It’s always a pleasure to share my enthusiasm for drawing with like-minded people but for last Saturday’s “Drawing in the trees’ workshop that pleasure was doubled by having my poetic collaborator Steve Smart along with me at Howden Park Centre. Nine delightful tree-loving folk braved some foul weather to come and find out more about drawing, trees and charcoal, and were also treated to a first hearing of some of Steve’s poems.
I’ll be writing more about how we’re working together in another post but in the meantime I highly recommend you head to his blog for a treat for your ears. What’s emerged for me so far is that we share the same interest in trees, woodland and landscape, which inspire us to create in our chosen mediums – he writes about the things I draw, I make drawings about the themes he writes about. I’m loving having that extra dimension to feed into my creative process.
So on Saturday we all worked intensely for the three hours and I suspect I tried to fit too much in – a common mistake of mine – there’s just so much to do!! Steve’s readings provided a welcome little oasis of reflection and he also managed to take some great photos of participants concentrating hard on their work, which he’s kindly let me share here.
Thanks to everyone who came along for being a great group prepared to get stuck right in – which makes my job so easy and very satisfying. I love seeing the results of a workshop, how each person’s work is so uniquely ‘theirs’ even though they are responding to the same subject, just like the poet and the artist…
Thanks to Steve Smart for the great workshop photos - here's his blog about the day...
Exhibitions take lots of time to plan, many months of work to make, publicity is written way ahead of opening, it’s all on a schedule. My current exhibition was over two years in the planning. Residencies also take time to organise and represent a great opportunity to take new directions. I love planning – I love thinking about the future, imagining what could happen and plotting out what shape that might take.
My studio year planner gives some much-needed structure to an essentially open ended creative process. But it doesn’t matter where you put the coloured dots or how you block in the days you expect to be productive or when you confidently predict an outcome, because sometimes life chucks stuff in the way of your plans, pushes you off your expected course or gets you stuck in a place you don’t want to be.
It’s easy to regard this as a failure – you didn’t do what you said you would, you didn’t follow through on your intentions. You have nothing to show for your time.
However, if what artists do is make in response to their experience of the world, then we should perhaps view it as an opportunity when unexpected events trip us up, rather than a problem. These new experiences are the raw materials for new work, new ways of thinking and responding. Change can be painful as well as positive though and old familiar ways are hard to let go of.
So that’s where I am right now. I’ve been tripped up. I’m not where I planned to be. Life has chucked some difficult stuff in my way but the good news is that I’m an artist so I can use it. Not really sure how yet but I know that’s what needs to happen next.
This is a form of tree is known as a ‘phoenix tree’ – at some time in its life on the Longshaw moors it has blown down but, because some of its root plate remains in contact with the ground, it has continued to grow from its new horizontal position. It’s stable and apparently thriving, just in a new phase of life…
Installation views of "Dialogues with trees' now showing at Howden Park Centre Livingston until 23rd April.
I see my residency at Howden Park Centre as a fantastic opportunity for me to take stock of where my work is now and explore some new possibilities for the future. Looking at the work on the walls gives me a more complete perspective than when it’s dotted around the studio - I can regard it as a body of work rather than as a series of individual pieces. I’m hoping that this will spark a period of experimentation, but I have to trust my subconscious on this as I have no idea right now where it will take me.
Collaboration is a more certain way to stimulate new ideas so I’m delighted that writer and photographer Steve Smart has agreed to work with me over the next few months. I did a fair bit of preparation for the residency earlier this year, principally getting to know Calderwood and learning my way around its variety of landscapes, so it was great to share some of my finds with him on a visit last week and fascinating to see the wood from his perspective. We were also really lucky to have a clear, crisp and frosty day for the visit with gorgeous light.
He will be writing some poems in response to the locations, trees and themes in my work, which he’ll present at the closing event of the Dialogue with trees exhibition – more details here. In the meantime, feast your eyes and your ears on his images and poems on his blog…Tags:
In my latest exhibition I present a collection of drawings which are the end products of my dialogues with trees.
Throughout their often very long lives, trees are engaged in a dialogue with their surroundings, with the ground they grow in, the prevailing weather, the other plants, animals and people that live alongside them. There are physical clues in their forms that provide a record of that dialogue.
Similarly, the process of drawing is one of dialogue – it is a record of the interaction between the artist and the subject, the eye and the tree, the hand, the paper and the mark making tool. As John Berger says, a drawing of a tree is not just a tree, but ‘a tree being looked at’. All my work has intense looking at its heart.
The exhibition preview is on Thursday 3rd November, then is open to the public from Friday 4th to Sunday 23rd April 2017. More details here »
It was a perfect sunny winter's day today, just wonderful for going out and getting to know the landscape around Beecraigs a little better.
