Tricks of Light I

2019 was not a year for blogging. I didn’t plan it that way. But from late spring onwards, what plans I had for the year were snatched away and I was flying by the seat of my pants.

2020 is also going to be a year for flying by the seat of the pants. At least I am prepared for it. I am making plans, but …

This does tie in with my single 2019 New Year’s Resolution, the advice of Jordan B Peterson to clean up my room. And I’ve cleaned it up enough to have freed more creative time and space for 2020, if all goes smoothly. There’s a story, but I’ll save that for another blog.

I’m kicking off 2020 with, believe it or not, poetry. I think it’s poetry. Maybe it isn’t really poetry. It’s a series anyway and I’m calling it Tricks of Light. It’s about observations made during walks in nature. It’s about paying attention.

Here’s the first. Read it as a draft. I’m aiming for at least one a week.

Tricks of Light I

At first glance it looked like that young squirrel
(born late in the seasonal cycle) – its tail –
arched for balance as it thieved
food from the bird table. I was leaving
extra food. It would survive the season
to thrive, unless preyed upon.

At second glance it was a leaf
lanceolate – bowed-down,
twitching in the tight breeze.

At third glance I tried to switch it with a spell,
back to adolescent squirrel tail.
But the leaf held fast to its own self
a green spear – already rusting back from its tip –
piercing my winter-weakened powers.

Or was it that, my powers mellowed by winter,
to have the squirrel I also had to have the leaf?

Ann Isik 2020

Have a creative 2020.


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Covehithe Ochres and Gissing Whites: Hand-Made Paints from Foraged Pigment

If you think you received this blog yesterday, well, you did. A version of it without many of the images as I was having problems downloading photos from my iPhone onto my computer. I sorted out the problem – with much gnashing of teeth – and so was able to add more images.  I’ve added to the text, so read on.

First, an uplifting and pithy quote. I can’t agree with it completely, but it’s a good attitude to adopt, even so:

Grinding Pigment into ‘Gissing White’

“Life is a grindstone. Whether it grinds us down or polishes us up depends on us.”   Thomas Holcroft  

Covehithe Ochre, Gissing White. These are names I’ve given to two watercolour paints I’ve hand-made recently from foraged pigments.

Covehithe Ochre in the Making Process

As well as Covehithe Ochre I’ve made Wells Ochre from material gathered from the cliffs at Wells-Next-The-Sea and is slightly lighter in tone.

Little pot of Gissing White Watercolour Paint

I made Gissing White from chalk foraged from a village near where I live.

The first picture shows it in the process of being ground to a fine powder with the addition of Gum Arabic and honey. These ingredients bind the pigment.

Nugget of Variegated Covehithe Ochre Pigment

It’s not as beige as in the first picture, more an almost-white pinky-beige. It would have been lighter still had I used Acacia honey as recommended in the recipe, but I only had some very dark forest honey to hand.

Close-up Showing the Variegations of Pigment in Covehithe Ochre

I’ll have some of the lighter honey later today and am hoping I’ll end up having created Gissing White and Gissing White (Light).

Wells Ochre: Ochre from Pigment Foraged From Wells-Next-the Sea and is slightly lighter in tone than Covehithe Ochre

I’m going to make some gouaches soon using these same foraged pigments (I have small bucketfuls of each) which will mean the addition of glycerine.

And I’ll be trying to make some burnt colours from my pigment harvest by oxidising some of it, using sunlight. That will probably be next year. We are now in the depths of autumn approaching winter. Today is typically autumn; it’s 2pm as I write and it’s dark, damp and shrouded in mist outside. It suits my mood.

Covehithe Brown in the Making Process

I also made some Covehithe Brown from darker pigmentation gathered from the beach.

Using and making paints ground from locally gathered pigment makes artworks more authentic. It makes me feel more engaged with my own natural surroundings. And artwork. I’ll be posting pictures soon of how I’m using the paint.

I’m lucky to be living where I am and my next foraging expedition will be to Hunstanton, whose cliffs and beach are known for its pigmentations and fossils.

Here‘s a picture of Hunstanton cliffs and beach. I could eat them.

Grateful thanks for the photo to  John Wernham.


For the paint-making processes, I acknowledge artist Debbie Lyddon and Earth Pigments.





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Indeterminacy: The Blueberry Interlude: Cold Dyeing with Blueberry Stems

Dyeing needn’t be an elaborate process,  experiments have shown me. Or require costly – and sometimes quite hazardous and pongy – ingredients, sophisticated equipment and a PhD in chemistry.

I pruned a couple of little blueberry bushes a few weeks ago, arranging some of the stem cuttings in a vase for the kitchen table. After a few days I noticed the water had started to take on colour.

