"To draw is to look, examining the structure
of appearances - a drawing of a tree shows not
a tree, but a tree being looked at."
My approach to drawing is all about looking intently at my subject: the starting point for all my artwork is a meeting with a tree and a dialogue with it through mark-making. So when I was invited to take part in this year’s Kelburn Garden Party it seemed like a great opportunity to start that dialogue with some of their amazing trees.
For the duration of the festival I plan to be working around the estate and Glen, creating a collection of drawings on the theme of ‘A tree being looked at’. If you’re at the Garden Party over the weekend, you can find me in the afternoons under the Weeping Larch in the area known as ‘The Gardens’ where I’ll also be doing short drawing workshops.
If you feel like a wander through the Neverending Glen, you can also discover and use the viewfinders I’ve placed along the way. These have quotes on them which relate to my ‘tree being looked at’ theme, and all are from books, artists and writers who have been inspiring and eye-opening for me and my work which I really wanted to share. I’ve hung the viewfinders so that they can be handled and used to frame your own views of the natural world – it’s all about looking!
Here are the quotes and their sources, with links...
“To draw a tree, to pay such close attention to every aspect of a tree is an act of reverence not only toward the tree, but also to our human connection to it. It gives us almost visionary moments of connectedness.”
Alan Lee from Drawing Projects, Mick Maslen & Jack Southern
“We see our world through the kind of questions we are able to ask about it, and by asking ‘more interesting questions’, we will discover more interesting ways of seeing it.”
Drawing Projects, Mick Maslen & Jack Southern
“One must always draw. Draw with the eyes when one cannot draw with a pencil.”
“Woods have come to look like the subconscious of the landscape”
“To enter a wood is to pass into a different world in which we ourselves are transformed. It is where you travel to find yourself, often, paradoxically, by getting lost.”
Wildwood, Roger Deakin
“I have learnt that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen, and that when I start to draw an ordinary thing, I realise how extraordinary it is.”
The Zen of Seeing: Seeing drawing as meditation, Frederick Franck
“Which bits of our aesthetic or emotional consciousness do rot-holes and calluses touch?”
“What deep-rooted associations do old trees conjure up? Are they some kind of portal to understanding the deep relationship between wildness and time? “
Beechcombings, Richard Mabey
“It is motionless yet it oozes energy.”
Henry Moore at the British Museum, Henry Moore
“To walk through an ancient wood is to tread in the footsteps of the ghosts of those who once lived and worked in the medieval and early industrial countryside.“
Ancient Woodland: History, Industry and Crafts, Ian D. Rotherham
“...trees are wildlife just as deer or primroses are wildlife. Each species has its own agenda and its own interactions with human activities.”
Woodlands, Oliver Rackham
“I found the poems in the fields,
And only wrote them down.”
‘Sighing for Retirement’, John Clare
“Our habitual vision of things is not necessarily right: it is only one of an infinite number.”
The Living Mountain, Nan Shepherd
I'll be posting more news and photos from the weekend on my facebook page whenever I can get a signal, so you can follow my progress there.
This weekend I'm heading west to the wonderful Kelburn Garden Party where I'm doing a mini residency entitled 'A tree being looked at', involving drawing some of the amazing trees on the estate and running some drawing workshops for festival goers.
There will be another blog post soon with more details about my work there and you can find all the information on the artists and contributors to the Glen experience here>
Well this is a first for me – I have work currently on show in three different parts of the country...
Time around trees is showing at Edinburgh’s St Margaret’s House. I have my studio on the top floor of this wonderfully creative, yet admittedly ugly building and I’ll be taking over Gallery 2 between 6th and 22nd March to show a selection of my work and that of friends Eoin Cox and Catherine Lilley. Don’t be put off by its exterior though - if you are in the Edinburgh area it’s well worth visiting its three galleries, the busy workshop spaces and creative businesses. There are also regular Open Studio events if you want to see what goes on behind all those doors.
The Harley Gallery Open Exhibition is a biennial open submission exhibition in the beautifully refurbished Harley Gallery on the Welbeck Estate, Nottinghamshire. It’s the second time my work has been selected for the show and it was great to be able to attend the opening this year, which coincided with a trip south to work on the Tree Stories project. The standard of works was very high and I was pleased to see that the judges had chosen quite a few drawings, my favourite being Barbara Clayton’s Flow II. You can see the prize-winners here and the show runs until 12th April.
The farm shop is also pretty impressive, with the best cheese and onion pasties a hungry vegetarian artist could wish for.
This is one of three specially created drawings for React-Reflect-Respond, showing now at Perth Museum and Art Gallery, which accompanies a touring exhibition celebrating the work of Tim Stead, in particular his sculpture.
