Fellow artist Anne Gilchrist and I worked together for the first time during the Grown Together exhibition at St Margaret’s House, though we have long shared a fascination with Dalkeith Old Oaks and have both made work there for many years.
The site sits within Dalkeith Country Park in Midlothian and is bounded by the North and South Esk rivers. The oakwood is grazed by cattle and managed as park woodland by Buccleuch Estates.
During the spring of 2018 we walked, talked and drew our way around the oaks, discovering shared favourites and introducing each other to their unique perspectives. At that time, the contrast between the copious dead and decaying wood and the vibrant green of the emerging new leaves was striking - two points on the complex cycle of woodland life.
We decided to collaborate on a collection of ‘things’ to present at the European Wood Pastures: Past, Present & Future conference, 5-7 September 2018 Sheffield, run by UKEconet which I worked with on ‘Tree Stories’.
Along with original artworks we’ll be presenting this new book, which brings together a selection of our art, photographs and writing made in response to the oakwood. Though we produce quite different work, we share a great deal in the way our art has developed as a kind of conversation with the trees. In the process of making this book and on our walks through the woodland, Anne has taught me to look down as well as gaze up, to notice the small and fleeting wonders of the habitat as well as the monumental aged oaks.
The book is available to preview and order here »
I see my residency at Howden Park Centre as a fantastic opportunity for me to take stock of where my work is now and explore some new possibilities for the future. Looking at the work on the walls gives me a more complete perspective than when it’s dotted around the studio - I can regard it as a body of work rather than as a series of individual pieces. I’m hoping that this will spark a period of experimentation, but I have to trust my subconscious on this as I have no idea right now where it will take me.
Collaboration is a more certain way to stimulate new ideas so I’m delighted that writer and photographer Steve Smart has agreed to work with me over the next few months. I did a fair bit of preparation for the residency earlier this year, principally getting to know Calderwood and learning my way around its variety of landscapes, so it was great to share some of my finds with him on a visit last week and fascinating to see the wood from his perspective. We were also really lucky to have a clear, crisp and frosty day for the visit with gorgeous light.
He will be writing some poems in response to the locations, trees and themes in my work, which he’ll present at the closing event of the Dialogue with trees exhibition. In the meantime, feast your eyes and your ears on his images and poems on his blog…Tags:
Images from the Tree Stories exhibition at The Art House, Sheffield, 24th October - 6th November 2015
This South Yorkshire Biodiversity Research Group (SYBRG) community project was led by Christine Handley and supported by Professor Ian D. Rotherham (Sheffield Hallam University). Funded by a grant from the Arts Council, it set out to record marked and worked trees and enabled SYBRG to work with two artists at community events. The collected Tree Stories were used as inspiration to create new drawings, poems and prints which were displayed in an Art Exhibition at the Art House in Sheffield.
'The Tree Stories project takes a closer look at the mysterious marks, objects and tree ‘graffiti’ that appear on trees. The importance of these markings extends from prehistoric times and this ancient form of communication has survived to the present day with people still using trees to record messages and leave objects embedded in them. These trees with their markings can be found in surprising places, from inner city Victorian parks and gardens to great parkland landscapes in the British countryside. They may contain evocative stories and pictures distorted by time or bold deeply incised designs marking territory, sending messages across the years. Others become covered with small objects, coins, left year after year perhaps as offerings with echoes from a dimly remembered past. The project recorded some of these and inspired the works by Tansy Lee Moir and Sally Goldsmith.' From the Tree Storues booklet accompanying the exhibition.
Photographs of the opening event »
More information about SYBRG »
Professor Ian D. Rotherham's blog »
More about my work on Tree Stories »
"To draw is to look, examining the structure
of appearances - a drawing of a tree shows not
a tree, but a tree being looked at."
My approach to drawing is all about looking intently at my subject: the starting point for all my artwork is a meeting with a tree and a dialogue with it through mark-making. So when I was invited to take part in this year’s Kelburn Garden Party it seemed like a great opportunity to start that dialogue with some of their amazing trees.
For the duration of the festival I plan to be working around the estate and Glen, creating a collection of drawings on the theme of ‘A tree being looked at’. If you’re at the Garden Party over the weekend, you can find me in the afternoons under the Weeping Larch in the area known as ‘The Gardens’ where I’ll also be doing short drawing workshops.
