Tuesday, 12 October 2021

Scrolls or After My Tutorial

 After my tutorial with Sian I had every intention of returning to Chapter 3: Texture and Relief in Paper, however . . . she had suggested, and we had discussed so many very intriguing ideas that I have not got there yet.  So, this post is mostly about scrolls and the very lovely time I've spent creating them.

High Contrast Hedgerow Image

3:74   Sample 2

3:75   Sample 1

3:76   Sample 3

Above are three versions of the same idea, in fact 3:75 was the first, but my computer seems to protest the images in that order!  Here are three attached strips: newsprint, a narrow band of black tissue and above that a strip of white tissue with dry-bushed ink markings.  I took my two metre strip along to my field and folded it and scrumpled it to create the fan-like wave you see.

In 3:76, the second sample, I took three narrower strips and this time tore the edges, creating undulations.  I used Japanese paper at the bottom, newsprint, then tissue dry-brushed as in Sample 1.  This narrower strip made for some nice angles in the dry-brushed area.  I also thought the very roughly torn edges were much more effective.  Another rather lovely effect is where the newsprint came unstuck producing some attractive irregular loops.

In 3:77, the third sample, I made a deeper strip and tore two newsprint bands which I overlapped.  There is the loveliest sense of movement in this piece, though I do think as in the previous two samples that the dry brushing is too uniform and because it's wider that I've been able been unable to achieve those lovely angles of Sample 2.

Seeing these samples on the screen I'm reminded of two other pieces I've made: a drawn thread work  piece dipped in paper pulp from Module 4 had similar undulations and ragged character, and the Fish Collar from Module 2 where shibori and embroidered fabric is pieced together.

I've included the hedgerow image I took in early spring to explain the trajectory for these pieces.

* * *

Now to more scrolls:

This time, a series of drawings in walnut ink of plants in the field.  These were done at home where a little extra detail was added with fine artist's pens in sanguine.  They're drawn on rag paper and are a little heavy handed, compounded by an attempt to add bird song using charcoal.  I stitched the individual pieces together with linen thread.


Better were the sketches done in situ on the backs of envelopes:they have a lighter touch.  These I also stitched together, but because the envelopes were all different sizes the scroll would not stand unaided, nor would it roll onto the cotton reel.  Many lessons learnt!

*  *  *

I had really enjoyed manipulating the tissue paper and it seemed natural to create a scroll of tissue close-ups again observing plants within my field.


Some of the plants are repeats: blackthorn and dandelion.  Others explore hips, plantain, grasses, oil seed rape pods and dog rose canes.  These samples are mounted, labeled with the attribute I think they express -- wiry, pleated, tubular etc.  The individual cards are then punched and tied and knotted at the back with black hemp.

*   *   *

I've been studiously avoiding trying this last suggestion of Sian's;  I wasn't sure that I'd understood and maybe I haven't and this is entirely my own invention.  Either way, I think the results are interesting.



In version 3:80 two irregularly torn strips of black sugar paper and tracing paper are glued lengthways.  The black sugar paper is cut into to create spikes of paper of varying lengths, looking something like blackthorn spikes in early spring.

In version 3:81 the waste paper spikes have been placed randomly underneath the tracing paper simulating shadows.
A third version, 3:82, shows this more clearly: the waste spikes are glued to the under side of the tracing paper, giving the piece a range of tones.  Their placement though should have been a little less irregular.


Ever Deeper Rabbit Holes

 Every time I went out to my field I kept seeing its textures in terms of weaving.  Why not test out the idea?  And so I sent for a little loom and put my thinking to the test.  I'm very fortunate to belong to a textile group which is run by a weaver and she has acted as mentor whilst I grappled with techniques and a vocabulary new to me.  It's been a very exhilarating experience.

Below are a number of experiments:

Over the course of making these pieces my skills have improved greatly, culminating in the piece below which is 5cm wide and 25cm long.  Unlike the pieces above I decided not to weave in all the ends feeling they gave a sense of wild growth just as I'd noticed at the height of summer.

All the pieces were inspired by markings on the ground and the play of sunshine and shadows.

Saturday, 7 August 2021

Establishing my Apprenticeship

 A spell of really wonderful weather and it's my fourteenth visit to my field.  This apprenticeship is serving me well: now I'm getting much better at observing rather than judging.  Near the field entrance the docks and grasses continue to stretch skyward, such a contrast in scale with the tiny Scarlet Pimpernel at their base.  The docks are ginger-red and fluttering through and around them are meadow browns and large skippers.  Further into the field are cabbage whites.  Insects are everywhere: bees, flies of many sorts hovering and landing where they will.


