I’m not the biggest fan of Autumn, mainly as I hate to accept the end of summer, but every year the colours of the new season are beautiful so it is difficult to stay disappointed for long. Having spent a week in hospital recently I really missed seeing nature so once out again I noticed a heightened awareness; my senses really enjoyed connecting with the outdoors again.
Over the last few months I’ve been paying more attention to colours of nature, gathering plants, feathers, shells etc and mixing the colours using gouache – see previous posts – I find it a wonderfully meditative process and one that brings great results too. The process really makes me look at the colours of the artefact and work out the nuances of hues, tints and shades. I’ve taken some slow recuperative walks in the countryside to rebuild my strength, allowing me to gather colour and appreciate Autumn. The colour chips here were made from the leaves from one tree, arranged in colour order. I wanted the colour to be the main thing to identify rather than them being leaves, so by trimming the edges of the leaves I’ve made them more like swatches.
I’ve had an interruption to normal services as a result of some general surgery, added complications and time to heal. I’m not one to sit idle so it’s been a challenge to be patient, giving myself time to recover and gain strength. The time in hospital – a week – was an ordeal despite wonderful ward staff, and it gave me time to think about how important our surrounding environments can be, for our wellbeing and sanity.
I got to know the walls and particularly the ceiling of the room very well. In my hazy mind I toyed with the grid of ceiling panels being a response to the Dutch De Stijl design by Theo van Doesburg, or a drawing by Agnes Martin. The four holes in the ceiling were also a stark reminder of the surgeon’s cuts. The prints on the curtains were so poor I refused to capture them, but they were insipid, uninspiring, and frankly poor design – I remember analysing their weakness with one of the staff late one night – I think she said I was crazy!
I vividly remember the power of the textiles surrounding me – I had a scarf which was a huge comfort to me – a familiar texture and smell of home. The fresh sheet and hospital blanket were also providing a strange comfort in the utilitarian room.
Twenty years ago I attended Arts in Health lectures including discussions on the subject of hospital environments aiding recovery and wellbeing, and I remember seeing incredibly exciting and positive schemes across the world where designers were embracing colour, nature, pattern and material to drive rehabilitation. I had hoped things had moved on from the institutional walls of hospitals. We now have the interior design buzz word biophilia, using nature for our wellbeing as an integral component in the design solutions, linking humans to other life forms, but it has yet to arrive here. The space in which I coped was bland, institutional and bleak. Such a missed opportunity – and particularly when the hospital ‘art’ is so often shoved out front in the public foyer, and not where the patients spend hours on end, day after day – don’t get me started on public art commissions at hospitals!
The relief to be home, surrounded by colour and pattern – and my family – was intense. Those first breaths of fresh air, the sight of a bright autumn day was incredibly uplifting. I still hold a heightened sense of this awareness of nature, even now a week on, as I recover and appreciate my health returning to business as usual.
I’ve been continuing my colour mixing series, this time taking inspiration from the beach and the artefacts I gathered. The gouache works wonderfully to capture the colour, responding to small specks of added colour as I take the starting colour on a journey to and past the colours of the item I am studying.
Some new drawings are taking shape that use these colour chips and I am excited about where they are going – one day I’ll share them. In the meantime I hope you enjoy the colour of the beach of north Norfolk.
Back in March I began a new series of colour of works on paper that were simply about mixing and matching colour, evolving hues through the process of painting individual swatches to build the narrative in a sequence, as if a technical exercise at art school. You can read about those pieces here.
I’ve continued to gather pieces from nature on the walks I’ve been on this summer and have continued with the process of mixing colour and so I thought I’d share some here.
I’m doing this simply as I love to make colour, and really enjoy working with the gouache paint for its colour qualities. The process occupies my mind, suggests potential avenues for future work and connects me with nature through the mementoes I make. The seasons change and the colours alter, but the swatches hold memories in the process of mixing, and I can almost smell the dry heat of the corn, and the cool shade of the wood where I found the Jay feather.
