is highly alkaline. Sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) is a safer, lower alkaline alternative.

This is then rinsed several times with cold water to remove the alkali, before pulverising it to break up the fibres. Finally it is blended in an old kitchen blender to a watery pulp.

I made about 20 sheets of paper in each batch using A4 size mould and deckle. Each sheet is transferred to a couching cloth, pressed in a stack to drain and then allowed to dry. Its a slow enjoyable process – but messy with water sloshing about. Normally, I’d be doing this outdoors but it was far too cold! So thankfully I have a lino floor in the studio.

Here are some close up images of the finished paper sheets:

In the meantime, I processed some of the other materials to create a series of coloured dyes. I had quite an array of berries, leaves and other materials like alder cones and birch bark.

For each item, I cleaned and then simmered them gently in a small amount of water for 15 mins to an hour to release pigment into the water. In case of using materials that could be mildly toxic, I use only old pans, stirrers and other utensils that are not used for preparing food.

You can dye fabrics in this way, but I was going to be using the dyes for staining the paper I had made. So once the liquid and mulched berries had cooled enough, I poured it out into a jar, strained through a piece of muslin cloth.

When dyeing fabrics, it is necessary to fix the colour to control fading by using a mordant. There are various types of mordant, such as alum, ferrous sulphate or salt, each of which has a different effect on the dye colour and effectiveness of colouration. For my paper, I opted to try using milk – oat milk, in this case, but other milk will work because the protein helps to bind the dye to the paper fibres.

So first of all, I brushed all of the paper with oat milk, allowed them to dry and then brushed them with the dyes. The only dye colour which did not work so well was the meadow grass. Rather than simmer the grass, I simply added some water to the grass in a blender. This came out a beautiful vivid green but the day after it faded to a brown, and mordants didn’t seem to have any effect on this. Green is never an easy colour to prepare as a natural dye, despite the abundance of green plants, and somehow it didn’t really fit with the winter theme.

There was an amazing palette of colours, which, of course, seem to find a natural harmony without me having to try. The berries produced colours similar to their visual appearance whereas materials like the birch (red brown) and alder cones (amber/gold) produced more surprising colours.

It was also interesting to see how certain dyes reacted to changes in pH – ivy berry changed from a pinky purple through to blue and blue/green as conditions went from slightly acidic to slightly alkaline. Something else to play around with to widen the range of colours. Natural dyes will usually grow mould after several days, so in order to help preserve them you can use a clove, vinegar (which may change the colour) or isopropyl alcohol (“rubbing alcohol”).

A natural palette of dyed papers created from Avon Meadows materials

Now I had all the prepared materials ready to commence construction of my artwork … but more about that in the next post.

As an aside and continuing the wintry theme, we had a snow fall just after Christmas. I gathered some to experiment with melting ice dye patterns. This works best on fabric because the melt water can drain through leaving fabulous dye patterns. I used some thick water colour paper sheets and once the ice had melted, puddled and dried, I found lovely intricate marks left by the dye. Worth experimenting again…

Avon Meadows – Beauty and Utility

21 Dec

I’m thrilled to be one of three creative practitioners commissioned by Meadow Arts to make an artwork and to work with community groups and or schools responding to the seasons and changing environment at Avon Meadows in Pershore.

View of Pershore Abbey

Meadow Arts is working with the Floodplain Meadows Partnership which represents a number of key organisations and is hosted by the Open University, School of Environment, Earth and Ecosystem Sciences.

Historically, floodplains have been significant for food production provision of hay for feeding animals n winter and as grazing for animals. They are highly fertile due to being nourished by river silts during seasonal floods. And by managing the floodplains, the meadows evolve into wildflower grasslands. The wetlands are also important sites for birds, amphibians, and other wildlife. It is this combination of beauty and utility that is an overall theme for the art project.

There is an excellent website about the site run by the Friends of Avon Meadows, a charity who support the management of the Meadows, which are owned by Pershore Town Council and Wychavon District Council.

My project will cover the Winter months from December through to February, although the public workshops are likely to take place later due to the current Covid restrictions. 

The artwork I am planning to make relates to the themes of flooding and the meadow’s role in natural flood attenuation or “breathing space” of the river, alleviating peak flows downstream.  It will also touch on biodiversity which is boosted by the seasonal flooding and distribution of nutrients.  I will be using plant materials to make paper for my artwork, and I will use dyes and pigments derived from plants, berries, soil and other materials gathered from the Avon Meadows.

I’m looking forward to working with the community on papermaking and dyeing/printing paper using gathered plant materials, and have had some initial discussions with local schools and The Friends of Avon Meadows. 

After an initial visit to Avon Meadows in October to survey what plants I might be able to use, I made my first project visit this week to gather reeds from which to make paper sheets. The reeds (phragmites australis) provide a valuable role in improving water quality in the surface run off from nearby built up areas flowing into the river. I saw that some of the reeds were being harvested to ensure they maintain healthy growth next year. 

I also gathered sloes, rosehips, hawthorn berries, grass, alder cones, ivy berries and some of the rich silty clay from the wetlands.  I left plenty of berries for the birds. I plan to start producing the paper and create a range of dyes/pigments over the next week or so and begin trying out some different options for constructing the final artwork.

