Tuesday, 20 April 2021

A Different Perspective

 Fifth Visit:

Visiting my field today I decided to enter from the opposite end.  The hedge doesn't run round the entire border and can in fact be accessed from three sides. It's a large field, probably six acres and is cultivated sometimes but is presently set aside. As I think I've mentioned before originally it was common land. Some has been sold off and a number of bungalows built, so there is a right angled cut-out in its irregular shape.

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The perspective from this end is completely different.  What most immediately springs to mind is that there is no rape there only the tall barley stubble I'd remarked on when visiting for the first time. The barley stalks look wind-buffeted and there's a clear imprint of the wind's direction. I walked up the wide grassy and weedy margin on the right side of the field towards my usual spot, noticing that in fact the oil seed rape only covers  a small section of the field, in fact it was really quite local to my spot.  I glanced down ready to set down my stuff and was surprised to see the docks, so luxuriant last week now brown and collapsed looking.  The explanation lay in the the huge prairie-like field where we'd observed a man spraying at the weekend, the one where I'd seen the sheep.  His activity had changed the English pastoral image of a few weeks ago into a yellow killing zone.  The wind in its turn had blown the weed killer into my field, felling the docks.  A sad result, but surely the wind too was an explanation for the lemon-yellow rape seed flowers that had been delighting me so much.

With each visit I'm understanding more about the way the plants compliment one another: they seen to cluster together, an ecosystem finding its place among the flints.  Here is thistle, red nettle and what I think, judging by the leaf shape and the images in my Collins Nature Guide, is forget-me knot with, as always, clumps of grass.


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My eye is also drawn to the structure of individual plants: the way hawthorn's side shoots dart out from the main stem like giant thorns, with hardly a joint in sight.  This is so different from other bushes and trees where scarring is visible at that point.  And very different to the way shoots on soft plants appear between the main stem and the furl of a leaf.  Then there is the way leaves gradually are released, beech in the hedgerow and nettles so tightly compressed they're almost pleated, parachute-like, between each vein.

I'm drawn too to the character of plants, not that I'm wanting to give them human qualities, but I am noticing the hawthorn and linking it to the spikiness of the thistle.  Nettles too are akin in this regard, their leaf shapes warning us even before their sting is felt. Grass and other bladed plants are pointed, but without threat. Compare all these with the benign and curving shapes of docks and dandelions such variety in one field.


6th Visit:

My heart is lifting as I leave home.  The sea marge has drifted away and the sun's now shining.  Still quite close to home a field of rape is all aglow, the Alexanders frothing in profusion on the verge, great swathes of the waterlily-like butterbur make a colour study in green. A little later I park up and I make the usual series of notes about changes in the hedgerow:an inventory.  Here are the tightly pleated beech leaves stretching out, the roughshod machine pruning from which some parts of the hedge have not yet recovered, an abundance of dandelions and some clocks ready to release their seeds.  I also want to take a proper photograph of the damaged docks.

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Today is a day of pacing out the field, which I do, and noticing.  Today though it's not soil or rocks or plants in the field; it is wild life.  I'm alerted to this thought by a pair of pheasants rushing through a gap in the hedge just as I enter.  Now sound and movement are everywhere. First birds, hard to see at first high up in the trees, song chiming with song across the field.  They're chiffchaffs with their yellow markings.  Then hares!  First the ears of one become visible, then another quite unafraid until there are six who race away.  Now skylarks! They flutter up from the stubble, such camouflage is ideal for both birds and hares.  The sun is gorgeously warm, there's the hum of bees, a wasp and hoverflies -- such loveliness.

And at last a few rough sketches.



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Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Two Further Visits

 The visits are going well and though it would be tempting to visit my field more regularly I need that interval between visits to process what I've seen and work on the ideas which are developing.

Third Visit:

On my to do list for my third visit is drawing and you may well see it again. The results are underwhelming and not shown here, but by now I know I must just keep trying. Photographs are easy and observations too, slices of bread in the drawing sandwich, so I should be able to do better.  This photograph makes this perfect point: It look many shots to capture just what I was seeing.  It also demonstrates the seeming dominance of green is not necessarily the case; it depends on the angle from which the shot is taken.


