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

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

Chapter 2: Paper Relief Investigations

Time to turn away from hedgerows, wildflowers and weather.  Time instead to turn towards more abstract things and samples created from paper.

                                            1) Tissue     2) Thin Plastic     3) Japanese Paper
                                             4) Newsprint     5) Kitchen Roll     6) Glassine  
                   7) Brown Paper Bubble pack     8) Plastic Bubble pack     9) Cartridge Paper

Rip and Fold:


Manipulated Tissue Paper:


                       1) Torn and Rolled   2) Torn and Looped   3) Pleated Long Trapezium
4) Pleats both Ways  5) Pinked Strips Hole Punched  6)   Scrumpled and Holes Punched and Sprinkled  
                          7) Square Pleated   8)Torn and Stabbed   9)  Rolled and Knotted


1) Irregularly Torn and Loose Rolled  2)  Circles Part-scored with Bradawl 3)Torn and Pleated
4)  Torn Strips and Holes  5)  Pleated Triangles  6)  Scrumpled, Torn, Finger Pushed from back

Though some of these samples are the same as the examples given, I can see in many of the others how my trips to the field have been influential.  The examples that spring to mind are 3 and 5 on Sample Sheet 2:4.  These to me have a look of the beech and nettle leaves I've observed gradually unpleating themselves.  Samples 2 and 6 on the same sheet are a nod to the rough ground.  Many on both sheets have a sense of growth about them.

I like the torn edges very much more than those which are scissor or pinking sheers cut, though tearing is much more difficult to control.  I would have liked in 2 on Sample 2:3 to have torn the rolled strips more finely, but when I tried they tore off. 

I have a range of white tissue and I did notice that the finer stuff is easier to work with, and has more translucency.  You may well notice a double sided type of tissue (one side smooth, the other matte) in 2 and 7 on Sample Sheet 2:3, and 2 on Sample Sheet 2:4.  It is also a softer shade of white.

Although I like the effects tearing paper can give, I only reached that conclusion by experimenting with the tools I had to hand.  Scissors and pinking sheers came easily to hand,  and a scalpel too.  My imagination took me to the kitchen, thinking, hoping I would get some nice edges with a pizza wheel or a pastry cutter, only to discover both only scored the tissue paper.  It wasn't a matter of pressure, the tools wouldn't cut.  Back to my workroom finding a rotary cutter there which would not only cut paper but could give a degree of unpredictability producing a nice sinuous line, as in 2:12 below.



Another useful tool for scoring and with the ability to pierce paper and cut it in a ragged and unpredictable way was a bradawl.  Hole punches though are another matter.  Both it and my paper drill didn't respond very well to tissue paper and with yet another hole punch used for office work, I needed to fold the tissue a number of times for it to cut.  This approach was successful in one regard: I never knew where the holes would appear!

Manipulated Tissue Paper:

I remember so well years ago making smocked dresses for my daughter using Vogue Patter 1824.  I'd iron on the pale blue dots, rows and rows of them, then stitch across picking up each tiny dot.  The final stage was pulling up the threads tightly to create tiny pleats on which the embroidery would sit.  Whilst mostly self-taught I did go along to a class to add some refinement.  I also remember sending a fabric sample to a firm making silk thread and love the thick and lustrous stuff I bought probably from  Mulberry Silks .

No Princess Pleater then, and none now.  Do I need one?  I think I need to have a discussion about this.

Below are my tissue manipulations using long stitch machining and hand gathering.


  First of all narrow strips of tissue with a central line of machine gathering set on 5.  When I pulled these up they twisted and looped.  They seem almost like bands of seaweed.     

I've machined two bands of gathering on 2:8 and it behaves more even playfully, spiralling round.  The dense band of compressed fabric in the middle make a subtle contrast with the bands either side. I've used this idea flattened out to soften the V-neck of a dress.



Again two rows of of gathering on a much wider band, again set on 5.  When pulled up, already there's more control: the central band has a suggestion of pleats and either side the two edges ripple and flair out.  The sample is also flatter.

And below three rows, showing how the tissue becomes flatter still, but that's also because I've pulled the gathers up less.


This time in 2:11 two pieces of tissue have been overlapped and gathered along the overlapping edges.  Before drawing the tissue up a further a band of tissue was threaded through the middle to make the white more dense.  After drawing up, the tiny edge on the top was separated  to make a raised frill.