Many years ago my flatmate was given a passion flower plant and when the flowers came we were both in awe of their splendid form; a thing of beauty in our otherwise less than beautiful flat in Camberwell, south London. I made drawings of the flowers and sometime later developed some patterns from it, screen printing it as repeating designs and placement prints. I created the motifs by deconstructing the elements that constitute the flower head.
More years passed and sometime around 2012 I revisited those screen printed patterns, this time interpreting them as lino cuts as part of my Plot to Plate series of editioned lino prints. Last year I planted two passion flower plants in our new garden and last week we had the first bloom. It took me right back to that first flower in the flat in Camberwell, and was reminded of the pattern again.
Whenever I look back at old work I’m likely to want to make changes, and this is the case here too, but each design also holds a moment, defines a time, and sometimes that makes it what it is. I’d not imagined I’d connect that flower to my practice almost twenty years later…
This pattern remains available as a set of patterned Plot to Plate greetings cards.
My mind tends to want to be busy and I often develop several ideas in parallel. Pattern making and pattern evolution ideas are shaping up so I went back to the lino block and started to cut – I find it best to make the idea come to life so I can work through the potential and pit falls. Watch this space …
Several weeks ago I started, with no other intention other than to pass the time, making drawings of the trees across the fields I could see as we waited our turn at the farm shop. This was simply about making time for me to clear my head of all the other stuff and pressures of this new routine we find ourselves in. Drawing is such a key part of what makes me tick, whether it’s for rest or work.
Week 2 came so I took my sketchbook and made new drawings that naturally evolved from the first week’s observations. In the second week I also took scissors to capture the shapes as paper cutouts in contrast to the lines I had focussed on in pencil. Each week I’ve made these drawings and over time I’ve noticed the growth of leaves, making it harder to focus on the tree structures, but I’ve also moved the drawing on as a familiarity of my subject is developing. I wrote a blog post on those first weeks here.
I’ve spent the last quarter century drawing landscapes with trees and remember a significant moment as a student of design, when I discovered the water colours by Crome and Cotman in the gallery in Leeds – particularly strange given they were from the Norwich School and I’d left Norwich to study in Yorkshire, but maybe that was the initial pull. I studied the way they divided the landscape with brushed areas of paint and they helped me to see that I too could explore ways to stylise the way I saw the landscape.
The drawings included in this post are all from week 5. I’ve added hints of fields containing the trees and those lines of containment are the edges holding the paths of trees. I’ve used the horizons from both a vertical and horizontal viewpoint and continued to stylise the tree forms throughout the five weeks. It’s getting harder as the trees flesh out their forms and we lost the details of the branches. I’m also suggesting depth of field with the scale of the trees near and far although I’m pulling the composition down to stretch out and extend the foreshortened landscape.
Throughout my career I’ve toyed with ways to map the perspective of landscape and use diagrammatic language, perspective and distorted elevations to represent viewpoints of 3D in 2D. The intention of the arcs was to suggest the sweeping viewpoint but in fact I think it hints at hillsides, and that really isn’t the case here in Norfolk. An undulating landscape maybe, but certainly not rolling hills – still, we can’t get it all right!
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed this drawing exercise so far and look forward to week 6 and what the drawings will discover next time. I’m also, rather naturally I suppose thinking about pattern evolution and how these may become design work. I have lots of ideas to mull over and be excited by … but there’s no rush.
Having posted some of the drawings on instagram over the weeks I’ve received lovely comments and messages from people enjoying the drawings and I’m so grateful for the votes of confidence in what I am doing, I really appreciate that. Many thanks, I hope you continue to enjoy the drawing! ….
Having sown the seeds for purple sprouting last summer it has been the usual long wait until harvest time, but we have been picking it for the last few weeks. It always feels good to pick the brassica because the new season of crops are a while off harvesting.
The purple of the sprouting inspired my colour palette for the Plot to Plate tea towels.
I can’t resist colour matching, so here we are again …