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What I like particularly here are the strong uprights contrasting with the leaves' green growth and their curved shapes.


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And now from above where the chickweed appears to dominate.


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A cropped image of the hedge showing strong parallel lines, the developing trunks wrapped in their opaque plastic sheaths.  I managed to find some that had broken off and bought it home for the Museum of Curiosities.  Snail tracks dusted with dirt are marked in patches.  And again, in the image, there are parallel bands of sky, another hedge and the greening field.

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Finally on this visit, more strong uprights and parallels, this time hawthorn suckers with their spiky offshoots.


Fourth Visit:

Weather plays such a part in these visits. It affects the experience on the day and how long I want to stay: the cold, the damp don't encourage lingering but it is after all only spring. Weather in the interim is significant too.  It will have shaped the changes I see.  

We have had rain and snow and sleet, some bright sunshine too, but not intense enough or for long enough to prepare me for what I see.

There are shadows on the road and the hedge is alive with leaves and blossom, full flower and knot-like buds.

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As I move round the end of the hedge and enter the field there is another profusion of growth: rape has stretched up,the flowers  more golden than lemon yellow.  Gone are the speedwell and violets, instead the tufts of grass and the yellow of dandelions predominate.  Here too is a red-purple palette: red-dead nettles in clumps, their flowers pink-red with toning leaves. The veins of dock surprisingly red too.

Returning to the idea of  assemblages I mentioned in my previous blog, I notice ones created in the field: two finger sticks of twig, their bark unwrapping to reveal the dried striated wood beneath, and nearby a scattering of golden flints  remnants almost from an archaeological dig.  My eye is in and also sees one soft-furled hen pheasant's feather, a snail's shell and a stiff blue crisp of plastic.

Thinking with my Hands:

Even though I know Module 5 work may well lead to an embroidered piece in whites and neutrals I still want to explore the colours I am seeing.  This interest in thinking about colour has been further encouraged by Claire Benn's online course on "Exploring Fibre Reactive Dyes", which I watched  and found really interesting and am going to try.

First of all a patchwork idea based on the 1784 map.  I chose what I've called the Pond Fields, and tested out in colour magazine paper how two fields could be conveyed at this time of year.  It was interesting to see the effect of line and shadowing.  Patchwork is something I referred to when discussing the road/verge/hedgerow photograph, and earlier in this post the sky/hedge/field image.


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Next paper weaving, a return to the Foundation Module. First two torn-along-a-ruler samples followed by one more free-hand example which I think is better.  Here I'm trying to look at the fields texture as well as consider the balance of colour.  So good to have the soil samples to cross reference.  In 1:55 I try to hint at reds-purples in the field.


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Each time I visited my field the word green seemed inadequate.  Here I carried out a colour mixing activity using watercolours: two yellows (lemon yellow and golden yellow) mixed with two blues (ultramarine and turquoise).  No wonder the word "green" seems inadequate!  It does occur to me that I might have achieved stronger colours with gouache.


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Further Explorations:

  • wrapping
  • monoprinting
  • making printing blocks

Further Research:
  • commonland/enclosures
  • hedges/hedgerows



Sunday, 11 April 2021

Choosing a place and two visits.

 After a very productive discussion with Sian, about Nevada deserts and Norfolk fields, I found myself abandoning a simple plan for something more ambitious, more free ranging.  These new ideas involve finding a location, a field, to study; the intention being to acquaint myself gradually with its texture, its colour, its atmosphere.  To spend time looking.

I visited where I'd driven before only to discover access to these places was an issue, thick hedges edged one place, the gate padlocked on another, farm watch notices on a telegraph pole  Looking for a farmhouse associated with a field I particularly liked, I drove up the track where dilapidation met my eyes.  Any of the explanations that sprung to mind for such seeming despair left no room for someone looking for textures.  I turned round and drove back to the road.  My second thought and the one I am going with is a field in the village where I used to live, where there's also a warm welcome and a cup of tea always available. 