From a distance the field gives the impression of a cricket pitch in waiting, a perfect uniform green that on closer inspection turns out to be weeds sprinkled liberally over the ground.  And here's a theme, things aren't quite what they seem.  Just because an area is left to re-wild does not mean that everything growing there is wild.  As I walk the perimeter I discover golden rod and Michaelmas daisies in the field margins.  Also, among the grasses I've so admired, are wheat and barley.  They again do not have the perfection of those I see in the large Norfolk fields, but maybe I've got that wrong too, and even those in other fields are flawed, their growth also at the mercy of weather and soil conditions.

The moles have been active again and within the field margin I notice a fox's scat and nearby pigeon's feathers.  A single young hare runs away from where his nest may once have been and much further round a bird (most likely a pheasant) runs decoy across the top of the field.  I walk on and there are cries of alarm low down in the undergrowth.  I move slowly on, talking softly to myself and there is quiet.

Finally, I'm seated in the peace taking in the twist and turn of blades of grass, the sunshine and shadow, the light and dark.

* * *

One week later and I'm back again. It's lovely weather.  I have pared down my kit and will concentrate today on drawing.  I have been reading Kurt Jackson's Sketchbook, recommended by Shelly Rhodes. I park the car and next to it notice a gap in the hedge, not all the way to ground level but a sort of aperture, displaying for me a tangle of brambles, a few specimen leaves and odd twigs.  My papers are clipped to a board, likewise my screw-capped water holder, the paint palette is resting on the car's roof.  Though I don't manage to create the feeling of enclosure, in fact I don't think about it at the time at all. I like my sketch, or maybe what I like is my endeavour and my lack of self-consciousness.  KJ mentions scratching the paper surface, which I have tried before, but need to practise a time or two before I next venture out.

It's a day of signals; the wind flutters the large leaves I've noticed in the field, some sort of temporary planting -- time will tell; they're like prayer flags.  Also clinging to the occasional spent stem are tiny white feathers designating the place as special.  And luminously, star-like are the tufted tops of Bearded Hawkswell, ready to communicate with anywhere the wind chooses.  White too are the many butterflies dancing above this mystery crop.


The seeds of old docks continue to ripen, rust-red and elsewhere in the field margin are a new tender crop, nature's succession planting.  The arcs of golden grass are still there, their seed spilt.  And all along the margins seem to be resting places, crushed grassy nests.  Though I don't know what feels safe in these places I do meet a pheasant who rushes noisily away, and a hare, a larger one than last week, who leaves the safety of the shadows and runs in a great distracting arc from behind me and away across the field.  Birdsong, butterflies, a tiny pale green moth that flutters and lands folding its wings to become a leaf. I glance down and see a grasshopper jumping through the leaves: such wild and lovely diversions.


It's now the beginning of August; there's been so much rain that the entry to the field has been flattened; the pathway to my observation spot is now clearly defined.  A lone bird sings teasingly and clear.  It's not alone, as I walk the bounds others join in.  Butterflies are everywhere, from a flutter of Brown Meadows at the entrance, to a single Red Admiral at the bottom of the field. Cabbage Whites are everywhere, as they were last week.  Insects abound: bees, wasps, flies, gnats and one spider, who having woven a complex wrapping round a tender shoot, abandons it as I advance.  There is a busyiness in the field's life: throughout groups of Brown Hay Mushrooms have sprung up; moles continue colonising two edges of the cultivated centre, and though there is a paucity of growth in the areas shaded by trees and the high hedges, the ebb and flow of plants sprouting and decaying continues leaving me to marvel at the tender and the tough and the parachuting seed heads drifting by.

Shaded Area


 Queen Anne's Lace Seed Head

Spider's Web

Thursday, 22 July 2021

Harrowing: Three Visits

 I've come to understand there are ups and downs when observing the natural world.  So today I take with me a different mindset: curiosity without judgement -- a hard balance to strike.

The weather's cooler, and windy which I know will add an extra challenge to my list of jobs.  The first thing I notice is compressed long grass and weeds and poppies; a tractor has been in the field again.  Following the tracks up the tiny rise I see that the field has been harrowed.  The ground is churned up and turned over, and lying scattered on the surface a what looks like dry stalks.  The contrast between prolific growth on the field margins and the plot in the middle could not be greater.  I wonder what will be planted there.


I carry out my list of jobs: observations first, as usual, the folding and scrumpling of two metres of paper strips prepared at home, and then sketches of various wildflowers and grasses using walnut ink.

All through this time I'm noticing a range of bees, butterflies and other insects; the fact that convolvulus, sandwort and  hairy tare are twisting their ways round the other plants, slowly choking them while the poppies bravely continue flowering.  The hedgerow plants stretch out their arms towards the sun, but there's no bird song today. 