All of my work relates to the themes of trees, woodland, natural forms and the dialogue between man and nature, exploring the vitality and complexity of tree forms made in response to their environment. The new works for this exhibition are specifically inspired by Tim Stead’s love for, and celebration of, the wayward nature of wood. I fell in love with his furniture in Cafe Gandolfi when I first came to Scotland in the mid 1990s, in particular the way he combined powerful design with great sensitivity towards the natural beauty of the wood.
Tim Stead said that “a man can make an input which reveals nature in an altered beauty”; my ‘input’ as a visual artist consists of searching out the striking and sculptural aspects of living trees and creating images which try to capture the sense of movement in their static forms.
React-Reflect-Respond continues at Perth Museum and Art Gallery until 6th May.
Street art by Phlegm
I was back in Sheffield last weekend, to get together with my Tree Stories colleagues, to view potential exhibition space and discuss what we’ll be making for the project.
We met at the Workstation, a 1930s built former car showroom and garage which now houses lots of creative businesses. This whole area of the city, known as the Cultural Industries Quarter has a vibrant, creative feel, with a huge variety of street art, artist studios, silversmiths and metal workers and the lovely Showroom cinema.
The Tree Stories website is starting to take shape and we’re keen for people to send in their own Tree Story images. There’s also a new facebook page which will mean we can gather images and stories there too.
The following day, despite the soupy weather and the dimmest of light, I went out to Ecclesall Woods to immerse myself in the stories and atmosphere of this Ancient Woodland site.
Its history goes back many centuries – there are prehistoric carvings, Romano British remains and ancient field boundaries, as well as charcoal pits, trackways and even a Wood Collier’s grave from its more recent industrial past.
There are already quite a few photographs from Ecclesall on the Tree Stories website, so I went in search of some of those known but hoping also to discover some of its history myself. I wandered through the mist towards an area of big beeches which shows up clearly on Google Earth, since these are a favourite place for people to make their mark.
Although the damp and dingy weather made my photographs quite poor (I didn’t have a tripod with me so apologies for the blur!), it did mean that the trees were dark and glossy from the rain, which dramatically highlighted their forms.
Once I’d ‘got my eye in’ I found that almost every large beech I looked at had markings of some sort – many very distorted and indistinct, some letters clearly legible, some obviously old and some very new. I found a strong sense of place here, with recently made dens and graffiti layered over older carvings and even older charcoal pits and chunks of gritstone.
The idea of marking trees as a way of attaching yourself to a special place came to mind – the organically created paths, smoothed stones and modified trees all combined to give a sense of belonging, that this was a territory that generations of people had felt part of.
I came back to the studio with a good store of new material and ideas for the series of drawings I’ll be making for the exhibition – here’s a sketchbook snapshot of some of them...
Many eminent people have marked the recent passing of Oliver Rackham, widely regarded as the country’s foremost academic and writer on the interrelated subjects of trees, woodlands, landscape and history – Professor Ian D Rotherham’s blog and the Woodland Trust do it very well.
For me, Oliver Rackham’s books (and his wonderful illustrations as pictured above) were an eye-opening introduction to a new way of looking at my subject. After reading his work, an interesting tree was no longer just interesting for its form, its texture, its colour: it was something that could be read almost as a historical document. The tree’s physical properties were not just a result of its own nature, but were intimately linked to its environment and the people who interacted with it over its lifetime.
That concept of dialogue between tree, human and place has been crucial to the development of my creative process, and I have Oliver Rackham to thank for that.
For my latest exhibition I will be joined by artists Eoin Cox and Catherine Lilley, who also share my passion for woodlands. The show will feature drawings, paintings, carvings and prints which examine woodland at different scales, from the powerful presence of a veteran tree, to the intimate surfaces of trees and the plants and organisms which inhabit them. All the works are made as a direct response to an aspect of woodland; the dynamic curve of a twisted trunk, the texture and structure of a sheet of bark, the delicate detail in a damp tangle of lichen. Together, they invite us to look with fresh eyes at the trees and woodlands around us.
More information on the venue and opening times here »
Have you ever come across interesting tree carvings and graffiti? Have you wondered who made it, when and why? We want your 'Tree Stories' - your photos and your local knowledge.
The 'Tree Stories' project was launched at the end of October with a community workshop, where we walked around Graves Park in Sheffield to find some examples of carvings, then made our own 'stories' with relief prints and salt dough plaques. We were also helped by poet and songwriter Sally Goldsmith to craft our own stories from the perspective of the tree itself.
Academic Ian Rotherham guided our walk in Graves Park and gave us some historical and cultural background for 'marked trees'.
