Tag Archives: walking artist

Found in Frankwell – Part One

2 Jul

Now at the beginning of July, in a chaotic time of uncertainty, rage and hope, I look back at those first few weeks of lockdown with a mix of wistfulness and incredulity.  Still too close to make objective sense of it, yet it already feels distant as many people return to pre-Covid activities.  Despite superficial familiarity, there is no doubt that both the atmosphere and physical environment have changed.  The restrictions imposed a simplicity to life, which could be relaxing in the moments when I could submit to that.  As the environment became busier again, an air of tension built up – there is now a nagging drive to be productive, to return to something, only to find that it is still not possible to make much progress on projects, without difficult adaptations.  And there is very little funding available.

What of those weeks,  those strange times in which I walked?  In the first 2-3 weeks of lockdown in March and early April, I did not go far.  Partly out of obedience following Government instructions to stay at home, and partly because I was focused on spending time with family and homeschooling.

In that early stage, my daughter, Eliza and I looked at old maps of Frankwell, the place on our doorstep, and we researched as much as we could find in books and on the internet about our local history as we couldn’t get into the library any more.  Then, inspired by Common Ground’s local distinctiveness projects, we created a Frankwell alphabet using images of letters taken from local signage.

I began to think about whether I could create an A to Z Book of Frankwell with drawings of places for each letter.  These are some of the drawings in ink made from oak galls from the tree in our garden.  Some of the drawings refer to old photographs of places, since demolished.

This seed of an idea developed into plans for more artist books to be made in response to my walks during lockdown.  At the latest count, I have five of my own books, a collaborative book and two maps on the go.  These comprise a set of black and white prints exploring distinctive lines and patterns found in Frankwell, and two series of photographs inspired by some of Robert Rauschenberg’s image sequences and screenprints.  I got in contact with some of the artists I know living in or connected with Frankwell and we developed an idea to create a collaborative book which could help rejuvenate community interest and, perhaps, raise  some money for charity.  I’ll post about these books as I/we complete them.

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Linocut and relief test prints of structures, lines and patterns distinctive to Frankwell

When I did walk it was usually early in the morning when very few people were around.  Those weeks of Spring will be remembered for seemingly endless days of perfectly warm sunshine and crystal clear blue skies, not an aircraft trail in sight.  Few people failed to notice the Spring this year, as so much time could be spent outdoors, listening to bird song and watching the emergence of seedlings and flowers.  Through regular walks, it was possible to pinpoint the day swifts arrived, or when hawthorn came into flower.

In about the fourth week, I began to record my walks a little more formally beyond taking photographs to making notes of observations and experiences.

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Inspection cover cast at the Atlas Foundry, originally located in Frankwell, where Theatre Severn now stands

I collected wax crayon rubbings of surfaces, and occasionally some found artefacts, like fragments of pottery I found in the River Severn both upstream and downstream of the town.  Someone later advised that some of the fragments were likely 17th or 18th Century slipware.  Other pieces, like the earthenware fragments, looked like they could be even older.  Each fragment must have its own story.  It was fascinating to think of the journey of the clay, from its formation thousands, if not millions of years ago, to its extraction, processing and making into utensils which were somehow lost and broken, transported and eroded in the river to be collected once again from the shore.

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Ceramic fragments collected from the River Severn

The government had tried to clarify guidance about where and when people could exercise.  There wasn’t any definitive distance set, but at that stage, we were not supposed to drive anywhere to walk.  So, I restricted my walks to within a 2km radius of my house, and I also restricted myself to not walking everyday.  The imposed conditions increased my anticipation of each walk, and exploring within the local boundary became a highlight of the week.

Ordinarily, I don’t use an automated GPS tracking of my walks, preferring instead the ritual of tracing the route on a map after the event, which helps to fix the walk in my memory.  Seeing the shape of the routes, set against mapped topography gave the walks a tangible presence linked to sensory encounters.

Having lived in Frankwell for over 22 years, there are few if any places I haven’t walked in before, but the heightened awareness, the disrupted sense of time and space, meant that I did see details with fresh eyes.  The urban environment is a gallery of contemporary art.

As I went slightly further afield beyond Frankwell, I did occasionally find a new pathway or a road that I had never previously visited.  I was conscious that I might be viewed as an intruder, as being a potential asymptomatic virus threat, in the quiet residential streets.    What was the purpose of my walks?  Was I staking some kind of psychological claim over territory, was I the self-indulgent flâneur, was it just exercise?  I don’t think it was any of these particularly, although it was certainly as much a mental exercise as physical, a chance to let my mind breathe in the open air and escape the confines of domesticity.  I was curious to experience directly how the world was reacting to this new situation, to record and reflect on how we can find positive routes out of this.

That said, I couldn’t help feeling pangs of selfishness when hearing about or seeing for myself how people were discovering local paths that were completely new to them, paths I had walked many times, talked about, made artwork about, and which had generally been met with disinterest.  Rightly or wrongly, these are places where I felt some kind of ownership.  Really though, it was great that there was a surge of interest in our surroundings and slowing down, which offers renewed optimism about future attitudes.  It is what this blog and much of my artist practice is about encouraging after all.