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First Visit:
My first proper visit sees sheep in the fields along the main road.  They're there disposing of the remnants of the sugar beet crop.  The sun is shining, the air chill : the end of winter.  I turn off, find my layby and park the car.  I've borrowed my husband's country bag; it's one I bought for him and which he rarely uses.  In it I've packed a whole raft of things, which I will add to on subsequent visits, but for the time being I have enough, after all this visit is about getting my eye in.

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It is a rather sorry looking landscape.  In the photograph green seems to predominate,  tufts of grass and weeds growing through the leftovers of last year's crop. The grass and weeds are at ground level, what  has caught my attention are barley and other plants, hollow stalks and seed heads, dried grass.  These have dried just where they grew, grey-beige verticals of different heights, with every now and then at a forty-five degree angle some species is in the process of collapsing.  Looking closer still there are a number of different seed heads, some like tassels, others hairy multi-grained barley heads, yet others individual seeds just clinging on to their parent plant.  It is this air of hopelessness which attracts me, so utterly at odds with my American shots, but absolutely chiming with these times.

On this visit I take photographs, collect samples of both dried and new growth. I also, having listened to a talk conversation between Claire Benn and Dorothy Caldwell, spoon into plastic bags samples of soil.  These I'm hoping can be used to colour paper and possibly fabric.  It's cold, I have no chair and my bottom's damp from sitting on the slope at the bottom of the hedge.  Time to go home and take a look at my collection, test out some ideas.



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The first five images in this series are done with a wax crayon; 1:34 is a comparison between a graphite stick, wax crayon and charcoal.  I really like the richness of charcoal.

And here are some ideas, the execution a little rough and ready, of how I might use them -- two frames and a border.

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Also in my Museum of Curiosities are rubbings of flints and stones found on this first trip.  These findings alert me to past times and those who were alive then.  There in the field are layers telling the story of how land was used which for the most part hidden to us, until we begin to search as I'm doing now.


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Below are two images of the hedges bounding my field.  I can already see the scope for converting these into fabric and stitch.


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Second Visit: 
My plan, weather permitting, is to make Mondays my field days and I intend to have a list of tasks to focus on -- only a few.  This time I intend making rubbings of new growth in the field.  Last time the samples were limp by the time I arrived home and therefore wasted, though the dead stalks gave some really beautiful results, in spite of being fragile.  I also want, as Sian's suggested, to take rubbings of a section of the field.  Finally, I want to do a sketch of the field.  First of all though, I must just look.

The first thing I notice is the beginning of hawthorn leaves on the lea side of the hedge, and there's real warmth in the sun.  There is still more green growth in the field, though on closer inspection these weeds seem impoverished and some have yellowed.  They're nibbled too, possibly rabbits or a hare.  Such a variety of weeds, families with similar leaf structures, and one offs.  And there, at the hedge bottom tiny blue speedwell and a vivid scarlet pimpernel, just one.

For the first time I notice snail shells, and acorn cups, dead oak leaves too.  It is as if the seasons are intermingled, as if autumn has not yet been drawn down into the soil to nourish it.  Maybe the mole hills are not a true indicator of the soil's health.



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These wax rubbings have been done in the field. their edges and veins showing clearly.  They give a hint of the soft materiality of the leaves which are now being pressed to preserve their colours and give me time to examine them further.


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This abstract is a rubbing of a patch of ground, the spent stalks showing clearly.

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Two soil samples: the top from a worm cast, the lower one from elsewhere in the field.  They are both clays and easily cover paper when mixed with a little water.

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And finally in the Museum of Curiosities is a 1784 map of the village showing my field.  Travel along Hall Lane, away from the Hall (A).  My field is part of the Common Sheepwalk on the right, which brings me rather neatly to John Clare and enclosures.

One more image before I go: tiny treasures -- a stone weight made from oolitic limestone, three snail shells and a knapped flint.


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And another little assemblage, they are such a lovely thing to make.  This one demonstrating that autumn isn't over yet!

