In my latest exhibition I present a collection of drawings which are the end products of my dialogues with trees.
Throughout their often very long lives, trees are engaged in a dialogue with their surroundings, with the ground they grow in, the prevailing weather, the other plants, animals and people that live alongside them. There are physical clues in their forms that provide a record of that dialogue.
Similarly, the process of drawing is one of dialogue – it is a record of the interaction between the artist and the subject, the eye and the tree, the hand, the paper and the mark making tool. As John Berger says, a drawing of a tree is not just a tree, but ‘a tree being looked at’. All my work has intense looking at its heart.
The exhibition preview is on Thursday 3rd November, then is open to the public from Friday 4th to Sunday 23rd April 2017.
It was a perfect sunny winter's day today, just wonderful for going out and getting to know the landscape around Beecraigs a little better.
First stop was Cairnpapple Hill, so steeped in significance since prehistoric times - not surprising since it has such a fantastic view from all angles, to the Pentlands, the Ochils, across the water to Fife and further out to Berwick Law, the Perthshire and Lomond mountains and even Arran on the best days.
I'd spotted a row of beeches on satellite photos on the northern boundary of the hill, so went to investigate, finding a sheltered little valley with some small, hardy oaks along with the boundary beeches.
After a good walk round Cairnpapple I headed towards Witch Craig Wood and the Korean War Memorial, where I've been told I'd find an unusual bit of graffiti. After a little hunting I found not one but two carved horses on trees by side of the road.
One looks like a knight of some sort with a sword, perhaps some reference to the Hospitallers of Torphichen? The other is clearly a Clydesdale horse, standing proudly in the carving by B.R. in '78. I wonder what their stories are...
For an artist looking for characterful old trees this doesn't look very promising does it? Clearfelled plantation is in itself a dramatic kind of landscape, but not what I'm hunting for. Gladly we have wonders of the internet like National Library of Scotland's online historical maps and satellite imaging (I've recently discovered that Bing maps are a far better tool than Google) so I had an idea that there might be living remnants of the previous landscape somewhere here at Beecraigs Country Park.
Surrounded by the plantation trees and densely shaded, I found a few old beeches just clinging on along old boundary ditches.
They show up on satellite images as bright green shapes against the dark uniformity of the conifers and checking the shape's location against old maps confirms that they are on a pre-existing boundary.
I tested out my new water soluble graphite sticks while drawing in the rain/sleet - well it is February!
A second visit on a much sunnier day revealed a wonderful line of wiggly beeches along a south facing bank.
This cluster was a real surprise - mountain bikers clearly use this extensively as it's all lumps and bumps, being a former quarry area.
So I found my characters after all, which means I not only have the satisfaction of a successful forage, but so many new trees to get to know through my drawing - expect to meet some of them at Howden Park Centre later this year...
Having had a illness last year which incapacitated me for about 6 months (which I'm working up to blogging about sometime), I'm so happy to be able to get back to the woods this winter. So I started the year by making some plans to explore new locations through a series of mini-residencies - a sort of self-directed intense period of study, learning about the history of the landscape, making links with locally knowledgeable people and making as many on site drawings as I can.
Since I have an exhibition at the Howden Park Centre in Livingston scheduled for the end of the year, it seemed natural to start in West Lothian. While the recent storms have been blowing outside, I've been indoors poring over old maps and current satellite images, looking for clues to more ancient landscapes and some likely places to look for old trees. I thought I knew West Lothian pretty well, having worked there on and off for the last 20 years, but Calder Wood is an exciting new discovery for me.
It's a plateau of ancient woodland bounded by the Murieston Water and the Linhouse Water, which both join the river Almond at Almondell. The river banks are steep and the trees mostly hide the surrounding housing, making it feel much more remote than it actually is.
These are a few photos of the wonderful trees I found - impressive old beeches, gnarly sycamore, elderly birches, hazel coppice, twisty decaying sweet chestnut.
I'm starting to learn my way around the woodland now, working out how all the little tracks fit together, where the clusters of old trees are and which are the best candidates for more prolonged sketching.
Maps are marvellous for getting the structure of a new place into my head, but now I realise I need to start creating my own mental maps - these are the first of many days in Calder Wood...
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.
This weekend I'm heading west to the wonderful Kelburn Garden Party where I'm doing a mini residency entitled 'A tree being looked at', involving drawing some of the amazing trees on the estate and running some drawing workshops for festival goers.
There will be another blog post soon with more details about my work there and you can find all the information on the artists and contributors to the Glen experience here>
Opening tonight at the Newave Gallery, Aberdeen.
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: