I'm on my way south to sunny Sheffield!
Sheffield may not seem like the obvious place to hold a conference about old trees - it's such a lively, youthful feeling city I think, probably because much was destroyed in wartime bombing so the buildings are relatively recent. It's also had a huge investment in its public spaces with some amazing public art, as well as the trams of course.
It's a city I know quite well having grown up next door in Derbyshire and having a sister living there now. And because it's so close to the Peak National Park there is actually very easy access to some really interesting wooded landscapes which I'm hoping to find out more about at the 'Shadows and Ghosts: Lost woods in the landscape' event this weekend, hosted by Sheffield Hallam University.
There's a field trip to two sites on Friday and a busy programme of speakers and discussions all day Saturday so my head will be buzzing with new knowledge and crazy ideas on the train home on Sunday, which will help to feed my work for the coming months.
So here I am in my native habitat nestled amongst the honeysuckle, rewarding myself with a nice cup of tea after some drawing and feeling very pleased to have been offered a solo show at the Meffan Gallery next year.
Angus council's museum and art gallery is in the busy town of Forfar and it's a lovely space to exhibit in. I'm really excited about the opportunity to think big and have plenty of time to work towards the show, which will be October/November time 2014.
I'm just starting to research some possible drawing sites in the area so that I'll be prepared to make the most of the late Autumn drawing season - it's all getting a bit leafy now so I'll be concentrating on studio work over the summer and waiting for the wind to blow in October to reveal some new trees to fall in love with!
I'm a member of the Society of Scottish Artists - just an 'Ordinary' one you understand but it feels quite special to see my new profile amongst all these creative people's work.
It's an artist led organisation with some very active (and very busy!) members, who put a huge amount of time and effort into shows, events and support structures for artists like their facebook page and lovely new website.
Making art can be a lonely activity sometimes, but the SSA shows what can be achieved when we work together!Tags:
It won't be long till the leaves are out and the nettles are up, so I'm taking every opportunity to get out drawing at the moment.
Here's some images from last week's trip to Dalkeith Country Park:
A few warm up sketches and some hot coffee to get started.
Settling on a spot to draw is hard when there are so many amazing trees to choose from, but I try to be strict with myself and just get drawing - they're all good subjects.
I make my drawings on a scroll of paper so that I can work on a decent sized piece but still transport it easily. It does mean that I can't see the whole drawing at once while I'm working, so there's a kind of 'consequences' type of reveal when I've finished drawing from each angle.
The finished drawing about to come off the board - I blow away any bugs so they don't get rolled into it too.
Going through them in the studio, reviewing old and new, noting what to work on next.Tags:
I had my first visit to the Buy Design Gallery today and what a wonderful place for anyone who appreciates wood, art, original design and fine craftsmanship. It's in some gorgeous borders countryside, next to the Harestanes Visitor Centre, near Jedburgh. Owner Eoin Cox is a man who's been making a difference in the world as well as making beautiful furniture - check out his website to see his work. He and his team also run woodworking courses at the gallery, encouraging you to have a go yourself too.
I dropped off some drawings and pastels today and I'm really excited to be working with the gallery - I think I'll be getting to know the A68 a bit better from now on!
I've been developing my charcoal drawing techniques for around four years now - it's such a versatile material there's still much more to discover. Many of my favourite drawings from my early days at art school are charcoal ones. I have fond memories of the first time I was encouraged to tape a piece to a stick and draw BIG!! I thought my tutor was mad at first but it turns out to have been a valuable lesson and I often draw with a stick now. People I teach now think I'm mad I suppose.
My discovery of charcoal powder was quite a revelation - I'd tried to make my own, having some success with homemade bonfire remains, but I now use Cretacolor powder which has an even particle size and consistent tone. It's perfect for large drawings, behaves almost like paint in that it can be moved around on the paper, can be combined with binders and water for liquid effects and best of all, I can apply it with my hands, thus getting messy which makes me happy.
I also use regular willow charcoal of various sizes. I've tried hard to like compressed charcoal since it allows a really deep black to be achieved, but I cannot get on with it, it's somehow far too waxy and stubborn. I'm currently experimenting with charcoal soaked in or mixed with linseed oil - it seems to give a lovely blackness which adheres to the paper quite well. Because of this I've been able to use it out in the field without the usual worries about smudging. Here's one I made earlier:
I think there's something poetic about depicting wood with its carbonised self.
My studio is essentially a private place, but I'm curious about other people's spaces so thought I ought to share mine...