First stop was Cairnpapple Hill, so steeped in significance since prehistoric times - not surprising since it has such a fantastic view from all angles, to the Pentlands, the Ochils, across the water to Fife and further out to Berwick Law, the Perthshire and Lomond mountains and even Arran on the best days.
I'd spotted a row of beeches on satellite photos on the northern boundary of the hill, so went to investigate, finding a sheltered little valley with some small, hardy oaks along with the boundary beeches.
After a good walk round Cairnpapple I headed towards Witch Craig Wood and the Korean War Memorial, where I've been told I'd find an unusual bit of graffiti. After a little hunting I found not one but two carved horses on trees by side of the road.
One looks like a knight of some sort with a sword, perhaps some reference to the Hospitallers of Torphichen? The other is clearly a Clydesdale horse, standing proudly in the carving by B.R. in '78. I wonder what their stories are...
For an artist looking for characterful old trees this doesn't look very promising does it? Clearfelled plantation is in itself a dramatic kind of landscape, but not what I'm hunting for. Gladly we have wonders of the internet like National Library of Scotland's online historical maps and satellite imaging (I've recently discovered that Bing maps are a far better tool than Google) so I had an idea that there might be living remnants of the previous landscape somewhere here at Beecraigs Country Park.
Surrounded by the plantation trees and densely shaded, I found a few old beeches just clinging on along old boundary ditches.
They show up on satellite images as bright green shapes against the dark uniformity of the conifers and checking the shape's location against old maps confirms that they are on a pre-existing boundary.
I tested out my new water soluble graphite sticks while drawing in the rain/sleet - well it is February!
A second visit on a much sunnier day revealed a wonderful line of wiggly beeches along a south facing bank.
This cluster was a real surprise - mountain bikers clearly use this extensively as it's all lumps and bumps, being a former quarry area.
So I found my characters after all, which means I not only have the satisfaction of a successful forage, but so many new trees to get to know through my drawing - expect to meet some of them at Howden Park Centre later this year...
Having had a illness last year which incapacitated me for about 6 months (which I'm working up to blogging about sometime), I'm so happy to be able to get back to the woods this winter. So I started the year by making some plans to explore new locations through a series of mini-residencies - a sort of self-directed intense period of study, learning about the history of the landscape, making links with locally knowledgeable people and making as many on site drawings as I can.
Since I have an exhibition at the Howden Park Centre in Livingston scheduled for the end of the year, it seemed natural to start in West Lothian. While the recent storms have been blowing outside, I've been indoors poring over old maps and current satellite images, looking for clues to more ancient landscapes and some likely places to look for old trees. I thought I knew West Lothian pretty well, having worked there on and off for the last 20 years, but Calder Wood is an exciting new discovery for me.
It's a plateau of ancient woodland bounded by the Murieston Water and the Linhouse Water, which both join the river Almond at Almondell. The river banks are steep and the trees mostly hide the surrounding housing, making it feel much more remote than it actually is.
These are a few photos of the wonderful trees I found - impressive old beeches, gnarly sycamore, elderly birches, hazel coppice, twisty decaying sweet chestnut.
I'm starting to learn my way around the woodland now, working out how all the little tracks fit together, where the clusters of old trees are and which are the best candidates for more prolonged sketching.
Maps are marvellous for getting the structure of a new place into my head, but now I realise I need to start creating my own mental maps - these are the first of many days in Calder Wood...
Images from the Tree Stories exhibition at The Art House, Sheffield, 24th October - 6th November 2015
This South Yorkshire Biodiversity Research Group (SYBRG) community project was led by Christine Handley and supported by Professor Ian D. Rotherham (Sheffield Hallam University). Funded by a grant from the Arts Council, it set out to record marked and worked trees and enabled SYBRG to work with two artists at community events. The collected Tree Stories were used as inspiration to create new drawings, poems and prints which were displayed in an Art Exhibition at the Art House in Sheffield.
'The Tree Stories project takes a closer look at the mysterious marks, objects and tree ‘graffiti’ that appear on trees. The importance of these markings extends from prehistoric times and this ancient form of communication has survived to the present day with people still using trees to record messages and leave objects embedded in them. These trees with their markings can be found in surprising places, from inner city Victorian parks and gardens to great parkland landscapes in the British countryside. They may contain evocative stories and pictures distorted by time or bold deeply incised designs marking territory, sending messages across the years. Others become covered with small objects, coins, left year after year perhaps as offerings with echoes from a dimly remembered past. The project recorded some of these and inspired the works by Tansy Lee Moir and Sally Goldsmith.' From the Tree Storues booklet accompanying the exhibition.
Photographs of the opening event »
More information about SYBRG »
Professor Ian D. Rotherham's blog »
More about my work on Tree Stories »
"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.