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Monday, 8 March 2021

Chapter 1: Nearby

 It took a drive across the country for me to reappraise what was close to home.  Maybe it's also a positive effect of having been confined for so long that one's eye scans the fields and verges differently.  I went out today to photograph the things in my mind.  Below are just three images from this morning, made black and white, the contrast turned up to reveal their textures.


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So why take more photographs when I have some perfectly good material?  And yet more images of grass! I suppose these images are about familiarity, but also there is something in these fields that chimes with the times we are living through.  They are fields full of leavings, with no sign of new activity.  Unlike the Nevada fields there's no fecundity here, no joy or promise, yet.  The fields are dry and waiting, the only seeming optimism in their story, the freedom of wildlife to live unhindered.

Springing to mind too were Anselm Kiefer's paintings and Kurt Jackson's The Long Field project in which he used Helen Dunmore's poem Crossing the Field.  The Russian proverb To live your life is not as simple as to cross a field prefaces this poem.  Also there in the mix is the Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki who photographed dead flowers.  He talked about lost time, each image he took representing an instant caught between the past and the future.

Wednesday, 17 February 2021

Chapter 1: Texture in Landscape 1

So having decided on the where, I now need to think about the what and I have a book of Nevada images on my shelf which will help with that.

It's individual textures in the landscape, rather than categories that I'm attracted to at this point, wanting still to do a little second guessing and trying to choose something which will work with the techniques in future chapters.


1:1 Drying Mud in a Wash


1:2 Bark of a Ponderosa Pine

My mind's already thinking about layering and cutting back.  I test the images out in black and white, and then I crop, one thing leading to another.  But, as I reread the instructions I realise I may well need more than one image in my chosen "aspect" and mud is not bark.  I need to think again.  This time I'm into grasses.  


1:3  Fergusson Mountains


1:4  Winterbrown Marsh Grass


1:5  Mount Rose

There's nice variety too: seed spikes strong and thrusting towards the sun,  the rustle and movement of Winterbrown Marsh Grass and finally, the grass at Mount Rose (where our grandchildren ski) which is trying to recover from the weight of snow.

These are very different images from those of mud and bark.  And this is what I notice as I go through this process of "getting my eye in".  I'm looking at depth -- background, foreground and midway between.  I'm seeing movement, as I've already commented.  The grasses also have other qualities: short and tufty with narrow stalks (possibly hollow) with a spiral of ripe seed heads twisting round the upper third.  The marsh grass is broader bladed, dry and possibly beyond harvest time, narrowing to a point, each blade curved and arching over.  Where the snow has melted at Mount Rose the grass still seems damp and flattened.  For all that it still has movement, blades are clumped together and arch as the sap starts to rise.  The time of year creates an atmosphere, tells a story.

Moving on from these initial images I turn to Photoshop, make them back and white and then play with them in the filter menu.

1:6  Fergusson Mountains


1:7 Winterborne Marsh Grass


1:8  Mount Rose

I don't intend going over these sequences in any detail however, I would like to comment on the second row far left of Winterbrown Marsh Grass where Poster Edge treatment reveals some rather lovely markings on the blades nearest the camera. There are a number of further things which also spring to mind and  might be useful when interpreting grasses in stitch.  Firstly, the sense of rhythm in each one is made very clear.  Secondly, these versions show what is specifically in the foreground and thirdly, their tonal range.  As ever with these exercises, it is surprising how much inspiration there is in such a seemingly mundane thing as grass.  How could I possibly say that when I've written the description above?


Now to rocks, they're mountain ranges really.  Below is Cathedral Gorge, and below that two black and white versions.


1:9  Cathedral Gorge



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And here are falling rocks in a Canyon, first in colour,then black and white versions.



1:12  Canyon


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1:15  Within Lovell


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And then there are petroglyphs, those 10,000 year old rock paintings.



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Postscript:

I'm adding three further black and white photographs which were taken and sent by my daughter.  The light was so bright that in addition to converting them to black and white I've had to intensify the contrast, even so it seems to me these images lack the drama of those above.


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