I’m Back (with) Tacita Dean, Collectingness, Creativity and Health

The other day I was unpacking a box (yes, almost a year after our house move there are boxes yet to be opened) and came upon a small yet very heavy suitcase and on opening it found it housed my collection of items unearthed from the allotment we were keeping up before the move.

Nine Stones

Nine Stones is an arrangement from this allotment collection. I have a good number of other  collections from around the world. I’ve pondered extensively on my compulsions to collect. One reason I’d not considered triggered this blog.

Some pieces I’ve collected have held more significance than others.  The peculiar object in the second image is a piece of fossil coral I picked up in 1997; and which still holds me in thrall.

Originally lighter in colour and weight, it became progressively darker and weightier while in use as a mould for papier-mache casts. That meant coating it first with Vaseline which was thirstily sucked-up by the fossil’s dry, dead and empty coral cells. A sort of accidental unembalming – stroke – unmummification. Mummification having already been accomplished by time, the sea and the baking sun.

The two dark lines across this form mark where twice I dropped and smashed it then glued it together again (badly) with epoxy resin. There are permanent glittery bits where tinfoil has become embedded here and there – another side-effect from the papier-mache cast-making process.

The third image is of one of the papier-mache casts lying beneath a row of cross-sections of the fossil sliced from another cast. I added wax to these, which I discovered much later is used in mummification. Much later still, the use of wax developed into an interest in encaustic.

The fourth  image is of a (water) coloured drawing of the fossil.  And in image five, the form turns up again in Book of the Dead 2, a quasi artist’s book.

Synchronistically, the day I rediscovered my allotment collection, I also caught the back-end of a TV programme about a recent Royal Academy exhibition of the work of Tacita Dean.

In a Guardian article of an interview of Dean by Tim Adams I read:  “… among other wonders she is including her collections of clover and round stones.

Stone collecting is a habit she shares with some other artists she’s gathered here: Paul Nash, Henry Moore. Her own fossicking was handed down from her father, a circuit judge and frustrated writer; the 17th-century house in which she grew up on the North Downs in Kent was “full of pocketed flints – it’s quite a British thing, isn’t it?””

I had to laugh. Here’s a picture of two from my flint collection. And another of some of my  round stone collection.

Maybe it is a British thing. What could that mean?

The fragment I caught from the back-end of that TV programme about Tacita Dean is what compelled me to recommence blogging, after a three months’ silence (and I noticed just now that by sheer coincidence it’s exactly three months to the day since I wrote my last blog).  The fragment addressed collecting in a way I’d not considered. Here’s the gist:

Collecting is not about the object collected, but about the holding oneself in a perpetual state of looking. It’s about looking, searching, noticing. Exhibiting the objects found is exhibiting looking-, searchingness.

Here’s a video about Dean’s RA exhibition that discusses, at 3.58, collecting and shows her collection of clovers.

The video is one of many published by The Art Channel.

Another bit of Tim Adams’ Guardian article that I like: “I always use the phrase ‘being in a state of grace’,” she says. “Sometimes when you are working hard and open to things you start to see patterns. I am not thinking of grace in a religious way, just in your head.”

As an aside, being away for such a long period from my work in the end made me ill, and it has been so dreadful that I plan on never doing that again. The plus in this is that I had never realised how vital is the process of art making (not its outcomes) to my health and well-being.

Creativity and health, ergo, walk hand-in-hand? Ergo, an absence of creativity walks hand-in-hand with sickness? Doctors take note.

I’ve just done some dyeing with some sumac heads I collected last year from the four mature sumac (Rhus typhina) trees I found growing in the garden here. I froze these for future use and as the future has now arrived … I will write about the results soon.






Posted in Aesthetics, Art, Collage & Assemblage, Creativity, Mixed Media, Sculpture, Stones | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

I’ll be Back

Oak Flowers

I’m having to have a break from blogging. My longest since I started blogging in 2013. My  first blogging holiday in five years.

Meanwhile, it’s catkin season.

I’ll be back.

Hope you’re all having a good 2018.

See you soon.







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New Departures in Eco Printing – Impressures Negative Realities and Graphic Notation

More eco prints on watercolour paper. The deep brown-black of the sumac is the actual leaf. It fused with the paper because I made an extra-tight sandwich of the materials and steamed it for  a longer period of time in my dedicated pressure cooker.

I placed a square of heavy-duty plastic food wrapping between each pair of prints in this bundle, as a resist, i.e. to prevent colour seeping through. I’d noticed in a previous batch, that one of these plastic resists had, due to the pressure and heat of the process, become impressed with the image of the leaves/stalks. I decided to try to repeat what had been an accident.

It worked. You can just see this imprinting in the second image. I am calling these impressures. A different kind of reality to the prints, yet still a reality created by pressure and heat.There’s metaphysics in there to be explored at a later date.

The pink around the edges of the plastic squares has resulted from the water in which I steamed the bundle, which contained a mix of madder root and woad dyes.