I hadn’t yet thrown out the blueberry clippings, which included leaves and a very few remaining berries, so I added them to a transparent plastic bucket and rainwater from one of the garden butts. (I have a ton of these plastic buckets, originally containing seed and fat balls bought to feed the birds).

I let the plant matter soak in the rainwater for a week in a sunny greenhouse. The water hadn’t changed colour much but I decided to soak a little sample of silk in the solution, to see what happened. Not expecting much, I returned the bucket with its pale-coloured liquid to the greenhouse. After another week, the silk had gone from ivory to this lovely apricot colour.  Here it is in the picture after washing and drying.

Prunings, rainwater, silk fabric, upcycled plastic birdfood bucket, sun, time.  The birds got fed, the humans got fed (on the blueberries the birds didn’t steal), the blueberries got pruned so they’ll feed the thieving birds and the humans next year,  the plastic bucket got upcycled, the water was got free from the sky. The only monetary cost were the few pennies for the little piece of silk.

No doubt this dyed silk will find its way into my Indeterminacy sonata. Maybe it’ll become an Interlude.  The Blueberry Interlude. I like that.




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More Notes from a Melody Not Yet Written

“Melody and harmony are like lines and colors in pictures.”  (AZ Quotes)

Rabindranath Tagore, from: Purabi: A Miscellany in Memory of Rabindranath Tagore 1941-1991, by Krishna Dutta, Rabindranath Tagore (1991). (AZ Quotes)


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Notes from a Melody Not Yet Written

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Liminal Space, the Prepared Piano and Indeterminacy – a Quick Note to Myself and Anybody Reading

The subject of this blog was inspired in part by the Liminal States & Thresholds for Change series of artworks by Turtle Moon Impressions blogger Janis Doucette.

Liminal space is that threshold space which is between one state of being and another. It is a necessary aspect of rites of passage. Emotions in the liminal space probably range from curious but anxious to terrified. Artists are regularly in liminal space. They are regularly between one state of being and another. I can’t imagine being happy to be in liminal space.

Or can I? The image on the left is one from a recent set of eco prints from a process I’m trying to develop. It is nothing but a few leaves and stalks, in reality.

There is however another reality that compels me to this image. It is an image of a past landscape yet to be reached. Yes, I know that’s contradictory. It is about a future place that is a return to a certain past. More contradiction. So as my own onlooker I’m standing in liminal space looking across at a place that is familiar to me that I’ve never been before. Contradiction three.

I’m reminded of Schumann’s (1810-1856) Leiderkreis (which I’ve had a go at singing). Here’s a bit of a translation of the lyrics to the opening song of the cycle. The cycle is set to a poem by Joseph von Eichendorff.

In der Fremde (In a Foreign Land)*
Joseph von Eichendorff  (1788-1857)

From my homeland, …,
The clouds come drifting in,
But …,
Now no one knows me there.

My favourite song from the Leiderkreis cycle is the fifth: Mondnacht. Expressed in both poem and musical composition is a liminal state. (It’s also the most difficult in the cycle to sing, in my not-so-humble opinion). Here’s a translation of the last verse of Mondnacht:

Mondnacht (Moonlit Night)*

And my soul spread
Her wings out wide,
Flew across the silent land,
As though flying home.

These sentiments echo the sentiments expressed in my third paragraph above. About how I feel when looking out over, from my liminal space, a new landscape that is yet strangely home. And know this landscape can only be mapped poetically, which prospect makes me, yes, happy. Because I know that the only true map of a place is the poetic one.

I’m reminded also of the work of the 19th century German Romantic painter Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840). He advised the painter, ” … close your bodily eye so that you may see your picture first with the spiritual eye.”

What has all this to do with …”the Prepared Piano and Indeterminacy”?”

The prepared piano is generally considered to have been the development of John Cage. It is a piano which has had objects (preparations) placed on or between the piano’s strings. This results in these strings, when the key is struck, producing a sound that is unexpected. In some cases, a sound will not repeat when the same key is struck again, depending on whether the pedal is used. (Bit woolly on that, look it up for yourself).

Is it that the listener (not having prepared ears?) will not hear what he/she is expecting? Will it therefore be indeterminate, holding our listener forever in liminal space? Maybe unresolved would be a better word to use. Whether indeterminate and unresolved can be termed parallels in Indeterminacy is a different argument.

Please feel free to argue with me. I know very little about music composition. I’ve just moved from that particular liminal space to begin studying it. Is there a Music Composition for Dummies?  Yes, there is and it’s too advanced for me. And so I’m starting here: The Art of Composing. While reading Music Theory for Dummies, which is not too advanced for me.

And I want to study these things in part because the principles of music theory and music composition are the same as those of visual art. For instance, silence in music becomes space in the visual arts.