Against all this familiarity, I was noticing the differences – changes in the natural and built environment, and changes in people’s behaviour.  Children were making the best of the sunny weather and chalked pavement drawings and upbeat, hopeful messages were much in evidence.  Trees became decorated with bunting, ribbons and curious paraphernalia, boxes and piles of junk appeared at the end of driveways as people found time to sort out their house.  Desire paths were worn across verges and patches of grass, sometimes a parallel line appeared 2m from the main path.

As the weeks passed, the choreography of encounters with other pedestrians evolved.  After the initial awkwardness of crossing the road or stopping and standing well aside to avoid passing close to someone walking in the opposite direction, there was a period in which there was the briefest of eye contact, smiles and gracious thank yous and careful, elegant swerves to maintain 2 metres’ separation.  These actions became more unconscious then from around the ninth week, it was noticeable that a small number of people were not only intent on ignoring social distancing, there was an element of aggression in the way they steadfastly maintained a line along the middle of the footpath.

Once it was announced that lockdown restrictions would be eased and some non-keyworker school children would be able to return to school, I detected a renewed sense of purpose in the people I saw during my walks, traffic had been getting busier again, and my walks began to lose their charm.  I stopped recording the walks after Week 10, a suitably round number, and suddenly my interest waned.  The sense of community cohesion that had grown during the lockdown began to dissipate, but there continues to be many voices calling for a more sustainable recovery and hope remains that whatever world we return to, it will shed some of the old baggage and head in a socially just direction.

Walking on the spot

27 Apr

During the last few weeks of the Covid lockdown, projects I’ve been working towards over 2-3 years have been halted in their tracks, maybe irretrievably, and my walking artist practice has been curtailed somewhat.  Having come to terms with that, for the time being at least, I began to refocus on my local walks in and around Frankwell in Shrewsbury.

Very soon I found myself working on ideas for three or more artist books (more on that in a future post or two) and developing some areas of my practice that I had planned to use in a couple of projects.  These involved using plant materials and found objects to make and adapt paper or fabric for further use in drawings, collage, painting or printmaking.  I began to create a process of making work about the landscape using materials from the landscape.

In addition, with schools being closed, I was able to spend more time working with my 11 year old daughter, Eliza.  We experimented with materials and learnt some new techniques together.

Eliza assisted in making a couple of short videos demonstrating paper making with plant materials and scrap paper.  These videos can be used by anyone as a resource to try this out for themselves.

Here’s the first in which we prepare pulp from garden plants:

Here’s the second explaining how we then made paper with plant and scrap paper pulp using some simple equipment:

After this, we did some sketches and paintings of some garden flowers.

We tried printing on our paper using flowers and leaves gathered from around the garden – I’ve enjoyed doing this with groups following walks in the past.  Here is a brief downloadable guide to dyeing/printing paper or fabric using plants and rust:

Plant dyeing

A small selection of examples of our prints:

Just to add a durational aspect to our work, we planted some woad seeds, and hopefully by the Autumn we will have a good batch of leaves so that we can make some beautiful indigo dye to add to our dyes using madder root and weld.

 

Scour – the museum in the landscape

13 Dec

Over the Summer I was delighted to be invited by artists Elizabeth Turner and Keith Ashford to lead two art walks and workshops in the River Arrow valley in Redditch as part of their Scour 2 project, funded by Arts Council England and funding partners.  This follows their successful Scour project which was inspired by the Forge Mill Needle Museum collections and the relationship between the needle industry and the surrounding landscape of the River Arrow valley and Bordesley Abbey.

For the Scour 2 project, the two lead artists have taken the art work into the landscape of the Arrow Valley, making sculptural work including a grass cut map of the river and immersive sound and video projections in the space below concrete highway structures.  A performance entitled Machine in the Park is scheduled for 7th March 2020, details here.

The series of public workshops also included events with Nicky Ashford (botanical drawings) and Hanny Newton, contemporary embroidery artist, who exhibited work in the Follow the River exhibition at the Bernie Crewe Gallery, Palace Theatre, Redditch.

I led group walks in May and August in the north and south of the Arrow Valley Country Park followed by collage and mapping workshops at the Bordesley Abbey Visitor Centre.  For the first of the walks I was accompanied by local historian Tony Green.  He explained about the fascinating layers of history along the river associated with the medieval Abbey and the various mills, when Redditch was the centre of the world’s needlemaking industry.

The groups were lovely to work with, and we enjoyed making work using materials and imagery found on the walks.  During the walks, we had tried to awaken all senses, and a few of the participants used visual responses to sounds in their work.  Here are some examples:

There were two fantastic outcomes from the workshops.  The first were two collaborative poems turned into songs by Kate Allan.  She collected phrases and responses to the walks from members of the group and combined these with some recordings of ambient sound from the walks to create song performances whilst everyone worked on their collage maps.

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One of the poems turned into song by Kate Allan

The second outcome was a collaborative zine that I was asked to put together using the artwork and poems made in the workshops, and photography of the landscape.  It was quite a technical challenge to convert the colour images digitally into separated colour layers in yellow, blue and black for risograph printing by the Footprint Workers Cooperative.  I was really pleased with the results:

 

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The Arrow zine is for sale for £3, or £4 including postage and packaging!  Email liz.sculpturelogic@gmail.com to order your copy.

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