Another week and it's now July, a day of sunshine and shadows, a breeze moving the grass and rain threatening.  The full hedgerow has seed heads: dog rose hips and haws, hard and green.  Plants everywhere continue to grow energetically:docks in majestically tall clumps, Queen Anne's lace higher still and the spikiness of dandelion and thistle leaves is more pronounced: the green of everything is  deepening.  These observations are a sharp contrast with the harrowed area which is delineated and waiting.  

Since talking to Sian I've bought a lovely rolled up sketchpad; the papers are made of rag. Today I plan another walking record and to do some sketching.




I've used charcoal, which I love on the rough paper and will spray later.  These drawings, I feel, are much freer, less self-conscious.

Another visit, it's now the second week in July, the day's warm, heavy with the threat of rain though it comes to nothing.  Underfoot the ground is wet, moisture clinging to every surface, the product of great downpours over the last week.  I'm lucky it's not raining now, though my feet and trousers are quickly dampened.

On the field are more new tractor markings, not only crisscrossing, but round the perimeter.  Green growth has begun to sprout, grass maybe but I don't think any thing has been planted.

In the field margins the grasses continue to rampage, some bent over with the weight of moisture.  In the odd place clumps of grass are pressed down, maybe by animals.  There's a noise in the hedge bottom but nothing emerges.  Hidden too are the moles that have left these fresh brown heaps, a trail of dots across the field.  And all the while bees and small flies and butterflies flit from flower to flower and doves coo.


What next?

 After my last shocking visit to my field I've been rather reluctant to resume going there.  This turned out to be a pity.

It's a lovely morning, and I'm driving along earlier than I usually do: this is my tenth visit and three weeks since my last one.  With all the usual paraphernalia and my little beach chair I push a pathway through to my usual spot.  The grass is lush and tall; when I sit down it's almost as if there is a bank on which the grass is growing.  It's so tall it masks the rest of the field, and when I sit down it's taller than me.  There is something very lovely about this green enclosed world.  It's beautifully warm, there's a blue sky with soft clouds and birdsong.


My main priority today is to add drawings to my walking record.  I don't take the camera: the plan is to focus on this task and then if I want to take photographs to do that as a separate thing.  There are really lovely things to notice: at least nine different grass forms, red and white campions and poppies amongst the grass, dog roses in the hedge, their thick lower trunks a series of bold parallel lines with huge pairs of  thorns.  Bird song's in the air the whole time.  I'm marking this in a machine stitched rhythmic mark, my steps in the spring of linen thread.  My mind is working on a number of levels digesting what I see and thinking about translating sound and movement into stitch.

The grass and flowers have gradually reduced in height as I walk along.  Looking up my emotions are caught out in the same way as when I saw the hare last time, for the whole is now a prairie: brown and parched with occasional faded yellow rape plants.  No longer fresh green capped with a haze of yellow,  only frowsy seedheads clinging to blackened plants.  When did this happen?  How did it happen? Two tractor lines intersect at some point, possibly a clue.  How I wish I had kept to my routine.  A single skylark swoops into the field from the oak tree disappearing into a scruffy brown clump.  Is there still a nest? And how could the lush growth where I was sitting still be looking as it does?



Monday, 7 June 2021


 I've talked about my field over several months now, the highs and lows of weather, the growth of hedgerows and plants, the first birdsong and other wildlife living more secretly there.  

I had a tutorial with Sian a week ago, the chance to reset my thinking. So in addition to making my usual observations, so good for settling the mind, I'm going  to make a walking record.  I've made a long paper strip four inches wide, rolled round a small tube and have a collection of media, though I'm hoping to find a feather or stick which can be dipped in walnut ink.  It's quite a balancing act.  Making marks to denote my paces is fine.  Adding bird song to it is manageable.  But recording wildflowers not so, yet it's what I want to do.  What I need is a small version of an ice-cream vendors tray!  Then I'll be able to store all my recording implements and keep anything I find.  Still this is the first time and the results are satisfying.  I feel as if I've produced a field translation scroll.


As yet there are only my paces with bird song accompaniment.  I've marked significant trees and wild flowers that I noticed with crosses, but a combination of juggling and porous paper meant the exercise fell short.  I've made a scroll in more robust paper, white this time, and will try again.  I should not be too self-critical as the marks I've made on the paper I really like.


Sian told me to leave my camera at home.  I haven't completely done that, but left it in the car.  So, back at my starting point I look at my to do list.  I bury small pieces of calico, trying strips to the trees, hoping that the poor weather forecast will bring about change in the cloth.  I mark make, quite satisfyingly, and record shadows with walnut ink (very blurry), make others out of the wind with a wax crayon.  This sounds, and truth to tell, feels like a scatter gun approach, but it will settle down I'm thinking as I sift through the results and decide what needs following up or adding to when I'm home, like making some fine pen markings on the charcoal sketches, as seen below.