They reminded me of photographic negatives. Yet another kind of reality – negative reality, like negative space. The transparency also reminded me of some silk organza that I’d dyed with mushrooms and then stiffened. I hunted it out. The plastic squares are sitting on it.

I have an idea of making a strip, like a film strip, using the eco prints, the plastic wrap and the stiffened organza. Attaching each to each with stitch. I’m also reminded of musical composition, musical notation. Graphic notation. Sound as well as vision. I’m interested in graphic notation. I must do more research on the subject. Here’s a performance of the earliest example of a complete graphic score. The composer is experimental composer and graphic notation pioneer Morton Feldman.  It’s his Projection 1 (1950) per Violoncello. I just love this music!

So, I have taken a step that moves beyond portrayal of object and what that might sound like.


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Taking a Walk with Pussy Willow An-Dro into the (Negative) Space of Possibility

Pussy Willow Circle Dance

Like the other eco prints on watercolour paper in  the  batch made the other week, this is a pair of mirror image prints.

Quite by chance (if you believe in coincidence – I don’t) there’s an inner circle of imprints where the two sheets meet.  The imprints are from willow catkins, harvested over a year ago and preserved between sheets of paper. I’ve arranged three of the willow pussies and above these, a eucalyptus leaf serendipitously pretends to be a fourth. The mirroring of these imprints makes a full circle at the heart of the pair. Eco Dyed Pussy Willows on Watercolour Paper 14 February 2018

A circle of eight.

The negative space at the middle of the circle is nebulous. How deep is this space? What forms might exist there?

The phrase space of possibility came to mind – another definition to add to my list, for negative space.

Circle dance also came to mind. I read that the circle dance is likely the most ancient of all dance traditions and that there are versions of the circle dance performed the world over, to mark occasions, as ritual and to encourage community.

Came to mind in particular was the An-Dro (The Turn) – a Breton circle dance which I’ve seen performed (and had a go at) a good number of times, at the annual Festival Interceltique de Lorient (Brittany) and during the festival’s tours to Paris.

As circle of eight,  it came to me that the figure 8 consists of two circles, one balanced on top of the other. Unsurprisingly, in Pythagorean Numerology, I read that one of the attributes of 8, is balance. I read also that in the Bible, 8 represents a new beginning. The Celtic year is divided into eight festivals. As is the Christian. It seems to me that 8 must represent eternity, since it is a closed form; thus, never-ending.

And I have made the figure of eight many many times, over and over – on ice (on ice skates) making 8 on both the inner and the outer blades.

As a nautical knot, the figure of eight prevents a knot from unreeving. 

Metaphysically, might a figure of eight be a concept held, so that an idea can move forward in a particular direction?

The metaphysics of figure of eight is worthy of exploration.

The poor willow, it has such a negative reputation. Rev Hilderic Friend in his fascinating book Flowers and Flower Lore writes that “… in Bohemia, the Willow is said to be the tree on which Judas hanged himself, whence the vulgar supposition that the devil has given it a peculiar attraction for suicides.”   

In his chapter Bridal Wreaths and Bouquets: The Willow Garland, he writes:  “It was once customary for slighted lovers to wear a Willow Garland as a symbol of their grief; …”

“In love the sad forsaken wight
The Willow garland weareth;”
(Michael Drayton)

… also …

“But since my sister he hath made his choise,
This wreath of Willow, that begirts my browes,
Shall never leave to be my ornament,
Till he be dead, or I be married to him.”
(A Woman is a Weather-Cocke: Nathan Field)

In Aubrey‘s “Remaines of Gentilisme and Judaisme,” we read that “The young man whose late sweetheart is married to some other person does often in  frolique literally wear a Willow Garland, as I have seen in some parts of Oxfordshire.”

Willow is also identified in the Rev Friend’s book as, “… the scourge with which the Saviour was beaten.  The Willow is … by some believed to have been employed for this purpose, in consequence of which it has ever since drooped its boughs and wept.”

He also writes, in the chapter Flowers and the Seasons, that, “Palm Sunday has long been celebrated in England, … with processions and decorations, and since neither Palm nor Olive grow amongst us naturally, Willow and Yew have been employed in their place.”

“In Rome upon Palm Sunday they bear true Palms,
The Cardinals bow reverently and sing old Psalms :
Elsewhere those Psalms are sung ‘mid Olive branches,
The Holly-branch supplies the place among the avalanches ;
More northern climes must be content with the sad Willow.”
(Attrib. Goethe)

and also, “… Feast of Tabernacles (Lev. xxIII.40) may have had something to do with the introduction of the Willow here : “And ye shall take you on the first day the boughs (margin fruit) of goodly trees, branches of Palm trees, and boughs of thick trees, and Willows of the brook ; and ye shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.”

