The influence of Oliver Rackham

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Many eminent people have marked the recent passing of Oliver Rackham, widely regarded as the country’s foremost academic and writer on the interrelated subjects of trees, woodlands, landscape and history €“ Professor Ian D Rotherham’s blog and the Woodland Trust do it very well.

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For me, Oliver Rackham’s books (and his wonderful illustrations as pictured above) were an eye-opening introduction to a new way of looking at my subject. After reading his work, an interesting tree was no longer just interesting for its form, its texture, its colour:  it was something that could be read almost as a historical document. The tree’s physical properties were not just a result of its own nature, but were intimately linked to its environment and the people who interacted with it over its lifetime. 

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That concept of dialogue between tree, human and place has been crucial to the development of my creative process, and I have Oliver Rackham to thank for that.

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Time Around Trees comes to Edinburgh

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For my latest exhibition I will be joined by artists Eoin Cox and Catherine Lilley, who also share my passion for woodlands. The show will feature drawings, paintings, carvings and prints which examine woodland at different scales, from the powerful presence of a veteran tree, to the intimate surfaces of trees and the plants and organisms which inhabit them.  All the works are made as a direct response to an aspect of woodland; the dynamic curve of a twisted trunk, the texture and structure of a sheet of bark, the delicate detail in a damp tangle of lichen. Together, they invite us to look with fresh eyes at the trees and woodlands around us.

More information on the venue and opening times here »

 

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Launching Tree Stories

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Have you ever come across interesting tree carvings and graffiti? Have you wondered who made it, when and why? We want your ‘Tree Stories’ – your photos and your local knowledge.

The ‘Tree Stories’ project was launched at the end of October with a community workshop, where we walked around Graves Park in Sheffield to find some examples of carvings, then made our own ‘stories’ with relief prints and salt dough plaques.  We were also helped by poet and songwriter Sally Goldsmith to craft our own stories from the perspective of the tree itself.

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Academic Ian Rotherham guided our walk in Graves Park and gave us some historical and cultural background for ‘marked trees’.

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Sally read out some of the stories we had constructed while the prints dried on the wall.

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Graves Park has been a popular public beauty spot for very many years and the evidence is written on the trees there.

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If you have seen any interesting carvings on trees, please send photos and details of where and when to Christine Handley at info@hallamec.plus.com.  These will be shared on the project website – there are a couple of my photos there already but we hope to collect many more, from the Sheffield/North Derbyshire area and further afield too.

So don’t be shy – share your tree stories…

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Society of Scottish Artists Annual Exhibition

Dalkeith burred oak 5 ‘Dalkeith burred oak 5’

Two of my drawings have been selected for the annual Society of Scottish Artists exhibition, to be held at the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh.  This work, along with ‘Dalkeith reaching oak’ will be on display in this impressive building on Princes Street from the 5th – 20th December.  Artists across Scotland submitted an exciting variety of works which I got a little glimpse of when I was volunteeering at the hand in last week, and many of the paintings, prints, sculptures, installations and things that defy categorisation will be available for sale during the show.  There’s also a new section called ‘Sit in/Take away’ where small affordable works 30 x 30cm can be bought and taken home on the day – what a great idea to encourage art lovers to support makers!

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A first look at ‘Time around trees’

Here are some images from ‘Time around trees’ which opened yesterday and runs until Saturday 1st November…

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Thanks to the wonderful team at the Meffan Gallery for all their support, expertise and of course the cups of tea – it’s a fantastic place to exhibit and a friendly and interesting one to visit, well worth a trip if you’ve never been.

You can also read a beautifully written first review of the show from blogger Steve Smart here »

 

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The art of framing

framing-wall-view Wood nude tree limb view

A confession: I have done no drawing for two whole weeks. I really miss it.

However,  I have been thinking a lot about framing and presentation, which is a necessity right now with a show coming up.  So I thought I’d share a little of the thought and preparation that goes into putting my work on the wall.  I’ve learned a lot since I started exhibiting, some from generous artist colleagues and most from trial and a fair amount of error.

Why do frames matter?

A frame does a number of jobs – it protects the work, especially important for my fairly fragile charcoal drawings, it provides a safe method of transporting and displaying the work and, if you’ve chosen a good one, will make the work look great. It is of course a choice whether to frame or not and I often like to show my large drawings unframed if possible.  I really enjoy seeing other artist’s work unframed, I feel somehow closer to the act of making to be able to see it without glass.  But I also can’t help feeling disappointed when otherwise interesting art works are displayed in unsuitable or just plain bad frames.  Perhaps this is the designer in me getting frustrated with careless presentation, but all the feedback I have had from exhibiting has made me realise that presentation really matters.

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My framing choices

When I mounted my first solo show I did lots of research into framing techniques and quickly realised that ready made frames would not suit my work – there needs to be a decent gap between the glass and the surface of the work for dry media, which means a deep frame and careful handling is needed.  I also felt that quality was very important – there’s no point putting your heart and soul into a drawing only to plonk it thoughlessly into a flimsy Ikea frame.  I love Ikea for other things incidentally, just not for my frames!