If you feel like a wander through the Neverending Glen, you can also discover and use the viewfinders I’ve placed along the way. These have quotes on them which relate to my ‘tree being looked at’ theme, and all are from books, artists and writers who have been inspiring and eye-opening for me and my work which I really wanted to share. I’ve hung the viewfinders so that they can be handled and used to frame your own views of the natural world – it’s all about looking!
Here are the quotes and their sources, with links...
“To draw a tree, to pay such close attention to every aspect of a tree is an act of reverence not only toward the tree, but also to our human connection to it. It gives us almost visionary moments of connectedness.”
Alan Lee from Drawing Projects, Mick Maslen & Jack Southern
“We see our world through the kind of questions we are able to ask about it, and by asking ‘more interesting questions’, we will discover more interesting ways of seeing it.”
Drawing Projects, Mick Maslen & Jack Southern
“One must always draw. Draw with the eyes when one cannot draw with a pencil.”
“Woods have come to look like the subconscious of the landscape”
“To enter a wood is to pass into a different world in which we ourselves are transformed. It is where you travel to find yourself, often, paradoxically, by getting lost.”
Wildwood, Roger Deakin
“I have learnt that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen, and that when I start to draw an ordinary thing, I realise how extraordinary it is.”
The Zen of Seeing: Seeing drawing as meditation, Frederick Franck
“Which bits of our aesthetic or emotional consciousness do rot-holes and calluses touch?”
“What deep-rooted associations do old trees conjure up? Are they some kind of portal to understanding the deep relationship between wildness and time? “
Beechcombings, Richard Mabey
“It is motionless yet it oozes energy.”
Henry Moore at the British Museum, Henry Moore
“To walk through an ancient wood is to tread in the footsteps of the ghosts of those who once lived and worked in the medieval and early industrial countryside.“
Ancient Woodland: History, Industry and Crafts, Ian D. Rotherham
“...trees are wildlife just as deer or primroses are wildlife. Each species has its own agenda and its own interactions with human activities.”
Woodlands, Oliver Rackham
“I found the poems in the fields,
And only wrote them down.”
‘Sighing for Retirement’, John Clare
“Our habitual vision of things is not necessarily right: it is only one of an infinite number.”
The Living Mountain, Nan Shepherd
I'll be posting more news and photos from the weekend on my facebook page whenever I can get a signal, so you can follow my progress there.
Kelburn Castle - it's a Scottish castle like no other...
I've had two recent visits with curator Sophia Lindsay Burns, to plan my contribution to the Trail.
It's a glorious location, overlooking the Firth of Clyde across to Arran - here are some of the other artists admiring the view.
I will be doing my best to capture on paper some of the riotous energy of this incredible tree, Kelburn's famous Weeping Larch, which is noted in Donald Rodger's Heritage Trees of Scotland as a kind of botanical freak due to its weeping branches which have taken root to become new trees themselves.
I'll also be doing some short drawing workshops for festival goers and visitors to the park over the weekend, most likely underneath this very tree.
There are plenty of other impressive, interesting, intriguing and magical trees around the Glen itself which I'm keen to encourage visitors to look at with fresh wonder, so I'll also be installing some viewfinders in strategic places to add to the inspiration - there'll more on this in the next blog post.
While you're waiting, here's some amazing beech architecture for you...
The Kelburn Garden Party runs Friday 3rd - Sunday 5th July 2015.
The 'Neverending Glen' Art Trail opens on Thursday 2nd July - tickets and booking info for both here »Tags:
What better place to be heading? The particular wood I was heading for last Friday was Ecclesall Wood, Sheffield and I had all my arty stuff with me to share some ideas and techniques in the second Tree Stories workshop.
The venue was absolutely perfect - the Woodland Discovery Centre had it all, the friendly staff, lovely room, decking in the sunshine, ponds, beehives and most importantly of all it was situated right in the wood itself.
I took the group on a tree graffiti expedition first, looking for different kinds of examples (there were loads), photographing them, doing some rubbings and just generally wondering about how the marks got there, who made them and why.
It was surprisingly difficult to get a good image from the rubbings, as the bark was actually much more textured than it first appeared, but one member of the group had previous experience which she generously shared with the others.
We discovered a group of sweet chestnuts, which we learned would have been planted there as a faster growing alternative to oak, destined to be pit props and fencing during the wood's industrial past. The bark made beautiful patterned rubbings.