In 2:12 a strip of tissue was cut using a rotary cutter to create a sinuous edge, wider in some places than others.  This is gathered on stitch length 4 along one edge.  Pulling up creates a curl which is completed by cutting the two ends at an angle.


This time in 2:13 nests are created by running a line of gathering up the centre.  Pulling up brings each shape into a ring, though I did hold one of them in place with a pin for the photograph.


Finally, a strip of tissue torn irregularly on both edges is gathered along the centre.  This time pulling up creates a twisted and ragged sculptural form.

Tuesday, 11 May 2021

Other Things and My Field

 I've been juggling a number of things; as well as visiting my field -- more of that later .  The opportunity to do an online workshop with Alice Fox came up.  The focus of this was making cordage and this seemed to connect with my current preoccupations.  I've made machine cords and enjoyed the way a mixture of threads come together mingling colour and texture.  The focus here was much more pared back.  Narrow strips of fabric, in this case calico, were paired and through a twisting technique were made to hold each other in place producing an organic looking cordage.


The two hour workshop also included a discussion about other possibilities for making cordage and as we had some rhubarb in the fridge I later on tested out that idea.  Rhubarb's fibre strips are short (15--20cm) and as joining the pieces is the trickiest part of the technique it was slow to achieve even a metre.  It was worth it though, the cord is fine and its colour beautiful.  Of course there are many other possibilities and on my list are fibres from my field such as nettles.

I've also made a pencil roll with room for pens and pencils and my little observation book.  This was made entirely from stock: two sided green (of course!) thick felt with a toning all wool Oliver Twists' dimply felt for the pockets and the strengthening band which also gives a little extra weight.


Below is the front cover.  I wanted to make the panel decorative and at the same time try to convey the nature of oil seed rape.  I used double feather stitch for the stems, then daisy stitch for the grass and flowers.  I've used a lovely range of yellows and greens conveying spring.  With my critical eye, however, I feel there is a mismatch in the proportion of stem to flower and once I'd started doubting its success I then became critical about the size of flowers . . .  The pencil roll is a lovely thing and practical too, but what I wanted to achieve in addition to a celebration of spring is something representative too, and in this regard it may only be partially successful.


Seventh Visit:

Ruminating on all this made me decide to look more closely at the structure of the rape seed plants.  This I did on my next visit, and drew the top half of the plant realising this is where the off-shoots are. These shoots gradually develop within the curved base of a leaf and go on to develop clusters of four petaled flower heads.


What I also found interesting about this scrutiny was how I could also see how this plant shape translated into the plant skeletons I'd observed in my first visit: a sort of time forwards, time backwards sensibility.

This visit was a strange one: it was cold, fingerless-gloves-and-hat cold with thundering lorries and cars speeding along the A road, just five metres away -- an unhappy return to normal.  No bird song, except as I left, one hare, one bee, one fly and countless midges. And beneath my feet the soil remained dry, compacted, still stony.  My joyous field of ten days ago felt like a deceit.

Eighth Visit:

Twelve days since my last visit; I wanted so much to see the effect of the rain, which has been fairly persistent over the last week.  It's been cold too.  My poor car has a broken spring and isn't MOT worthy, so I've been even more tied to home.  The vagaries of weather have such a profound effect on plant growth that I've really wanted to come and see what changes the cold and so much rain have made.  A wonderfully sunny morning with temperatures average for the time of year, even the wind seems balmy -- yet more change afoot.  It's not all idyll: there's still a rush of noise and traffic.


But what a burst of growth: thick mats of grass, copious dandelion clocks and other wild flowers. Queen Anne's lace and  groundsel are leggily reaching towards the light, pulled by the sun, pushed at an angle by the wind.  The docks stretch upwards and the forget-me not too is taller.  My legs feel the nettles and thistles.



Groundsel and Queen Anne's Lace

What is so interesting is how this growth of wild flowers diminishes the dominance of the oil seed rape.  It has become like a haze of yellow above the green growth.  As I drive home I notice this is less the case in rape fields where there are less competitors.


There's wildlife here: a stag beetle, cabbage white butterfly, bees aplenty.  The noise of birds seems to be in all the trees today, celebrating the spring's new warmth.  A single hare races in fright from the middle of the field and as it does I hear a cry of alarm.  Could there be leverets here?  My presence hasn't been quiet enough.  I've been pacing the field again troubled by my drawing of its shape which seems at odds with the old map -- yet more satisfying research.  Time to turn home and to check it out.