It's time to turn for home, but it doesn't seem right to leave without doing a circuit of the field.  I walk as far as my walking record and continue.  Flies hover in the air.  A pigeon swoops, just checking.  And I can see in front of me a bag of skin, stripped leg bones flexed -- a hare.  Was this the one I saw last week?  I am shocked by the sight, though not surprised to see it: last week's local news had talked of men involved in hare-coursing and their arrest.  Such a sadness washes over me.

Chapter 3 : Texture and Relief in Paper

 I could re-title this post Looking, Looking and Yet More Looking.  Remove colour from the equation.  Use only white papers, which is challenging; even a range of tissue papers can prove hard to shape into the subtleties of form found in nature -- stalks are not just stalks, they might be tubes, their surfaces striated or marked in some other way; they might be hard and furrowed or angled.  Whole surfaces requiring a range of responses.  But, of course, this is the purpose of the exercise and it is intriguing.  Here then are my six samples.

Before that though, a word about photography. I was very much hoping to show shadows in my images; they are so much a part of my field experience.  However, in Norfolk recently we have had only brightness rather than actual sunshine so you'll notice in some cases I've had to resort to artificial light, hence the difference in colour.



So here is Dandelion, made in crisp white tissue.  Each leaf is cut in one piece with a rolled central stem partially pressed flat.  On this occasion sunlight was streaming through my window creating double shadows.  I've drawn the plant on location, and again at home practising the easy flowing shape of the leaves.  This really helped and created in my hand a memory of the shape. This I intend to follow up, creating some plant identification cards. I decided to cut about four styles of leaf and as each isn't symmetrical, flipping it over created even more variety.  The stems were cut on the slant and pressed to make contact through the length of the leaf.

I love the mood this image evokes, a sense of secrecy, nature quietly responding to weather and  circumstance.



This is Blackthorn, an escapee from the hedge where the plants are still encased in their plastic supports.  This photograph shows the difference electric lighting makes.  Again, the shadows are a lovely addition and this was achieved by making extra fine rolls of tissue and gluing them on the reverse thus raising the branches.  I had thought attaching the side shoots would be difficult, but in fact I was able to replicate the way they shoot out from all angles without squashing the central stems.  This sample seems altogether more abstract than Dandelion.



This shows an across-the-field view of last year's growth as it had broken down in the field.  Again, it is an abstract which the shadows enhance.

These stalks are made from softer tissue and in off white.  First I crumpled the tissue, then rolled it in different widths and lengths to create the variety I'd observed.  The edge of each stalk was torn along its length with some only partially glued down.  This detail wasn't completely true to what I saw but I felt indicated age.  What was true to my observation were the striations I tried to show by scoring and half cutting the tissue along its length.

My next texture, shows clumps of grass which have taken root on the rough ground.  Unlike the three previous examples the tissue interpretation is  trying to indicate background and foreground,  though I now realise I haven't really shown the rocks or the true unevenness of the ground.  What instead I've concentrated on is the way in which quite small clumps of grass send out long blades across the soil's surface.  In no time these link one clump with another covering the ground in a thick green mat. I've cut the tissue blades in groups, some folded then glued them onto a circle of thick paper.  The runners are extra long blades, their ends are rolled and then inserted into another rolled blade to create the required length.  In fact what I seem to have done is avoid responding to the range of different textures within the image.  The sample is mounted on black card.



On lovely sunny days the trees create wonderful blurry shadows.  If there is the slightest breeze the shapes on the road fluctuate, and the image is ephemeral, moments in time always changing.


A small oak tree is part of the mixed hedge bounding the field.  I placed some roughly torn strips of tissue, then cut some roughly shaped tissue oak leaves sprinkling them on the black card.  As a second phase I cut oak leaves from a white paper bag trying to create depths of tone in some places.  Inserting these made the leaf arrangement less random and produced a disappointing result which I'm not really sure how to improve.  A pity as the idea of thinking about shadows is taking root.  Could it be that the contrast between black and white is too great?




So, in answer to my question, yes it is.  Less contrast with the background, which this time is a beautiful soft grey paper wrapper from my Khadi paper book, is better.  Plus simply sprinkling the twigs and leaves allowing them to fall where they will results in something less defined.

Back once more to things linear.  I found the hedgerow in spring really appealing and in fact interpreted one of these images in charcoal.



Below is the hedgerow un-Photoshopped with my interpretation in tissue paper.  I've resisted the temptation to make individual components as in 3:2, 3:4 and 3:6 but, I'm not sure how successful the decision was.  This is the second sample mounted on black card.



Other possibilities to try in tissue paper:
  • Dandelions
  • Oil Seed Rape plants
  • Queen Anne's Lace
  • Strong vertical growth of mixed wild flowers including Ribwort Plantain, Sandwort, Wild Carrot