Then on to the messy stuff - back in the centre we reviewed our photos and gathered our ideas, then made our own interpretations of tree graffiti in charcoal and crayon. I love how concentrated people become when they are absorbed in the act of making. One minute they are telling me they are "not really very creative", the next they are totally in the moment, expressing themselves with such focus and energy.
After a relaxing lunch in the sunshine we moved on to printmaking, using a simple technique as used in the first Tree Stories workshop.
You get such quick and satisfying results with these polystyrene tiles that it's easy to get carried away and the group made lots of prints in the afternoon, some of which will hopefully be on show in the project exhibition later this year.
At the end of the day my fellow Tree Stories collaborator Sally Goldsmith arrived to say hello to the group and to enable the two of us to share our plans for the new work we'll be making - it's over to us now. I have a busy summer ahead...Tags:
Street art by Phlegm
I was back in Sheffield last weekend, to get together with my Tree Stories colleagues, to view potential exhibition space and discuss what we’ll be making for the project.
We met at the Workstation, a 1930s built former car showroom and garage which now houses lots of creative businesses. This whole area of the city, known as the Cultural Industries Quarter has a vibrant, creative feel, with a huge variety of street art, artist studios, silversmiths and metal workers and the lovely Showroom cinema.
The Tree Stories website is starting to take shape and we’re keen for people to send in their own Tree Story images. There’s also a new facebook page which will mean we can gather images and stories there too.
The following day, despite the soupy weather and the dimmest of light, I went out to Ecclesall Woods to immerse myself in the stories and atmosphere of this Ancient Woodland site.
Its history goes back many centuries – there are prehistoric carvings, Romano British remains and ancient field boundaries, as well as charcoal pits, trackways and even a Wood Collier’s grave from its more recent industrial past.
There are already quite a few photographs from Ecclesall on the Tree Stories website, so I went in search of some of those known but hoping also to discover some of its history myself. I wandered through the mist towards an area of big beeches which shows up clearly on Google Earth, since these are a favourite place for people to make their mark.
Although the damp and dingy weather made my photographs quite poor (I didn’t have a tripod with me so apologies for the blur!), it did mean that the trees were dark and glossy from the rain, which dramatically highlighted their forms.
Once I’d ‘got my eye in’ I found that almost every large beech I looked at had markings of some sort – many very distorted and indistinct, some letters clearly legible, some obviously old and some very new. I found a strong sense of place here, with recently made dens and graffiti layered over older carvings and even older charcoal pits and chunks of gritstone.
The idea of marking trees as a way of attaching yourself to a special place came to mind – the organically created paths, smoothed stones and modified trees all combined to give a sense of belonging, that this was a territory that generations of people had felt part of.
I came back to the studio with a good store of new material and ideas for the series of drawings I’ll be making for the exhibition – here’s a sketchbook snapshot of some of them...
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.
Academic Ian Rotherham guided our walk in Graves Park and gave us some historical and cultural background for 'marked trees'.
Sally read out some of the stories we had constructed while the prints dried on the wall.
Graves Park has been a popular public beauty spot for very many years and the evidence is written on the trees there.
If you have seen any interesting carvings on trees, please send photos and details of where and when to Christine Handley at email@example.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...Tags:
I'm wondering who Pete and Lisa are... one or both of them were at this beech tree recently and left their mark, so fresh that I thought it had been painted at first. It's a perfect example of the capacity of tree carving to provoke our curiousity and an ideal starting point for inspiring other artworks - just what 'Tree Stories', a new project I'm involved in, seeks to capture.
'Tree Stories' will be launched soon, with a Discovery Day event at the end of October to introduce the project to the people of Sheffield and North Derbyshire.
Project leader Christine Handley, myself and poet, song and scriptwriter Sally Goldsmith went out last week to investigate marked trees in Graves Park, Sheffield. We'll be visiting some of them again with people on the Discovery day, then making prints, plaques and poems in response.
An illustration of how letters have stretched over time, with interesting contrasts between crisp new carvings and deformed old ones.
We thought this one read IAN + MARC, with what at first looked like a cross, but on closer inspection seemed to be a butterfly with little antennae. Beautifully mossy inside the carvings.
The project will run until the end of next year, so there will be plenty more tree graffiti related posts. Until the next installment you can find more information on the project page and my first Tree Stories post, and also regular updates on my facebook page.
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!
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...