Is your artwork inspired by music theory and composition?  I’d like to know.

Not a very quick note, then. That’ll teach me a lesson for hanging out with German Romantics.

* Translations by Richard Stokes, co-author with Dr Ian Bostridge of The Book of Lieder

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Indeterminacy, Some Project Notes

John Cage’s Sonata and Interludes for Prepared Piano

Visual Sound (Pink Sedum) for Prepared Pasta Maker

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Cecil Collins: Fools and Angels

From: Cecil Collins: A Retrospective Exhibition:

Artists can do something more: they can vanquish the lie.”
(Alexander Solzhenitsyn)

Some Books:

The Quest for the Great Happiness: Cecil Collins: William Anderson and Cecil Collins: 1988
Cecil Collins: A Retrospective Exhibition: Judith Collins: Tate Gallery 1989
The Vision of the Fool and Other Writings: Ed: Brian Keeble: Golgonooza Press 1994;
Meditations, Poems, Pages from a Sketchbook: Cecil Collins: Ed: Brian Keeble: 1998
In Celebration of Cecil Collins: Visionary Artist and Educator: Nomi Rowe: 2008

If you haven’t time to watch the whole video, try from 16:00 onwards, or 20:00 onwards.

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Indeterminacy – Picking up A Project Where I Left Off

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Eve Fumes at that Snake – and on Paying Attention

I did something very silly. Shocking.

Earlier in the year, I decided I was only going to post blogs to which I could attach the completed artworks that arose from the ideas expressed in the blog.

And in so doing, brought my creativity to a grinding halt.

Because my blog has always been my out-loud diary. It’s been a place to ruminate, to cogitate, to fulminate – and all sorts of other -ates. To lay down ideas, to pursue these ideas (or not).

There will always be a far greater number of ideas than artworks. Ideas come in tidal waves. And only a few of these will precipitate an artwork. Not only that, but artworks don’t ever arise from a single determinator. They are multi-determined. They are palimpsests of ideas garnered from many sources – what I like to call, poetic walks.

Sometimes, a single idea might be a progenitor of an artwork, but in itself will never determine the end result. An idea is a speed-of-light thing. It is pure energy. An artwork has to materialise that energy that the idea flung into the physical universe.

An artwork is slow in coming, because the material world is slow. An artwork is about finding a form or forms which stand in for energy. And I can tell you, I have found only one such form so far in all my poetic walking.

And so, in effect, the silly thing I did was decide not to record any ideas, not to ruminate, not to cogitate; not, in effect, to have any ideas to pursue. I won’t go into the minutiae of the negative thinking process that led to that decision (for indeed it was negative thinking and that’s one poetic walk I needn’t have taken). I’ll just say that it was done unconsciously and when, only a short while ago, this dawned on me, I was shocked to the bone. I mean, I’m so aware, aren’t I? So spiritually and psychologically on-the-ball?  Evidently, and to my chagrin, not. I’m embarrassed, angry. I’m Eve and fuming with anger at that snake.

And yet. All this time, I’ve been bombarded with signs and signals telling me to pay attention. Pay attention. Pay attention. Pay attention. (I’ll write about these signs in another blog)I’ve been driven half mad. Pay attention to what? I’ve argued, with no-one in particular. And at least, I seem to have somehow scraped together enough consciousness to have noticed these signs.

Nevertheless, 2019 has gone off at a tangent  and scattered far and wide my artistic plans. An opportunity came about for my husband to cast himself loose on the high seas of self-employment; of going into business as a marine consultant (please excuse the pun) and my role in this can be described by the title of Director of Administration. While he was working out his obligatory three months’ notice, I was beavering away at designing business cards, letterheads, setting up a website and the sundry other background activities that help him into the water and once there, to keep him afloat (more puns).  (So, if you feel the need coming on to hire a marine consultant, you can contact him through Crena).

On the artistic front, outside of the design work I’ve been doing for Crena, I’ve been setting-up structures to underpin my artistic progress. These have included the renovation of the garden with a focus on preparing spaces for dye plants; and sourcing and buying the plants.

The garden renovation has resulted also in two plots for growing veggies, one with two raised beds (separable into four beds each, the other, four (also separable into four beds each). That’s 24 veggie beds, to feed two people. Guess who’s having a glut of courgettes and beans right now?

I have blogged already about my participation in How Far Does The Hand Reach?  My contribution for which was recently exhibited at Studio20 in Norwich (England) and is set to tour to venues around Britain and the wider world.

And I’ve blogged about my participation in The Tiny Sketchbook Project  which toured from New York to London, to Paris and is now back in New York.

I want to go back now to a poetic walk I began just before I sabotaged myself: Forest of Souls.

But I’m back. Damn that snake; those snakes.




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