I also realised that I was not destined to be a DIY framer – this was a job best left to the experts.  After trying a few local firms I was lucky enough to find a small but meticulous framing company and have developed a great relationship over the years.  Trust is very important in this exchange, since many months work is handed over to them and much effort and expense is involved.  Edinburgh based Linda Park is primarily a painter, but is also very busy with her framing clients.  She has a painter’s eye for what will complement the works and takes great care in handling it.

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I’ve discovered that there are complex and subtle choices to be made.  Which of the twenty-four shades of white would I like for the mountboard?  How many millimetres depth do I desire for the frame?  Which delicate shade of grey for the hand finishing?  How do I want to balance each side of the border?  See – no wonder I’ve not done any drawing.

So I have a drawer of paint charts and test pieces which I spend a lot of time squinting at, trying to imagine what it would look like and try to keep some consistency with my choices so that the overall effect in an exhibition is harmonious.

Preparing for an exhibition

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Here are my most recent works just collected from the framer.  She’s done a beautiful job as usual and I’m pleased with the new choice of colour for the pale hand painted ones – I think this works well with the predominantly white background of the work.  I now have to get them ready for hanging in the Meffan Gallery, which means mirror plating them.  I also sign, date and title them on the back and add my contact details.

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I worked out that it is much easier to pre-paint the mirror plates white, then attach them, rather than paint them after they’ve been hung.  No more going round with a tiny paintbrush before a private view, more time to do your hair or sample the wine or whatever. I position the mirror plates exactly halfway down the sides of the frame which makes for quicker and more consistent hanging, and for ease of transport I reverse them so they don’t damage other works.

There are thirty four works in the next show, ‘Time around trees’, so it took me a while to prepare, wrap and label them all, but I know that the better my preparation is, the more time I’ll have during the hanging to get things just as I want them.  And that’s the fun part.

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‘Time around trees’ opens at the Meffan Gallery, Forfar on Saturday 4th October and runs until Saturday 1st November.

 

 

 

 

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Tree stories

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Tree graffiti €“ we€™ve all seen it, some of us have made it and many of us, myself included, have wondered about the stories behind it.  So I€™m excited to be beginning work on a new Arts Council England funded project for SYBRG managed by HEC Associates in Sheffield called €˜Tree stories€™, which will be looking at the whole subject of tree graffiti from a new angle.

Plans for the project include an app to enable people to upload pictures of carvings they find, community workshops, new artworks, stories, poems, music, an exhibition and a book.  The aim is to shed some light on this often misunderstood practice and use historic examples to inspire new imaginative works.  The project will run from October 2014 till December 2015 and focus mainly, though not exclusively, on the Sheffield and North Derbyshire area.  I€™m looking forward to working again in what I might call my ancestral home, being a Derbyshire girl myself!

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Of course we won€™t be encouraging people to carve into any fresh bark, but it will be interesting to explore people€™s perspectives on it €“ is it vandalism or folk art? What effect does it have on the tree itself? Are people angry or intrigued when they find it?  I wonder what stories the trees will tell us?

There are more photos and examples of drawings inspired by tree carving in an earlier blog post ‘The writing on the tree’.  

There will be lots more stories to come once the project gets up and running, in the mean time here’s one I didn’t make earlier…

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Time around trees at the Meffan

Dalkeith reaching oak Fresh off the board

The studio is very dusty, which means I am very happy because I’ve been busy over the summer drawing for my next show. “Time around trees” opens at the Meffan Gallery on Saturday 4th October and runs until the 1st November.

The space at the Forfar gallery is a great size and very flexible so I’ll be showing a fair bit of new work – I’ve taken to exhibition planning in 3 dimensions to help me decide what should go in.

Here’s a few images of the new work to hopefully tempt you to visit in person!

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Figured wood on the walls

My current exhibition is at Dawyck Botanic Gardens until 3rd August.  I’m so pleased to be showing here – it’s a perfect setting for my work and a beautiful place to visit. Here’s a wee first look at it…

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Adventures in photopolymer printmaking

In November last year I did a weekend course in photopolymer etching at Edinburgh Printmakers and now I’m properly hooked!

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I’ve been back regularly to practise, putting my new knowledge to the test and diligently checking the notes every time I move through the process.  I’ve loved the whole atmosphere of the place – it manages to be both highly professional and very friendly, with a sort of background hum of intense but enjoyable creative activity.  The other printmakers I’ve met are generous with their knowledge whilst being humble about the challenges of being a printmaker.  I’ve also really enjoyed the physicality of the processes in the efficiently designed workshop – reminds me of my days at Manchester Polytechnic in the ceramic studio or the metal workshop, the smell of wet and dry, oiled machinery and funny coloured chemicals.

I know it’s early days in my learning, but I set myself the goal of having some prints to show in my next exhibition, ‘Figured wood’, in April, so I’ve been working like a mad thing to find what works for my images – you’ll need to visit the exhibition to see whether I’ve succeeded, but here’s a few process pictures to get you started…

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‘Bart’ the historic printing press

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Lined up and ready to print

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Proofs fresh off the press!

See here for more information about this printmaking technique and that course I attended.

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