The weather was kind, so I could enjoy the fabulous winter colours in the landscape.

Dramatic skies. On this and during my previous visit, I caught glimpses of herons flying, willow warblers, redwings and snipe.

And already the water was rising across most of the land:

Very appropriately there was plenty of mistletoe in the trees. I’ll continue to post progress updates as the artwork develops. Merry Christmas!

A Journey with Mary Webb School

16 Jul

Earlier this month, it was my pleasure to lead a project under the Meadow Arts Inspires arts education programme with 14 Year 9 children and teachers at Mary Webb School and Science College in Pontesbury.  The project took place over four days from 2nd July to 5th July 2019 and supports Meadow Arts work towards the Arts Council’s goal 5 for children and young people.

The project explored the theme of Journey using found materials from a rural landscape.  I adopted a spiral as a symbol of a life journey in which a person keeps close to inner beliefs and experience but continuously moves outwards to new and wider horizons.  The work was also built around a quote from Rebecca Solit’s book ” A Field Guide to Getting Lost” after Plato’s “Meno”:

That thing the nature of which is totally unknown to you is usually what you need to find and finding it is a matter of getting lost”

I hoped that the project might help the students develop ways of working so that they could find independent solutions to problems from uncertain situations in which there are many choices.

Aims

High level aims for the project were to:

  • Explore an artist practice using observation and findings from immediate surroundings
  • Experiment, improvise and take artistic risks

The students were also invited to take part in activities towards an Arts Award Discover certificate.

Activities

Day 1: Andrew Howe led the group of students on a walk from the school into the woodland surrounding Pontesford Hill.  Students were encouraged to pay attention to all their senses and to gather objects, photographs, tracings/texture rubbings and other materials for later use in artworks.

In the morning, the students split into 3 groups and spent an hour working with sticks, branches, leaves and other found materials to construct sculptural works based on a spiral.  The students were aware of Andy Goldsworthy’s work using natural materials.

After lunch, students had some time to make observational drawings from the landscape.

On return to the school, leaves and other plant matter were gathered and placed within stacks of watercolour paper for dyeing by boiling for an hour in two batches using iron and alum mordants. 

The resulting papers were later put together into a large spiral and stamped with the Solnit quote for mounting on a wall in the school reception area.

Day 2: The artist demonstrated a method for developing abstract designs based layers of tracings and drawings made directly from found objects and photographs.  The students learnt about the work of Joseph Cornell, Ingid Calame and Mark Bradford.

Students created initial studies from their found materials, using drawing, photo transfers and mixed media techniques.  Some of these studies and the found objects were developed further into 3D assemblages housed within wooden boxes.  The boxes were constructed by the school technician and displayed on a wall in a spiral formation.

Days 3 and 4: Students created work using one or more techniques including:

  • Drawing
  • Painting
  • Photography and digital manipulation of images for photo transfers
  • Printing/stencilling (monoprinting using gelli plates and screenprinting); and
  • Collage

These works were incorporated into A5 size handmade concertina books for display alongside the box assemblages.

The students chose to interpret the theme of journey in different ways.  Some considered the artistic process exploring print technique and designs as a journey, some took a personal view of their own life journey, some took inspiration directly from their observations on the group walk, some worked with maps of the local area.

At the end of the project, all of the students worked in pairs to reflect on their own and their partner’s work.  They each then shared some positive comments to the whole group on what they enjoyed about their partner’s work and why.

Review

The two key aims of the project were met because:

  • After some initial hesitancy, all of the students took the opportunity to experiment with techniques that were new to them. There were good examples of students taking a simple design based on found objects or photos from the walk, and developing this through a series of drawings, prints and or collage to successful work which they could incorporate into a book.
    • This encouraged students to innovate and strive for excellence in their future work
    • This also enabled a personal progression as students became willing to try new techniques which they could see would be valuable in future
  • Most of the group commented in their art logs how they made the realisation that art work could be inspired by what they observe in their immediate surroundings. The walk forged new connections between the students and their surrounding landscape.
    • This provided a means for students to be authentic, making their own personal responses to what they experience around them
  • The dyeing with plants made a big impact with the group and with teachers, as everyone could see how beautiful results could be achieved simply and quickly using found and readily available materials
  • Everyone found that Gelli plate printing was an accessible method to experiment with designs, stencils, textures and paint and achieve effective, expressive results
  • The box assemblages and outdoor collaborative sculptures presented greater challenges for the group, although most people enjoyed these activities and made some successful work
  • The students engaged with the project with enthusiasm, and many expressed how much they enjoyed the experience in their art logs.
  • It was observed that the students worked well together in small groups, sharing ideas, helping each other with difficulties, all of which helped to create a positive and inclusive experience. As these students will all progress towards GCSE level in art, the project will help to build teamwork, belonging and ownership.

A couple of feedback comments:

“This week has linked with my everyday life because it is a journey.  I do many journeys a day.  This week has shown me that walks and journeys can teach you something…

“…I have enjoyed learning new processes, including the gelli plate printing, and I got to stamp the spiral with the quote.

I have enjoyed this experience greatly”  Student

 

“Students were encouraged to ponder on problems and develop their own ideas which was great and what we wanted throughout the workshop”

“Thank you again for all your efforts with our students, this was a really valuable experience for them.” Teacher