I've had my studio for four years now, so I've had plenty of time to organise it to my liking. It's set up for working on paper with charcoal, pastel and inks, which is why there's no paint on the floor. What you can't see here is the layer of charcoal dust clinging to everything - sometimes I have to hoover my drawing board!
This wall is a sort of vertical shelf where I stick up ideas in progress, things that look scruffy but may in fact be useful to my thought processes.
Being on the 8th floor has its benefits (unless the lift's broken) and I love my view out across the Firth of Forth. The Edinburgh velodrome below is an entertaining distraction during the racing season.
If you fancy seeing Art's Complex for yourself there are regular Open Studio events which I participate in. If you are interested in my work in particular please contact me to arrange a studio visit - I may even dust!
I'm very excited to be attending a conference in May entitled 'Shadows and ghosts: Lost woods in the landscape'.
Hosted by Sheffield Hallam University, it aims to "to review and develop ideas around ancient trees, ancient woods, wood pasture and the ideas of shadows, ghosts and retired veterans" and I'm hoping it will deepen my knowledge and understanding of the old trees I draw. I'm also really looking forward to meeting some new people who share my interest - perhaps even develop some ideas for new projects over a refreshing Sheffield pint!
In my previous post 'How do I find my trees?' I set out the process by which I find my drawing locations. Of course I'm not that methodical really and it can be a combination of things that lead me to a new spot, or sometimes just pure chance.
My newest discovery came about as a result of a suggestion from Roger at Troutquest, Evanton in Easter Ross. We were holidaying in the cottage he rents for his fishing holiday business and he suggested that the Old Evanton Road to Dingwall had some good old trees. Out came the maps and after a wee drive came the discovery of this wonderful old road, strangely green and lined with trees of great character - beeches, oaks, hawthorn and others I couldn't identify without their leaves.
Since I only had an hour or so here, I recorded all I could in preparation for returning later in the year. I use my Samsung Galaxy Note for this - it's a bit big for a phone but the up side is that it has a large screen, a stylus and nifty apps like SMemo which are ideal for combining photos, hand written notes etc. I can also draw on it; Sketchbook Pro is a great app which I use in the studio, but I far prefer the feel of the friction between pen and paper when drawing.
The countryside is full of trees, so are the cities for that matter. So how do I decide which ones to draw? It's a question I'm often asked when talking to people about my work, so here's an insight into my decision making.
I think there are a number factors which have influenced my selection process:
- I love looking at maps - OS maps, historical maps, schematic maps, any kind. I've always enjoyed this as an activity not just a means to an end. I love the challenge of interpreting this 2 dimensional information to create an understanding of the 3 dimensional landscape. My Geography A level hasn't gone to waste!
- Google earth and other online aerial imaging has made it possible to do extensive research of potential sites without using any petrol or getting cold and wet.
- The joy of discovery is important to my emotional connection with the tree - if it's taken some effort to find it, access it and draw it, it's somehow more intense as an image. If it's signposted from the road, with a path beside it and toilets nearby it's just no fun. It's probably no coincidence that I love hunting for edible fungi and am very loathe to give up until I've found some on every trip.
- I'm really happy being outside, in the woods, in the wind, on my own
- When studying at art college, life drawing was the most challenging and rewarding task for me and I seem to be fascinated by trees that echo human forms.
- Youth, perfection and prettiness doesn't appeal - I find character, age and damage much more interesting. I think it tells us far more about ourselves.
I'm currently in a 'research and exploration' phase in my artwork so have up to date examples of this part of the process which I'll put in a second post, but it usually follows a similar path:
- I'll begin my poring over the maps, zooming around on Google earth and searching for areas of deciduous woodland, parkland or hedgerow.
- The Ancient Tree Hunt's interactive map is an invaluable resource which brings together many layers of information in one easily browseable form. What a fantastic example of passionate volunteers making a real difference.
- The National Library of Scotland's georeferenced maps are another way to check back through time to see how the land use has changed and identify potentially old trees.
- Gathering local knowledge is very important and I've met some lovely people this way - I always have maps around at my exhibitions and open studios events and ask people if they have any recommendations for me. So many people love trees and are happy to share their knowledge.
- Then comes the driving and walking bit - ideally I get to sit in the passenger seat and scout for sites, occasionally yelling "oooh stop!" then jumping out with my camera while my husband waits patiently. Walking is much more relaxing and reaches the parts that other transport can't.
- Once a good site has been identified, I'll plan a proper field trip and spend a good deal of time exploring the area and getting to know its trees. Then the real work begins...