Sally read out some of the stories we had constructed while the prints dried on the wall.
Graves Park has been a popular public beauty spot for very many years and the evidence is written on the trees there.
If you have seen any interesting carvings on trees, please send photos and details of where and when to Christine Handley at firstname.lastname@example.org. These will be shared on the project website - there are a couple of my photos there already but we hope to collect many more, from the Sheffield/North Derbyshire area and further afield too.
So don't be shy - share your tree stories...Tags:
'Dalkeith burred oak 5'
Two of my drawings have been selected for the annual Society of Scottish Artists exhibition, to be held at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh. This work, along with 'Dalkeith reaching oak' will be on display in this impressive building on Princes Street from the 5th - 20th December. Artists across Scotland submitted an exciting variety of works which I got a little glimpse of when I was volunteeering at the hand in last week, and many of the paintings, prints, sculptures, installations and things that defy categorisation will be available for sale during the show. There's also a new section called 'Sit in/Take away' where small affordable works 30 x 30cm can be bought and taken home on the day - what a great idea to encourage art lovers to support makers!
Here are some images from 'Time around trees' which opened yesterday and runs until Saturday 1st November...
Thanks to the wonderful team at the Meffan Gallery for all their support, expertise and of course the cups of tea - it's a fantastic place to exhibit and a friendly and interesting one to visit, well worth a trip if you've never been.
You can also read a beautifully written first review of the show from blogger Steve Smart here »
Wood nude tree limb view
A confession: I have done no drawing for two whole weeks. I really miss it.
However, I have been thinking a lot about framing and presentation, which is a necessity right now with a show coming up. So I thought I'd share a little of the thought and preparation that goes into putting my work on the wall. I've learned a lot since I started exhibiting, some from generous artist colleagues and most from trial and a fair amount of error.
Why do frames matter?
A frame does a number of jobs - it protects the work, especially important for my fairly fragile charcoal drawings, it provides a safe method of transporting and displaying the work and, if you've chosen a good one, will make the work look great. It is of course a choice whether to frame or not and I often like to show my large drawings unframed if possible. I really enjoy seeing other artist's work unframed, I feel somehow closer to the act of making to be able to see it without glass. But I also can't help feeling disappointed when otherwise interesting art works are displayed in unsuitable or just plain bad frames. Perhaps this is the designer in me getting frustrated with careless presentation, but all the feedback I have had from exhibiting has made me realise that presentation really matters.
My framing choices
When I mounted my first solo show I did lots of research into framing techniques and quickly realised that ready made frames would not suit my work - there needs to be a decent gap between the glass and the surface of the work for dry media, which means a deep frame and careful handling is needed. I also felt that quality was very important - there's no point putting your heart and soul into a drawing only to plonk it thoughlessly into a flimsy Ikea frame. I love Ikea for other things incidentally, just not for my frames!
I also realised that I was not destined to be a DIY framer - this was a job best left to the experts. After trying a few local firms I was lucky enough to find a small but meticulous framing company and have developed a great relationship over the years. Trust is very important in this exchange, since many months work is handed over to them and much effort and expense is involved. Edinburgh based Linda Park is primarily a painter, but is also very busy with her framing clients. She has a painter's eye for what will complement the works and takes great care in handling it.
I've discovered that there are complex and subtle choices to be made. Which of the twenty-four shades of white would I like for the mountboard? How many millimetres depth do I desire for the frame? Which delicate shade of grey for the hand finishing? How do I want to balance each side of the border? See - no wonder I've not done any drawing.
So I have a drawer of paint charts and test pieces which I spend a lot of time squinting at, trying to imagine what it would look like and try to keep some consistency with my choices so that the overall effect in an exhibition is harmonious.
Preparing for an exhibition
Here are my most recent works just collected from the framer. She's done a beautiful job as usual and I'm pleased with the new choice of colour for the pale hand painted ones - I think this works well with the predominantly white background of the work. I now have to get them ready for hanging in the Meffan Gallery, which means mirror plating them. I also sign, date and title them on the back and add my contact details.
I worked out that it is much easier to pre-paint the mirror plates white, then attach them, rather than paint them after they've been hung. No more going round with a tiny paintbrush before a private view, more time to do your hair or sample the wine or whatever. I position the mirror plates exactly halfway down the sides of the frame which makes for quicker and more consistent hanging, and for ease of transport I reverse them so they don't damage other works.
There are thirty four works in the next show, 'Time around trees', so it took me a while to prepare, wrap and label them all, but I know that the better my preparation is, the more time I'll have during the hanging to get things just as I want them. And that's the fun part.
'Time around trees' opens at the Meffan Gallery, Forfar on Saturday 4th October and runs until Saturday 1st November.