And further, “Mr Henderson tells us that in his boyhood they used to go and gather Willow and make it into crosses for Palm Sunday. They formed them like a St. Andrew’s Cross, with a tuft of Catkins or blossoms at each point, binding them with knots and bows of ribbon. There is a proverb still current in the north of England, to the effect that “He that hath not a Palm in his hand on Palm Sunday must have his hand cut off.” and the crosses used on these days may still be seen in some out-of-the-way places, suspended on the cottage walls during the rest of the year.”

And in the chapter, The Weeping Willow:  “Let us now look for a moment at the language which the trees with their buds, leaves, branches, and flowers speak to us. … The Weeping Willow has long been expressive of Mourning, and all will recall the beautiful Psalm in which the Jews are represented as hanging their harps on the Willow. This has passed into a proverb, and we now often hear it remarked of a person who is sad and mournful, “He has hung his harp on the Willow.” “

And not to forget the “… pretty Chinese story connected with the “Willow Pattern, …”.

I don’t think the willow weeps; I think it is in perpetual reverie – that most positive of spaces.






Posted in Aesthetics, Art, Eco/Natural Dyeing and Printing, Inspiration, Nature Journal, Printmaking, Research, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

In Search of Blue: Dyeing with Woad, Beans and Lentils

Silks and Muslins Dyed with Blue Beluga Lentils

And I haven’t found it. Blue. Yet.

And in the first picture, when I believed I was dyeing with black beansI discovered I’d used black lentils. Pah! Black beluga lentils, which are – blue.  I do like the bronzey silks, however. The top one is satin silk.

Black beluga lentils are delicious.  I didn’t eat the ones I’d dyed with. And don’t you do that!

The second picture is of fabrics dyed with black beans. Still no blue. On top of the pile is some thread I’ve dyed, too. I make a practice of this, so as always to have matching thread to use.

Silks and Muslins Dyed with Black Beans

The third picture is of fabrics dyed with woad. I didn’t have time to do this per the instructions, but wanted to know what would happen if I just mixed woad with water. As you can see, some of the results are quite spectacular.

But still not blue.

The very vivid purple fabric is in fact fabric from a stash of fabric conditioner sheets. I’d put these to one side for what is now a long-forgotten project.

No doubt the colour is due to the conditioning chemicals embedded in the sheet, so it is upcycled and not truly eco. The paler purple is the bottom of a leg from a pair of white jeans. (I’m not tall and regularly have to reduce leg lengths).

They’re stretch jeans. I suggest that whatever was used to elastic the fabric has worked as a resist to the dye, while the white cotton has absorbed it. Some sort of synthetic rubber? I’ve just bought a couple of masking pens. Masking liquid is used as a resist by watercolourists. It must be some kind of synthetic rubber. The masking liquid has been put into these pens to make it possible to draw it onto watercolour paper where liquid would normally be brushed or splashed on. I wondered if I could use it to mask negative space into my printing? I wonder if it will work on fabric? Look out for the results of some experiments with these masking pens.

The woad and water technique dyed the chestnut colour into silk and I love that colour. (Now I know how to get it). The thread has accepted little of the woad dye.

I steamed the fabrics in ordinary tap water for about a hour in my pressure cooker dedicated to dyeing. I washed them afterwards with olive oil soap. I did these experiments in January and so far they haven’t faded.

Spring is on its way here, after a week snowed-into the house. I’m surrounded by snowdrops, crocuses and budding daffodils.





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Maroon Staccato: Another Pair of Eco Prints on Watercolour Paper

Eco print on watercolour paper: eucalyptus, bramble and mystery leaf. I love the insistent staccato of that deep and velvety maroon.

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And Another Eco Print on Watercolour Paper

Eco print on watercolour paper using eucalyptus, bramble (blackberry) and mystery leaf

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Eco Print on Watercolour Paper

Eco Print on Watercolour Paper: Eucalyptus, Bramble, St John’s Wort, Elm Catkins

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The Spaces In-Between

This gallery contains 4 photos.

Originally posted on following thread:
Many years ago I bought a ceramic plaque for my sister.  It was whimsical–had a figure dancing on a mountainside and the inscription read something like “Life is not measured by the number of breaths…

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Eco Collographs/Negative Space

Eco Collograph III 22 January 2018The print to the left is one from a batch I made using for the first time my new little fine art printer.

And I’ve been playing around with the prints with a focus on, as I wrote about recently, their negative spaces.

The first print is of three sumac leaves from my new garden. I froze a bagful of their very colourful autumn leaves.

I then scanned the print into the computer so I could mess around with copies before committing myself to altering the real print.

I then cut each of the three leaves out of the paper and glued them back down again slightly to their left, which left gaps in the paper next to each one.

Eco Collograph V with Negative Spaces 22 January 2018I then glued it all onto a backing of acid-free tissue paper. Held up to the light, the gaps are illuminated like windows.

It was a very simple process, as you can see.

It shifts everything, seismically.

I’ve been doing other what-ifings circling the issue of negative spaces. I’ve hunted high and low but can’t find them right now. Maybe they’ve disappeared, for good, into negative space.



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